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By commenting on the death of Mr. Lincoln, the people are called upon this day to yield the homage due to his exalted station and to his humble virtues; to confess the common debt due to him by mankind, as well as by ourselves; and to pronounce to millions yet unborn that eulogium which will re-echo through all time to come.
But can one who has warmly and earnestly opposed the policy and measures of Abraham Lincoln speak kindly of him, or eulogize his memory? I answer, yes: when such opposition has been promptly solely by patriotic considerations, then will the man rise superior to the partisan. It is one of the beautiful traits in our national character, that, after the rancor of partisan contests has passed away, men readily and frankly recognize the ennobling qualities of political opponents.
Like all who have attained prominent stations, and assumed the responsibility of daring enterprises and independent measures, it was Mr. Lincoln's lot to see many of his acts condemned, and himself reviled, by a portion of his fellow-citizens. The fire of party resentment raged around him with unprecedented violence, yet he remained calm and unmoved amid the uncontrolled fury of the flames, steadily adhering to, and pursuing, the measures he deemed best adapted to the true interests of the nation. The grand object of his administration, and which has encountered the fiercest opposition, has been achieved. Human bondage has been virtually banished from the land. The inexorable will of the majority, and the exigences of the times, had decreed it; and now that the work has been accomplished, all good citizens should gracefully submit. It is not the part of sensible men to reproach and cavil at the past, but to aid in reconstructing and strengthening, not alone the national Union, but also that unity of feeling among our countrymen which has been weakened, but not destroyed.
Prior to Mr. Lincoln's death, a change had come over the feelings of his opponents. It seemed as if He whose all-seeing eye pervades all space, penetrates the innermost recesses of man's heart, and views his actions before they are conceived, foreseeing the awful tragedy about to be enacted, was in reality preparing the hearts of the people to love and venerate the one so soon to meet a martyr's doom. Many weeks before that fatal day, truly patriotic men of all shades of opinion, in all parts of the land, had begun to regard Mr. Lincoln with confidence and esteem.
So kind and conciliatory an attitude had he assumed towards our enemies; so determined and honest a purpose to preserve the integrity of the nation was daily exhibited; so firm and unwavering a resistance to the radical measures and aims of political adherents was indisputably manifested, — that the very men who had resisted his election during the intense excitements of two political campaigns were constrained, first, to place implicit faith in his patriotism, and integrity of purpose; and, next, to yield a (perhaps unwilling) tribute to his sound judgment and ability.
His noble qualities inspired their confidence, and commanded their respect.
Nowhere was grief more unaffected and sincere than in the hearts of his political opponents. No more unselfish and profound mourners witnessed the sad funeral rites, than those who had honestly opposed his measures; and, indeed, the entire nation, as with a single heart bursting with one universal sense of overwhelming grief, with one wide-spread voice of sorrow, gave vent to a united wail of horror and lament.
Mr. Lincoln's public career is well known, and has been of late continually referred to. I need not speak of it. With but limited education, through indomitable perseverance and selfreliance, he rose gradually on the ladder of life, from the humblest round to the topmost pinnacle. Strong and clear in intellect, he
grasped at the questions of the day with surprising vigor. No fatigue was too great for his iron frame; no labor too much for his indomitable will. Though he may not have possessed the dazzling talents of some of his predecessors, or the courtly manners and stately dignity of others, yet he was one of "God's noblest works.”
What he said, he meant, and on that all could rely. Plain and unassuming in his manner, he was kind, courteous, and affable to all, and full of generous impulses. It was this latter trait in his character of which his enemies took advantage, and which his friends most feared.
No one so humble but that he gave him audience; accessible to all, he seemed indeed to feel that he was in the stead of father to his people. If he had no higher claims upon us, certainly as Israelites we should entertain a high regard for his memory.
While many occupying high positions have either ignored our existence, or turned a deaf ear to our claims for protection or redress, his just, kind, and generous nature was never appealed to by us in vain. On every occasion (and he has been several times appealed to) he promptly recognized our claims as a religious body to national protection, and acceded unhesitatingly to all our just demands. So strong and noble a contrast to others did he exhibit in this respect, that we should be guilty of gross ingratitude not to acknowledge it.
On his accession to power, he found the country involved in a formidable and unjustifiable rebellion. Of the cause or conduct of the war, it is not my purpose to speak. There have been wide differences of opinion agitating the public mind, inseparable from contests of that nature, where those of kindred birth have been arrayed against each other. Bitter words have been uttered and written. While many are disposed to censure him for errors committed, for harsh measures pursued, or extraordinary proceedings
instituted, they should reflect on the trying difficulties continually encountered, the existence of unknown and deadly foes in the very heart of the capital; untried men necessarily placed in responsible commands, and, proving incompetent, replaced by others; continued pressure by radical extremists among his political adherents, and other innumerable perplexities.
As events progressed, however, he became better appreciated, because better understood. Gigantic as was his task, he shrank not from it; but, with a firm self-reliance, with determination to pursue the course he deemed a correct and righteous one, " with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,” he overcame difficulties apparently insurmountable, and, with unwavering 'confidence in the justice of his cause, pursued it unfalteringly to its final triumphant issue.
Most great men owe their great renown to opportunity, and times of greatest calamity often serve to develop the greatest minds. It was opportunity which framed and created Abraham Lincoln. Prior to the four eventful years of his presidential term he was comparatively unknown; but, in that short epoch of his existence, he earned an imperishable fame. Truly do we live in deeds, not years," for centuries of life could not more indelibly have written his name among the illustrious ones of history.
What tongue can explain the mysterious fate which reigns on earth; or why the great Ruler of all, in his inscrutable providence and infinite wisdom, has permitted the accomplishment of the appalling crime which our country deplores?" He doeth all things well.” No mortal eye can penetrate the tortuous paths of joy and woe through which man's feet must wander, nor fathom the incomprehensible decrees of heaven; so, while we see in our affliction nought but dire calamity, we know not what great purpose it is intended to subserve, and which the future may develop.
Thus far, it has chastened our joy in the hour of triumph. It has caused all loyal men to cease political strife, and devote themselves to strengthening the hands of Government, and to yielding a firm and united support to his successor; and certainly the time and manner of his death has immortalized the memory of Mr. Lincoln, and on the pages of our history he stands recorded as a patriot and a martyr. Had he died but a few months earlier, after a brief space of mourning the memory of his loss would have passed away to be simply placed on record among the annals of the times.
But the crowning act of his life had been completed; a war unprecedented in magnitude and withering desolation had been brought to a successful issue: the entire nation stood in admiring gaze at the noble magnanimity of his course towards a defeated and unscrupulous foe, when, on that ever memorable night, the assassin's bullet sped with unerring aim upon its fatal mission.
The fourteenth day of April! Terrible day in the annals of our country. How pregnant with important events to the American people is that memorable month! On April 19, 1775, on the fields of Lexington and Concord, the first blood was shed in the War of Independence. On the nineteenth day of April, 1783, just eight years afterwards, peace was proclaimed in the American army. On the 14th of April, 1861, Fort Sumter was surrendered to the rebel forces; and five days afterwards the Massachusetts soldiers were inhumanly murdered in the streets of ' Baltimore.
How brightly opened the early days of that eventful month in 1865. Four years of bloody warfare, with its attendant vicissitudes and horrors, had passed, when came the joyful tidings of the evacuation of Petersburg; then quickly followed the flight of our enemies from Richmond; next, the unconditional surrender of the rebel army and its greatest general.