MR. LINCOLN AN]) HIS FATE.
IT is but seldom that men Eck against the pricks of a foreign I. political calamity as they do against those of a sudden private grief, seldom that they feel as if to realize it were almost too painful, and feed their minds on those futile " ifs " and "might- have-bares" which give an intellectual relief by restoring the old natural point of view at the expense of the keener pang which reminds them that all these probabilities of yesterday are the im- possibilities of to-day. Yet there were many Englishmen, not a few passionless Englishmen, who, though knowing nothing per- sonally of the late President of the United States, felt thus rebel- lious against the news received on Wednesday of Mr. Lincoln's murder. This was no doubt in some degree due to the political anxiety excited by the murder of a ruler pledged to a policy of I gentlenesstowardstheSouth and peace towards the restof the world, —and his murder in a manner likely to unloose the worst passions of civil war. But it was due in a far greater degree to the moral and imaginative shock of the event itself, to the striking incompatibility , between Mr. Lincoln's mild and patient temper and slow consti- tutional methods, and the deed of treachery and blood which has closed his career. No one felt this peculiar bitterness when John Brown, a man in some respects of more fascinating and picturesque, though not of more noble, character, was hanged in Virginia for his attempt on Harper's Ferry. Then we could but say that 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,' and acquiesce in the noble old man's own expressed faith that he was "worth incon- ceivably more to hang than for any other earthly purpose." He had made up his mind to the chivalric duty of laying down his life for the slave, to precipitate the conflict between slavery and free- dom; and though many condemned this apparent impatience of the slowly ripening purposes of Providence, all felt that it would not be laid down in vain. He had chosen his own fate, and there was something of satisfying moral sublimity in the tragedy of his heroism. It was impossible to blame a Slave State for executing a violent destroyer of its institutions and invader of its peace, though our deepest sympathies were with the sufferer and against his judges.
But there is nothing of this consolation in the violent and appa- rently unmeaning tragedy of this second and far more shocking mar- tyrdom. Although Mr. Lincoln's official life began with a foiled at- tempt at assassination, and has closed thus awfully when he had just succeeded in nearing the end of the country's troubles,—though his short four years' service in the cause of freedom have been framed, as it were, in blood,—there is nothing which seems less consonant to Mr. Lincoln's character than the violent death which wicked men planned for him. Unlike John Brown, it was his first and dearest wish to avoid appealing to the sword. There was absolutely nothing of the impatience of revolutionary feeling about him, —nothing of the spirit which cries to God for vengeance on the oppressor. If there was any one remarkable characteristic about Mr. Lincoln, it was his almost undue disposition to wait upon Providence, and not to act till the one duty that was clearly visible to his mind and thoroughly grasped by his conscience required him to act. Instead of precipitating the conflict like John Brown, and appealing hastily to the arbitrament of the sword, Mr. Lincoln's whole heart was set on the desire to avert judgment, to see if God had not some better way in store for the salvation of the country than the fiery trial of battle. When in the autumn of 1858, the year before John Brown's raid, Mr. Lincoln canvassed the State of Illinois as senator against Mr. Douglas (the advocate of the spread of slavery into the Territories), his speeches literally teemed with declarations of his ardent desire to delay and, if possible, prevent the conflict which he anticipated. "I have again and again said," reiterated Mr. Lincoln, "that I would not enter into any of the States to disturb the institution of slavery." All he demanded, —and he demanded it expressly to avert this otherwise inevitable conflict,—was "a national policy with regard to the institution of slavery that acknowledges and deals with that institution as being wrong." This was two years before the possibility of the Presidency was even a dream to him. But all he said in this struggle with Mr. Douglas was singularly characteristic of the future Pre- sident,—all was patience, moderation, conspicuous lucidity as to matters of principle, distinct determination not to hurry the course of events as to matters of policy. He was as much the opposite of John Brown as one noble and good man could be of another noble and good man. The one was anxious to cut knots with the sword, the other to loose them gradually, though it should take generations, even centuries to effect it. The one chafed under the slowness of God's purposes, the other shrank from the rash- ness of precipitating His judgments through not adequately understanding them. The one was of the fiery, revolutionary temperament which assumes its divine commission and rushes into the battle, the other of the vigilant, naturalistic temperament which watches the issue, and cannot believe that it has any com- mission to fight till the tide of war interferes with the discharge of some plain and long-accustomed duty. Hence while the martyrdom of John Brown seems the natural close to a noble but half-presumptuous career, the murder of Mr. Lincoln looks like an anomaly in history. An act of bloody personal revenge committed on the most impersonal, the most patient, the most tardy though the most firm of rulers,—a violent death inflicted on a cautious exponent of national convictions who never in his life expressed an uncharitable view of his enemies, who never stirred into activity one hostile feeling which could single him out as its in- dividual object, who moderated, even while he gave effect to, the
