Page images

of interest to the toiling miners of the distant West; walking by his side from his parlor to the door, as he took his last steps in that Executive Mansion he had honored; receiving the last grasp of that generous and loving hand, and his last good-bye; declining his last kind invitation to join him in those hours of relaxation which incessant care and anxiety seemed to render so desirable, my mind has since been tortured by regrets that I had not accompanied him. If the knife which the assassin had intended for Grant had not been wasted, as it possibly would not have been, on one of so much less importance in our national affairs, perchance a sudden backward look at that eventful instant might have saved that life, so incalculably precious to wife, and children, and country-or, failing in that, might have hindered or prevented the escape of his murderer. The willingness of any man to endanger his life for another's, is so much doubted, that I scarcely dare to say how willingly I would have risked my own to preserve his, of such priceless value to us all. But if you can realize that it is sweet to die for one's country-as so many scores of thousands, from every State, and county, and hamlet, have proven in the years that are passed, you can imagine the consolation there would be to any one, even in his expiring hours, to feel that he had saved the land from the funereal gloom which, but a few days ago, settled down upon it, from ocean to ocean, and from capitol to cabin, at the loss of one for whom even a hecatomb of victims could not atone.

"Of this noble-hearted man, so full of genial impulses, so self-forgetful, so utterly unselfish, so pure, and gentle, and good, who lived for us, and at last died for us, I feel how inadequate I am to portray his manifold excellencies, his intellectual worth, his generous character, his fervid patriotism. Pope celebrated the memory of Robert Harley, the Lord of Oxford, a privy counsellor of Queen Anne, who himself n rrowly escaped assassination, in lines that seem prophetic of Mr. Lincoln's virtues:

"A soul supreme in each hard instance tried;
Above all pain, all anger, and all pride,

The rage of power, the blast of public breath,
The lust of lucre, and the dread of death.'

"No one could ever convince the President that he was in danger of violent death. Judging others by himself, he could not realize that any one could seek his blood. Or he may have believed, as Napoleon wrote to Jerome, that no public man could effectually shield himself from the danger of assassination. Easier of access to the public at large than had been any of his predecessors; admitting his bitterest enemies to his reception-room alone; restive under the cavalry escort, which Secretary Stanton insisted should accompany him last summer in his daily journeys between the White House and his summer residence, at the Soldier's Home, several miles from Washington, at a time, too, as since ascertained in the details of this

long-organized plot, discovered since his death, when it was in tended to gag and handcuff him, and carry him to the Rebel capital as a hostage for their recognition; sometimes escaping from their escort by anticipating their usual hour of attendance; walking about the grounds unattended; he could not be per suaded that he run any risk whatever.


Being at City Point after the evacuation of Richmond, he determined to go thither: not from idle curiosity, but to see if he could not do something to stop the effusion of blood and hasten the peace for which he longed. The ever-watchful Sec retary of War hearing of it, implored him by telegraph not to go, and warned him that some lurking assassin might take his life. But, armed with his good intentions-alas, how feeble a shield they proved against the death-blow afterwards--he went, walked fearlessly and carelessly through the streets, met and conferred with a Rebel leader who had remained there, and when he returned to City Point telegraphed to his faithful friend and constitutional adviser, who till then had feared, as we all did at that time, for his life- I received your despatch last night, went to Richmond this morning, and have just returned. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.' When I told him, on that last night, how uneasy all had been at his going, he replied, pleasantly, and with a smile (I quote his exact words): 'Why, if any one else had been President and gone to Richmond, I would have been alarmed too; but I was not scared about myself a bit.' If any of you have ever been at Washington, you will remember the footpath, lined and embowered with trees, leading from the back door of the War Department to the White House.

"One night, and but recently too, when, in his anxiety for news from the army, he had been with the Secretary in the telegraph office of the Department, he was about starting home at a late hour by this short route, Mr. Stanton stopped him, and said, 'You ought not to go that way--it is dangerous for you even in the daytime, but worse at night.' Mr. Lincoln replied, I don't believe there's any danger there, day or night.' Mr. Stanton responded, solemnly, Well, Mr. President, you shall not be killed returning that dark way from my Department while I am in it; you must let me take you round by the avenue in my carriage.' And Mr. Lincoln, joking the Secretary on his imperious military orders, and his needless alarm on his account, as he called it, entered his carriage and was driven by the welllighted avenue to the White House.


And thus he walked through unseen dangers without the dread of death;' his warm heart so full of good-will, even to his enemies, that he could not imagine there was any one base enough to slay him; and the death-dealing bullet was sped to its mark in a theatre, where, but little over an hour before, he had been welcomed, as he entered, by a crowded audience rising, and with cheers and waving of handkerchiefs, honoring him with an ova

tion of which any one might well be proud. Some regret that he was there at all. But, to all human appearance, he was safer there, by far, than in his own reception-room, where unknown visitors so often entered alone. He found there a temporary respite, occasionally, from the crowds who thronged his anterooms, relaxation from the cares and perplexities which so constantly oppressed him, keeping his mind under the severest tension, like the bent bow, till it almost lost its spring, and, on this fatal night--to be so black an one hereafter in our calendar--going with reluctance, and, as he expressed it to Mr. Ashmun and myself, only because General Grant, who had been advertised with himself to be present, had been compelled to leave the city, and he did not wish to disappoint those who would expect to see him there.

