Read ACT I of A Man of the People A Drama of Abraham Lincoln , free online book, by Thomas Dixon, on ReadCentral.com.

PERSONS OF THE PLAY

ABRAHAM LINCOLN The President.
MRS. LINCOLN His Wife.
COLONEL NICOLAY His Secretary.
EDWARD The Doorman.
EDWIN M. STANTON Secretary of War.
GEN. GEO. B. MCCLELLAN Lincoln’s Rival.
CAPTAIN VAUGHAN Of the U. S. Army.
BETTY WINTER His Sweetheart.
THADDEUS STEVENS Leader of Congress.
HENRY RAYMOND Editor of the New York Times.
JOHN R. GILMORE Of the New York Tribune.
COLONEL JACQUESS A Methodist Clergyman.
JEFFERSON DAVIS President of the Confederacy.
JUDAH P. BENJAMIN His Secretary of State.
JUDGE ROBERT OULD Commissioner of Exchange.
ROBERT E. LEE Commanding General.
A SISTER Who begs for her brother’s life.
A CONGRESSMAN Who demands a hearing.
A LITTLE GIRL From Virginia.
A MOTHER With a baby.
A WOMAN Who has lost two sons.
A TELEGRAPH OPERATOR In the White House.
A DOORMAN At Richmond.
COMMITTEEMEN, SOLDIERS AND GUARDS.

SET SCENE: The President’s room in the White House, August 23, 1864. A flat desk left center. At right a long table and chairs. Doors open right and left. Large windows open center. Beside the center window stands an upright desk. In one corner a rack with map rollers and folios of maps on the floor and leaning against the wall.

AT RISE: Colonel Nicolay, the President’s Secretary, is seen writing before an enormous pile of mail. He reads a letter and throws it down in disgust. Reads another and hurls it into the waste basket. He rises turns back to the desk and hurls an armful of the letters into the corner on the floor and removes enough letters to clear a space for his Chief to write.

[EDWARD enters dragging a mail bag.]

NICOLAY

[Calling to the Doorman.]

Edward!

EDWARD

Yes, sir

NICOLAY

Hold that door tight this morning

EDWARD

Tight as a drum, sir

NICOLAY

If any men of importance try to crowd in before their time

EDWARD

I’ll look out for them, sir here’s another bag of letters, Colonel
Nicolay

NICOLAY

Another ?

EDWARD

And there’s two more outside

NICOLAY

My God !

EDWARD

Don’t blame me, sir I didn’t write ’em

NICOLAY

No, I’ll vouch for your loyalty to the President.

EDWARD

Where’ll I put these ?

NICOLAY

Throw the bag in the corner there’s no room on his desk now

EDWARD

[Obeying.]

Yes, sir

[EDWARD throws the bag in the corner of the room where NICOLAY
has already piled the letters from the desk, and turns to
NICOLAY. He watches NICOLAY destroying letters for a moment.]

NICOLAY

Well, Edward ?

EDWARD

Will you tell me one thing, Colonel Nicolay ?

NICOLAY

If I can

EDWARD

What do they say in these letters to the President ? I’ve served through four administrations I’ve never seen such piles of letters in the White House before

NICOLAY

Well, Edward these letters ask two things of Abraham Lincoln: That he dismiss General Grant from command of the Army

EDWARD

The idiots

NICOLAY

And stop the war to-day August 23, 1864, make peace peace at any price to-day

EDWARD

God save us! After nearly four years quit, with nothing settled ?

NICOLAY

That’s what these letters demand

EDWARD

You couldn’t believe it No wonder his eyes sink back in his head, an’ he looks as if he were seeing ghosts

[Pauses and starts.]

NICOLAY

Watch out for that door, Edward

[EDWARD bows, and exits to door leading to the main corridor. NICOLAY returns to his task of reading the letters one he tosses into the basket wearily one he crumples in anger and hurls into the basket.]

NICOLAY

The fools !

[He is absorbed in a letter when MRS. LINCOLN enters in a state
of nervous excitement. He rises quickly, and goes to meet her.]

What is it, Mrs. Lincoln ?

MRS. LINCOLN

I have just heard that the Republican National Committee is in Washington !

NICOLAY

They are

MRS. LINCOLN

In conference at Senator Winter’s house ?

NICOLAY

Yes

MRS. LINCOLN

What do they want?

NICOLAY

There are ugly rumors

MRS. LINCOLN

What ? What ? What ?

NICOLAY

I can’t discuss it, Madam, until the Chief knows

MRS. LINCOLN

Mr. Lincoln doesn’t know

NICOLAY

Not yet. He will, this morning. They’ve just sent a demand to me that he see them before his public reception begins

MRS. LINCOLN

You’ve heard something you know something tell me I can’t endure the suspense

NICOLAY

Only rumors and they’re too ugly to put into words they’re incredible

MRS. LINCOLN

All the same, you believe them

[Impetuously.]

What have you heard ?

NICOLAY

[Shakes his head.]

The Chief wouldn’t like it if I talk, before he knows. I’ll tell you a few things I’m thinking in plain English if you’d like to hear

MRS. LINCOLN

You can’t make it too plain to suit me

NICOLAY

In my opinion, the devil is to pay. Weak-kneed fools are deserting the Chief. Every man who loves Abraham Lincoln must get off his coat now and fight. He is the only man who can save this Nation to-day, and he’s too big and generous to be trusted alone with wolves

MRS. LINCOLN

What can you mean ? The Republican National Committee have no power over the President of the United States

NICOLAY

No, Madam But they have certain powers over the Nominee of their party

MRS. LINCOLN

But Mr. Lincoln is already the nominee of his party for the second term ... chosen two months ago and the election is but eight weeks off what do you mean ?

[EDWARD enters.]

EDWARD

Miss Betty Winter to see you, Ma’am

MRS. LINCOLN

How fortunate they’re at her father’s house !

NICOLAY

Yes

MRS. LINCOLN

Show her right in here, Edward

EDWARD

Yes, Madam

MRS. LINCOLN

[To NICOLAY.]

And she’s loyal to Mr. Lincoln

EDWARD

[At door left.]

Right this way, Miss Betty

[BETTY enters a young woman 25 years old poised, cultured,
charming.]

