Page images
PDF
EPUB

Evening came. Mr. Lincoln was in the parlor of the hotel. The members of the Peace Conference entered. They beheld a tall man wearing ill-fitting clothes. What was it that instantly arrested their attention ? Was it the kindly face? Was it the perfect ease with which he greeted each one when introduced by Mr. Chittenden?

“You are a smaller man, Mr. Rives, than I supposed—I mean in person; every one is acquainted with the greatness of your intellect. It is indeed pleasant to meet one who has so honorably represented his country in Congress and abroad.” (°) Mr. Rives comprehended that a man so familiar with his personal history was not an ignorant boor. ()

“ The clouds,” said Mr. Rives," that hang over us are very dark. I can do little, you can do much. Everything now depends on you."

“I cannot wholly agree to that. My course is as plain as a turnpike road. It is marked out by the Constitution. I am in no doubt which way to go. Suppose we all stop discussing and try the experiment of obedience to the laws and the Constitution. Don't you think it will work ?"

“May I answer that question ?" Mr. Summers, of West Virginia, made the request. Mr. Lincoln waited for him to go on. “Yes, it will work. If the Constitution is your light I will follow it with you, and the people of the South will go with us.”

“Your name, Mr. Clay (James B. Clay, of Kentucky), is all the indorsement you require. From my boyhood the name of Henry Clay has been an inspiration to me."

“Does liberty still thrive in Eastern Tennessee ?" the question to Mr. Zollicoffer, who had been member of Congress from that State. Little did Mr. Zollicoffer think that before a twelvemonth passed he would meet death on the battle-field of Mill Springs.

The deep, sepulchral voice of John A. Seddon, of Virginia, who was doing what he could to bring about the secession of that State, broke in: “It is your failure to enforce the laws of which we complain-to suppress your John Browns and Garrisons, who preach insurrection and make war upon our property.”

There was humor and firmness in Mr. Lincoln's reply: “If my memory serves me, John Brown was hung and Mr. Garrison imprisoned. You cannot justly charge the North with disobedience to statutes, or with failure to enforce them. You have made some which are very offensive, but they have been enforced, not withstanding."

“ You do not enforce the laws. You refuse to execute the statute

for the return of fugitive slaves. Your leading men openly declare that they will not assist the marshal to capture or return them,” said Seddon.

“You are wrong in your facts again, Mr. Seddon. Your slaves have been returned from the shadow of Faneuil Hall, in the heart of Boston. Our people do not like the work. They will do what the law commands, but they will not volunteer to act as tipstaves and bumbailiffs. The instinct is natural to the race. Is it not true of the South? Would you join in the pursuit of a fugitive slave if you could avoid it? Is it the proper work for gentlemen ?"

"Your Press," said Seddon, “is incendiary. It advocates servile insurrections, and advises our slaves to cut the throats of their masters. You do not suppress your newspapers. You encourage their violence.”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Seddon; I intend no offence, but I will not suffer such a statement to pass unchallenged, because it is not true. No Northern newspaper, not even the most ultra, has advocated a slave insurrection, or advised slaves to cut their masters' throats. A gentleman of your intelligence should not make such assertions. We do maintain the freedom of the Press. We deem it necessary in a free government. Are we peculiar in that respect? Is not the same doctrine held in the South ?”

The haughty Virginian could make no reply. (*)

“ Is the nation, Mr. Lincoln, to be plunged into bankruptcy? Is the grass to grow in our streets?" asked William E. Dodge, merchant, of New York.

“ If it depends upon me, the grass shall not grow anywhere except in the fields, where it ought to grow,” the reply.

** Then you will permit the South to control our institutions ?”

“I do not know that I quite understand you. I do not know what my acts or opinions may be in the future. If I ever come to the great office of President of the United States I shall take an oath to the best of my ability to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. This is a great and solemn duty. With the support of the people and the assistance of the Almighty 1 shall undertake to perform it. I have full faith that I shall perform it. It is not the Constitution as I would like to have it, but as it is, that is to be defended. The Constitution will not be preserved and defended until it is enforced and obeyed in every part of every one of the United States. It must be so respected and defended, let the grass grow where it may."

His words were deep and solemn, as if spoken at the funeral of a departed friend. Those around him could all but hear the beating of their hearts in the hush and stillness.

“Should the North make further concessions to avoid civil war? Shall we consent that the people of a Territory shall determine the question of having slaves ?" the questions by a delegate.

“It will be time to consider such a question when it arises. Just now we have other questions to decide. The voice of the civilized world is against slavery. Freedom is the natural condition of the human race in which the Almighty intends men to live. Those who fight the purposes of the Almighty will not succeed. They always have been, they always will be, beaten,” the reply.)

“Mr. Lincoln,” remarked Mr. Rives, of Virginia, to Mr. Chittenden, “ has been misjudged and misunderstood by the Southern people. They have looked upon him as an ignorant, self-willed man, incapable of independent judgment, full of prejudices, willing to be used as a tool by more able men. This is all wrong. He will be the head of the nation and do his own thinking. He seems to have studied the Constitution, and to have adopted it as his guide. I do not see how any fault can be found with the views he has expressed this evening. He is probably not so great a statesman as Mr. Madison, he may not have the will. power of General Jackson; he may combine the qualities of both. His will not be a weak administration." (*)

The day for inauguration came. Never before had there been so many people in Washington. Soldiers were stationed in groups along

Pennsylvania Avenue and on the roofs of buildings. CavalryMonday, March 4, men rode beside the carriage that bore President Buchanan

and Mr. Lincoln from Willard's Hotel to the Capitol. Not far away artillerymen were sitting on their caissons or on their horses, ready to move in an instant should General Scott give a signal. But the conspirators who had plotted the death of Mr. Lincoln did not dare attempt his assassination.

From the Senate-chamber came Mr. Lincoln, President Buchanan, Mrs. Lincoln and her sons, Chief-justice Taney, in his black robe of office, and the clerk of the Supreme Court bearing a Bible. They passed to the eastern portico. Thousands had gathered to witness the inauguration. The Capitol was unfinished. Above the throng rose the huge derricks by which the marble and iron for the construction of the dome were lifted.

Many of those standing beneath the portico were inseparably connected with the history of the country. James Buchanan, old, feeble,

1861.

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »