Edward Bates

“Comes very Near Being a Perfect Man”

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Judge Bates, the Attorney-General, referring to Mr. Lincoln’s never-failing fund of anecdote, he remarked, “The character of the President’s mind is such that his thought habitually takes on this form of illustration, by which the point he wishes to enforce is invariably brought home with a strength and clearness impossible in hours of abstract argument. Mr. Lincoln,” he added, “comes very near being a perfect man, according to my ideal of manhood. He lacks but one thing.” Looking up from my palette, I asked, musingly, if this was official dignity as President. No,’ replied Judge Bates, “that is of little consequence. His deficiency is in the element of will. I have sometimes told him, for instance, that he was unfit to be intrusted with the pardoning power. Why, if a man comes to him with a touching story, his judgment is almost certain to be affected by it. Should the applicant be a woman, a wife, a mother, or a sister, — in nine cases out of ten, her tears, if nothing else, are sure to prevail.”


Quoted in F. B. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866), p. 68.