MRS. LINCOLN

[Meeting Betty.]

Welcome my child

BETTY

You’re always so kind !

NICOLAY

Excuse me, ladies while I go out and get rid of some of these people waiting to see the President

[NICOLAY exits.]

MRS. LINCOLN

Tell me, dear, you’ve heard something the Republican National Committee are at your father’s

BETTY

They were there they’ve adjourned to Thaddeus Stevens’ house across the street from us They were locked in with father for two hours

MRS. LINCOLN

Locked in ?

BETTY

[Nods.]

With the keyhole chinked up !

MRS. LINCOLN

And you didn’t get a hint of what they’re up to ?

BETTY

Not the faintest

MRS. LINCOLN

Oh, Betty they’re discussing me

BETTY

They didn’t mention your name

MRS. LINCOLN

How do you know ?

BETTY

Well I did hear a little ! I could hear from the next room when they got excited! It’s Abraham Lincoln they’re discussing not his wife

MRS. LINCOLN

You’re sure ?

BETTY

Sure ! It sounded like a regular dog fight with one big brute howling

[Imitates.]

the President’s name above the din

MRS. LINCOLN

But, you can’t be sure, my dear

BETTY

What on earth could they be discussing you for ?

MRS. LINCOLN

My loyalty, of course you know that my brothers are in the Southern Army, fighting the Union. Fools have accused me of giving them important secrets of the Government. When I hate them for all they have done to me and mine !

BETTY

But my dear Mrs. Lincoln no one believes such lies about you now not even in this bitter campaign it’s absurd

MRS. LINCOLN

[Hesitates.]

That is not the real thing I’m afraid of, child it’s something worse I’m going to take you into my confidence now may I?

BETTY

I’ll be tickled to death with the honor !

MRS. LINCOLN

And I’m going to ask you to help me

BETTY

I’ll be in the Cabinet next !

MRS. LINCOLN

The truth is, I owe A. T. Stewart and Company an enormous bill for dresses $60,000

BETTY

Sixty thousand oh, my Lord! That’s worse than mine !

MRS. LINCOLN

I had to get them! The world said the White House would be disgraced by my awkward husband’s regime I’ve shown them better! But I just couldn’t tell Mr. Lincoln. He has no idea of the cost of clothes. If these jackals have found out and attack him on my account, the thought of it will kill me

BETTY

But you know he’d defend you against any one who dares attack you.

MRS. LINCOLN

Yes, dear but it would hurt him so to hear it from their brutal lips. I want you to find out from your father, if they know

BETTY

And if they know ?

MRS. LINCOLN

Get here before they do, and I’ll head them off I’ll tell Mr. Lincoln first

BETTY

[Smiling.]

On one condition that you help me

MRS. LINCOLN

Anything you ask

BETTY

I’ve promised my fiance that I would get an appointment for him to see the President on something very important

MRS. LINCOLN

Mr. Lincoln will be here in a few minutes. I’ll have him see your sweetheart first

BETTY

But it’s a personal matter and he doesn’t wish to come to a public reception. He wants an hour alone Could you get it for him, to-night?

MRS. LINCOLN

I think so

BETTY

You’ll try ?

MRS. LINCOLN

I’ll do it, child certainly! You’re one loyal friend we have in that crowd of wolves on the Capitol Hill

BETTY

All right, I’ll find out if they’re discussing politics or your dressmaker’s bill.

[BETTY hurries to the door, followed by MRS. LINCOLN.]

MRS. LINCOLN

God bless you, child

[NICOLAY enters by the other door.]

Hurry!

BETTY

If it’s dresses I’ll beat them to the White House!

[BETTY exits.]

NICOLAY

The President is coming, Madam

MRS. LINCOLN

I’m going. But I may want to see him before that Committee in case I send in see that he comes, will you?

NICOLAY

I’ll try to manage it. The friends of the Chief may call on you for some inside work, Madam.

MRS. LINCOLN

[Eagerly.]

I’ll do my part, never fear!

[MRS. LINCOLN exits and NICOLAY hastily arranges his desk and
stands at attention as LINCOLN enters.]

[LINCOLN crosses the room with long nervous stride, reaches his
desk, looks at the pile of letters and shakes his head wearily.]

LINCOLN

Sorry for you, John, with all these letters on your hands

[Laughs.]

You have to work !

NICOLAY

I’m trying to get them out of your way, sir

LINCOLN

Thank you you know the ones I want to see

NICOLAY

Yes, sir

LINCOLN

[Softly.]

And don’t forget that no man or woman can be turned from that door, who comes here to ask for the saving of a human life

[Pauses.]

There’s a firing squad shooting a boy down in Virginia this morning !

[Shakes his head.]

I hope I didn’t do wrong to let them. Somehow I could not find an excuse to save him

[Sighs.]

The Generals are all after me about my pardons

NICOLAY

The Secretary of War is out there now, champing his bit, to head you off on some of them, I think

LINCOLN

Don’t let old Mars in yet. He’s no business here at this hour. Let him paw a hole in the ground.

[Pauses.]

Any news from the front, this morning?

NICOLAY

[Handing him a telegram.]

From General Grant’s lines only this, sir

LINCOLN

[Reads.]

“Confederate Cavalry raiders capture a Brigadier General and fifty army mules.” Too bad rush a regiment after the mules they’re worth $200 a piece Jeff Davis can have my Brigadier General !

NICOLAY

[Laughs.]

Yes, sir and this came in code from Sherman

[Hands LINCOLN another telegram.]

LINCOLN

[Eagerly.]

Word from Sherman! Good!

[Reads.]

“Scouts report Hood’s trenches before Atlanta are impregnable carefully considering a flank movement but as yet, I cannot find the position or strength of Hood’s second line ” W. T. Sherman

[Pauses.]

Grant’s deadlocked with Lee at
Petersburg If-Sherman-could-only-give-us-Atlanta!

[Pauses.]

I’ve a notion to telegraph Sherman an order direct !

NICOLAY

I wouldn’t go over General Grant’s head, sir, with a military order he’s sensitive

LINCOLN

It might make trouble Grant might resent my interference with his plan of campaign

NICOLAY

It would have to be filed in the War Department

LINCOLN

Yes I know. Anything else ?

