Matthew Simpson.

Funeral address delivered at the burial of President Lincoln online

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MAY 4, 1865.














Fellow-Citizens of Illinois, and of many parts

of our entire union :
Near the capitol of this large and growing State of
Illinois, in the midst of this beautiful grove, and at
the open mouth of the vault which has just received
the remains of our fallen chieftain, we gather to pay
a tribute of respect and to drop the tears of sorrow
around the ashes of the mighty dead. A little more
than four years ago he left his plain and quiet home
in yonder city, receiving the parting words of the
concourse of friends who in the midst of the drop-
ping of the gentle shower gathered around him. He
spoke of the pain of parting from the place where he
had lived for a quarter of a century, where his chil-
dren had been born, and his home had been rendered
pleasant by friendly associations ; and, as he left, he
made an earnest request, in the hearing of some who
are present at this hour, that, as he was about to
enter upon responsibilities which he believed to be
greater than any which had fallen upon any man
since the days of "Washington, the people would offer
up prayers that God would aid and sustain him in
the work which they had given him to do. His
company left your quiet city, but as it went snares


were in waiting for the chief magistrate. Scarcely
did he escape the dangers of the way or the hands of
the assassin as he neared Washington ; and I believe
he escaped only through the vigilance of officers and
the prayers of the people, so that the blow was sus-
pended for more than. four years, which was at last
permitted, through the providence of God, to fall.

How different the occasion which witnessed his
departure from that which witnessed his return !
Doubtless you expected to take him by the hand,
and to feel the warm grasp which you had felt in
other days, aud to see the tall form walking among
you which you had delighted to honor in years past.
But he was never permitted to come until he came
with lips mute and silent, the frame encoffined, and
a weeping nation following as his mourners. Such a
scene as his return to you was never witnessed.
Among the events of history there have been great
processions of mourners. There was one for the pa-
triarch Jacob, which went up from Egypt, and the
Egyptians wondered at the evidences of reverence
and filial affection which came from the hearts of the
Israelites. There was mourning when Moses fell upon
the heights of Pisgah, and was hid from human view.
There have been mournings in the kingdoms of the
earth when kings and warriors have fallen. But
never was there in the history of man such mourning
as that which has accompanied this funeral proces-
sion, and has gathered around the mortal remains of
him who was our loved one, and who now sleeps
among us. If we glance at the procession which fol-
lowed him, we see how the nation stood aghast.


Tears filled the eyes of manly, sun-burnt faces.
Strong men, as they clasped the hands of their friends,
were not able in words to find vent for their grief.
Women and little children caught up the tidings as
they ran through the land, and were melted into
tears. The nation stood still. Men left their plows
in the fields and asked what the end should be. The
hum of manufactories ceased, and the sound of the
hammer was not heard. Busy merchants closed their
doors, and in the exchange gold passed no more from
hand to hand. Though three weeks have elapsed,
the nation has scarcely breathed easily yet. A
mournful silence is abroad upon the land ; nor is this
mourning confined to any class or to any district of
country. Men of all political parties, and of all
religious creeds, have united in paying this mournful
tribute. The archbishop of the Roman Catholic
Church in New York and a Protestant minister
walked side by side in the sad procession, and a Jew-
ish rabbi performed a part of the solemn services.

Here are gathered around his tomb the representa-
tives of the army and navy, senators, judges, govern-
ors, and officers of all the branches of the government.
Here, too, are members of civic processions, with men
and women from the humblest as well as the highest
occupations. Here and there, too, are tears as sincere
and warm as any that drop, which come from the
eyes of those whose kindred and whose race have
been freed from their chains by him whom they
mourn as their deliverer. More persons have gazed
on the face of the departed than ever looked upon
the face of any other departed man. More have


looked on the procession for sixteen hundred miles,
by night and by day, by sunlight, dawn, twilight, and
by torchlight, than ever before watched the progress
of a procession.

"We ask why this wonderful mourning, this great
procession? I answer, first, a part of the interest
has arisen from the times in which we live, and in
which he that has fallen was a principal actor. It is
a principle of our nature that feelings once excited
turn readily from the object by which they are excited.
to some other object which may for the time being
take possession of the mind. Another principle is,
the deepest affections of our hearts gather around
some human form in which are incarnated the living
thoughts and ideas of the passing age. If we look
then at the times, we see an age of excitement. For
four years the popular heart has been stirred to its
inmost depth. War had come upon us, dividing fam-
ilies, separating nearest and dearest friends, a war the
extent and magnitude of which no one could esti-
mate ; a war in which the blood of brethren was shed
by a brother's hand. A call for soldiers was made by
this voice now hushed, and all over the land, from
hill to mountain, from plain to valley, there sprung
up thousands of bold hearts, ready to go forth and
save our national Union. This feeling of excitement
was transformed next into a feeling of deep grief be-
cause of the dangers in which our country was placed.
Many said, "Is it possible to save our nation?"
Some in our country, and nearly all the leading men
in other countries, declared it to be impossible to
maintain the Union ; and many an honest and patri-


otic heart was deeply pained with apprehensions of
common ruin ; and many, in grief and almost in de-
spair, anxiously inquired, What shall the end of these
things be ? In addition to this, wives had given their
husbands, mothers their sons, the pride and joy of
their hearts. They saw them put on the uniform,
they saw them take the martial step, and they tried
to hide their deep feeling of sadness. Many dear
ones slept upon the battle-field never to return again,
and there was mourning in every mansion and in
every cabin in cur broad land. Then came a feeling
of deeper sadness as the story came of prisoners tor-
tured to death or starved through the mandates of
those who are called the representatives of the chiv-
alry, and who claimed to be the honorable ones of
the earth ; and as we read the stories of frames
attenuated and reduced to mere skeletons, our grief
turned partly into horror and partly into a cry for

Then this feeling was changed to one of joy.
There came signs of the end of this rebellion. We
followed the career of our glorious generals. We saw
our army, under the command of the brave officer
who is guiding this procession, climb up the heights
of Lookout Mountain, and drive the rebels from their
strongholds. Another brave general swept through
Georgia, South and North Carolina, and drove the
combined armies of the rebels before him, while the
honored Lieuten ant-General held Lee and his hosts
in a death-grasp.

Then the tidings came that Richmond was evacu-
ated, and that Lee had surrendered. The bells rang


merrily all over the land. The booming of cannon
was heard ; illuminations and torchlight processions
manifested the general joy, and families were looking
for the speedy return of their loved ones from the
field of battle. Just in the midst of this wildest joy,
in one hour, nay, in one moment, the tidings thrilled
throughout the land that Abraham Lincoln, the best
of presidents, had perished by the hands of an assas-
sin. Then all the feelings which had been gathering
for four years in forms of excitement, grief, horror,
and joy, turned into one wail of woe, a sadness inex-
pressible, an anguish unutterable.

But it is not the times merely which caused this
mourning. The mode of his death must be taken
into the account. Had he died on a bed of illness,
with kind friends around him ; had the sweat of
death been wiped from his brow by gentle hands,
while he was yet conscious ; could he have had power
to speak words of affection to his stricken widow, or
words of counsel to us like those which we heard in
his parting inaugural at "Washington, which shall
now be immortal, how it would have softened or
assuaged something of the grief ! There might at
least have been preparation for the event. But no
moment of warning was given to him or to us. He
was stricken down, too, when his hopes for the end
of the rebellion were bright, and prospects of a joy-
ous life were before him. There was a cabinet meet-
ing that day, said to have been the most cheerful and
happy of any held since the beginning of the rebel-
lion. After this meeting he talked with his friends,
and spolje of the four years of tempest, of the storm


being over, and of the four years of pleasure and joy-
now awaiting him, as the weight of care and anxiety
would be taken from his mind, and he could have
happy days with his family again. In the midst of
these anticipations he left his house never to return
alive. The evening was Good Friday, the saddest
day in the whole calendar for the Christian Church,
henceforth in this country to be made sadder, if pos-
sible, by the memory of our nation's loss ; and so
filled with grief was every Christian heart that even
all the joyous thought of Easter Sunday failed to re-
move the crushing sorrow under which the true Wor-
shiper bowed in the house of God.

But the great cause of this mourning is to be found
in the man himself. Mr. Lincoln was no ordinary
man. I believe the conviction has been growing on
the nation's mind, as it certainly has been on my
own, especially in the last years of his administration >
that by the hand of God he was especially singled
out to guide our government in these troublesome
times, and it seems to me that the hand of God may
be traced in many of the events connected with his
history. First, then, I recognize this in the physical
education which he received, and which prepared him
for enduring herculean labors. In the toils of his
boyhood and the labors of his manhood, God was
giving him an iron frame. Next to this wag his
identification with the heart of the great people, un-
derstanding their feelings because he was one of them,
and connected with them in their movements and
life. His education was simple. A few months
spent in the school-house gave him the elements of



education. He read few books, but mastered all be
read. Pilgrim's Progress, ^E sop's Pables, and the
Life of Washington, were his favorites. In these we
recognize the works which gave the bias to his char-
acter, and which partly moulded his style. His early
life, with its varied struggles, joined him indissolubly
to the working masses, and no elevation in society
diminished his respect for the sons of toil. He knew
what it was to fell the tall trees of the forest and to
stem the current of the broad Mississippi. His home
was in the growing AVest, the heart of the republic,
and, invigorated by the wind which swept over its
prairies, he learned lessons of self-reliance which sus-
tained him in seasons of adversity.

His genius was soon recognized, as true genius
always will be, and he was placed in the legislature
of his state. Already acquainted with the principles
of law, he devoted his thoughts to matters of public
interest, and began to be looked on as the coming
statesman. As early as 1839 he presented resolu-
tions in the legislature asking for emancipation in
the District of Columbia, whenj with but rare excep-
tions, the whole popular mind of his state was op-
posed to the measure. From that hour he was a
steady and uniform friend of humanity, and was pre-
paring for the conflict of later years.

If you ask me on what mental characteristic his
greatness rested, I answer, On a quick and ready
perception of facts ; on a memory unusually tena-
cious and retentive ; and on a logical turn of mind,
which followed sternly and unwaveringly every link
in the chain of thought on every subject which he


was called to investigate. I think there have been
minds more broad in their character, more compre-
hensive in their scope, but I doubt if ever there has
been a man who could follow step by step, with more
logical power, the points which he desired to illus-
trate. He gained this power by the close study of
geometry, and by a determination to perceive the
truth in all its relations and simplicity, and when
found, to utter it.

It is said of him that in childhood when he had
any difficulty in listening to a conversation, to ascer-
tain what people meant, if he retired to rest he could
not sleep till he tried to understand the precise point
intended, and when understood, to frame language
to convey in it a clearer manner to others. Who
that has read his messages fails to perceive the direct-
ness and the simplicity of his style ? And this very
trait, which was scoffed at and decried by opponents,
is now recognized as one of the strong points of that
mighty mind which has so powerfully influenced the
destiny of this nation, and which shall, for ages to
come, influence the destiny of humanity.

