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Closing Days of Lincoln's First Term — His Second Inaug
uration - Interviews at the White House and with Generals and Soldiers at City Point - Appomattox. .
Having served four years in the depths of a great and yet unended national peril,” said Lincoln to the Congressional committee which notified him of the result of the Electoral count in February, “I can view this call to a second term in no wise more flattering to myself than as an expression of the public judgment that I may better finish a difficult work, in which I have labored from the first, than could any one less severely schooled in the task. In this view, and with assured reliance on that Almighty Ruler who has so graciously sustained us thus far, and with increased gratitude to the generous people for their continued confidence, I accept the renewed trust with its yet onerous and perplexing duties and responsibilities.”
As usual, the last hours of Congress were its busiest. The night of March 3d was a bustling, scrambling time, on which depended much to many people; and the President sat with his Cabinet in the Executive room at the Capitol for the more prompt disposal of enactments which were poured in upon him for official approval. Without, rain and darkness had unrelieved dominion of the night. These were the closing hours of the first term of his Presidency, and for the beginning of the second there was hope of brighter skies in the morning to welcome returning peace. The President, not without a shade of weariness on his face, had cheerful looks and words for those who called on him; conversing with his usual kindness of tone and manner, with ready incident or repartee, and joining in the occasional laughter which his own or another's humor excited. Whenever he bent to write his name or was otherwise isolated in mind, his countenance at once became tragic. The four years now ending had been to him a lifetime to which all the rest of his days had been as but a light prelude. The coming term was pacific in prospect, but with endless troubles still remaining. To bring the war to a close was not to settle all it had unsettled.
Even while thus waiting, during this watch-night, a dispatch came to the President's room, addressed by the Lieutenant-General to the Secretary of War, stating that General Lee had desired to meet him (Grant) with a view to arranging terms of peace. Lee at heart believed further fighting worse than useless, and that to secure the best conditions attainable in consideration of the disbanding of the Confederate armies was all that reasonably remained for their chief commander to do. In his letter to Grant (March 2d), Lee said he was authorized to undertake such negotiation. The scheme of a military convention, or treaty, had been taking shape in the minds of some people at Richmond. Mr. Davis later stated in his History) that one of his commissioners at Hampton Roads actually made such
a proposition to President Lincoln, who declined to entertain it.
Something of the kind had afterward been unofficially talked of by Generals Ord and Longstreet; and later Johnston and Breckinridge succeeded in favorably impressing Sherman's mind with this mode of ending hostilities.
Such was not the President's view. The civil authority must maintain its supremacy. Having read Grant's dispatch, he reflected for a few minutes, and then wrote with his own hand the following reply, which was dated, addressed, and signed by the Secretary of War (March 3d, 12 P. M.):
Lieutenant-General Grant: - The President directs me to say to you that he wishes you to have no conference with General Lee, unless it be for the capitulation of General Lee's army, or on some other minor and purely military matter. He instructs me to say that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political question. Such questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no military conferences or conventions. Meantime you are to press to the utmost your military advantages.
A large concourse of people was present to witness the ceremony of Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration and to listen to his address. As he came out on the platform at the east front of the Capitol, the sun broke through the clouds that had veiled the sky all the morning, and the multitude hailed the change as a propitious omen from above. He then spoke these forever memorable words - his second Inaugural Address:
Fellow-Countrymen: - At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then, a
statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it; all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union and to divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses ! for it must needs be that offense come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
The oath of office was then administered by Chief Justice Chase.
There was a rumor of some defeated purpose against the President's life as he went out on the portico, but as no violence to his person was really attempted and no accident occurred, the story made little impression.
The Senate, called together for executive business, had comparatively little to do. The nominations to office were chiefly promotions in the army and navy.
Lincoln's great power of endurance was visibly nearing its limit. Before the close
Before the close of March he suspended his wonted daily public audiences. One notable speech