NICOLAY

[Handing him a large document.]

Baker’s full report of the secret service on the Copperhead Societies He asks for the immediate arrest of their leaders and I think he’s right

LINCOLN

[Shakes his head.]

It won’t do it won’t do just now it’s an ugly business too ugly for haste I’ll look it over carefully

[Lays the report on his desk.]

I’m ready now to see the people

NICOLAY

The Republican National Committee are in town, sir

LINCOLN

What on earth are they doing here ?

NICOLAY

That’s what everybody’s asking

LINCOLN

They should be in their States, leading the Party to victory What do they want?

NICOLAY

To see you

LINCOLN

Umph !

NICOLAY

Henry Raymond, their Chairman, is with them, and has just sent word demanding a hearing before your public reception this morning.

LINCOLN

Make the appointment later. They’re all distinguished men. They can wait while the humbler people have their turn. I came up here from the wilderness. I know what it means to have the great rush by me

[Laughs.]

No I’ll see the common folks first

NICOLAY

I think you’d better see this Committee right away, sir

LINCOLN

Why ? What have you heard ?

NICOLAY

Some ugly rumors

LINCOLN

Spare me the rumors! We’ve enough of them flying around Washington to poison us all. They can only wish me to hedge on some of my principles in this crisis. I’ve made all the campaign statements I’m going to make. I’ve faith in the good sense of the people. I’m going to plant my feet squarely on that faith and wait the verdict of this election

NICOLAY

You won’t see the Committee now ?

LINCOLN

No ! I’ll take my bath of public opinion first. I want to see real men and women and feel their hearts beat close to mine. It tones me up for the day’s work let them in.

[STANTON bursts into the room in a towering rage.]

STANTON

Mr. President, I’ve been kept waiting!

[Confronting NICOLAY.]

[NICOLAY turns away and laughs.]

Nicolay! How dare you keep me waiting in an anteroom, while you talk to the President! I want you to understand, sir, that as Secretary of War, I’ve the right to enter this room at any hour, day or night, announced or unannounced, and by God, I’m going to exercise that privilege!

[STANTON paces the floor furiously.]

LINCOLN

[Laughing.]

Well, you’re here now, and it’s all right, Stanton Easy! Easy, or we’ll have to put some rocks in your pocket to hold you down. What can I do ?

STANTON

Mr. President, I’ve come here this morning to make a square issue with you on the abuse of the pardoning power which you are making daily

LINCOLN

As Chief Magistrate of the people, I have been clothed with that power, Stanton

STANTON

[Angrily.]

You have no right to exercise it under the present conditions! Discipline in our armies must be maintained. You are hamstringing me and every General in the field by suspending the death penalty of our Courts-Martial. Men are deserting in thousands and we’ve got to put a stop to it.

LINCOLN

That’s what I say ! Bring to me the traitors who are causing them to desert, and see what I’ll do to them!

STANTON

You can’t evade the issue I’m making, sir! You’ll be asked this morning to pardon a deserter. I call a halt here and now will you stop to-day the use of this pardoning power ?

LINCOLN

I’ve got to hear both sides it’s my solemn duty

STANTON

All right, I’m done. There’s my resignation as your Secretary of War Good-by!

[STANTON strides angrily to the door and LINCOLN speaks as he
puts his hand on the knob.]

LINCOLN

Wait a minute

STANTON

It’s no use

LINCOLN

Come back here. I’ve something to say to you.

[STANTON returns.]

STANTON

You’re wasting your breath

LINCOLN

Stanton, I appointed you Secretary of War against the advice of every man about me. You were a cantankerous Democrat and my enemy. You had said the meanest things about me that were ever spoken in Washington and that’s putting it pretty strong. You called me a low clown the original gorilla. In spite of all this, I saw your great qualities! I saw that you were absolutely fearless and absolutely honest, that your nerves were made of steel and your capacity for work was boundless. Even in your passions and hatreds, you showed a loyalty to the Union that rose above the parties and creeds of a lifetime. I like men of your strong personality. They stand between a nation and hell. And so, I appointed you, my bitter foe, to my cabinet. I’ve never regretted it for a minute in these years of blood and anguish. You’ve made the best Secretary of War this country ever had. In spite of your mean traits and your awful profanity, I’ve learned to love you! Now, you’ve resigned, and done your duty, as you see it. I’ve accepted your resignation, conscripted you again, and reappointed you !

[Pauses and strokes his shoulder.]

Go back to your desk and stick to the rules that’s your business; and I’ll keep right on here tempering Justice with Mercy when I get a chance.

STANTON

[Gazing at him a moment hopelessly.]

Well, I suppose I’ll have to try !

[Snorts.]

But I’m damned if you interfere with me again!

[STANTON hurries to the door.]

LINCOLN

All right now But look here, Stanton

[STANTON pauses.]

If I have to send over a pardon or two to you this morning

STANTON

Hell fire!

LINCOLN

Easy easy now! You’ll know they’re very urgent, and will admit of no delay on account of red tape

STANTON

[Throws his hands up in wild gesture of despair.]

Oh, my God!

[STANTON exits.]

LINCOLN

John, the old Fox was trying to head me off, wasn’t he ? Get them in here quick who’s the first in turn ?

NICOLAY

A young lady to plead for the life of her brother

LINCOLN

Bring her in!

[As NICOLAY goes to the door, LINCOLN follows to meet the young woman. She enters, a forlorn little figure with baby face and blonde hair. She is plainly dressed in homespun cloth and does not wear hoopskirts. The President greets her with the utmost deference.]

[Taking both her hands.]

My dear young lady I’m glad to see you good old Pennsylvania Dutch! I knew you before you spoke my folks came down to Virginia from there, in the old Colonial days

THE SISTER

[Overcome.]

Oh Meester Presiden you are so goot to me you are so kind

[Pauses overcome.]

I haf no speech

LINCOLN

Come now, tell me in your own way what I can do to help you

THE SISTER

Oh Meester Presiden you can do all you can do any t’ing und I am so happy to see you I cannot begin

LINCOLN

[Soothing her.]

