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AT THE UNION LEAGUE CLUB, UNION SQUARE, NEW YORK, APRIL 15, 1865.
I HAD thought that we had already derived from this war all 1 the lessons that it was designed to teach, whether by its discipline of suffering and sacrifice, or its fruits of triumph and rejoicing, - lessons of humiliation, lessons of patience, lessons of endurance, lessons of courage, lessons of faith, of hope, of beneficence, and lessons of ever-growing confidence in our Government and in Almighty God. But it seems that that voice and holy Providence which has guided us at every step of the war had yet other lessons for the nation, the necessity and the fitness of which we recognize to-day. First, amid the rejoicings of victory, and the feelings of magnanimity and forbearance called forth by the humiliation of the enemy, there was needed one final revelation of the atrocity of this treason, at which the nation and the civilized world should stand aghast. From first to last this conspiracy has been one stupendous crime, without plea of ignorance or of provocation, and without a shadow of justifying motive; but it was left for its expiring hours to unveil to us the horrible depths of its atrocity. For, whatever the motive or impulse of the assassins, they represent the spirit of the conspiracy. Vanquished in the field, its pretence of a government overthrown, its military power broken, its political leaders fugitive, its finances scattered to the winds, it comes with stealthy tread into the scenes of socia
festivity, and from behind drives the bullet of the assassin through the head of the mildest, gentlest of men, as he sits beside his wife in a circle of friends; and then, with an infamy yet more horrible, it invades the sacred chamber of sickness, the awful sanctity of impending death, and there butchers a feeble, maimed old man, upon his bed. It is the monster crime of history. Yet it was needful that this conspiracy should thus reveal itself for the final, righteous condemnation of the civilized world. Henceforth all nations will know with what we have have been dealing in these four weary and terrible years.
The nation needed another lesson of unity, which could be learned only through a great sympathetic sorrow. We bow to-day before the majesty of sorrow, and feel that we are one. We have felt the spontaneous thrill of patriotism, when the vast area in front of this building was thronged with citizens outraged at the fall of Sumter. We have felt the sympathetic throb of common dangers, and have been pressed together by our perils and our fears. And we have felt also the thrill of exultation, and the community of joy. But nothing so fuses and welds human souls together as participation in some great sorrow. Henceforth our souls are one. Even the tone of opposition journals has been melted to-day into the pathos of this mighty grief. Henceforth this nation is fused into one, in the crucible of calamity, and is cemented by the blood of its Head.
A third lesson impressed upon us to-day is the imperishable vitality of Government, and the grandeur of our Constitution under all emergencies. We have seen it tested in conflict with foreign powers; we have seen it tested by the fearful strain of civil war, and by the scarce less anxious trial of a presidential election in the midst of war, — and it has stood. And now, under this severest shock, - a shock that might shatter a kingdom or an empire into chaos, — it still stands.
That mysterious, invisible, impalpable entity, we call the State, – that intangible something, that we call Government, stands forth to-day in awful reality.
The sovereignty of the people lifts its next representative into the just-vacant chair.
The State moves on, without pause at the nation's grief, — without concussion from the blow that struck down the nation's Head.
The bullet and knife of the assassin did not touch its vitality The life of the Constitution was not endangered. The State moves calmly, steadily onward, with no jar in any of its functions. It seems to me that the statue of Liberty which crowns the dome of the Capitol, - that worthy and typical memorial of Abraham Lincoln's administration, - looking calmly down upon the august presence of death, beckoned to the State beyond, saying, " Let the dead bury their dead: follow thou me.” And the State moved on, and will move on, in the line of freedom and of justice, unshaken for ever.
Such are the direct teachings of this providence. The time, the men, the manner, all conspired to make these lessons most impressive.
The time: just when the power of the conspiracy was broken; just when Abraham Lincoln's policy and fame had rounded into fulness; just when there was no furthur hope from organized resistance to the Government, — came this wanton cruelty of revenge. The men: the two men in all this nation whose personal tone and spirit were least obnoxious to the rebels, whose forbearance and mildness were stretched to the utmost limits of our charity, — these are the men thus butchered for sustaining Government and law. The manner: had the President fallen by the bullet of a marksman when he was at the front, or by the dagger of an assassin at Richmond, our grief at his loss would have been mingled with regret for the needless exposure. But this crime, perpetrated in a place presumed to be safe from violence, and at an hour devoted to festivity, and repeated at the bed of death, makes these lessons stand out before us in characters of blood.
This is not the time for eulogy of the illustrious men whose names are blended in this sorrow. For Mr. Seward, I shall not anticipate the tribute of history. He himself has anticipated its verdict in his speeches in the great debates on slavery, in the Senate. In one of these he gives this as the rule adopted for the government of this conduct:
“Let thy scope
And, in a speech against the iniquity of fastening slavery upon Kansas, you remember that, forecasting a period of fifty, of one hundred, of two hundred years, he summoned before him the millions who would be affected by the action of that hour. "I shall not meet them,” he said, "here on the earth; but I shall meet them all on that day when I shall give up the final account of that stewardship which my country has confided to me.” Then, enumerating the various considerations arising from his early patriotic and Christian training, his study of history, his political observation and experience, he added, " If I were now to consent to such an act, I should be obliged, when that last day shall come to me, to call upon the rocks and the mountains to fall upon me, and crush me and my name, detested then by myself, into endless oblivion.” Then, in the name of the Constitution, of justice, and of humanity, protesting against the crime, he took his solemn
appeal to the great Searcher of hearts; and there we may safely leave him as he hangs trembling on the verge of eternity.
Of the character and virtues of the President, it is not necessary that I should speak. We had learned to lean upon his judgment as we had always leaned upon his integrity; to confide in his sagacity as a statesman, no less than in his honesty as a patriot. His kindliness and gentleness of heart, his candor and magnanimity, had commanded the respect even of his enemies, and all had come to confess him wise and prudent, where once they had thought him slow and timid. Firmness he had when firmness was needed; and it may be said of him, as Motley has so finely said of his great prototype, William of Orange, " whether originally of a timid temperament or not, he was certainly possessed of perfect courage at last: he went through life, bearing the load of a people's sorrows upon his shoulders, with a smiling face.”
That cheerful heart sustained him under burdens and trials hitherto unknown in our history; and we can add no higher eulogy than the story of the good Prince of the Netherlands, that repeats itself to-day: " As long as he lived he was the guidingstar of a whole brave nation; and, when he died, the little children cried in the streets."
Above all, his was the strength of religious faith. Abraham Lincoln read the word of God for his daily guidance, and was not ashamed to have it known that he was a man of prayer. That solemn, almost prophetic, utterance of his at his inauguration, so puzzling to mere politicians, will stand in history as the grand testimony of a true, human soul. There was but one thing more that Abraham Lincoln could do, - not for himself but for us,—that he should lay down his life for the country whose Union and freedom had become the very essence of that life. By that sacrifice the redemption of the nation is hallowed, is perfected, is sure.