George Nye Boardman.

The death of President Lincoln. A sermon preached in the Presbyterian Church, Binghamton, Sabbath morning, April 16, 1865 (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryGeorge Nye BoardmanThe death of President Lincoln. A sermon preached in the Presbyterian Church, Binghamton, Sabbath morning, April 16, 1865 (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 1)
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II. KINGS 2: 12.
"My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!"

The father of this nation lies dead. In the President's
mansion, at Washington, his lifeless form rests in the sleep
that knows no waking : I13 has ceased from his cares and
anxieties ; ho is at peace, while a weeping people bows bo-
fore God in the bitterness of grief. From the breathless
stillness of the nation, watching the Gurrent of events ; from
the shout of victory, now and then interrupting the silence ;
from the agony of suspense over the question, whether the
transition from war to peace can be successfully made, he
has taken his departure — the foremost man in interest and
in responsibility, — he has laid down his office, he has gone
to give his account at the bar above ; he has gone, we may
hope, to sit down with that Jesus whom, he has said, 'he

When Elisha saw his master, — Israel's greatest prophet,
Elijah, — snatched from his side and carried to heaven,
he felt that all hope had gone. His father was ta-
ken away ; the man whom God loved was taken away ;
the best defense of the nation was taken away. The de-
stroyer of Baal's prophets was worth more to Israel than
armed chariots and trained bands of soldiers ; and the grief
of his heart gushed out in the tender words of the text :
" My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horse-
men thereof."

A later day, and matiirer reflection, may lead us to dwell
upon the more recondite lessons which the calamity that
has just befallen us should suggest : but on this occasion it
is best to bow the head in awe, to let fall the tears of afflic-
tion, to pray that the mantle of the departed may fall upon
his successor, and to speak only the simple words of sorrow.

The emotion which naturally rises first in Ihis hour of our
bereavement, is that of tender regard for the one so ruth-
lessly taken from us. Abraham Lincoln was a good man.
He was summoned by the people to take the helm of the
government, at a time when storms were rising; he ac-
cepted the call modestly, he undertook his work feeling
it to be a solemn duty, he invoked a nation's prayers that
he might be able to do it well. He never entered on any
work ostentatiously, he never pursued his own way obsti-
nately, he ever submitted deferentially to the wishes of
those who appointed him, and in every position he has


borne himself with so much meekness, so much kindness
and so little vanity, that the people have learned to love
him. They were not, indeed, always pleased with his
deeds ; at times he seemed to be favoring one party, at
times another ; but all rested quietly in the assurance that
he would do the best he could, for they knew he was an
honest man.

But he was not simply a good man, — he was a great
man. The storm which had already risen when he took
the oath of office, which swept with fitful but foreboding
gusts about him, as he laid his hand upon the helm, be-
came soon the dark night of a howling tempest. It was
early found, however, that the pilot's hand was steady,
and that his eye peered into the darkness. He first de-
scried the harbor, and though driven and tossed, still he
ever neared the port. At each hour he cried, "All is
well ;" at 10 o'clock the cry was heard, at 11 also, — at
midnight, aiain the same cry, "All is well ;" as the dawn
approached, again the same cheerful utterance. But now
when the light appeared, and the sun seemed about to
lift itself above the horizon, when the voice of our pilot
was about to be uttered again, and that in the dulcet
sounds of peace and good-will to men, suddenly it is
hushed in death. One of those miscreants, that God al-
lows to live on earth to give us occasional living ex-
amples of the malignities of hell, took the life of our
chief magistrate by assassination. The air has for weeks
been vocal with the shouts of victory. The armies of the
Union are marching on, — one stronghold after another