Take your time, little girl all the others will have to wait on you now

THE SISTER

Ya-ya it is my turn now ya, und I must hurry. You see, it’s mine brudder he ist just von leetle poy, Meester Presiden von leetle poy with curly hair like mine

[She chokes.]

LINCOLN

[Taking her hand.]

And what happened to him, my dear?

THE SISTER

Vell, you see he lif wid me in Pennsylvania ve are all alone to-gedder und he lef me und go into der armée und von bad man he giv him a leetle book vot tell him to desert und go home to his peoples I haf dot leetle book, Meester Presiden

[She hands him the book.]

Und my brudder he’s such a leetle poy, he read und he tink vot ze book say is so, und he leef ze armée und come home und kiss me und say, “I vill take care of you now, mein seester ”

[Breaks down.]

Und zey come und take heem, und now he is to be shot

[She chokes.]

[LINCOLN reads the title of the little book.]

LINCOLN

“Why should Brothers Fight?” “By Richard Vaughan” an old Copperhead leader I’ll warrant!

[Pauses.]

And you came to me, all alone, little girl?

THE SISTER

Ya I haf no friens here

LINCOLN

Your Congressman does not know of this?

[NICOLAY begins to make out the pardon.]

THE SISTER

I do not know ze Congress-man mein leetle brudder is all I haf

LINCOLN

Alone, friendless with no Congressman to speak for you! Well, little girl, you don’t need anybody to speak for you you speak for yourself you’re good and honest and love your brother and by jings, you don’t wear hoopskirts I’m sorry to rile old Stanton again

[Laughs.]

But I’m going to pardon your brother !

THE SISTER

[Seizes and kisses his hand.]

Oh Meester Presiden I praise ze good God

LINCOLN

There! There! Now, don’t do that, you’ll have me crying in a minute and John Nicolay here will see me

THE SISTER

Ya! Meester Nicolay won’t mind he so kind to me too

[NICOLAY has prepared the pardon and the President signs and hands
it to her.]

THE SISTER

[Seizing the pardon.]

Wiz all my heart!

LINCOLN

[To NICOLAY.]

Send her to Stanton, and tell him to rush that order to stay the execution. They shall not shoot this poor boy, ignorant of our laws, but if he can find the man who put that little book

[Holds up book.]

into his hand, advising desertion I’ll hang him on a gallows forty cubits high!

[He lays the booklet on his desk.]

[NICOLAY writes on the back of the pardon.]

THE SISTER

[Joyfully.]

Mein brudder he vill go back und he vill be von goot poy for you, Meester Presiden

LINCOLN

Yes, I know he will, my child, I know he will. Good-by, and God bless you.

THE SISTER

Und God bless you, Meester Presiden !

[NICOLAY pauses at the door and gives orders to the doorman.]

NICOLAY

Edward, take her to the War Office with this message

EDWARD

Yes, sir

CONGRESSMAN

I demand to see the President at once

NICOLAY

I can’t admit you, Mr. Congressman, just now

CONGRESSMAN

[Forcing his way in.]

I demand it, sir

[LINCOLN crosses to the door.]

LINCOLN

What is it, John

CONGRESSMAN

Mr. President, I have been here three times! I demand the right to see you to ask the pardon of one of my constituents.

LINCOLN

All right! Out with it!

CONGRESSMAN

He is one of the solid citizens of Massachusetts; a slave trader whose ship has been confiscated. He has spent five years in prison, and cannot pay the heavy fine in money imposed He is not a bad man at heart.

LINCOLN

And he wants me to pardon him this slave-trader !

CONGRESSMAN

I ask it as a matter of justice he has paid the penalty five long years in prison

LINCOLN

[Laughs.]

I might pardon a murderer from old Massachusetts, she’s done glorious service in this war but a man who can make a business of going to Africa and robbing her of helpless men, women and children and selling them into bondage !

[He pauses and stiffens.]

before that man can have liberty by any act of mine, he can stay in jail and rot!

NICOLAY

[To the Congressman.]

Now, you’ve got it !

CONGRESSMAN

[Crestfallen.]

Yes I heard it

LINCOLN

[Turning back to his desk, and examining his papers.]

Good Bring in the next one, John!

[As NICOLAY exits with the Congressman who continues to talk in loud tones, a sweet little girl of twelve slips by and reaches the President’s desk unannounced. The President has taken his seat and is writing. While the President continues to write, the little girl slips close and watches him wistfully. He lifts his head, sees her, and smiles.]

Why, what a wee girl and you got in here all by yourself ?

VIRGINIA

I slipped in when no one was looking

LINCOLN

Did you? What did you do that for?

VIRGINIA

I was afraid they wouldn’t let me in, if they knew what I wanted

LINCOLN

[Tenderly.]

And what do you want?

VIRGINIA

If you please, sir a pass to go through the lines to Virginia my brother’s there he was shot in the last battle and I want to see him.

LINCOLN

Of course, you do and you shall too.

[He seizes his pen, writes a pass and hands it to her.]

VIRGINIA

[Breathlessly.]

Oh, thank you thank you!

LINCOLN

[Casually placing his hand on her head.]

Of course, you’re loyal ?

[VIRGINIA’S lips quiver, she hesitates, looks up into his face
through dimmed eyes, and her slender body stiffens as she slowly
speaks.]

VIRGINIA

Yes loyal with all my heart to Virginia!

[The trembling little fingers hand the pass back as the tears roll down her cheeks. LINCOLN looks away to hide from her his own emotion, stoops and takes her hand in his. His voice is low and tender and full of feeling.]

LINCOLN

I know what it cost you to say that, child. You’re a brave little girl! And I’ll love you always for this glimpse you’ve given me of a great spirit and a great people. That’s why I can’t let the South go They can’t leave this Union. We need them Now I can trust you ?

VIRGINIA

[Eagerly.]

Yes, sir!

[NICOLAY enters with a young mother and baby and hesitates at
sight of the little girl.]

LINCOLN

Come on in, John it’s all right. I’m about through with this young lady

[NICOLAY brings the young mother to the desk and LINCOLN takes
VIRGINIA down stage.]

Come down here, dear, so old man Nicolay can’t hear us he mightn’t understand.

[He sits on a chair and draws the girl close.]

