Page images
PDF
EPUB

ligious and patriotic fervor and enthusiasm.

On the next day in greeting an esteemed caller, the President said: “Was not that burst of sunshine glorious? It made my heart jump."

The entrance of that large company of distinguished people and their distribution on the platform was a thrillingly imposing pageant. If they had gathered from different points and at intervals as the multitude had assembled upon the campus the spectacle would have been less graphic. But they all came pouring out at the same point and advanced with steady movement down to their respective stations. It seemed that the great rotunda from which they came was an arena in which the stalwart champions of human interests had been engaged in furious and successful combat with their enemies and from which they were marching out to receive the plaudits of the people.

In the personnel of its participants that pageant was never equalled in our nation's history. At other times there have been greater numbers in the procession, but on no other occasion has there been such a moving company of men and women of such high and heroic mold. The long struggles against slavery and the four years of war had engaged the efforts of people of the highest type who, by their warfare on behalf of freedom and human rights, had been developed to heroic measurements. No other administration and no Congress in our history contained so large a percentage of members of extraordinary character and talent as the nation had at that time. And they looked the part, never appearing to better advantage than when moving in that picturesque procession or massed upon that platform.

It was peculiarly fitting that that advancing column should be headed by the two men most fully typical of the two classes of high-grade American citizenship. The Chief Justice was at that time without a peer as a type of the best results of careful and wise breeding and thorough educational development and training. Descended from long lines of able and distinguished ancestors he was early recognized as worthy

[ocr errors]

of his lineage and was put in training for high distinction. In personal appearance and bearing he was majestic, tall, well formed, with massive head, and features indicative of great intellectual endowments and force of character. He was a finished product of the best New England stock and was generally regarded as unexcelled in the qualities thus produced.

But he was outclassed by the man who marched beside him in that inaugural procession. Chase was great, Lincoln was peerless. Chase was erect and dignified; Lincoln towered above him, too great for any touch of self-conscious mannerism. The features of Chase were like carved and polished marble; those of Lincoln were like deeply chiselled granite, roughened by the storm and tempest. Chase marched with precise and measured tread. Lincoln stepped along the way like a trained athlete whose well developed and supple muscles are like those of the graceful monarch of the jungle. In the appearance and movements of Chase his high class and cultured ancestry reappeared; Lincoln's giant frame and magnetic personality were the embodiment of an elect company of forebears developed, cultured and trained in the struggles of early frontier life, and in the spell which his presence cast upon all who saw him were revealed potentialities which were more than human. There were counterparts of Chase in some of the distinguished men upon the platform, and here and there were men who resembled Lincoln,

"Men of mould,
Well embodied, well ensouled,"

as Emerson aptly says.

From the moment he appeared leading that procession, my whole being was engaged in the study of Abraham Lincoln.

After he was seated, and while the members of the Presidential party were being assigned their stations, my opportunities to study the great leader were better than I had before enjoyed. He was sitting only a few feet from

the place where I was standing with his face turned in that direction, his uncovered head and rugged features illuminated by the bright and benignant sunshine. He appeared perfectly at ease, giving no heed to what was before or around him, and without the least indication of nervous tension or agitation. His head was not wholly erect as during the years of his titanic struggles in Illinois, but was slightly bowed as in meditation, and his massive shoulders were bent as with a great burden, giving the appearance of great strength and power of endurance. His eyes had a far-away, dreamy look, and there was not the slightest movement of the hand, head or features from the time he took his seat until he arose to speak. The great multitude was in a tumult of enthusiasm, but he seemed unconscious of their display of admiration and loyalty, being intent on matters of great magnitude and moment. During the six years immediately preceding that inauguration I had given much attention to the study of Abraham Lincoln. I had seen him upon other important occasions and had been with him until I thought I had formed an approximately accurate estimate of his dimensions, but never until I stood before him on that memorable 4th of March did I realize the immense power of his personality and his measureless reserve force.

His silence was eloquent; his meditation audible; his tranquillity dynamic; his repose instinct with action, and his solemn melancholy sparkled with humor and good cheer. From his tremendous personality there flowed currents of mystic power that were resistless in their influence upon the convictions and purposes of those about him. My sensitive nature responded to those waves of magnetic force while in rapturous bewilderment I sought to discover the secret of his greatness, and I was unconsciously lifted to a higher level of purpose by a silent influence which I felt but could not understand. Never after those moments of apocalyptic vision was I the same as I had been before. The time was too brief for further reflections, for soon all were seated, and without a signal or word of introduction Mr. Lincoln arose and advanced close to the railing, as near as possible to the great throng before him, with his right hand touching the table by his side and his left hand holding his manuscript. Thus he stood in silence while cheers and shouts seemed to rend the heavens with their volume and intensity. I had been in vast and enthusiastic gatherings before that day, but never had I heard anything so suggestive of the expression, "a sound like the voice of many waters," as were the salvos of applause that greeted President Lincoln as he stood before that throng.

There were thousands in that cheering crowd whose chief desire was not so much to witness the inaugural pageantry as to see and hear the President, and to express their patriotic loyalty by their presence and their enthusiastic demonstrations. They could see their hero who stood in plain view of each one, with his great wealth of coal black hair and long black coat forming a becoming framework for his strong, swarthy face, but many of them were late in coming, and unfortunately were compelled to take positions so far from the platform that they had no expectation of being able to hear a word of the inaugural address. Therefore, the continuance of the deafening applause was not as objectionable to them as it was to those of us who had secured positions near the platform.

There was no signal for silence from the President, no lifting of the hand or other movement, but an invisible influence from the silent and fixed figure before them soon hushed the multitude to a profound silence which became oppressive while the President delayed the beginning of his address. Then the first two words he uttered flew like a flaming dart out over the astonished people. What he said was startling because it was unique and utterly unexpected. Those first two words thrilled me through and through like recurrent waves of electricity, and upon others also, as I have learned, their influence was the same. In his first inaugural address,

« PreviousContinue »