"Of the many thousands of persons I have met in public or private life, I cannot call to mind a single one who exceeded him in calmness of temper, in kindness of disposition, and in overflowing generosity of impulse. I doubt if his most intimate associate ever heard him utter bitter or vindictive language. He seemed wholly free from malignity or revenge; from ill-will or injustice. Attacked ever so sharply, you all remember that he never answered railing with railing. Criticised ever so unjustly, he would reply with no word of reproof, but patiently and uncomplainingly, if he answered at all, strive to prove that he stood on the rock of right. When, from the halls of Congress or elsewhere, his most earnest opponents visited the White House with business, they would be met as frankly, listened to as intently, and treated as justly as his most intimate friends. It could be said of him as Pyrrhus said of Fabricius when the latter, though in hostile array, exposed to his enemy the treachery of his physician, who proffered to poison him--' It is easier to turn the sun from his career than Fabricius from his honesty.' Men of all parties will remember, when the exciting contest of last fall ended in his triumphant re-election, his first word thereafter, from the portico of the White House, was that he could not and would not exult over his countrymen who had differed with his policy.

"And thus he ruled--and thus he lived-and thus he died. The wretch who stood behind him and sent his bullet crashing through that brain, which had been devising plans of reconciliation with the country's deadliest foes, as he leaped upon the stage and exulted over the death of him whom he denounced as a tyrant, uttered as foul a falsehood as the lying witnesses who caused the conviction and the crucifixion of the Son of Man, on the same Good Friday, nearly two thousand years ago. I would not compare the human with the Divine, except in that immeasurable contrast of the finite with the Infinite. But his whole life proves to me that if he could have had a single moment of consciousness and of speech, his great heart would

have prompted him to pray for those who had plotted for his blood, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!' "He bore the nations perils, and trials and sorrows, ever on his mind. You knew him, in a large degree, by the illustrative stories of which his memory and his tongue were so prolific, using them to point a moral, or to soften discontent at his decisions. But this was the mere badinage which relieved him for the moment from the heavy weight of public duties and responsibilities under which he often wearied. Those whom he admitted to his confidence, and with whom he conversed of his feelings, knew that his inner life was checkered with the deepest anxiety and most discomforting solicitude. Elated by victories for the cause which was ever in his thoughts, reverses to our arms cast a pall of depression over him. One morning, over two years ago, calling upon him on business, I found him looking more than usually pale and careworn, and inquired the reason. He replied, with the bad news he had received at a late hour the previous night, which had not yet been communicated to the press-adding, that he had not closed his eyes or breakfasted; and, with an expression I shall never forget, he exclaimed, 'How willingly would I exchange places to-day with the soldier who sleeps on the ground in the Army of the Potomac !'

[ocr errors]

"He was as free from deceit as from guile. He had one peculiarity which often misled those with whom he conversed. When his judgment, which acted slowly, but which was almost as immovable as the eternal hills when settled, was grasping some subject of importance, the arguments against his own desires seemed uppermost in his mind, and in conversing upon it he would present these arguments to see if they could be rebutted. He thus often surprised both friend and foe in his final decisions; always willing to listen to all sides till the latest possible moment; yet, when he put down his foot, he never took a backward step. Once, speaking of an eminent statesman, he said: 'When a question confronts him, he always and naturally argues it from the stand-point of which is the better policy; but with me,' he added, 'my only desire is to see what is right. And this is the key to his life. His parents left Kentucky for Indiana in his childhood, on account of slavery in the former State; and he thus inherited a dislike for that institution. As he said recently to Governor Bramlette, of his native State, 'if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.' Moving to Illinois, he found the prejudices here against anti-slavery men, when he entered on public and professional life, more intense than in any other free State in the Union. But he never dissembled, never concealed his opinions.

"Entering, in 1858, on that contest with his great political rival, but personal friend, Judge Douglas, which attracted the attention of the whole Union, he startled many of his friends

by the declaration of his convictions that the Union could not permanently endure half slave and half free, that ultimately it would be either the one or the other, or be a divided house that could not stand; that he did not expect the Union to be dissolved, or the house to fall, but that it would cease to be divided, and that the hope of the Republic was in staying the spread of slavery that the public mind might rest in the hope of its ultimate extinction. And, though he coupled this with declarations against Congressional interference with it in existing States, it was not popular, and kept him in the whole canvass upon the defensive. But to every argument against it his calm reply was, in substance, 'such is my clear conviction, and I cannot unsay it.'

His frankness in expressing unpopular opinions was manifested also, when in Southern Illinois, before an audience almost unanimously hostile to the sentiments, he declared, in the same close and doubtful contest, that, when the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men were created free and equal, it did not mean white men alone, but negroes as well; and that their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, were as inalienable as the noblest of the land. He claimed no power over State laws in other States which conflicted with these rights, or curtailed them; but with unfaltering devotion to his conscientious conviction, and regardless of its effects upon his political prospects, he never wavered in his adherence to this truth. And yet, when elected President of the United States, he executed the Fugitive Slave Law, because his oath of office as the Executive, in his opinion, required it. When urged to strike at slavery under the war power, he replied in a widely published letter, 'My paramount object is to save the Union, and I would save it in the shortest way. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. But I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.' And, when at last the hour arrived when, in his honest opinion, the alternative between the death of slavery and the death of the Union confronted him, then, and not till then, he struck at the cause of all our woes with the battle axe of the Union.


Signing that immortal proclamation, which made him the Liberator of America, on the afternoon of January 1st, 1863, after hours of New Year's hand shaking, he said to me and other friends that night-The signature looks a little tremulous, for my hand was tired, but my resolution was firm. I told them in September, if they did not return to their allegiance and cease murdering our soldiers, I would strike at this pillar of their strength. And now the promise shall be kept; and not one word of it will I ever recall.' And the promise was kept,

« PreviousContinue »