You see, I understand you and can trust you implicitly. Now if I give you back this and let you go will you promise me that no word shall pass your lips of what you’ve seen inside our lines?

VIRGINIA

Oh, yes I promise !

LINCOLN

[Handing her the pass.]

May God speed the day, child, when your people and mine shall no longer be enemies

VIRGINIA

Thank you, sir!

LINCOLN

Run now!

[VIRGINIA exits. At the door she throws him a kiss.]

[LINCOLN comes quickly to the mother and greets her cheerily.]

Well, little mother, what’s the matter?

[She hesitates and appeals to NICOLAY.]

NICOLAY

Tell him yourself

THE MOTHER

[Trembling.]

If you please, sir, we ain’t been married but a little over a year, and my husband’s never seen the baby

LINCOLN

That’s too bad

THE MOTHER

He’s in the army and I couldn’t stand it any longer so I came down to Washington to get a pass to take the baby to him. But he wouldn’t let me have it at the War Office

LINCOLN

[Laughs.]

I’ll bet old Mars wouldn’t Phew!

[Pauses and turns to NICOLAY.]

What do you say. John let’s send her down?

NICOLAY

The strictest orders have been issued to allow no more women to go to the front

LINCOLN

Humph ! Well, I’ll tell you what we can do give her husband a leave of absence, and let him come up here to see them!

THE MOTHER

[Laughing and crying.]

You don’t mind my laughing, do you? I just can’t help it I can’t stop! I can’t stop laughing!

LINCOLN

Laugh and cry as much as you please but tell me where are you stopping?

THE MOTHER

Nowhere yet, sir

LINCOLN

How’s that?

THE MOTHER

I went straight from the depot to the War Office and then I just walked the street blind with crying till I made up my mind to come here.

LINCOLN

We’ll fix that then! Nicolay will write you an order that will take you and your baby to a good hospital and care for you till your husband comes and fix it so he can stay here a week with you

THE MOTHER

[Laughs.]

I just can’t thank you! I’m so happy, all I can do is to laugh!

LINCOLN

Laugh on, little mother and off with you now clear out!

[The mother goes out laughing.]

[NICOLAY shows the little mother out and returns to LINCOLN.]

NICOLAY

The deputation of colored men whom you asked to come this morning are waiting, sir will you see them now?

LINCOLN

At once

[LINCOLN turns to his desk and takes up a document containing his
plan of Colonization and examines it as NICOLAY and three
well-dressed colored men enter. They are typical Africans.]

FIRST NEGRO

[Bowing deferentially.]

Mr. President !

SECOND NEGRO

[Tenderly.]

Our Father Abraham

THIRD NEGRO

[With religious feeling.]

We salute our Savior!

LINCOLN

Welcome, my friends. I have sent for you this morning to place in your hands a copy of my plan for colonization and to ask your help

FIRST NEGRO

Yes, sir

[The ebony faces with their cream white teeth showing in smiles
and their wide rolling eyes make a striking contrast to the rugged
face and poise of the President.]

LINCOLN

Your race is suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. On this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours

FIRST NEGRO

It’s so yes, it’s so !

LINCOLN

Go where you are treated best and the ban is still upon you. I cannot alter it if I would. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated. For the sake of your people you should sacrifice something of your present comfort.

FIRST NEGRO

Let our great leader show us the way

LINCOLN

The Colony of Liberia is an old one, and it is open to you. I am now arranging to open another in Central America. You are intelligent and know that success does not so much depend on external help as on self-reliance. If you will engage in the enterprise I will spend the money Congress has entrusted to me for this purpose. I ask you to consider it seriously, not for yourselves merely, nor for your race and ours for the present time, BUT FOR THE GOOD OF MANKIND.

FIRST NEGRO

We will, sir !

LINCOLN

The practical thing I want to ascertain is whether I can get a number of able-bodied men with their wives and children to go at once men who “can cut their own fodder” so to speak ? Take this plan, show it to your people

[Hands the document to the First Negro.]

and find this out for me

FIRST NEGRO

We’ll do our best

THIRD NEGRO

[Bowing out with religious ecstasy.]

Praise God forever for our Savior-Leader !

[NICOLAY ushers out the three Negroes and shows in a stately
black-robed figure in mourning for her dead. She walks quietly to
the President and extends her hand with a gracious smile.]

THE WOMAN

Perhaps I’ve done wrong to take up your time

LINCOLN

My time belongs to the people, Madam

THE WOMAN

I’ve come to you, Mr. President, under an impulse I could not resist. Mr. Stoddard, your third Secretary, is my friend. He told me this morning that all night the sound of your footfall came from this room. He heard it at nine, at ten, at eleven. At midnight the Secretary of War left the door ajar and the steady tramp came with heavier sound. The last thing he heard at three was the muffled beat upstairs. The guard said it had not stopped at daylight. I saw you staggering alone under a Nation’s sorrow and I wondered if you had been given the vision to see the dawn of a new life for our people. I know I’m looking into the eyes of the man whose word can stop this war and divide the Union I have come to tell you that I lost my first born son at Fredericksburg a lad of twenty

[She pauses and LINCOLN bends and presses her hand.]

May God help you in your trials, Mr. President, as he has helped me in mine

LINCOLN

[Startled.]

You lost your first born at Fredericksburg and come to say this to me?

THE WOMAN

And I’ve been praying for you, day and night since

LINCOLN

[Softly.]

Will you say that again, Madam

THE WOMAN

I have been praying for you, day and night, and I’ve come this morning to bring you this message Be strong and courageous, and God will bring the Nation through!

LINCOLN

You say this to me standing beside the grave of your son?

THE WOMAN

And beside the cot of my other boy of sixteen who was dangerously wounded in General Grant’s last battle. I am proud of two such sons to lay on the altar of my country. I had to tell you that I’m praying for you.

[LINCOLN closes both hands over hers and holds them a moment in
silence.]

LINCOLN

[With upward gaze.]

How strange that you should come to me in this black hour with such a message. I’ve often wondered if the soul of my mother were not speaking to me! The day she died in the woods of Indiana, she told me that if dark hours came, her spirit would be watching, and she’d help me if she could! While you were talking to me I got the tremor of her voice and the quiver of her lips how strange!

[Looking down into her face.]

