« PreviousContinue »
ORATION BY THE HON. GEO. BANCROFT.
A few words from the chairman introduced the orator of the occasion to the assemblage.
Our grief and horror at the crime which has clothed the continent in mourning find no adequate expression in words and no relief in tears. The President of the United States of America has fallen by the hands of an assassin. Neither the office with which he was invested by the approved choice of a mighty people, nor the most simplehearted kindliness of nature, could save him from the fiendish passions of relentless fanaticism. The wailings of the millions attend his remains as they are borne in solemn procession over our great rivers, along the sea-side, beyond the mountains, across the prairie, to their final resting place in the valley of the Mississippi. The echoes of his funeral knell vibrate through the world, and the friends of freedom of every tongue and in every clime are his mourners. Too few days have passed away since Abraham Lincoln stood in the flush of vigorous manhood to permit any attempt at an analysis of his character or an exposition of his career. We find it hard to believe that his large eyes, which in their softness and beauty expressed nothing but benevolence and gentleness, are closed in death; we almost look for the pleasant smile that brought out more vividly the earnest cast of his features, which were serious even to sadness. A few years ago he was a village attorney, engaged in the support of a rising family, unknown to fame, scarcely named beyond his neighborhood; his administration made him the most conspicuous man in his country, and drew on him first the astonished gaze, and then the respect and admiration of the world. Those who come after us will decide how much of the wonderful results of his public career is due to his own good common sense, his shrewd sagacity, readiness of wit, quick interpretation of the public mind; his rare combination of fixedness and pliancy; his steady tendency of purpose; how much to the American people, who, as he walked with them side by side, inspired him with their wisdom and energy; and how much the overruling laws of the moral world, by which the selfishness of evil is made to defeat itself. But after every allowance, it will remain that members of the government which preceded his administration opened the gates to treason, and he closed them ; that when he went to Washington the ground on which he trod shook under his feet, and he left the republic on a solid foundation; that traitors had seized public forts and arsenals, and he recovered them for the United States, to whom they belonged; that the capi
tal which he found the abode of slaves, is now only the home of the free; that the boundless public domain which was grasped at, and, in a great measure, held for the diffusion of slavery, is now irrevocably devoted to freedom; that then men talked a jargon of a balance of power in a republic between Slave States and Free States, and now the foolish words are blown away forever by the breath of Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee; that a terrible cloud of politi cal heresy rose from the abyss threatening to hide the light of the sun, and under its darkness a rebellion was rising to undefinable proportions. Now the atmosphere is purer than ever before, and the insurrection is vanishing away; the country is cast into another mould, and the gigantic system of wrong which had been the work of more than two centuries, is dashed down, we hope forever. And as to himself personally: he was then scoffed at by the proud as unfit for his station, and now against the usage of later years, and in spite of numerous competitors, he was the unbiassed and the undoubted choice of the American people for a second term of service. Through all the mad business of treason he retained the sweetness of a most placable disposition; and the slaughter of myriads of the best on the battle-field and the more terrible destruction of our men in captivity by the slow torture of exposure and starvation, had never been able to provoke him into harboring one vengeful feeling or one purpose of cruelty.
How shall the nation most completely show its sorrow at Mr. Lincoln's death? How shall it best honor his memory? There can be but one answer. He was struck down when he was highest in its service, and in strict conformity of duty was engaged in carrying out principles affecting its life, its good name, and its relations to the cause of freedom and the progress of mankind. Grief must take the character of action, and breathe itself forth in the assertion of the policy to which he fell a sacrifice. The standard which he held in his hand must be uplifted again, higher and more firmly than before, and must be carried on to triumph. Above every thing else, his proclamation of the first day of January, 1863, declaring throughout the parts of the country in rebellion the freedom of all persons who had been held as slaves, must be affirmed and maintained. Events, as they rolled onward, have removed every doubt of the legality and binding force of that proclamation. The country and the rebel government have each laid claim to the public service of the slave, and yet but one of the two can have a rightful claim to such service. That rightful claim belongs to the United States, because every one born on their soil, with the few exceptions of the children of travelers and transcient residents, owes them a primary
allegiance. Every one so born has been counted among those represented in Congress; every slave has ever been represented in Congress-imperfectly and wrongly it may be but still he has been counted and represented. The slave born on our soil always owed allegiance to the general government. It may in time past have been a qualified allegiance, manifested through his master, as the allegiance of a ward through its guardian, or of an infant through its parent. But when the master became false to his allegiance the slave stood fåce to face with his country, and his allegiance, which may before have been a qualified one, became direct and immediate. His chains fell off, and he stood at once in the presence of the nation, bound, like the rest of us, to its public defence. Mr. Lincoln's proclamation did but take notice of the already existing right of the bondman to freedom. The treason of the master made it a public crime for the slave to continue his obedience; the treason of a State set free the collective bondmen of that State. This doctrine is supported by the analogy of precedents. In the times of feudalism the treason of the lord of the manor deprived him of his serfs; the spurious feudalism that existed among us differs in many respects from the feudalism of the middle ages; but so far the precedent runs parallel with the present case; for treason the master then, for treason the master now, loses his slaves. In the middle ages the sovereign appointed another lord over the serfs and the land which they eultivated; in our day the sovereign makes them masters of their own persons, lords over themselves.
It has been said that we are at war, and that emancipation is not a belligerent right. The objection disappears before analysis. In a war between independent powers the invading foreigner invites to his standard all who will give him aid, whether bond or free, and he rewards them according to his ability and his pleasure with gifts. or freedom; but when at peace he withdraws from the invaded country he must take his aiders and comforters with him; or if he leaves them behind, where he has no court to enforce his decrees, he can give them no security, unless it be by the stipulations of a treaty. In a civil war it is altogether different. There, when rebellion is crushed, the old government is restored, and its courts resume their jurisdiction. So it is with us; the United States have courts of their own that must punish the guilt of treason, and vindicate the freedom of persons whom the fact of rebellion has set free. Nor may it be said that because slavery existed in most of the States when the Union was formed, it cannot rightfully be interfered with now. A change has taken place, such as Madison foresaw, and for which he pointed out the remedy. The constitution of
States had been transformed before the plotters of treason carried them away into rebellion. When the Federal constitution was formed general emancipation was thought to be near, and everywhere the respective legislatures had authority, in the exercise of their ordinary functions, to do away with slavery; since that time the attempt has been made in what are called slave States to make the condition of slavery perpetual; and events have proved, with the clearness of demonstation, that a constitution which seeks to continue a caste of hereditary bondmen through endless generations is inconsistent with the existence of republican institutions. So, then, the new President and the people of the United States must insist that the proclamation of freedom shall stand as a reality; and, moreover, the people must never cease to insist that the constitution shall be so amended as utterly to prohibit slavery on any part of our soil forevermore.
Alas! that a State in our vicinity should withhold its assent to this last beneficent measure; its refusal was an encouragement to our enemies equal to the gain of a pitched battle, and delays the only hopeful method of pacification. The removal of the cause of the rebellion is not only demanded by justice; it is the policy of mercy, making room for a wider clemency; it is the part of order against a chaos of controversy; its success brings with it true reconcilement, a lasting peace, a continuous growth of confidence through an assimilation of the social condition. Here is the fitting expression of the mourning of to-day.
And let no lover of his country say that this warning is uncalled for. The cry is delusive, that slavery is dead. Even now it is nerving itself for a fresh struggle for continuance. The last winds from the South waft to us the sad intelligence that a man, who had surrounded himself with the glory of the most brilliant and most varied achievements, who but a week ago was named with affectionate pride among the greatest benefactors of his country and the ablest generals of all time, has usurped more than the whole power of the executive, and under the name of peace has revived slavery and given security and political power to traitors from the Chesa peake to the Rio Grande. Why could he not remember the dying advice of Washington-never to draw the sword but for self-defence or the rights of his country; and, when drawn, never to sheath it till its work should be accomplished? And yet from this bad act, which the people with one united voice condemn, no great evil will follow save the shadow on his own fame. The individual, even in the greatness of military glory, sinks into insignificance before the resistless movements in the history of man. No one can turn back or stay the march of Providence.
No sentiment of despair may mix with our sorrow. We owe it to the memory of the dead, we owe it to the cause of popular liberty throughout the world, that the sudden crime which has taken the life of the President of the United States shall not produce the least impediment in the smooth course of public affairs. This great city, in the midst of unexampled emblems of deeply seated grief, has sustained itself with composure and magnanimity. It has nobly done its part in guarding against the derangement of business or the slightest shock to public credit. The enemies of the Republic put it to the severest trial; but the voice of faction has not been heard; doubt and despondency have been unknown. In serene majesty the country rises in the beauty and strength and hope of youth, and proves to the world the quiet energy and the durability of institutions growing out of the reason and affections of the people. Heaven has willed it that the United States shall live. The nations of the earth cannot spare them. All the worn out aristocracies of Europe saw in the spurious feudalism of slaveholding their strongest outpost, and banded themselves together with the deadly enemies of our national life. If the Old World will discuss the respective advantages of oligarchy or equality; of the union of church and state, or the rightful freedom of religion; of land accessible to the many, or of land monopolized by an ever decreasing number of the few-the United States must live to control the decision by their quiet and unobtrusive example. It has often and truly been ob served that the trust and affection of the masses gathers naturally round an individual; if the inquiry is made whether the man so trusted and beloved shall elicit from the reason of the people enduring institutions of their own, or shall sequester political power for a superintending dynasty, the United States must live to solve the problem. If a question is raised on the respective merits of Timoleon or Julius Cæsar, of Washington or Napoleon, the United States must be there to call to mind that there were twelve Cæsars, most of them the opprobrium of the human race, and to contrast with them the line of American Presidents.
The duty of the hour is incomplete, our mourning is insincere, if while we express unwavering trust in the great principles that un derlie our government, we do not also give our support to the man to whom the people have entrusted its administration. Andrew Johnson is now, by the Constitution, the President of the United States, and he stands before the world as the most conspicuous representative of the industrial classes. Left an orphan at four years old, poverty and toil were his steps to honor. His youth was not passed in the halls of colleges; nevertheless he has received a tho