« PreviousContinue »
THE GLOOMY WINTER OF 1861.
While these various movements were going on, Lincoln remained at his home in Springfield, Illinois, a deeply anxious, yet hopeful spectator. The greatest solicitude was manifested North and South, to learn his views, and ascertain his policy. In November, he visited Chicago, and expressed to his friends, the deepest concern in regard to the movements of South Carolina, and other States, threatening revolution. The impression he made upon all who approached him was, that he was direct, truthful, and sincere, with a heart full of good nature and kindness, yielding to his friends in all matters, except those which involved principle, but upon such questions, inflexibly firm. He expressed strong hopes, that notwithstanding the intense excitement, he might be able to quiet the storm, and restore tranquility without war.
To an inquiry made to one of his intimate friends, as to what kind of a man is Lincoln ? the reply was, “He has the firmness, without the temper of Jackson.”
No one will ever forget the dark and threatening aspect of affairs which lowered upon the country during the winter of 1860-61. What a horrid nightmare were the long days of that winter, in which patriots could see conspirators plotting, traitors plundering the treasury, dispersing the soldiers of the Republic, and sending its armed ships abroad, and already stripping the arsenals; the dark and awful tornado coming, and the rebels preparing to scuttle the ship of State, after having plundered her of money and arms, and these very conspirators her chief officers, and the people passengers, with no power to interfere! How anxiously the people watched and waited, how earnestly they prayed for the 4th of March, none will ever forget. All eyes were turned to Lincoln as to the only man who could save his country from the clutches of the conspirators.
That was a strange spectacle — an hour of awful suspense, the 15th of February, 1861, when the electoral votes were counted in joint session of both houses of Congress. Breckinridge, the Vice President, presided. Fears were entertained that by some fraud or violence, the ceremony would be interrupted or not performed. But the schemes of the conspirators were not yet ripe for violence. In pursuance of
the Constitution and the forms of established law, both houses of Congress met at 12 M., in the gorgeous hall of the House of Representatives. In such joint session, the Vice President and Speaker, sit side by side, the Vice President presiding. The Chaplain of the House, as well as the crowds of people who had thronged to the Capitol, seemed impressed with the peculiarly solemn character of the proceedings. He invoked God's blessing and protection upon the President elect, prayed for his safe arrival at the Capital, and that he might be peaceably inaugurated; (thus exhibiting the anxiety of the public mind upon the subject.)
The two most conspicuous personages present, were the Vice President, Breckiuridge, and Douglas; both unsuccessful candidates for the Presidency. Breckinridge received seventy-two electoral votes, and Douglas only twelve, although he was second to Lincoln only, in the popular vote.
On the 11th of February, Mr. Lincoln left his home at Springfield for Washington.
His journey to the Capital was all the way through crowds of anxious, religious, and patriotic men, everywhere invoking upon him, the blessing, the guidance, and protection of Almighty God.
How deeply he himself felt, and how oppressively he realized the weighty responsibilities resting upon him, appears from the beautiful and touching speech he made to his immediate friends and neighbors from the platform of the railcar, when about to start, and bidding good-by to that home to which he was destined never again to return alive. There is not a more touching and sublime speech in our language than this. Said he:
MY FRIENDS: No one, not in my position, can realize the sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century. Here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I shall see you again. I go to assume a task more difficult than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upou which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine blessing which sustained him; and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support. And I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain. Again, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.
LINCOLN ON HIS WAY TO WASHINGTON.
The deep, religious feeling which pervades this speech, marked him to the close of his life. All through his troubles he earnestly solicited the prayers of the people, and they were his. From the time of his departure from Springfield, until he was borne back from the Capital which he had saved, – hallowed forever in the hearts of a people whom he had delivered, and Deified by a race which he had emancipated, he was the object of earnest prayer at the family altar, and in the house of public worship, from Maine and Minnesota to the Ohio and the mountains of Tennessee; from the great lakes to the ocean bounds of the Republic, Every loyal heart asked God's blessing upon “Honest Old Abe.”
As he went forth upon his mission to fill his grand destiny, and to his final martyrdom, every where the hearts of the people went out to meet him. Their feelings found expression in the mottoes inscribed upon the banners under which he was to pass : “We will pray for you.” “God bless you!" “God aid you!” “God help you to save the Republic.” On one of the draped banners, which followed him to his grave in Springfield, was a motto which truthfully expressed the sentiment of the whole American People :
He left us, borne up by our prayers;
He passed through the great States of Indiana, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, on his way to the Capital.
