TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE MUlbER OF MR. LINCOLN.
IT is hard sometimes to abstain from accusing Providence of irony. In the supreme hour of his career, when the enfranchisement of a race and the future of a continent seemed to hang upon his safety, when after four years of battle the peace for which he had longed throughout appeared almost in sight, and after four years of depreciation the whole world at last recognized his value, when men had ceased to speak of the importance of his life because the thought of his death seemed to impugn the kindness of Heaven, America has lost Mr. Lincoln. It has lost him, too, in the only way in which his death could by possibility have neutralized any of the effects of his life. There nei'-er was a moment in the history of his country when firmness, and shrewdness, and gentleness were so unspeakably important, and the one man in America whose resolve on the crucial question was unchangeable, whose shrewdness statesmen indefinitely keener than himself could never baffle, whose gentleness years of incessant insult had failed to weary out, who, possessed of these qualities, was possessed also of the supreme power, and who had convinced even his enemies that the power would be exerted under the influence of the qualities, has been taken away from his work. The future of the black race still oscillates between serfage and freedom, and the one man sure to have preferred freedom, and preferring to have secured it, has been removed ; the feeling of the white race fluctuates between forgiveness and vindictiveness, and the one man whose influence would have insured mercy has been murdered amidst the race who are striving to forgive by the class towards whom he forbade vindictiveness. As if to show that the South is unworthy of pardon, a Southerner assassinates the ruler who on that very day was contending with his Cabinet for the policy of pardon to the South, and who must be succeeded by a man who, avowedly worshipping the people, can scarcely, even to conciliate that people, restrain his own desire for a policy of vengeance. Whatever of vindictiveness is latent in the Northern heart has been supplied at once with an excuse which even the South will,not deny, and with the very agent whom vindictiveness in full swing might have prompted the nation to elect. It is the very irony of fate, a calamity for which the single consolation lies in the old expression of a trust to which political faith is mere suspicion, "Shall not the Judge of all the world do right ?" With the ship barely over the bar the pilot falls dead upon the deck—and it must be well, but the sailors may be pardoned if for the moment they feel as if the harbour would never be attained. It is hard to estimate even the immediate effects of a disaster so great and so unexpected ; the consequences are so vast, the data so numerous, that the mind is bewildered by the effort prelimi- nary to calculation. The main datum of all is, however, secured ; the law-abiding North rejects the idea of revolution, and intends to accept Mr. Andrew Johnson as its chief magistrate, and that faot once granted, two or three results will, we think, seem to reflecting men almost inevitable. 1. The North has suffered an immense loss of power; 2, the prospect of peace has been weakened, if not materially, still perceptibly; but (3) the triumph of the great cause itself is as secure as ever.
1. The North has lost in Mr. Lincoln an advantage of organi- zation great always, but greatest in a democracy—a ruler whose power was based upon the laws, but who was in action nearly absolute. Mr. Lincoln entertained from the first a high idea of his own responsibility as the elected representative of the nation, and four years of incessant strife passed almost without a blunder had secured him a popular confidence which made his will almost irresistible. Not originally a statesman, and always hampered by defective knowledge, as, for example, in finance, he had risen gradually above circumstances till his enemies denounced him as an autocrat, till his Ministers became clerks, his generals instruments, his envoys agents to carry out his commands. So thoroughly had the belief in his honesty and capacity