Page images
PDF
EPUB

emblazoned by the popular epic of his country, “La Henriade” of Voltaire. These are illustrious names ; but there is nothing in them to eclipse the simple life of our President, whose example, commemorated by history and by song, will be the pride of humanity and a rebuke to every usurper. The cause he served was more than empire. The motive of his conduct was higher than success, -as devotion to Human Rights is higher than genius or power, as man is higher than aught else on earth.

More like him in certain aspects was the Roman Emperor Vespasian, whose just sway was prolonged in Titus, his son. Without ancestry or rank, he rose to the loftiest power, and, when on these heights, never dissembled the humility of his origin. The simplicity and frugality of early life were continued on the throne of the world. There was in the Emperor a kindred humanity, and the same fondness for story and jest. But the common feature, bringing the two into one historic family, was generous indulgence to political opponents. It belongs to the fame of our President that in selections for the public service he forgot all personal differences. Capacity and devotion to the country were controlling recommendations, before which every thought of opposition or rivalry, or even of injury, disappeared. Here the Roman Emperor anticipated the American President; for the contemporary historian, in his brief record, presents him as “very little mindful of affronts and enmities, or vindictive on their account.” 1 Such a character, whether at Rome or Washington, is an example for all.

There is another character, taken away close upon

i Suetonius, Vespasianus, Cap. XIV.

the age of fifty-six," who seems to have revived in the President. Do not be astonished, when I mention St. Louis of France. Difference of epoch and of objects occupying attention cannot obscure certain kindred features, and especially the common consecration of their lives. The French monarch, though at the head of a. military power, was a lover of peace, and cultivated justice towards his neighbors. Through him a barbarous institution was overthrown, and France advanced in civilization. The Trial by Battle, against which he launched a noble ordinance, was a curse not inferior to our Slavery. In an age of violence he was gentle. In an age of privilege, and wearing a crown, he was moved to the practice of Equality. History recalls with undisguised applause the simple justice he delighted to administer, sitting under an oak in the park of Vincennes. Our President launched his ordinance at a barbarous institution, and advanced his country. He, too, practised Equality. And he, also, had his oak of Vincennes. It was that plain room where he was always so accessible as to make his example difficult for future Presidents. At stated times he was open to all who came with petitions, and they flocked across the continent. The transactions of that simple court of last resort would show how much was done to temper the law, to assuage sorrow, and to care for the widow and orphan; but its only record is in heaven.

Such, fellow-citizens, are the Life and Character of Abraham Lincoln. You have discerned his simple beginnings, — have watched his early struggles, - have

1 Dante died at this age; also Pliny the philosopher, Pope the poet, Gibbon the historian ; and at this age Charles the Fifth resigned his empire and withdrew to a monastery.

gratefully followed his dedication to the truths our fathers declared, - have hailed him twice-elected head of the Republic, through whom it was known in foreign lands, — have recognized him at a period of national peril as representative of the unfulfilled promisn's made by our fathers, even as Washington was representative of National Independence, — and you have beheld him struck down at the moment of victory, when Rebel Slavery was everywhere succumbing. Reverently we acknowledge the finger of the Almighty, and pray that our great trials may not fail, to the end that the promises of the Fathers may be fulfilled, those promises, so great and glorious, which make the Declaration a title-deed of mankind.

Traitorous Assassination struck him down. Yet be not vindictive towards the poor atom that held the weapon. Reserve your rage for the responsible power, which, not content with assailing the life of the Republic, outraged all law, human and divine, -organized Barbarism as a principle of conduct, — took the lives of faithful Unionists at home, – prepared robbery and murder on the northern borders, — fired hotels, the home of women and children, - plotted to scatter pestilence and poison, — perpetrated piracy and shipburning at sea, -- starved American citizens in prolonged captivity, -inflicted the slow torture of Andersonville and Libby, — menaced assassination always, – and now, at last, true to itself, has assassinated our President: and this responsible power is none other than Slavery. It is Slavery that has taken the life of our beloved Chief Magistrate; and here is another triumph of its Barbarism. On Slavery let vengeance fall. Spare, if you please, the worm it employs; but do not,

I entreat you, yield amnesty to this murderous wickedness. Ravaillac, who took the life of the French Henry, was torn in pieces on the public square before the City Hall by four powerful horses, each fastened to one of his limbs, and rending in opposite directions, until, at last, after fearful struggle, nothing of the wretched assassin remained to the executioner except his bloody shirt, which was at once handed over to be burned. Such be our vengeance; and let Slavery be the victim.

And not only Slavery, which is another name for property in man, but also that other pretension, not less irrational and hateful, that Human Rights can depend on color. This is the bloody shirt of the assassin; let it be handed over to be burned.

Such a vengeance will be a kiss of reconciliation ; for it will remove every obstacle to peace and harmony. The people where Slavery once ruled will bless the blow that destroyed it. The people where the kindred tyranny of Caste once prevailed will rejoice that this fell under the same blow. They will yet confess that it was dealt in no harshness, in no unkindness, in no desire to humiliate, but simply and solemnly, in the name of the Republic and of Human Nature, for their good as well as ours, - ay, for their good more than ours.

By ideas, more than by armies, we have conquered. The sword of the Archangel was less mighty than the mission he bore from the Lord. But if the ideas giving us the victory are now neglected, if the pledges of the Declaration, which the Rebellion openly assailed, are left unredeemed, then have blood and treasure been lavished for nought. Alas for the dead who

gave themselves so bravely to their country, alas for the living left to mourn the dead, if any relic of Slavery is allowed to continue ! - especially if this bloody imposture, defeated in the pretension of property in man, is allowed to perpetuate an oligarchy of the skin!

How shall these ideas be saved ? How shall the war waged by Abraham Lincoln be brought to an end, so as to assure peace, tranquillity, and reconciliation ? All turns on the colored suffrage. This is the centre and pivot of national safety. A mistake now is worse than the loss of a battle. And yet here again we encounter the Rebellion in its odious pretensions, hardly less audacious than when it took up arms. Amidst its expiring camp-fires, the men who have trimmed them

with fresh oaths of allegiance on the lips — renew their early activity in plotting how to preserve an oligarchical power. The demon of Caste follows the demon of Slavery. In setting ourselves against this accursed succession, we follow the solemn behests of the Great Declaration, so constantly championed by the martyred President. And now, as I close this humble tribute, let me ask you to adopt that championship, which was his first title to national gratitude, and is now his best. Let each be standard-bearer of the Declaration. I cannot err, if, speaking at his funeral, I detain you to insist upon this absorbing duty, where for the moment all other duties are swallowed up.

The argument for colored suffrage is overwhelming. It springs from the necessity of the case, as well as from the Rights of Man. This suffrage is needed for the security of the colored people, for the stability of the local government, and for the strength of the

« PreviousContinue »