« PreviousContinue »
The great rebellion was ended. General Grant reached Washington on the thirteenth of April, and held an interview with the President and Mr. Stanton, the result of which was. the issue of an order from the War Department on the same day, or, rather, of a statement that orders would immediately be issued, to stop drafting and recruiting, to curtail purchases for arms, ammunition and supplies, to reduce the number of general and staff officers to the necessities of the service, and to remove military restrictions on trade and commerce.
The American people were floating on the high tide of joy. All were glad and happy; and, as they returned their thanks to the Giver of all good for victory and peace, they did not forget the instrument he had used in the execution of his plans. Mr. Lincoln's name was on every tongue. The patient man who had suffered the pain of a thousand deaths during the war-who had been misconstrued, maligned, and condemned by personal and party enemies, and questioned and criticised by captious friends,-was the man above all others who stood in the full sunshine of the popular affection. His motives were vindicated, his policy had been sanctioned by success, and his power had been proved. He was the acknowledged savior of his country, and the liberator of a race. He had solved the great problem of popular government; he had settled the great question of African slavery on the continent. He had won a glorious place in history; and his name had been committed to the affectionate safe-keeping of mankind.
On the evening of the eleventh of April, the White House was brilliantly illuminated; and to the immense crowd gathered around it, to express their joyous congratulations, Mr. Lincoln delivered his last public address. He said little about victory, further than briefly to express his acknowledgments to the soldiers who had fought, and the God who had prospered their arms; but, turning his eyes from the past, he regarded the future, and the new duties and perplexities which it was certain to bring. "Reconstruction" was the burden of his speech; and he explained, at length, his connection with
the efforts at reconstruction which had taken place in LouisiThe question as to whether the rebel states were out of the Union, or in it, he regarded as a "pernicious abstraction." "We all agree," said he, "that the seceded states, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those states, is to again get them into their proper practical relation.” He believed the state government of Louisiana offered for that state a practicable plan of return, but he was not committed to that plan alone. The quickest way back to the old relations with the government was the best way, without any regard to any finely spun theories.
The Louisiana Legislature had ratified the Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, and Mr. Lincoln said: "These twelve thousand persons (the loyal element of the state) are thus fully committed to the Union, and the perpetuation of freedom in the state-committed to the very things, and nearly all the things, the nation wants; and they ask the nation's recognition, and its assistance to make good this committal. Now, if we reject and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We, in fact, say to the white man: 'You are worthless, or worse: we will neither help you nor be helped by you.' To the blacks we say: "This cup of liberty which these your old masters, held to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.'”
All the President's plans considered the welfare of the black man as well as the white; and there will be no better opportunity to give his views of negro suffrage than this page will furnish. This great question, which promises to be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to the party which placed Mr. Lincoln in power-a stone which is certain, in the administration of God's providence, to become the head of the corner-was one which he had carefully considered, and upon which, with his respect for human rights, he could have but one opinion. In a letter to the late General Wads
worth, he once said: "You desire to know, in the event of our complete success in the field, the same being followed by loyal and cheerful submission on the part of the South, if universal amnesty should not be accompanied with universal suffrage. Since you know my private inclinations as to what terms should be granted to the South, in the contingency mentioned, I will here add that, if our success should thus be realized, followed by such desired results, I cannot see, if universal amnesty is granted, how, under the circumstances, I can avoid exacting in return universal suffrage, or at least suffrage on the basis of intelligence and military service."
Thus stands Mr. Lincoln's record on this question, and thus must stand the record of every man whose love of men and whose regard for human rights are as genuine as those which moved the heart of the good President. The party which loved and supported Mr. Lincoln cannot deny the principle of universal suffrage, without denying both Mr. Lincoln and the everlasting principles of right upon which he based his action-upon which they have won all their successes. And if, for immediate advantage, in the strife for power, they so far turn their backs upon their record as to deny manhood to the African, and refuse to recognize his service in the salvation of the republic, they are sure to be defeated, as they will be certain to deserve defeat.
MR. LINCOLN had reached the pinnacle of his life. By careful and painful steps he had mounted from the foot of the ladder of American society to its topmost round. He had done this by the forces of his nature and character, without adventitious aids, or favoring circumstances. He had accomplished the greatest work for his country and for mankind that had ever been committed to a mortal to perform. A great nation had been saved from wreck by his hands; a race had been disenthralled by his word and his policy; and a popular government had been established in the faith and affections of its subjects, and in the respect of the governments of the world. His enemies had been silenced, his friends had been reassured, his motives and his policy had been vindicated, and his person had come to be regarded with tender affection by tens of millions of men. Up to him were wafted the acclamations of millions of freemen. Across the ocean came appreciative and plauditory words from other continents. Benedictions were breathed upon him by multitudes of humble people whom he had enfranchised. Is it strange that the instincts of his own logical mind should forecast death as the next logical step in such a course?
Throughout all the later months and years of the war, he had freely said that he did not expect to outlast the rebellion; but in the flush of triumph,-in his large, loving, and liberal plans for the good of the people whom the fortunes of war had left at his feet,-in his dreams of the future union and har
mony of the states,―he forgot this, and was hopeful and happy. He talked to his friends, his cabinet, and his family cheerfully of the future, and gratefully of the past. He had no resentment to gratify, no revenge to inflict, no malicious passion that clamored for indulgence. The thought of being able to prove to the people of the South that he owed them no illwill, and the determination to deal with them as gently as would be for the public safety, filled his magnanimous spirit with the sweetest satisfaction.
It is hardly to be supposed that the possibility of assassination was ever long absent from his mind, during the four years of his presidency. The threats began before he left Springfield for Washington. The attempt to assassinate him was made upon the train that bore him from his home. It was repeated upon that which bore him from Cincinnati. He ran through the meshes of a conspiracy against his life at Baltimore. He was in the constant receipt of threatening letters; and these were kept in a package by themselves, appropriately labeled. He did not permit these, however, to trouble him, regarding them as only the malicious missives of bullies and cowards. He undoubtedly regarded himself as always in a dangerous position, though the fact had no tendency to make him careful of himself. He reasoned upon this, as upon other subjects, and could never see that anything would be gained by his death. He had no comprehension of the malice that would delight in his assassination, as a measure of revenge. He supposed that every man would require some rational purpose to be answered by so terrible a crime. "If they kill me," said he, on one occasion, "the next man will be just as bad for them; and, in a country like this, where our habits are simple, and must be, assassination is always possible, and will come if they are determined upon it." He went to and from the War Department with perfect freedom; drove out to the Soldiers' Home, his summer residence, and back at night, often in an open carriage, alone. He walked the streets of Washington at night, with only an unarmed companion, who trembled with the apprehension of the possible consequences of such