A Memorial Discourse on the Character of Abraham
Lincoln, Day, P. D., June 1, 1865,
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
DELIVERED AT HOLLIS, N. H.,
ON THE DAY OF THE NATIONAL FAST, JUNE 1, 1865.
P. B. DAY,
PASTOR OF THE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
PRINTED BY McFARLAND & JENKS.
WE are here to-day, my friends, at the request of the highest authority of our land, to unite with the great mass of our countrymen in the memorial services of our late lamented and endeared President. The mysterious events of a wise Providence have taken from us the second Father of our Country, and a bereaved nation mourns. A cruel and ruthless hand has smitten him down, and bathed us all in tears. We have come to mingle our sorrows; to dwell upon his virtues, and to learn such lessons as his untimely death is calculated to teach.
Never, since time began, has the departure of one man filled so many hearts with sadness, and never have so many gathered, on one occasion of mourning, as will be gathered this day. The cruel manner of our President's death; the critical period of public affairs in which he fell; the loss of so much experience, talent, and honest purpose, and the sundering of so many cords of personal love, all conspire to make the event one of the most mournful interest. All civilized nations tender us their sympathy, and unite with us in sorrowing over our sad bereavement. Thirty millions of hearts have been pierced by one foul blow of the assassin,
That my remarks may take the form of a religious discourse, they will be based upon--
II. SAMUEL 3: 32, 38.
"AND THE KING LIFTED UP HIS VOICE AND WEPT AT THE GRAVE OF ABNER, AND ALL THE PEOPLE WEPT....AND THE KING SAID UNTO HIS SERVANTS, KNOW YE NOT THAT THERE IS A PRINCE AND GREAT MAN FALLEN IN ISRAEL THIS DAY."
There were two things which made the death of Abner such an afflictive event among the Jews. One was the manner by which he came to his end. He was invited aside, to hold a friendly interview, by one of equal rank with himself, and there, while enjoying, as he supposed, the protection of friendship and of honor, he was stabbed under the fifth rib, and died. The deed was regarded with horror by friends and foes, and all alike bewailed the event. David would have put to death the assassin, as he did those of Saul and Mephibosheth, but he found the sons of Zeruiah too hard for him, and he left the punishment to Solomon, who executed his father's command.
The other consideration which enhanced the grief of the Jews was the fact that a man of great worth had fallen. Precisely in what Abner's greatness consisted, his brief biography does not inform us, but certain it is he was a man possessing extraordinary
It is these two considerations that have pierced so deeply the heart of this great nation, in the death of ABRAHAM LINCOLN. He had led this people through the most trying period that a people ever passed. He took the helm of state at a time when the storm was breaking upon us; when the political sky was filled with dark, portentous clouds; when the hearts of men quailed with fear; and, by a rare sagacity and firmness, he piloted us through our perils. Though at first unknown, his signal ability and devotion soon secured our confidence and love. We saw his comprehensive thought; his christian faith; his cheerful disposition; his persistency in the right; his reliance on divine support; his integrity, firmness, and superior foresight, and our hearts went out toward him. They clustered around him as the magnetic sands around the needle, or as a family of children around a father, when a beast of prey howls around the dwelling. We felt a great security while he was guiding our destinies, and worked on in cheerfulness and in hope. We should have been sad, indeed, had he fallen by disease. Yet, had God sent some messenger of sickness or accident to cut him of we should have had the grief, without the indignation; but when cruelty and atrocity are added, our cup is more than full. Our grief, our sense of justice, our holy and unholy cravings for revenge, are all aroused, and the national heart cries out for redress from the depths of her sorrow.
But MR. LINCOLN and his cruel murderer are both
Among the many causes which have led to so deep and universal regret at his death is the fact that he was beloved by the nation, and they loved him because he first loved them. Love is a rare attribute in the chief magistrate of a great people. We do not demand nor expect that he who stands at the helm of state shall be a lovely or loving man. We have even felt that such virtues would disqualify one for the sterner duties of judicial or military administration. We have demanded justice, firmness, integrity, comprehensive views of government, and have thought that the less of the heart the better. We have so long regarded an iron will and an iron heart as the first requisite for a ruler, that we have thought tenderness and love a weakness. But MR. LINCOLN has changed our views. He was one of those rare men who could sit with dignity and ability in the chair of State, under the ermine of domestic and
He had neither pomp nor aristocracy in his veins. He was born and always lived among the common people. All his associations were with that class who obtained a livelihood by honest toil, and who cherish the domestic virtues. Believing these virtues to be the underlying elements of all elevated humanity, whether in high life or in low, he took them to himself. He had no sympathy with that so-called high, chivalrous life, which ignores purity, affection and love.
Accordingly, when he was elevated to the chief office of the nation, he brought his character with him. He went into the White House determined to be a man, as well as a ruler; and if compelled, in some measure, to conform to the common usages of diplomacy, he would not sink his manhood. He would still be kind, merciful and true to christian and social virtue.
Hence the people loved him--loved him as they never loved a President before. He was plain, honest, straight-forward, unsophisticated. They saw he was unambitious, and had the courage to stand between intriguing politicians and themselves. They heard
The people also had great confidence in MR. LINCOLN'S judgment, as well as love for his character. Burke said that confidence was a plant of slow growth; but under the pressure of emergencies it will sometimes grow fast. That was true of MR.LINCOLN. When he assumed his official trust, the dark clouds of war were hovering around us. He was a stranger to us, and we were fearful. He came from civil life, and without military experience. The circumstances of the country were all new; there was no fixed and settled policy. Public sentiment was like immense sea-surges, rolling over the breakers. All was agitation. If there was any man in which the country had confidence, it was in General Scott. What MR. LINCOLN did was of course subject to the severest criticism; not so much because his critics were sure he was wrong, as they could not see, in their own inexperience, that he was right. They had no confidence in their own judgment, and therefore had none in his. His official position often prevented him from explaining the reason for his course, and crafty politicians were constantly thwarting his plans. He, therefore, was misjudged. But as time passed, and the reasons of his policy were more fully known, and he became more independent of the earlier influences which surrounded him, the people saw his superior wisdom. They saw that he had a farther reach of mind than themselves; that he took into view and balanced considerations which they had not thought of;
The people, likewise, had great confidence in MR. LINCOLN'S honesty. He inherited this virtue from his boyhood, and brought it to the Presidential Chair. His early designation was "Honest Abe." This virtue was so fully constitutional, and so long habitual, that many thought it would disqualify him to cope with cunning politicians. But it has been seen that a true, honest purpose is not incompatible with able statesmanship, and that men can successfully wield the scepter of state without letting themselves down into the mine of political chicanery. This virtue was as grateful to the people as it was rare. There is something, as Mr. Webster says, about plain honesty in a ruler, that takes wonderfully with the people. It is this, more than all things else, that gives us security in our public interests. Who does not know that every civilized country has suffered more for the want of honesty than of ability, in their rulers? Statesmanship is now a science, and reduced
The people also had confidence in his sagacity to manage our great national conflict. We sometimes speak of greatness in men, as if it always consisted in making eloquent speeches, in going deep into the mysteries of science, or in laying up masses of ancient learning. But greatness often runs in other directions, and makes other achievements. Men are often great who are singularly destitute of all these attainments. That man is great who is so deeply versed in the practical duties of life as to use men and things so as to accomplish a great end. He is great who can use great men at his pleasure, who can discover their talents, weaknesses, and sagacity, and shape their course for a given purpose, and who knows by instinct what others learn in schools and by experience. Mr.
But the rarest and highest virtue of our fallen chief was his christian faith. It is rare that we can speak with so much confidence and satisfaction of a statesman's religious character. The last request on leaving his fellow-citizens at his home in Springfield was, "Pray for me." And we have reason to believe that from that day till the day of his death he was himself a praying man. It has been said by those who knew, that his first duty in the morning was a season of devout meditation on the holy scriptures, and a bowing at the altar. His last inaugural was a wonderful production, and indicated a high christian culture. Some have called it a religious homily. It was rather the outbreathing of a great statesman's heart, who dared to recognize the hand of God in the rule of nations, and to exhort the people to do justly and love mercy. It came from a mind imbued with the spirit of the gospel. "Fondly do we hope and fervently do we pray." "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish
When a company of clergymen called to pay Mr. Lincoln their respects in the darkest days of our civil conflict, he said, "Gentlemen, my hope of success in this great and terrible struggle rests on the immutable foundations of justice, and the goodness of God; and when events are very threatening and prospects are very dark, I still hope, in some way which man can not see, all will be well in the end, because our cause is just, and God is on our side." It is said, on the day of the receipt of the capitulation of Gen. Lee, the Cabinet meeting was held an hour earlier than usual. "Neither the President nor any member of the Cabinet was for the time able to give utterance to his feelings. At the suggestion of Mr. Lincoln all dropped on their knees, and offered in silence and in tears their humble and heartfelt acknowledgments to the Almighty, for the triumph he had granted to the national cause." It is in these little incidents, which speak volumes, that we see the workings of a christian heart.
"I can never think," says one, "of that toil-worn man, rising long before the household, and spending an hour with his Maker and his Bible, without tears. In that silent hour of communion he has drawn from the fountain which has fed all those qualities that have so won on our faith and love. Ah, what tears, what prayers, what aspirations, what lamentations, what struggles have been witnessed by the four walls of that quiet room. Aye, what food have the angels brought him there! There, day after day, while we
* It was while standing by the graves of the heroes of Gettysburg, who laid down their lives for us, that he gave his heart to One who had laid down his life for him. And do we know, my friends, how much of our success in our late military struggles we owe to the divine guidance given to our President? What confidence, what courage, what love these prayers of his have inspired in us all? Our leader, commander-in-chief, our foremost man in all the nation, like Moses and David kneeling at the altar, a simple-hearted child of God. What a new and strange thing for these latter days! What a noble example is left on record for the rising young men of our land!
These are some of the leading features of this remarkable man who has been taken from us; and these features are the more remarkable when we remember the great deficiency in his early training. They show an extraordinary mind, and what a true and honest purpose, with the blessing of God, can accomplish for a diligent man without the advantages of schools.
"He was a man, take him
all in all,
We shall not look upon his like again."
A late issue of a London paper sums up the character of Mr. Lincoln in the following language:
To us Abraham Lincoln has always seemed the finest character produced by the American war on either side of the struggle. He was great not merely by the force of genius--and only the word genius will describe the power of intellect by which he guided himself and his country through such a crisis--but by the simple, natural strength and grandeur of his character. Talleyrand once said of a great American statesman, that without experience he 'divined' his way through any crisis. Mr. Lincoln thus divined his way through the perilous, exhausting and unprecedented difficulties which might well have broken the strength and blinded the prescience of the best trained professional statesman. He seemed to arrive by instinct--by the instinct of a noble, unselfish and manly nature--at the very ends which the highest of political genius, the longest of political experience, could have done no more than reach. He bore himself fearlessly in danger, calmly in difficulty, modestly in success. The world was at last beginning to know how good, and, in the best sense, how great a man he was. It had long, indeed, learned that he was as devoid of vanity as of fear, but it had only just come to know what magnanimity and mercy the hour of triumph would prove that he possessed. Reluctant enemies were just beginning to break into eulogy over his wise and noble clemency, when the dastard hand of a vile murderer destroyed his noble and valuable life. We in England have something to feel ashamed of when we meditate upon the true greatness of the man so ruthlessly slain. Too many Englishmen lent themselves to the vulgar and ignoble cry which was raised against him. English writers degraded themselves to the level of the coarsest caricaturists when they had to tell of Abraham
Such at last came to be the estimate which our friends across the water put upon our cherished President. Such we believe will be the final verdict of the civilized world.
Mr. Lincoln lived to see the last throes of the rebellion, and we thank God that, like Moses, he was permitted to see the promised land. He led his people to the borders, and gazed upon it, and we prayed he might go over Jordan and possess it. But God had a higher and more glorious reward for him.
While we thus mourn, we are thankful that his sun went down without a spot upon it. Few public men die without leaving some record of serious mistakes or folly. But Mr. Lincoln was a rare exception in this respect. Not that every act of his, in all its details, will be found to be the wisest possible that might have been, but no blemish will adhere to his name. His memory will shine in ages to come like a fixed star in a cloudless night, on which continents may gaze with admiration.
As painful as the event of our President's death is
Turning from the past to the future, let us be thankful that we have been carried through the perils of a gigantic civil war, and have secured a complete triumph, and not an ignoble peace. We have, surrendered to us, the last regiment of Confederate soldiers, and have in our possession the man who, above all, is the personification of the rebellion. And there will be strength and firmness enough we trust in the government to give him his dues. We have likewise destroyed the causes of the rebellion, by cutting up the roots of that institution out of which it grew.
Who would have thought that in so short time all these portentous war clouds would have passed away, and the olive branch of peace would have cast its shadow on all our borders? Who would have thought that secession would have come to such an inglorious end, and taper out in a grand finale of a woman's dress.
Let us then learn to prize our government more. Let us remember what it has done for us in these tempestuous times. How it has preserved order, and made our homes sacred amid the confusion of civil war. Let us cling more closely to the old ship of state that has been tempest-tost so long, but has finally brought us all safe into port. Though the old pilot has been taken from us, let us trust the new. Let us be wise in adjusting our remaining difficulties, that we may go forth on our new mission before the world,--that of carrying the blessing of liberty, intelligence, enterprise and christianity to our entire race. Millions will be allured to our shores by the virtues of Washington and Lincoln, and help to roll the tide of civilization on to the Pacific, while the moral grandeur of our institutions and our victories will command the respect of all the earth.