Page images
PDF
EPUB

making his acquaintance," a luxury, by the way, which General Cameron stepped in and reserved for himself.

I am reminded of this interesting character by a letter which I received a few days ago from my old friend, Dr. Jonas R. McClintock, of Pittsburgh, who attended the venerable statesman during his last illness, and who is devoting himself to the praiseworthy task of reviving the past history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. His materials will run back a hundred years, and will, when embodied in book form, constitute not

, only a valuable depository of facts, but, if written, as they will be, in the Doctor's pleasant style, one of the most fascinating memoirs of the times. If men like Dr. McClintock would occupy a little of their leisure in the accomplishment of the same purpose, in their respective localities, they would honor themselves and enrich the literature of their country. As a specimen of the work now in course of preparation by Dr. McClintock, he inclosed to me the following striking incident of the last hours of his venerable friend, Judge Wilkins, now for the first time published :

‘Judge Wilkins gloried in the unimpeachable integrity that marked the bench,' and jealously guarded his own status in the profession by well and carefully determined opinions. It was a treat to listen to his criticisms on the public acts of the various departments of the Government as they transpired during the recent rebellion. It was a current on which he delighted to glide, affording invigorating exercise and securing an intellectual clearness that accompanied him through life.

“On the occasion of a several days' anticipated visit, during the last few weeks of life, from his nearest neighbor, a medical friend, who was prevented making his customary unprofessional call, the Judge was found in a half-reclining position on his couch, in pleasant conversation with members of his family seated around, while the music of the little birds that had become wedded to the broad eastern portico by his punctual supplies, broke upon his ear their joyous song of thanks.

JEFFERSON DAVIS TRIED.

89

6

“After a pause, hesitating to mar this lovely patriarchal picture, the defaulting visitor entered the open September door, to whom the Judge turned, and after words of sharp but playful rebuke, closing with finding ample apology for apparent neglect in sickness at home, he said: “You can not guess, Doctor, how I have passed some of the tedious hours on my cot.' Pausing for a moment, he continued: 'I have been trying Jefferson Davis for high-treason. I have gone through the whole formula with all the solemnity of a great State trial; the court properly constituted, the jury impaneled, and the prisoner arraigned, the latter answering to all counts in the indictment, “Not guilty.”

"In opening the case for the United States, I took occasion to assure the court that I would economize its valuable time so far as the prosecution was concerned, and close the case of the State in half an hour.

6 • The first witness called to the stand was General Longstreet, who, having been duly sworn, stated, in answer to an interrogatory, that he had commanded the armed forces of the Southern Confederacy who had invaded the District of Columbia, and within the limits of the city of Washington had killed and wounded more than one hundred Union soldiers, and that in so acting he had but obeyed the order of the chief commander, General R. E. Lee. Waiving further question the witness was discharged, and General Lee called and duly sworn, who testified as to his position in the Confederate service, his directions to Longstreet, and his subordination to Jefferson Davis, president and commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the Confederate States, from whom he had received instructions to invade Maryland and the District for the purposes carried out by his lieutenant-general. At this point I closed and rested my case.

After hearing the defense, and without a word of argument, I asked the jury to render a verdict of guilty. His fate was then sealed. The defense of want of jurisdiction-too

a

oner.

late in presenting, and weak if entertained-left the prisoner's counsel to a silent submission, and he was duly convicted.

“Yet in mercy I looked at the matter in another light, and to that end constituted myself the leading advocate of the pris

After solemn arraignment, the calm, worn, but inflexible offender, who did not appear to shrink from the bloody consequences of his acts, or tremble at his own peril, following my judgment and counsel as his only hope for the future, to the question put in the ponderous tones of the clerk—“Guilty or not guilty?" said: "May it please the court, I answer guilty ! not morally, but politically guilty. Permit me to say further, the first lessons that fell on my ears at the hearthstone of my father -the first political teachings received at the feet of the wise and learned men of the academy and the university, and vindicated by the universal sentiment of those with whom I mingled in Southern homes, comprehended the doctrines inculcated by the Virginia resolutions of 1798, teaching allegiance as first due to the sovereignty of my State, subordinating that of the General Government.

“"" This may in your wisdom, and in the judgment of the world, be determined a high crime; but I submit that it was

; done in the faith of the right, and with the belief, however misguided, of conscientious duty.

"6"I therefore throw myself on the judgment of the court, and ask its merciful recommendation to pardon."

“'I,' said the Judge, 'felt that this was his only chance of escape.

«« Thus I have been filling up my time, dreaming myself away in the sturdy hope for an early return of fraternal feeling among the States.'

Standing on the very verge of the grave, after an eighty years' buffet with the world, pleasantly rehearsing the line of thought that had engaged his last hours, forgetting his weariness and weakness in first grasping treason by the throat, and

[blocks in formation]

then turning from the sacrifice and counseling such frank acknowledgment as could not fail to reach the magnanimity of the authorities so deeply offended—such was the loved, not faultless, sage of “Homewood" during the fortnight that transpired before the “golden bowl was broken," or the flowers of his own choice placed upon his bier.

“Stronger by weakness, wiser men become,
As they draw near to their eternal home;
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
They stand upon the threshold of the new.”

[May 28, 1871.]

XXI.

CALLED to Washington on official business, I find myself this warm and breezy morning of the 30th of May seated at the open window of my old room in the Mills House, once more looking over into the sacred grounds of Arlington, where twenty thousand Union soldiers sleep their last sleep, and silently yet sternly sentinel the Capitol they saved. And this is Decoration day! The Departments are closed in honor of the dead heroes. From Maine to Mexico, wherever the grave of a Union soldier is found, it will be visited by some Union man

or woman,

“Such graves as these are pilgrim shrines,

Shrines to no code or creed confined ;
The Delphian vales, the Palestines-

The Meccas of the mind.”

The fervor with which Decoration day is venerated proves the undying love of our people for their country. The sentiment is a conviction that grows with every hour, and ripens only to be renewed in freshness and vigor. Decoration day is,

a

therefore, another Independence day; precisely as the abolition of human slavery in 1863 gave force to the abolition of British surveillance in 1776. But it was more than this. It was the intellectual disenthralment of four millions of blacks and thirty millions of whites. It revolutionized the wicked work of ages of misrule. It wrought in less than nine years the destruction of the evils of almost as many centuries.

Where were we all on the 30th of May, 1861? As I ask the question, Robert E. Lee's Arlington house shines out white from the dark green foliage of the southern side of the Potomac, and seems to answer : “Ten years ago this day my owner had just tendered an unstained sword, with a troubled heart, to his country's foe. Ten years ago Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, Stonewall Jackson, James Buchanan, Edward D. Baker, Howell Cobb, John B. Floyd, Lewis Cass, Owen Lovejoy, were living; they have since gone before the Great Judge, and have answered for all their mortal deeds. Ten

years ago the thousands of slain around me, and 'three hundred thousand more,' were active and intelligent men, useful fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers. But these dead have left behind lessons and warnings that will not die.”

“Ah! gentlemen," said Frederick Douglass, the really great leader of the colored race of America, yesterday afternoon, “who shall tell the story of these last ten years? I can not. To me all is changed; and what an unutterable, indescribable change! From slavery to liberty, from ostracism to equality, from ignorance to self-respect, from sin to schools, from the lash to the light, from the bludgeon to the ballot, from a country bound in chains to a nation robed in glory, from a capital that seemed to be rooted in despotism to a great city, free and wholesome and beneficent. Find your orator to tell us of these marvels. I have no speech to describe, though my heart cherishes them all."

“Blessed be this night,” said another of the same race on an

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »