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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter VII: The Martyr

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He was a good reader, and took all the leading NEW YORK dailies every day. His secretaries perused them and selected all the items which would interest the President; these were read to him and considered. He bought few new books, but seemed ever alive to works of comic value; the vein of humor in him was not boisterous in its manifestations, but touched the geniality of his nature, and he reproduced all that he absorbed, to elucidate some new issue, or turn away argument by a laugh.

As a jester, Mr. Lincoln's tendency was caricatured by the prints, but not exaggerated. He probably told as many stories as are attributed to him. Nor did he, as is averred, indulge in these jests on solemn occasions. No man felt with such personal intensity the extent of the casualties of his time, and he often gravely reasoned whether he could be in any way responsible for the bloodshed and devastation over which it was his duty to preside.

An acquaintance of mine--a private--once went to him to plead for a man's life. He had never seen the man for whom he pleaded, and had no acquaintance with the man's family. Mr. Lincoln was touched by his disinterestedness, and said to him:

"If I were anything but the President, I would be constantly working as you have done."

Whenever a doubt of one's guilt lay on his mind, the man was spared by his direct interference..

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There was an entire absence in the President's character of the heroic element. He would do a great deed in deshabille as promptly as in full dress. He never aimed to be brilliant, unconsciously understanding that a great man's brilliancy is to be measured by the "wholeness" and synthetic cast of his career rather than by any fitful ebullitions. For that reason we look in vain through his messages for "points." His point was not to turn a sentence or an epigram, but to win an effect, regardless of the route to it.

He was commonplace in his talk, and Chesterfield would have had no patience with him; his dignity of character lay in his uprightness rather than in his formal manner. Members of his government often reviewed him plainly in his presence. Yet he divined the true course, while they only argued it out.

His good feeling was not only personal, but national. He had no prejudice against any race or potentate. And his democracy was of a practical, rather than of a demonstrative, nature. He was not Marat, but Moreau--not Paine and Jefferson; but Franklin.

His domestic life was like a parlor of night-time, lit by the equal grate of his genial and uniform kindness. Young Thaddy played with him upon the carpet; Robert came home from the war and talked to his father as to a school-mate, he was to Mrs. Lincoln as chivalrous on the last day of his life as when he courted her. I have somewhere seen a picture of Henry IV. of France, riding his babies on his back: that was the President.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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