Page images

it; and even destroy their own to keep it from the enemy. Civilized belligerents do all in their power to help themselves or hurt the enemy, except a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among the exceptions are the massacre of vanquished foes and non-combatants, male and female. But the proclamation, as law, is valid or is not valid. If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it cannot be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life. Some of you profess to think that its retraction would operate favorably for the Union. Why better after the retraction than before the issue?

There was more than a year and a half of trial to suppress the rebellion before the proclamation was issued, the last one hundred days of which passed under an explicit notice that it was coming, unless averted by those in revolt returning to their allegiance. The war has certainly progressed as favorably for us since the issue of the proclamation as before. I know, as fully as one can know the opinion of others, that some of the commanders of our armies in the field, who have given us our most important victories, believe the emancipation policy and the aid of colored troops constitute the heaviest blows yet dealt to the rebellion, and that at least one of those important successes could not have been achieved when it was but for the aid of black soldiers. Among the commanders holding these views are some who have never had any affinity with what is called abolitionism, or with “Republican party politics,” but who hold them purely as military opinions. I submit their opinions as being entitled to some weight against the objections often urged, that emancipation and arming the blacks are unwise as military measures, and were not adopted as such in good faith.

You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem to be willing to fight for you — but no matter. Fight you, then, exclusively to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time then for you to declare that you will not fight to free negroes. I thought that, in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resist

ance to you. Do you think differently? I think that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive, even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.

The signs look better. The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great Northwest for it. Yet not wholly to them. Three hundred miles up they met New England, Empire, Keystone, and Jersey, hewing their way right and left. The Sunny South, too, in more colors than one, also lent a hand. On the spot their part of the history was jotted down in black and white. The job was a great national one, and let none be blamed who bore an honorable part in it; and, while those who have cleared the great river may well be proud, even that is not all. It is hard to say that anything has been more bravely and better done than at Antietam, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg, and on many fields of lesser note. Nor must Uncle Sam's web-feet be forgotten. At all the waters' margins they have been present; not only on the deep sea, the broad bay and rapid river, but also on the narrow, muddy bayou; and wherever the ground was a little damp, they have been and made their tracks. Thanks to all. For the great Republic for the principles which it lives by and keeps alive — for man's vast future - thanks to all. Peace does not appear so far distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time. It will then have been proved that among free men there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet, and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case and pay the cost. And then there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while I fear that there will be some white men unable to forget that, with malignant heart and deceitful speech, they have striven to hinder it.

Still, let us not be over-sanguine of a speedy final triumph. Let us be quite sober. Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in His own good time, will give us the rightful result.

The last Thursday of November was designated as a day of national Thanksgiving, in a proclamation (October 3d), which suggests, in its fluent and pious periods as well as in its optimistic tone, the skilled hand of Secretary Seward, who countersigned the President's signature. These passages are examples:

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to invite and provoke the aggression of foreign States, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict, while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

The needful diversion of wealth and strength from the field of peaceful industry to the national defense has not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship. The axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than hitherto. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made by the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any human hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverentially, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. *

* Notice, in this connection, the following passage-genuine

The dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, on the 19th of November, drew to that place a vast assemblage of people. The orator for the occasion was Edward Everett, whose elaborate and classic address was worthy of his fame. Lincoln was present rather for his interest in the occasion than for the purpose of speaking, though he knew some words would be expected of him. His brief speech, uttered in a clear, plaintive tenor, and audible far and wide through the compact and intently listening throng, created profound emotion. To this fact there has been abundant testimony. Many years after, one who was present, and who bore an official and friendly relation to the President (Marshal Lamon), was reported to have spoken of this address as disappointing to some of his friends, even alleging private remarks of Mr. Everett in that vein, and adding: “The real worth of the immortal words uttered by Mr. Lincoln upon the battlefield of Gettysburg was not discovered until after his assassination.” Hon. James Speed, Attorney-General at a later

“Sewardese "-from the President's proclamation (March 30, 1863), for a National Fast, issued at the request of the Senate :

““ We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preservea us in peace, and multiplied, and nourished and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness."-Rebellion Record, VI., Doc. 490.

date, being questioned as to the accuracy of this representation, gave the following explicit and interesting statement:

From the first publication of Mr. Lincoln's Gettysburg speech, it was admired by all men of taste and culture beyond anything they had ever heard of a like character. After I went to Washington, in speaking to him one night in familiar conversation about his Gettysburg speech, he told me that he had never received a compliment he prized more highly than that contained in a letter from Edward Everett, written to him a few days after that speech was delivered, and commenting upon it. He produced the letter, and allowed me to read it. It was as complimentary as it could possibly have been. I do not remember its expressions, but I remember well the extremely handsome and Hattering tone of the letter.

I will say further that a year or two after the death of Mr. Lincoln there were present at my house, in Washington, Senator Sumner, Governor Clifford, of Massachusetts, and others, and Mr. Lincoln's Gettysburg speech became the subject of conversation. Mr. Sumner said, and the others concurred in what he said, that it was the most finished piece of oratory he had ever seen. Every word was appropriate none could be omitted, and none added, and none changed. He also showed that he had appreciated the great merit of the speech when it was first published, for he said that when he first read it, he had thought the word “proposition improperly used; but upon reflection, and in the effort to put some other word in its stead, he came to the conclusion that his first impressions were wrong.

It seems to me curious that, in the face of so much that is well known, and so much that has become history in connection with that memorable speech, any man should attempt to say its surpassing merit was not felt and appreciated throughout the country immediately upon its first publication. I know that it was. It produced an instant and deep impression.

Mr. Everett's letter above mentioned (copied from

« PreviousContinue »