Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Macmillan's Magazine, said: “He (Mr. Lincoln) professed to wait on events, or, rather, on the manifestations of the moral forces around him, wherein, with a mind sobered by responsibility and unclouded by selfishness, he earnestly endeavored to read the will of God, which, having read it, he patiently followed to the best of his power. In him, his nation has lost, not a king, or a prophet,—not a creative moulder of its destinies, or an inspired unfolder of its future,—but simply a sensible interpreter, and a wise, temperate, honest executor of its own better mind."

Even these expressions of the British press do not indicate the popular feeling with which the English people received the announcement of Mr. Lincoln's assassination. The excitement which filled the public mind, on the reception of the startling tidings, in all the great cities and considerable towns of England, was only equaled by that which swept over those of our own country. It was hard to tell whether horror at the crime or grief for its victim was the predominant emotion of the British people. Men who applauded the deed, were kicked out of assemblies in London, as they were in New York. The dignified Mr. Mason, the rebel commissioner, was boldly condemned for an attempt to extenuate the crime on the ground that it was a natural incident of civil war.

At home, the change of feeling was hardly less marked and gratifying. Presses that had done Mr. Lincoln injustice throughout his whole career, made haste to lay their tribute of respectful praise upon his bier. Men who had cursed him, joined tearfully in the processions which attended his long journey homeward. Even from the depths of the dead rebellion, there came honest lamentations, and sincere praises. The eyes of his “blinded fellow countrymen,” which he so ardently desired to open, were unsealed at last, to behold, in the man they had so long regarded with hatred or contempt, the friend they had always possessed, and the benefactor they sorely needed, but had lost forever.

course.

Andrew Johnson, the Vice-president, became, under the provisions of the Constitution, the President of the United States, by taking the oath of office, on the morning of the murder. The people who had battled for the Constitution and the laws so long, did not dream of a resort to any other

The speculations of a portion of the foreign press, concerning this event, showed how unworthy and inadequate still was the estimate of the American people and their institutions. There was not a hand lifted, or a word uttered, to question or dispute the step which installed a new President over the republic; and there was not, in a single American heart, a doubt as to the result. There was no panic, no excitement, no danger, no disaster; but the country kept to its groove, and felt no jar as it slid into the new administration.

The world could not conceal Mr. Lincoln's murderer. It had no waste so wide, no cavern so deep, as to give him a safe hiding-place. That was evident to everybody; and would have been foreseen by himself, had he not been stultified by his greed for blood. Large rewards were offered for his apprehension, and military and police were quickly on the alert. After a few days of doubt, it became evident that Booth, with a companion, had passed over the Navy Yard Bridge, which crosses the eastern branch of the Potomac. It was known

. that the assassin had been in the habit of spending much time in Charles County, Maryland, and had been in correspondence with the disloyal people there. It afterwards appeared that Booth, accompanied by David C. Harold, rode all night after the commission of the murder; and that near Bogantown he called on one Dr. Mudd, to have his leg dressed, which had been fractured by his leap upon the stage, at the time he committed the murder. The detectives, reaching this region, and hearing that Dr. Mudd had received the visit of two suspicious strangers, arrested him and all his family. From this point, Booth and his accomplice were tracked toward the Poto

The ruffians were undoubtedly aided in their progress by disloyal citizens, for the officers were frequently not more than an hour behind them. Although gunboats were patrolling the river, the murderer and his accomplice crossed the Potomac under cover of darkness. It was soon afterwards ascertained where they had crossed, and the cavalry started in pursuit. The men were found at last in a barn belonging to William Garratt. The building was surrounded, and Booth was called upon to surrender himself. He flatly refused to do so. Harold was ready to surrender, but Booth cursed him for a coward; and declared to Colonel Baker, at the head of the force, that he would not be taken alive. The barn was fired, and Booth attempted to extinguish the flame, but failed. Harold then gave himself up, while the murderer remained, displaying all the qualities of the hardened desperado. Sergeant Boston Corbett, moved by a sudden impulse, drew up his pistol, and fired upon Booth, who was seen standing in the barn, with a revolver in each hand; and planted a ball in his neck, which passed entirely through his head. He died within less than three hours, sending to his mother a message to the effect that he had died for his country, and exhibiting no penitence whatever for the terrible deed he had committed. He was shot on the twenty-sixth of April, twelve days after the murder. His body was taken back to Washington, and was buried, no one save those to whom the task of sepulture was assigned having any knowledge of its place of burial. Harold was committed to prison to await his trial.

mac.