will of the nation which he governed,—such an end to such a man is lees tragic than terrible, for it does not tend to" purify by pity and by fear," but rather to distress by the jar of incoherent feelings. Yet from another point of view there is something grand and pathetic about the sacrifice. It is, we may fairly say, representa- tive Of the great conflict. We do not mean for a moment to sup- pose that this cruel and cowardly act has received any sanction from the Confederate Government. Even Mr. Davis is probably not evil enough for that, and General Lee would abhor it with his whole soul. But no doubt, as Mr. Lincoln may be fairly con- sidered especially representative of the Northern movement, this violent and treacherous Baltimore rowdy may fairly be called especially representative of the Southern movement,—of the party which proposed and attempted to carry out the treacherous murder of a nation for the sake of revenging the gentle curb which had been imposed on their lust for extended power and extended slavery. The leaders in the South,—nay, we believe be mass of the Southern people,—have been better, far better, than the principle which impelled them into this strife. But what that principle was there has been no manner of doubt from the moment when the South Carolinian bully Brooks half mur- dered Mr. Sumner in the Senate House for attacking slavery, and became himself almost an object of apotheosis in his native State 'for his brutal and cowardly act, up to the moment when the evil passions of Southern society culminated in this foul murder of Mr. Lincoln. No doubt Mr. Davis sanctioned these passions only in moments when he himself succumbed to them, as when he called upon the Georgians the other day to "whip the Yankee spaniels" and teach them their true masters ; but it is none the less true that he used these passions for his own purposes, and that without them he could never have hounded on the South to battle. Wilkes Booth may have, we trust has, no accomplice but the cowardly wretch who at the same time attempted, and pro- bably effected, the murder of Mr. Seward and his son, but yet no one who looks at history can deny that his act is symbolic of the passions of the Slave society from which it proceeds, and is indeed but one new and more fatal explosion of the same destructive forces which engendered the rebellion. Mr. Lincoln no doubt has shown a spirit as much higher than the average spirit of the North as this dastardly act is below the average spirit of the South. But his murder by this self-styled tyrannicide is not on that account less representative of the struggle. For it is the highest spirit in the North, the true birth of freedom, which has at last secured its conquest, and it is the worst spirit in the South, the true birth of slavery, which has at last secured its defeat. Mr. Lincoln said, at Philadelphia, when his life was first threatened, just before he assumed the Presidency in 1860, "If this country cannot be saved without giving up the principle of the Declaration of Independence, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it." And the sacrifice was accepted. For refusing to give up that principle,—the vital principle of Northern liberty,—he was some years later assassinated—though not till after he had firmly secured, as we may hope, the triumph of that principle.
And if he did not secure it by his life, we may hope that he secured it by his death. To all appearances indeed the prospect seems gloomy enough. Succeeded by a man of very different and far inferior character, a man inoculated with much of the violence of the system of society against which he is now pledged to fight, and called to lead a people whose first instinct can scarcely be otherwise than bitterly resentful, nothing short of the example which Mr. Lincoln has set to the nation no less than to his successor, could arrest revenge. But with Mr. Lincoln's administration before them, with the evidence which they have of the sincere patriotism, the reverence for law, and the religious faith with which he took every great step in his short but event- ful official life, it is scarcely possible that they should fall into the temptation of treating the South with Southern passion. Only Washington among the Presidents of the United States could compare with Mr. Lincoln for temper and scrupulous self- command under extraordinary trials. Indeed when -Mr. Lincoln assumed office he did not disguise from himself that he had a part no less arduous than Washington's to play, and that it could be played with equal credit only by the help of the same Power. "My friends," he said, when leaving his home in Illinois in 1860, "no one not in my position can appreciate the sadness I feel at this parting. To the people I owe all that lam. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century ; here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I ahall see you again. A duty devolves upon me which is perhaps greater than that which has devolved upon any man since the
days of Washington. He never could have succeeded without the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied
I feel that I cannot succeed without the same divine aid which sustained him. In the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support, and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may- receive that divine assistance without which I cannot succeed, but, with which, success is certain." The same tone of trust and self-distrust ran through all Mr. Lincoln's official acts, from the- first Message in which, before the war broke out, he declared his intention to do the very least that was consistent with his duty, by " holding " United States property wherever he had the power, to that last affecting Message in March last, when he confessed the complicity of the North in the guilt of the South, and while praying for peace, and for the opportunity "to bind up the nation's wounds," confessed that "if it be God's will that the scourge of war continue until the wealth piled up by bondsmen during 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and that every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be repaid by another drawn by the sword, as it was said two thousand years ago, still it must be true, that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With such an example of pure and self-forgetful patriotism running in their memories, it will be barely possible for the North to give themselves up to vindictive feeling. The memory of their simple-hearted and noble-minded ruler would be a greater hindrance to such a course than his living authority. And, we may well hope that the strong and gentle nature whose last official words were words of sympathy for his foes, will inspire the future policy of the North as completely as if Mr. Lincoln could still rule them. The greatest revenge the North could take on the society which nourished the spirit of Mr. Lincoln's assassin would be to make it reverence his memory. The time will no doubt come when the rustic Illinois lawyer who showed so great an equanimity alike in adversity and success will be ranked with Washington by North and South alike, and when perhaps his murder may be spoken of as the turning-point which taught his enemies to know what spirit they were of.