penetrated the national mind, that had he five hours after the fall of Richmond dismissed General Grant from the service without a reason the people would, while still sore and wondering, have believed that the reason must be adequate. When once resolved on his course no politician ventured to dictate to him, no general to disobey him, no State to lock the wheels of the machine. "In the end," he said once, "the decision must rest with me," and the people had learned to know that it was best it should so rest. An authority so wide gave coherence to the national action, brought to it all advantages of Ceasarism without the tendency to dependence which is apt to be its heaviest draw- back. The nation still thought and decided for itself, but so perfect was the harmony between it and its Head that his command had the irresistible force of an utterance of the national will, against which any individual, whether he repre- sented like Fremont a great territorial section, or like Mr.. Seymour a compact organization, or like General M'Clellau an entire party in the army and the nation, shattered himself in vain. Mr. Lincoln had come to be, like Cavour, a man whose spoken word carried with it the crushing authority of a popu- lar vote, who, while in appearance only representative was in reality as absolute as if the people itself had been embodied. in him. Such a man is the necessity of every revolution, and in losing him the Union has lost the strongest link in its momentary organization. Mr. Andrew Johnson, even were he Mr. Lincoln's superior, would have none of this authority beyond office, and, being what he is, will probably have less- than his office would of itself confer. It is probable that his- personal capacity is in England very much underrated. A journeyman tailor who learnt to read at twenty, yet at fifty made himself Governor of his State, and is now Presi- dent of a vast republic, must have something in him, be it only the combination of qualities we are accustomed to call luck. A Western rough who happened to be drunk at the wrong moment is not necessarily a fool, and Mr. Johnson, we are informed, has forsworn drink for the future. But even should he display the qualities he may possess—vigour, incisive- ness, and comprehension of the West—he must still lack the authority which Mr. Lincoln derived from the national trust. His first speech showed that he wished to be guided by hie Cabinet, instead of guiding it ; his chief secretary will probably be forced on him by some combination; the general who resists. him will not thereby forfeit popular support ; the action of the State which cancels his orders will be judged solely upon its merits. The whole machine is weakened by the loss, or rather it has ceased for the moment to be a machine, and become a collection of parts which demand re-conneeltion. If the new President falls into good hands the re-connection may - be quickly effected, but the moment requires a Government in which all can have confidence, and for the moment no one. can assign a good reason for confidence in Mr. Andrew John- son. Suppose, for example, General Sherman to quarrel with General Grant, the President must decide, but the decision of Mr. Lincoln would have been final ; that of Mr. Johnson is subject to popular ratification. The whole North gave up General Butler in hearty rage because he presumed to denounce Mr. Lincoln's fiat dismissing him from his com- mand—but suppose the fiat had come from a distrusted chief ? The change weakens the Government, and to be moderate in such an hour the American Government needs to be irresistibly strong. Mr. Lincoln could dare to pardon, could have par- doned Mr. Davis himself, for the people knew that their end was also unchangeably his, but would Mr. Johnson dare? His lenity will not be proof to the nation that lenity will. secure its object, more especially at a moment when lenity even in Mr. Lincoln would have seemed to the popular instinct. misplaced. If the greatest thinker on earth had been asked, last year to state what the Union needed most, he would pro- bably have replied a despot whose power should not be avail, able for tyranny,—and that the Union had secured, and that in the murder of Mr. Lincoln it has lost.
2. The chances of peace are diminished, to what degree it is impossible to say, but still diminished. The mad ruffian who has just murdered the representative man of his country as he would have murdered an opponent in a Southern tavern broil, has killed the one man on whom the South could have relied for justice and moderation. Mr. Lincoln's mere exist- ence as President was a permanent offer of peace upon un- changeable terms, a guarantee to every State in the Confederacy that if it would do certain acts it would at once be replaced in a certain position, acts and position being alike endurable.. Where is the guarantee now ? Mr. Andrew Johnson is pro- bably far more merciful than his talk, may follow his pre- decessor's policy, may indeed have only expressed a wish for severity because as Vice-President he had no other means of being individual at all. But there is and can be no proof of all this, and till it is proved, till, for instance, it is certain that the new President is no advocate for confiscation, every State which can hesitate, will, even if its mind had been previ- ously made up. Mr. Johnson has lived the life of a border abolitionist, a man whose one great idea has forced him daily to take his life in his hand, who has learnt to regard the slaveholders as deadly personal foes, to view them as a class deserving neither mercy nor justice. That, as far as the system is concerned, is well ; but it is the worst mood in which a reformer can approach the individuals whom his reform affects. The South by its own act has exchanged a conqueror whom it could trust for a conqueror it has reason to dread, and it must therefore hesitate, if it can, to place itself finally in that conqueror's hand. Add to this cause of delay the shock to the negroes, who, like all half-civilized men, understand a principle chiefly through a name, the new excitement to Southern imagination in the prospect of Northern confusion, the new hope which will spring in Southern states- men that Mr. Johnson, violent and ignorant, may affront France or menace England, and we shall see ample cause to fear the protraction of the war. Fortunately the catastrophe occurred when success had been in substance achieved, and it is not the fact but only the time of victory which is in ques- tion, but still there may be delay. 3. And yet the cause must win, not only because Providence governs as well as reigns,—though events like the one we deplore, force even politicians to recall the single certainty of politics, — not only because a cause never hangs upon a single life, but because of the special circumstances of this individual case. This war from first to last has been a people's war, commenced, conducted, and sustained by the instinct of a whole nation slowly shaping itself into action and finding for itself expression. The singular position of Mr. Lincoln a position unparalleled we believe in modern history, or paralleled by that of Cavour alone was, that while intensely individual he was in the most perfect and complete degree a reflector of the national will. His convictions, originally those of an average American of the Western States, advanced in perfect independence at the same rate as those of the country, from recognizing the need of an expedition to endur- ing the sacrifices of continued campaigns, from a distrust of the extension of slavery to an iron resolve that it should cease, until at last his public utterances attained something of that volume of sound and depth and variety of meaning which belong to the expression of genuinely national opinions. When Caveur resigned after Villafranca men knew without telling that Italy had made up its mind that Villafranca should be a phrase; when Mr. Lincoln declared that should the ne&°roes ever be re-enslaved "another not I" would be the agent, the world perceived that abolition had become a fixed constituent in the national creed. The people have lost their mouthpiece, but not the determination which he so clearly expressed. His death, whatever else it may do' will certainly not diminish their hatred of slavery, or of that habit of violence, that con- tempt of all obstacles human and divine when they stand in the way of self-will, which slavery engenders. "The black man resists, lash him ; the white man defies us, kill him," that is the syllogism of slavery which Wilkes Booth has worked out in the face of all mankind. He killed Mr. Lincoln as he would have killed a man who preached abolition, or crossed his speculations, or defeated him at cards, as men used to be killed every day in New Orleans if they gave offence to men trained from boyhood to regard their own will as almost sacred. The North will not love the slaveholders the more for perceiving so clearly whither their system tends, for realizing that in the murder of Mr. Lincoln, as in the assault on Mr. Sumner, lawless force is the natural expression of the spirit of the institution. Slavery was doomed before, it will be hated now, and the motive power of the Revolution is the necessity of ending slavery. Nor is the organization framed for that end shuttered by Mr. Lincoln's death. The frame- work has been terribly tested by that great shock, but it has stood, and Mr. Andrew Johnson has ascended the chair as easily as if two-thirds of his people were not humiliated by his ascent. The idea so prevalent here that his elevation might be prevented by force never had any foundation, Americans being well aware that any President however incompetent is better than any Cresar however able. Efficient or ineffi- cient, however, the cause is too strong for him. The armies may be worse guided than before, but they are intact ; the generals may be less sure of support, but they are even more independent ; the people may be compelled to express themselves more cumbrously, but they are even more determined ; the officials will want restraint, but they will be only more decided to keep the machine in its groove. Everything will be slower, but the power is just ELS resistless as before. The South may, and we think will, delay its sub- mission, but that is a question of time, not of victory; the North may exact harder terms, but they will but pulverize the oligarchy into finer grains. For the South the misfortune is irreparable, but for the North the death of Mr. Lincoln is but a new burden to bear, the equivalent of a new campaign, the loss of a regulator not of motive power. Mr. Lincoln was the skilled driver, Mr. Johnson is an unskilled, but under either the locomotive will go on to its journey's end.