Thank you, Madam! You have brought me medicine for both body and soul.

[LINCOLN presses her hand again and she quietly goes as he gazes
after her.]

[NICOLAY starts to follow her to the door LINCOLN lifts his
hand.]

John, I’m rested now I’m ready for any work !

NICOLAY

The National Committee have just arrived, sir.

LINCOLN

All right let them in!

[LINCOLN resumes his place beside his desk and the Committee
headed by HENRY RAYMOND, Editor of the New York Times, enter and
solemnly range themselves about the President.]

[To HENRY RAYMOND taking his hand formally.]

Raymond, this is an unexpected honor you and your Committee do me. I thought you were at your desk in the Times office pouring hot shot into the flanks of our enemies, and the boys were all at home fighting for the victory that must be ours on the first Tuesday in November. Not that you’re unwelcome. You are the leaders of public opinion. The people rule this country, and I am their servant what is it ?

RAYMOND

You may be sure, Mr. President, that our mission is of the gravest importance. These gentlemen have brought such startling reports from their several states as to the bitterness and closeness of the fight, that they have reached a unanimous conclusion

LINCOLN

And that is ?

RAYMOND

That with your personality and record against General McClellan’s, your Democratic opponent the election for us is lost.

LINCOLN

Your statement is blunt. But, as I have been renominated for a second term, my administration has been endorsed by our party, and the election is only eight weeks off there is but one conclusion possible and that is, that you should roll up your sleeves and get to work.

RAYMOND

The National Committee, Mr. President, has reached a different conclusion

LINCOLN

Yes ?

RAYMOND

In view of your unpopularity, in view of the criticism of your policies, and your conduct of the war they have decided to ask you to withdraw from the ticket and permit them to name a new candidate

LINCOLN

[Springing to his feet.]

What !

RAYMOND

I have stated it bluntly

LINCOLN

And this is your unanimous verdict, gentlemen ?

ALL

Yes.

LINCOLN

[Paces the floor a moment and then faces the Committee.]

It surpasses human belief! Future generations will hold it incredible that you, my party leaders, should heap this insult upon the man who led you to your first and only victory. That you should come here to-day to ask me to quit under fire, to sacrifice without a blow all I hold worth fighting for on this earth !

RAYMOND

The Committee made their request solely on the ground of patriotic duty and ask you for the sacrifice upon the same grounds. They have found it impossible to defend your policies

LINCOLN

[Brusquely.]

What policies?

RAYMOND

Understand me, Mr. President I am telling you the conclusion of this Committee

LINCOLN

All right, Raymond fire away spare me the oratory, please just give me the plain reasons, one at a time, why you wish me to get off the ticket

RAYMOND

The first policy found indefensible has been your handling of the border slave states of Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. You have not yet declared the slaves free in these states, the only ones in which you actually have the power to do so at all.

LINCOLN

The first policy of my Administration has been to save for the Union the great border states for the simple reason with these border slave states, we have such a balance of power that the Union may be saved! Without these states, the Union cannot be saved! Therefore in my Proclamation of Emancipation, I purposely did not raise the question of the right or wrong of slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. But the Constitution of the United States, which I have sworn to uphold in the border states of Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, guarantees to their people the right to hold slaves if they choose.

RAYMOND

But why pat on the back the slaveholder of Maryland and strike at the slaveholder of South Carolina?

LINCOLN

Because Maryland is loyal to the Union, and South Carolina is fighting it. My Proclamation was not a sermon on the rights of man black or white. It was an act of war a blow aimed at the heart of the seceding South to break its wealth and power, end the war, and save the Union. I know the spell of State loyalty in the South, gentlemen. I was born there. Many a mother in Richmond wept the day our flag fell from their Capitol. But they brushed their tears away and sent their sons to the front the next day, to fight that flag in the name of Virginia! So would thousands of mothers in these border slave states, if I put them to the test. In God’s own time slavery will be destroyed. I have saved these states for our cause by conciliation and compromise. I will not apologize for this act.

[He lifts his hand to stop interruption.]

My paramount object is to save the Union, and not, either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union, without freeing a slave, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union!

[Pauses and faces his accusers.]

I’ll test this question right here will the three Committeemen from Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland stand up for a minute?

[The three Committeemen rise.]

Will the gentleman from Kentucky tell me what would have been the effect if I had included his state in my proclamation freeing the slaves ?

THE KENTUCKY COMMITTEEMAN

The state would have seceded from the Union, sir.

LINCOLN

Just so, and in Missouri?

THE MISSOURI COMMITTEEMAN

The Legislature would have joined the Confederacy within twenty-four hours.

LINCOLN

And Maryland ?

THE MARYLAND COMMITTEEMAN

Maryland would have promptly cut the railroads leading into Washington, isolated the Capital and joined the South.

LINCOLN

And with the loss of our Capital, Europe, eager to strike, would have recognized the Confederacy, would they not?

THE MARYLAND COMMITTEEMAN

Undoubtedly, sir

LINCOLN

So I hold

THE MARYLAND COMMITTEEMAN

Our State believed you when you said in your Inaugural: “I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists!”

LINCOLN

Then you three gentlemen, at least, are with me on this issue?

ALL THREE

Yes ! Yes ! Yes !

LINCOLN

I thought so

[To Raymond.]

What next?

RAYMOND

Your plan to colonize the Negro race as expressed in your Proclamation of Emancipation and in the bill which you have had passed through Congress has hurt your best friends

LINCOLN

And why should it? My views on that subject were known to all men before you nominated me first in Chicago, four years ago. I said then that I believed there is a sharp physical difference between the white and black races, and I have always linked colonization with freedom. The Negro cannot remain in a free democracy unless we absorb him into our social and political life. Therefore, we must colonize him. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to future generations above all, we owe it to the Negro himself. He was brought here by cruel force. At our own expense, therefore, we should return him to the home of his fathers, and build there a free republic for his children. We should give him our language and our ideals, and we should give him millions of our money, until he can stand alone. We must face this problem squarely now.

RAYMOND

Yet you compromise on other issues.

LINCOLN

Only because I must to save the Union. Trim and hedge on this issue, and future generations will feel their way back to it through blood and tears. I have always held that the happiness and progress of this Union of Free Democratic States will be secure only in the separation of the white and black races, and I will not eat my words!

