letter to Capt. James M. Cutts, October 26, 1863, in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6.
As President during the Civil War, Lincoln could not avoid “contention,” nor could he in his marriage. But his patience towards the difficult Mary Todd Lincoln was extraordinary, and his disagreements with opponents were based on policy—what to do about slavery and secession— rather than personality.
That goes a long way towards explaining how he held together a still-young Republican Party—a coalition founded simply on opposing the extension of slavery into new territories—as well as Northern and border states with fundamental disagreements during the war on what to do with slavery even where it existed.
Lincoln could affect not simply events but people, as seen in how he handled the messy situation that gave rise to the quote above. He appears to have delivered these remarks in person to Captain James Cutts, a brother-in-law of the President’s longtime Illinois political rival, Stephen A. Douglas.
Cutts had been court-martialed for several offenses, including arguing with fellow officers—the “personal contention” to which Lincoln referred.
On appeal, Lincoln approved Cutts’ convictions but reduced the sentences to a written reprimand.
The effect of his shrewd advice to the 26-year-old soldier was profound: Cutts took it to heart enough that he decided to prove his worth on the battlefield rather than through fisticuffs. He would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery at the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Petersburg.
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