falls. Each morning we arc eager for the report from
the seat of war ; the days of disaster seem past and for-
gotten, we hardly fear another defeat; we do not know
how evil tidings are possible. We hear from Savannah,
from Wilmington, from Charleston, from Richmond, but
all is victory ; we hear from Jettersville, Perksville, Farm-
ville, and at last the wcrd victory changes to capture,
the voice of the redoubtable Lee mingles in the din, our
general has dictated the conditions of surrender, and the
reply is, "they are accepted." What can mar the joy of
such a time? But hark! there is a groan of agony that
fills the air, there is a wailing from all over the land,
keener and more piercing than that of households be-
reaved of sons and brothers fallen in the battle, — a wail-
ing more sad than that of Rachel weeping for her chil-
dren : the nation has lost her noble leader, who guided
her through the storm, on whom she rested confidently for
the further work of settling the affairs of peace. Strong
men bow themselves and cannot utter the words which
the telegraph reports : with sobs and broken accents thjy
but half say the words — -"President Lincoln is dead."

Never, since the report went through the land, in
1804, that Hamilton was dead, has such tender grief taken
possession of the heart of the people, and then it was only
the party which he led that felt the keenness of the an-
guish ; bat now the words of Simeon to the mother of
Jesus might be uttered to the nation: "A sword is passing
through thy soul !" How the generous soul of our Presi-
dent would have entered into the joys of peace! The
man who wept gushing tears over the brave Ellsworth,
the man who took by the hand the rebel prisoners of
Antietam, the man who was in haste to be generous to a

fallen foe, — the man who, in the press of cares unknown
by' any other person on earth, could pause to write notes
of grateful kindness to mourning fathers and mothers, —
the man whose name enters into every prayer which the
slave addresses to the throne of grace, — how would such
a man have enjoyed the days of peace ! They would have
borne healing in their wings, — his depressed spirit would
have revived as by the breath of spring. O it was hard
for the good man to die at such an hour. Our tears
flow for thee, thou protector of the nation ! thou father of
the people! There are times when it is sad to depart
from the scenes of earth. We do not love to re-
tire from them when everything is bright with hope,
when the winter is past, and the glorious summer
is approaching. But the hour strikes, and the man must
go. God appoints the time of departure, as the time of
birth, and the time of labor. Moses died upon Pisgah, in
sight of the Promised Land ; and another than he, who
has led us through the wilderness, is now to go before
us, and establish us in our peaceful homes.

Ncr is the loss of President Lincoln the only bereave-
ment which we mourn.* One week ago we could say,— =
we did say — that the nation lies down to rest at night in
security, because our chiet magistrate is a man whom the
people do not wish to change, and our chief of the Cab-
inet is a man who knows what nations ought to do. Sec-
retary Seward has shown himself a most able diplomatist,
— cool, sagacious, ready, just and firm, he has parried all
attempts to involve us in a foreign war ; more than any
man of the North he is hated by traitors for his success

* When thia sermon was written, the telegraphic report was, that there
■was no hope of Secretary Seward's recovery.


in foiling their attempts to secure foreign recognition. It
is his praise that he has done the most difficult of all
works so well, that no one can wish another had under-
taken it. lie has sustained himself through an adminis-
tration the most tried our country has known ; he has held
his position as leader in an executive council which has,
perhaps, had no equal tor ability since the nation had an
existence. But the Secretary of State lies prostrate; his
life, it is said, ebbing away, — he, too, the victim of the
murderer's knife. The President and his prime secretary !
in their fate they were not divided. The wailing of David
for the fall of the princes of Israel, 3,000 years ago,
might be repeated in our Christian age. Our heroes did
not indeed win their honors on the field of battle, but
'•they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than
lions." They turned not back empty from their contests,
and unlike the fallen of Israel, they die on the achievement
of victory. Ye daughters of the land, weep for them, —
for they were the protectors of your homes in the days of
trouble ; they kept back the foe in the dark hour of danger.