From the date of the election, to the time when Mr. Lincoln left Springfield for Washington, there had appeared, through the press, and by other channels, vulgar threats and menaces that he should never reach the Capital alive. Little attention was paid to them; yet some of Mr. Lincoln's personal friends in Illinois, without his knowledge, employed a detective, and sent him to Washington and Baltimore to investigate. This detective ascertained the existence of a plot to assassinate the President elect, as he passed through Baltimore. The first intelligence Mr. Lincoln had of this was at Philadelphia. After the ceremonies of the day, he was called to the room of Mr. Judd, a devoted friend, who had
IIe had ap
accompanied him from Illinois, and the facts laid before bim. He was urged to start at once for Washington, taking the train that night, by which he would reach the Capital early the following morning; and thus he would pass throngh Baltimore in the night, and two days earlier than the conspirators anticipated, and so avoid the danger. pointments to meet the citizens of Philadelphia at Independence Hall, and the Legislature of Pennsylvania at larrisburg. He therefore declined starting for Washington that night, but was finally persuaded to allow his friends to arrange for him to return to Philadelphia, and go to Washington the evening after the ceremonies at Harrisburg. On the next day, the 22d of February, Mr. Lincoln visited the old Independence IIall, where the Congress of the Revolution adopted, amidst the most solemn deliberation and grave debate, the Declaration of Independence. This had ever been the Bible of Mr. Lincoln's political faith. However others might differ, he believed, with his whole heart, in the Declaration of Independence. It was to him no tissue of "glittering generalities,” but he gave to it an honest, hearty homage and reverence. He made the following speech on the occasion. He said:
All the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated in, and were given to the world from this hall. I never had a feeling, politically, that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland, but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that, in due time, the weight would be listed from the shoulders of men. This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awsul! But if this country cannot be saved without giving up the principle, I was about to say, “ I would rather be assassinated on the spot, than surrender it."
I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, to die by.
The allusion to the assassination was not accidental. The subject had been brought to his attention in such a way that, although he did not feel there was serious danger, yet he had just been assured positively, by a detective, whose veracity
PLOT TO ASSASSINATE LINCOLN AT BALTIMORE.
his friends vouched for, that a secret conspiracy was organized, at a neighboring city, to take his life on his way to the Capital.
TIe went to Harrisburg, according to arrangement; met the Legislature, and retired to his room. Meanwhile, General Scott and Mr. Seward had learned, through other sources, the existence of the plot to assassinate him, and had despatched Mr. F. W. Seward, a son of Senator Seward, to apprise him of the danger.
Information coming to him from both these sources, each independent of the other, induced him to yield to the wishes of his friends, and anticipate his journey to Washington. Besides, from Baltimore there had reached him no committee, either of the municipal authorities or of citizens, to tender him the hospitalities, and to extend to him the courtesies of that city, as had been done by every city through which he had passed. He was persuaded to permit the detective to arrange for his going to Washington that night. The telegraph wires to Baltimore were cut; and, with one friend, wearing, not a Scotch cap, (as alleged by the daily press), but a felt hat, which some friend had presented to him, he arrived at Philadelphia, drove to the Baltimore depot, and the next morning the Capital was startled by the announcement of his arrival.
Mr. Lincoln, long afterwards, declared: “I did not then, nor do I now, believe I should have been assassinated, had I gone through Baltimore, as first contemplated; but I thought it wise to run no risk, where no risk was necessary."'*
Those who review the facts, in regard to the conspiracy, in the light of his subsequent assassination, can entertain no doubt, either of the existence of the plot, the fiendish determination of the conspirators, nor that many prominent rebels were knowing and consenting to it. A letter is in existence, from the Governor of a border slave State, written before that date, and in reply to an application for arms, asking whether they would be used “to kill Lincoln and his
Stated to the author by Mr. Lincoln, from whom the foregoing facts, in regard to the assassination plot, were obtained.
+ It is due to this Governor, to say, that he was subsequently a devoted Unionist, aplexplained this letter, by stating it to have been a joke.