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
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
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
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