But we must turn from the mere expression of grief to
some other thoughts adapted to the occasion. The events
which now call us to mourning should lead us to deep
humiliation before God. The wonderful successes that
have crowned our arms since last September were, per-
haps, begetting a pride that was offensive to the Giver of
victories. We had, in our distress, often called upon the
Ruler of the nations to interpose, to judge between us and
our enemies, to turn back the tide of war upon the foe,
and to deliver us from the treason that threatened life.
But we had come to have confidence in an arm of flesh.
.We thought that if Shermn^ ordered the battle t^re


must be victory; we thought if Thomas move 1, the foe
would be scattered before him like chaff; we thought if
Sheridan rode into the conflict, his legions would trample
down the enemy ; we thought if Grant should hurl his
relentless battalions on the enemy, that parapet and en-
trenchment and abattis and artillery and lines .of living
men, would all yield to the stubborn warrior. Had we
not forgotten, that it is God who giveth us the victory?
Did we not pride ourselves on the .great work we had
done, and forget Him on whom we called when the
report from Bull-Run and Fredericksburg bowed us in the
dust ? I think I hear in the announcement of this hour,
"the President is dead," "the Secretary of State has been
assassinated," these words : "Be still and know that I am
God." I feel that we are not even allowed to mourn
with exclusive reference to the lost ones; but are sum-
moned to go forth and gird up our loms like men, and
hear what God will say to us.

And as now the nation stands appalled, and a solemn
silence rests upon us, we may, if we listen, hear issuing
from the throne of God himself, the words, "Warriors
are but the rod in my hand, and war is bat the overturning
which is to bring forward the reign of the Prince of Peace.
Rulers may be able, sagacious, unwearied, successful, 'but
by me kings reign and princes dicree justice.' You
hope for rest from war, but I make peace. I assuage
the angry passion of war, I eradicate from the hearts of the
conquered the thirst for revenge ; I alone can make the
bed of disease a safe retreat from the assassin's bludgeon,
— can make home a home of security and quiet rest."
Let us remember that victory in the held is but half the
victory, — that now we must rule our own spirits. Other-


wise the defeated demon war, r that rose up against us,
retiring, may be followed by a thousand demons quite as
malignant, warring with each other, sowing suspicions,
dividing the counsels of patriots, setting ajar our states-
men and electors ; and the foe who is worsted before Pe-
tersburg," may sip his sweet revenge in the public gather-
ing, in the bed-chamber, at the fireside. Let us bo warned,
and remember, against this insidious enemy that walketh
in darkness, God is our security. Stand still and listen to
the voice of God, "Without me ye can do nothing."

The solemn event over which we mourn to-day teaches
us the importance of the crisis through which we are pass-
ing. We have not yet, as rr nation, comprehended the
dignity of the struggle in which we are engaged. Great
occurrences do not sound a trumpet before them when
they come to pass ; rather they fall upon men un-
awares. Yet we should not bo blind to the times
in which we live. We should, as far as we are
able, take knowledge of the great events which we wit-
ness, and rise, if it be possible, to a comprehension of
the occurrences in which we take part. We ought to
understand that the civil war which has been waged for
the last four years is not simply an insurrection, — it is
a revolution ; the rebels are not merely insurgents, to
be put back into the place they formerly occupied, but
they are traitors, to be crushed under the heel of lawful
authority. We would indeed return, as nearly as pos-
sible, to what we seemed to be, and professed to bo, in
the days that are now called those of prosperity ; but
our enemies will not allow us, the progress of the world
will not allow us, God will not allow us, to return to
a state exactly the same with that which we held be-
fore. Wo must cast out evils, we must establish virtues


in the struggle ; and a small advance in national mo-
rality costs, as is well known, vast sacrifices, causes great

Wo have desired to belittle our present contention ;
we would make it but the outburst of an hour, after
which, parties may be "expected to fall back to their old
position ; we have not wished to call it a crisis in which
a nation passes from one stage to another; but the event
of Friday night allies our struggle with the great events
of history ; it now Btands out with few companions on
the stage of the world. Occasionally events strike the
mind so as to seem akin to each other, — to tower
above all minor affairs, and to stand, like the loftiest
mountain tops, compeers, though widely separated. The
emotions of yesterday have not been felt since the war
began. Only two days can be compared with that on
which the President's death was announced — one, the day
when, four years ago, it was reported that Fort Sumter
had been fired upon. What we hardly believed could
occur, had begun, — for that night the sun went down out
of a sullen, dismal sky, but was in a clear atmosphere far
in the west, while his teams gave the low, lowering
clouds about us the bloody hue of a warrior's raiment
dripping with gore. Blood was flowing, and thoughtful
men lay down that night, not to sleep, but to think over
the astounding fact — war, civil war is upon us.