[Pauses.]

the next charge in your bill of indictment, gentlemen?

RAYMOND

I now present the Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, leader of Congress, the representative of the radical wing of our party, who have split our organization by nominating another candidate for President Mr. Stevens will give their views.

STEVENS

[Pompously to the Committee.]

The radical wing of the party, gentlemen, has been the only creative force within it and is the only thing that gives it an excuse for being to-day.

LINCOLN

[Firmly.]

Which means that you think that I am superfluous and always have been I thank you proceed!

STEVENS

We denounce first your policy of reconstruction in the South as weak and vacillating a civil and military failure. As the army advances, the South should be held as conquered soil, its civilization torn up by the roots, the property of the Southern white people confiscated and given to the negroes. The ballot must be taken from the whites and given to their slaves. We demand this just vengeance and we will be content with nothing less!

LINCOLN

Stevens, I greet with shame your demands! Surely the vastness of this war, its grim battles, its heroism, its anguish, its sublime earnestness, should sink all schemes of revenge. Before the grandeur of its simple story our children will walk with uncovered heads. Conquered soil! The South has never been out of this Union. Secession was null and void from the beginning. I say to the South now, as I have always said: “Come back home! You can have peace at any moment, by simply laying down your arms and submitting to the National Authority.” When the South lies crushed at our feet, God’s vengeance shall be enough.

STEVENS

The life of our party, sir, demands that the Negro be given the ballot and made the ruler of the South. This is not vengeance. It is justice it is patriotism.

LINCOLN

The Nation cannot be healed until the South is healed. Let the gulf be closed in which we bury strifes and hatreds. The good sense of our people will never consent to your scheme of vengeance.

STEVENS

The people have no sense! And a new fool is born every second.

LINCOLN

I have an abiding faith in their honesty and good purpose. I have trusted the people before, and they have not failed me.

STEVENS

Bah !

LINCOLN

I can’t tell you, Stevens, how your venomous plans sicken me. I’d rather work with you than fight you, if it’s possible. But the line is drawn now we’ve got to fight and I’m not afraid of you.

STEVENS

You had better listen

LINCOLN

I’ll suffer my right arm to be severed from my body before I’ll sign one measure of revenge on a brave, fallen foe!

STEVENS

I have always known you had a sneaking admiration for the South!

LINCOLN

I love the South it is a part of this Union! And when the curse of slavery is lifted, it should be the garden spot of the world I love every foot of its soil every hill and valley, and every man, woman and child in it. I am an American!

STEVENS

The kind of an American that makes the election of your opponent, General George B. McClellan, a certainty

LINCOLN

Well, who would you put in my place?

[He faces RAYMOND and STEVENS, and dead silence follows.]

Come on out with his name !

[They remain silent.]

You can’t name him? Let me try to nominate him for you On a platform of proscription and revenge, the hanging of rebel leaders, the confiscation of the property of the white people of the South and its bestowment upon the negroes, the taking of the ballot from the whites and setting their slaves to rule over them on this program I resign as your candidate and nominate for President, the Hon. Thaddeus Stevens

THE COMMITTEE

[In a wild uproar.]

No! No! No! Not by a damn sight! To hell with Stevens!

[LINCOLN quietly laughs and STEVENS angrily lifts his hand to
quiet them.]

STEVENS

Now that you’ve had your joke let me remind you that the radical wing of the Republican Party has already named General John C. Fremont against you

LINCOLN

[To the Committee.]

What say you, gentlemen ? Shall I resign in favor of the bolter who attempted to dictate to you your platform and your candidate before your convention met? Do you ask me to resign in favor of General Fremont?

THE COMMITTEE

No! No! Down with the bolter! To the devil with Fremont. No! No! No! Damnation no

[RAYMOND quiets the uproar.]

STEVENS

I am not asking you to nominate Fremont. We split the party and named Fremont because we wouldn’t have you. Get off the ticket and we will withdraw Fremont and put up a man who can be elected! Whatever the chances of General Fremont at this moment the election of McClellan on a Democratic Copperhead Platform is conceded by your own party councils. McClellan is even now choosing his Cabinet

LINCOLN

They say it is not wise to count chickens before they’re hatched we still have our chance!

STEVENS

You have no chance! You have already been weighed and found wanting! In the Congressional election, what happened? your majorities were wiped out. Maine cut you down from nineteen thousand to four! The Democrats swept Ohio. Indiana deserted us. In Pennsylvania even, we lost by four thousand. New York elected Horatio Seymour against us. New Jersey turned you down. Wisconsin was a tie. In your own state of Illinois, the Democrats won by seventeen thousand !

LINCOLN

Even so, Stevens the ballots in this election have not yet been counted! My faith in the ultimate good sense of the people is unshaken. You can fool some of the people all the time. You can fool all of the people sometimes. But you can’t fool all the people all the time!

STEVENS

That’s why we ask you to get off the ticket! You are to-day the most unpopular man who ever sat in the Presidential chair. For the first time in our history the effigy of a living President your effigy has been publicly burned in the streets of American towns and cities, amid the curses and jeers of the men who elected you! Your administration is a failure your conduct of the war a series of blunders

LINCOLN

[Brusquely.]

For example

STEVENS

[Furiously.]

For one thing you have never yet chosen a successful General. The South has not changed Commanders since Jeff Davis appointed Robert E. Lee. In thirty days of the last campaign in a series of massacres, Lee has killed and wounded sixty-two thousand of our men more than he himself commanded and Grant has only reached the point where McClellan stood in 1862. He could have marched there by McClellan’s old line without the loss of a man. Washington is piled with the wounded, the dying and the dead. Your mail is choked with letters demanding the removal of this butcher as our Commander, and you refuse why?

LINCOLN

[Smiling calmly.]

Well, now that you’ve really let off steam, I think you’ll feel better, Stevens !

STEVENS

I demand, sir, an answer to my question why have you not removed Grant?

LINCOLN

[Quickly.]

Because I can’t spare him! He is the one General we have developed who knows how to fight his business is not to reach any particular spot where McClellan stood. McClellan was generally standing somewhere he was a great engineer of the stationary type Grant is a fighter. His business is to find and destroy Lee’s army and his sledge hammer blows are winning this war!