John Wilkes Booth was the son of the famous actor, Junius Brutus Booth, and had attained some celebrity in his father's profession. He was an exceedingly handsome man; but he had been notoriously and grossly profligate and immoral in his habits. Still, his gifts and his beauty had made him a favorite in certain nominally respectable social circles. His sympathy with the rebellion was well understood in Washington, but he was never regarded as a dangerous man. That he committed the crime which cost him his life from any romantic love of the South, or from any desire to avenge the South for fancied wrongs, is not probable. The deed seems to have been the offspring of a morbid desire for immortality. He had given frequent hints, in his conversation, of the miserable passion which possessed him; and there is no doubt that he had worked himself into a belief that he should rid the world of a tyrant by murdering the President, and thus link his name with a startling deed which, in the future, would be admired as a glorious act of heroism. Certainly his deed was one of wonderful boldness; and the bravery which he exhibited at his capture was worthy of a better cause and a better man.

Fortunately, no fatal wounds were inflicted upon Mr. Seward in Payne's attempt upon his life, or upon any of those who were subjects of violence at that ruffian's hands. The Secretary and his son, Mr. Frederick Seward, were desperately wounded; but, under skillful surgical care, they entirely recovered. Payne was arrested, and, with his fellow conspirators-David E. Harold (who was captured with Booth) George A. Atzerodt, Michael O’Laughlin, Edward Spangler (who held Booth’s horse at the theater, and aided his escape,) Samuel Arnold, Mary E. Surratt and Dr. Samuel Muddwas tried by a military commission. The conspiracy contemplated not only the murder of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, but that of Vice-president Johnson and Lieutenant-general Grant. Booth alone accomplished his task. Payne made a desperate effort,---such as only a man of his great physical strength could make; but failed. Atzerodt, to whose hands the murder of the Vice-president was committed, was not competent, morally or physically, to the task he undertook; while General Grant escaped the projected attempt upon his life by leaving the city. Harold, Atzerodt, Payne and Mrs. Surratt, the latter of whom aided and abetted the plot, were sentenced to be hanged; and they suffered the penalty of their crimes on the seventh day of July. Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlin were sentenced to hard labor for life, and were consigned to the Dry Tortugas. Edward Spangler accompanied them, sentenced to hard labor

for six years.

The writer cannot bid farewell to the reader, and to the illustrious subject of this biography, without a closing tribute to a character unique in history, and an administration that stands alone in the annals of the nation. We have seen one of the humblest of American citizens struggling through personal trials and national turmoils, into the light of universal fame, and an assured immortality of renown. We have seen him become the object of warm and devoted affection to a whole nation. We have witnessed such manifestations of grief at his loss as the death of no ruler has called forth, within the memory of man.

We have seen a great popular government, poisoned in every department by the virus of treason, and blindly and feebly tottering to its death, restored to health and soundness through the beneficent ministry of this true man, who left it with vigor in its veins, irresistible strength in its arms, the fire of exultation and hope in its eyes, and with such power and majesty in its step, that the earth shook beneath its stately goings. We have seen four millions of African bondmen who, groaning in helpless slavery when he received the crown of power, became freemen by his word before death struck that crown from hi- brow. We have seen the enemies of his country vanquished and suing for pardon; and the sneering nations of the world, whose incontinent contempt and spite were poured in upon him during the first years

of his administration, becoming first silent, then respectful, and then unstinted in their admiration and approbation.

These marvelous changes in public feeling, and the revolutions imbodied in these wonderful results, were not the work of a mighty genius, sitting above the nation, and ordering its affairs. That Mr. Lincoln was much more than an ordinary man, in intellectual power, is sufficiently evident; but it was not by intellectual power that he wrought out the grand results of his life. These were rather the work of the heart, than the head. With no wish to depreciate the motives or undervalue the names of Mr. Lincoln's predecessors in office, it may be declared that never, in the history of the government, , have the affairs of that office been administered with such di

« PreviousContinue »