Again, a few months later, when the story of Bull
Run was told, the nation's heart sunk. The war was a
serious one, — there was bitterness and wo in our cup ;
already were we drinking the wormwood and the gall.
These days have no ally — as the heart judges them — till
yesterday. And as these events stand out alone, so our


war, with this crowning event — the assassination at the
Capital — now stands out among the few great wars that
have changed the destinies of nations. Just before the
Christian era, Julius Caesar, the champion of the people
of Rome, took up arms against a tyrannical and haughty
aristocracy; his legions swept the foe before them, en-
countered them in their hiding places, and overthrew
them in all their resorts. But the mild Caasar admitted
his enemies to his councils ; and fanatical, though perhaps
well-meaning, conspirators slew him in the Senate-house.
The aristocracy of Rome, however, was not thus rescued.
The champion of the people left a successor, who met
Caesar's murderers at Phillipi, and the victory was still
with the army that had learned to conquer; while the
foe found the little linger of Augustus thicker than the
loins of Julius. Again, persecuting Spain, long baffled
in subduing the Netherlands, finally resorted to the as-
sassin's dirk. "William, of Orange, the founder of the
Dutch Republic, a man who has few compeers in history,
fell by the hand of a hired murderer, — a minion of Philip
IT : Gerard found his way to the great prince in his pri-
vate apartments, and shot him in the presence of his
family. That 10th. of July, 158.4, was a dark day for
the new Republic, but the cause did not fail. God was
for it; who could be against it? And France lost her
greatest monarch by the dagger of Ravaillac. Henry
IY., the most chivalrous, the most generous of her rulers,
died, and the gloomy night of the inquisition followed.
In the providence ol God the cause of despotism here
triumphed, and France was doomed to prepare herself
for the saddest fate which has yet befallen a nation. The
death of Henry IV., at the instigation of Romanism, led
to the death of Louis XVX, who gave his life an expiation


to justice. It is worthy of note, that these marked cases
of assassination, like that which we now mourn, have
all been prompted by despotism professing opposition to
tyranny. It is too early now to decide whether despotism
or popular rights are to triumph, when history repeats
herself in the violent death ot a ruler in our day : doubt
as to the result seems hardly possible, however, for this
murder, like the rebellion which preceded it, is the most
causeless, aimless and desperate that has found a place in
the annals of the world. But it is not too early now to judge
of the fame of the victim. Mr. Lincoln has been placed by
his assassin by the side of Csesar, Henry IY., aud William of
Orange ; tne most blameless of all, he does not aspire to the
fame of a warrior, but he stands as a brother to the Deliv-
erer of Holland, — nor will his name in coming ages
be less revered. His murderer has effected his apotheosis.
Our beloved chief magistrate was removed at the height
of his fame, his reputation unsullied, the equal of Wash-
ington, and beyond Washington, a martyr to the cause
of Constitutional liberty. The name of Abraham Lincoln
has entered into history, almost the only one without a

The event which we now bewail teaches us a lesson
upon the majesty of law. The highest crime known
among men is that against government. It is called
treason, and in former times was called leze • majesty,
i. <?., the wounding of the majesty of the State. This
crime rises above any other, — the murder of an indi-
vidual is of minor consequence ; default, robbery, theft,
are all subordinate, for the power that adjusts wrongs
and protects society still remains. But when the State
is assailed and its life threatened by tlnse who enjoy its
protection, then the acme of crime is attained, ingratitude


