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THE DRAMATIC ELEMENT IN THE
CAREER OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
"For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator; for a testament is of force after men are dead."- HEB. ix. 16, 17.
IT is sweet to linger in the fragrance of a good man's memory. The part that Abraham Lincoln has acted in our history can never become old or worn. It is a career upon which historians will ever love to dwell, and which will never lose its charm for the people. And, after all that has been spoken and written concerning him, there is yet one phase of his wonderful life and tragic destiny which has great attractiveness, and which I have hinted at once or twice in previous discourses, but which, so far as I have seen, has not anywhere been fully developed or much noticed. Mr. Sumner, in his eulogy just spoken, touches more closely upon what I refer to than any other writer or speaker whose words have come to my eye; but the object he had proposed to himself did not allow him to more than skirt the border of this phase of the great theme.
The point of view that I have in mind is the perfect dramatic unity and progress of Abraham Lincoln's life,— the wonderful line of destiny, or
of providence, by which his career, from his birth to his death, was unfolded, in all its parts and acts and through all its shiftings of place and scene and time, on the thread of a single vital truth and to a single moral end. This life moves across the stage of history with the dramatic march of one of Homer's heroes. The stern demands of ancient Grecian tragedy were not more observed by its great artists in their greatest works than they have been observed in the actual life of this American President. Here must be no side issues, no confounding of moral lessons, no division and distraction of one prevailing moral purpose and force, no departure, amid whatever private or professional or domestic episodes or whatever change and variety of action, from the one truth which this individual career from its outset was chosen to embody and to teach for humanity. From its entrance on the stage of earthly being to its exit, this life must be moved by one inexorable purpose and will, and march to one inevitable fate, in order to print upon the heart of the world one of the grandest truths of human civilization and government and progress.
This is our theme. But why bring it here, and make it a subject of religious meditation? It may belong to the dramatist and the poet, it may serve the uses of the lecture-room and the magazine, but why bring it to the church? Because, first, there is a providence behind the scenes, the. hidden infinite manager of the great drama. The ancients
called it fate, destiny: we call it Providence, God, the Infinite Spirit. Abraham Lincoln, though selfpossessed to an extraordinary degree, though having great independence and originality of being and native resources and capacities very largely at his command, was yet impelled, as few men have been, by a power beyond his own, possessed, used, chosen for a special work by a spirit above himself. And, secondly, I bring the theme here because of the grand moral importance to humanity of the truth which his life was selected thus dramatically to unfold and teach.
And what is this truth? It is the truth of republican freedom, simplicity, and equality,— in one word, the truth of democracy, as theoretically stated by Jefferson in the opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence. By the strict line of this truth, the life of Abraham Lincoln, act by act and scene by scene, was developed, from the day his eyes first saw the light in a log cabin on the Western frontier of civilization to the day when, as President of the United States, standing at the very topmost height of official position and honor, he was slain by the hand of an assassin, and those eyes closed forever to mortal things. To this truth he was born; to it he was apprenticed by the necessary conditions of his lot, during all the years of his boyhood and youth. At manhood it became his property purchased by conviction; it stamped henceforward his whole character, and all his personal, social, and professional habits.
When he was called into political life, this was at once his creed and the central principle of all his measures and acts; and, when this truth was challenged and defied by rebellion to the government founded upon it, then he, seemingly by accident, yet inevitably, became the leader of the loyal hosts in the fierce struggle with despotism and slavery, led them to triumph, and, in the hour of triumph, fell,- fell that he might have the greater triumph, as the Greek tragedians made their heroes fall in order that they might ascend to Olympus and to the society of the gods, fell that he might seal his testament to this truth of republican freedom, simplicity, and equality, with his blood, and sanctify it henceforth as the solemnly established polity of the nation. Is not here a life-drama such as is seldom enacted on this earth?
But let us bring out some of its features in fuller relief. Let us see how, in every part of its course, this career is vitalized, and its direction and progress determined by the truth I have stated, see how close the hidden, inimitable Artist ever holds it to the one purposed aim, how statelily and solemnly it advances, by steps that seem almost to know whither they tend, to the inevitable tragic end.
The drama opens in the rudest and humblest condition of democratic life, the farthest possible removed from wealth and culture, and from any influences that may have been transmitted across the seas from the forms and refinements of monarchical
civilization. Not amid the schools and cities and growing luxuries of the East, but in the far West, where nothing is yet established but the pure democratic idea, must the hero be born who is to testify for that idea through life and by death. He must be born of nothing but pure democracy. The world must see that this future republican ruler owed nothing by birth save to republican freedom, simplicity, and equality. Therefore he is born in a hut without floor, with but one room, with no articles of luxury, with very few even of comfort or necessity, born to toil and poverty, born of parents having no lineage, no learning, no library, having nothing but a little spot of soil and a rough shelter over their heads and honest hearts and hard-working hands. Yet, according to the theory of the country written in the Declaration of Independence, and partially established by the Revolution, those parents are a part of the sovereignty of the land; and from their loins must be born the strong man who is to be leader and ruler of the nation through the severest contest that democracy has ever known, and who is to testify to all history and throughout all time for the truth of the democratic idea.
But the contest against democracy has already begun. There is an institution in the land that flagrantly denies its most fundamental principles,
an institution of caste, inequality, oppression, and despotism. This institution has spread out to the frontier settlements. It is closing around that