STEVENS

Winning is he? And yet Lee sends a division under Jubal Early and reconquers the Valley of Virginia invades Maryland and Pennsylvania, throws his shells into Washington and burns the home of one of your Cabinet

LINCOLN

And if old Jubal Early had been a little earlier, he would have burned Washington, too but thank God, Grant got here in time didn’t he? What have you got to say to that?

STEVENS

That Lee’s strategy has been superb, his moral victory complete! He holds Grant by the throat while he invades the North, and shells our Capitol a feat that not one of your generals has yet done for Richmond in four years and still you cling to Grant !

LINCOLN

[Angrily.]

Now, I’m going to talk plain English to you, Stevens. You’re an Abolitionist, and you can’t do Grant justice. Your crowd demanded his removal after the battle of Shiloh and you made it so hot for me then, I had to appoint General Halleck his superior, to save him for the country. You can’t forget that Grant is a Democrat, and therefore he may vote for McClellan against our party, in this election!

STEVENS

I’ve heard that he is for McClellan.

LINCOLN

Exactly! And you can’t forget that his wife is a Southern woman whose dowry was in Slaves, and therefore at this moment, Grant is constructively a slaveholder, whose slaves I have not freed

STEVENS

I protest

LINCOLN

It’s no use I know the process of your mind I can see the wheels go round inside! You tell me that the star of Grant has set in a welter of blood before Lee’s army. I do not believe it. I know that miles of hospital barracks are the witnesses of our agony. I know that every city, town and village is in mourning. From these stricken homes there has arisen a storm of protest against the new leader of the army. The word butcher is bandied from lip to lip. They tell me that Grant is merely a bulldog fighter that he can win only as long as thousands are poured into his ranks to take the place of the dead They tell me that he has no genius, no strategy, no skill. My reply to this is simple but unanswerable. We must fight to win. Grant is the ablest general we have developed. His losses are appalling but the struggle is on now to the bitter end! Our resources are exhaustless. The South cannot replace her fallen soldiers and therefore her losses are fatal! If we continue to fight, five millions cannot whip twenty millions the end is certain and we’re now locked in the last death grapple before VICTORY!

STEVENS

It’s a waste of time to talk !

LINCOLN

I’ve thought so from the first, but I’ve tried to be polite

STEVENS

[Trying to go.]

Good day, sir !

LINCOLN

[Cordially.]

Good day, Stevens

[Pauses.]

You know this meeting reminds me of what happened in Illinois once

STEVENS

[Throwing up his hands in anger.]

I won’t hear it, sir! You and your stories are sending this country to hell it’s not more than a mile from there now!

LINCOLN

I believe it is just a mile from here to the Capitol where you sit!

STEVENS

[Going in rage.]

Damnation!

[STEVENS goes muttering furiously.]

RAYMOND

You will consider our request, Mr. President?

LINCOLN

Raymond, this is the most brutal insult ever offered to a man in my position in the history of this country. I’m going to waive the insult and give your request my earnest thought. If I can save the Union that’s the only question that’s the only question!

RAYMOND

You will give us your answer to-day?

LINCOLN

[Firmly.]

No. I must have time to think. As I’ve listened to you, the conviction grows on me that the life of the Union may be bound with mine now, and I’m not going to give up without a fight.

RAYMOND

[Brusquely.]

We cannot leave Washington without your answer, Mr. President.

LINCOLN

You’ll get it in due time.

RAYMOND

The time is short

LINCOLN

It may be long enough yet, to save the Nation

RAYMOND

[Firmly.]

The Committee must take definite action before we leave we will give you ten days to decide

LINCOLN

I understand. Good day, gentlemen!

ALL

[Bowing out.]

Good day, Mr. President.

[LINCOLN stands erect, with NICOLAY watching them go in silence.
When the last man is gone, he turns to NICOLAY.]

LINCOLN

It’s infamous, John! Infamous!

[MRS. LINCOLN enters hurriedly.]

Don’t tell her the nasty things old Thad said to me. It will hurt her.

NICOLAY

Of course not.

MRS. LINCOLN

[Tensely.]

What is it, Father what did they say?

[He pauses and she presses him tremblingly.]

What did they say? What did they say?

LINCOLN

[With dreamy look.]

They told me in plain English that I am the most unpopular man in the United States that my conduct of the war is a series of blunders, my administration a failure!

MRS. LINCOLN

[Relieved.]

Oh! is that all!

LINCOLN

What more ?

MRS. LINCOLN

I thought they had something important to tell you

LINCOLN

[Laughs.]

Oh!

MRS. LINCOLN

That is of no importance, because it’s a lie

LINCOLN

But, if they believe it, and millions of people believe it

MRS. LINCOLN

Well, they won’t. I’ve something important to ask of you Betty Winter’s in my room and wants to bring her lover here to see you alone for an hour to-night

LINCOLN

I’ll see Miss Betty Winter any time she is my good friend make it nine o’clock.

MRS. LINCOLN

[Going.]

At nine don’t forget now!

LINCOLN

I’ll not

[MRS. LINCOLN exits.]

John, is General McClellan at home?

NICOLAY

I saw him to-day, sir.

LINCOLN

Go to his house immediately and tell him I want to see him here at eight o’clock to-night. Say that it’s a matter of the gravest importance both to him and to the country he can’t refuse.

NICOLAY

Yes, sir.

LINCOLN

Say to General McClellan that I would come to him but for the fact that it would attract attention which I wish to avoid. It will be the best for both that this meeting should not be known. Ask him to come in a closed carriage. Assure him that you will meet him at the door and he will see no one but me

NICOLAY

You can’t take me into your confidence, Chief?

LINCOLN

[Pauses.]

Partly I’m going to put McClellan to the supreme test, John. If he will make me one pledge on the Copperhead issue which I will ask of him, I’ll name for this Committee a candidate they’re not looking for I’ll give them the surprise of their life so help me God!

NICOLAY

I don’t think the General will give that pledge, sir.

LINCOLN

[Gazing upward and folding his arms.]

I wonder! I wonder if he will!

[NICOLAY exits.]

I wonder if he will

CURTAIN