has reached its highest point, order, protection and^ the
well-being of society are assaulted at the very source of
their being. This is a crime which God and humanity
demand should not be slightly passed over. But we
were in danger at this point. Our public men had be-
come wearied with the war ; they intensely longed for
peace. There was danger that they would not persist
in tracing out crime and punishing it according to
its deserts. There was danger that the government
would forget that God put the sword into its hand to
be borne not iu vain. There was danger that we should
be too lenient towards those who had schooled themselves
in cruelty towards their slaves till the earth itself must
spew them out ; we were likely to forget that there was
no place left for such fiends. Anderscnville, and Belle-
Isle, and Springfield were becoming familiar names,
and so names only ; we had been so sickened with the
horrors which they had witnessed that we passed by the
narratives that told us of them, then tried to forget them.
Thus it was beginning to be indolently assumed that our
soldiers had not suffered so cruelly, because we were
unwilling to know how cruelly, and there was danger
the demons who were guilty of the barbarities known in
southern imprisonment would be received back into the
brotherhood of man. Now I cannot believe that the
guilt of these things rests on very many individuals, nor
is the majesty of law vindicated by the multitude of its
victims; but the crime has been awfnl, and the pun-
ishment must bear some proportion to it: we must re-
member that our maudlin philanthropy, on such an oc-
casion as this, is offensive to God. When tenderness to
traitors is injustice to honest men, it is a crime next to
treason itsell. The soft assumption that men mean well.


and will bo sorry, and will learn to do better, when
they see the evils they cause, is sheer ignorance of human
nature. God has made an eternal hell, where he pun-
ishes traitors to his government ; he requires of us that
we maintain tho dignity and honor of the government
he has given us in imitation of his own. Governments
have a duty to be performed in punishing, even for tho
sake of protecting. Such men as Judas Iscariot, Benedict
Arnold, Brooks, Booth and Quantrell subject to a fair test
the morals of society. The virtue of the community is seen,
not in the kindness with which it attempts to reform the
outrageously wicked, so much as in the decisiveness
with which it crushes them under the heel of power.
Our government has ever been too lenient ; treason in
high places has too long been unpunished. Three Vice-
Presidents have been spared the gallows — Aaron Burr,
John C. Calhoun, John C. Breckinridge — and now a
President loyal to the core has paid tho penalty from
which they were exempted. Mistaken tenderness lies at
the foundation of our war ; let us have done with it. Let
ua abhor private revenge, but the majesty of law must
be vindicated, or laws are worthless.

In conclusion, let me urge you, my hearers, to yield
to no despondency in the present hour of mourning.
"We are troubled, buc not in fatal distress; we are per-
plexed, but not in despair ; persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed." The same God who has
guarded us hitherto will guard us still. He is serenely
above the machinations of man's malice, and can make
the wrath of man .to praise him. What he does, indeed,
we know not now, but we shall know hereafter. He


will raise up men to go before us ; lie lias a Joshua to
succeed a Moses; there was a resurrection to succeed the
death of his Son. The anniversary of these events is
upon us. Our joys were slain with our murdered ruler,
but to-day let them rise from the den,d; and while we
mourn, let us say of Him who orders events, He doeth
all things well; though some of our expectations have
perished, still our hope never dies.

Let us remember the majestic scenes through which
we have passed, — stirring elections, but all peaceful ;
parties contending in the loyal States, but all under re-
straint ; every man loving his country more than his party ;
let us recall the courage that continued unfaltering at the
national heart, while disaster followed disaster; remember
the firm resolution of all the people at their election in
November ; — their fearless stand before the nations of the
earth, in sustaining men and measures that excited the
ridicule and scorn of Europe ; remember the great days
of the past four years,— a period for which we should
thank God ; remember that the people are true ; and then
let us rise from the sadness of the mourning hour, and gird
ourselves for our work and our country's work. The man
dies, but the cause lives. Even Jesus died, but his cause
survives and prevails ; and ours, so far as it is coincident
with his, can never be overthrown.



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Online LibraryGeorge Nye BoardmanThe death of President Lincoln. A sermon preached in the Presbyterian Church, Binghamton, Sabbath morning, April 16, 1865 (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 1)