It's almost impossible to overpraise Lincoln. He's beyond our comprehension and as a big a man as anyone wants to think he was. But the sanctification of him has covered up some of his most important points. He had qualities that people don't recognize because they are hidden under saintliness. He had a certain steeliness and an ability to analyze himself that's almost incredible in any human being. And he had absolutely no humility, but he had a covering modesty. He's one of the few men I've ever read about who could abide having another man think he was a fool. If someone thinks I am a fool, I'm going to be very fast to disabuse him of that notion. Lincoln would sit back and wait for his opportunity to demonstrate when it would really count. If an opponent of some sort thought he was a fool, Lincoln had him exactly where he wanted him. He could do things like that. This steely quality to his mind that would enable him to analyze a situation and analyze his own position in that situation is one of the most remarkable things about him.
The saintliness has covered up another side to him. I've forgotten the figures now of how many warrants for execution Lincoln signed during the Civil War. Lincoln was know as the man who wouldn't let a little soldier boy who slept on his post be shot. He signed a great many warrants for execution. Jefferson Davis never signed one...Davis said the poorest use could be made of a soldier is to shoot him.
This excerpt is from an interview that Foote had with Dick Cavett in 1979 from the book Conversations with Shelby Foote, edited by William C. Carter, University of Mississippi Press, 1989.
Happy Birthday, President Lincoln.