It was not, however, chiefly by his mental faculties
that he gained such control over mankind. His
moral power gave him pre-eminence. The convic-
tions of men that Abraham Lincoln was an honest
man led them to yield to his guidance. As has been
said of Cobden, whom he greatly resembled, he made
all men feel a sense of himself ; a recognition of indi-
viduality ; a self-relying power. They saw in him a
man whom they believed would do what is right,
regardless of all consequences. It was this moral


feeling which gave him the greatest hold on the
people, and made his utterances almost oracular.
"When the nation was angered by the perfidy of
foreign nations in allowing privateers to be fitted
out, he uttered the significant expression, " One war
at a time," and it stilled the national heart. When
his own friends were divided as to what steps should
be taken as to slavery, that simple utterance, " I will
save the Union, if I can, with slavery ; if not, slavery
must perish, for the Union must be preserved,"
became the rallying word. Men felt the struggle
was for the Union, and all other questions must be

But after all, by the acts of a man shall his fame
be perpetuated. What are his acts? Much praise
is due to the men who aided him. He called able
counselors around him, some of whom have displayed
the highest order of talent united with the purest
and most devoted patriotism. He summoned able
generals into the field, men who have borne the
sword as bravely as ever any human arm has borne
it. He had the aid of prayerful and thoughtful men
everywhere. But, under his own guiding hands.,
wise counsels were combined and great movements

Turn toward the different departments. We had
an unorganized militia, a mere skeleton army, yet,
under his care, that army has been enlarged into a
force which, for skill, intelligence, efficiency, and
bravery, surpasses any which the world had ever
seen. Before its veterans the fame of even the re-
nowned veterans of Napoleon shall pale, and the


mothers and sisters on these hillsides, and all over
the land, shall take to their arms again braver sons
and brothers than ever fought in European wars.
The reason is obvious. Money, or a desire for fame,
collected those armies, or they were rallied to sustain
favorite thrones or dynasties; but the armies he
called into being fought for liberty, for the Union,
and for the right of self-government ; and many of
them felt that the battles they won were for humanity
everywhere, and for all time ; for I believe that God
has not suffered this terrible rebellion to come upon
our land merely for a chastisement to us, or as a les-
son to our age.

There are moments which involve in themselves
eternities. There are instants which seem to contain
germs which shall develop and bloom forever. Such
a moment came in the tide of time to our land, when
a question must be settled which affected all the
earth. The contest was for human freedom, not for
this republic merely, not for the Union simply, but
to decide whether the people, as a people, in their
entire majesty, were destined to be the government, or
whether they were to be subjects to tyrants or aristo-
crats, or to class-rule of any kind. This is the great
question for which we have been fighting, and its
decision is at hand, and the result of the contest will
affect the ages to come. If successful, republics will
spread, in spite of monarchs, all over this earth.

I turn from the army to the navy. What was it
when the war commenced ? Now we have our
ships-of-war at home and abroad, to guard privateers
in foreign sympathizing ports, as well as to care for


every part of our own coast. They have taken forts
that military men said could not be taken ; and a
brave admiral, for the first time in the world's history,
lashed himself to the mast, there to remain as long
as he had a particle of skill or strength to watch
over his ship, while it engaged in the perilous con-
test of taking the strong forts of the rebels.

Then again I turn to the treasury department.
Where should the money come from ? Wise men
predicted ruin, but our national credit has been
maintained, and our currency is safer to-day than it
ever was before. Not only so, but through our
national bonds, if properly used, we shall have a
permanent basis for our currency, and an investment
so desirable for capitalists of other nations that,
under the laws of trade, I believe the center of ex-
change will speedily be transferred from England to
the United States.

But the great act of the mighty chieftain, on which
his fame shall rest long after his frame shall moulder
away, is that of giving freedom to a race. We have
all been taught to revere the sacred characters.
Among them Moses stands pre-eminently high. He
received the law from God, and his name is honored
among the hosts of heaven. Was not his greatest
act the delivering of three millions of his kindred
out of bondage ? Yet we may assert that Abraham
Lincoln, by his proclamation, liberated more enslaved
people than ever Moses set free, and those not of his
kindred or his race. Such a power, or such an
opportunity, God has seldom given to man. When
other events shall have been forgotten; when this


world shall have become a network of republics;
when every throne shall be swept from the face of
the earth ; when literature shall enlighten all minds ;
T\hen the claims of humanity shall be recognized
everywhere, this act shall still be conspicuous on the
pages of history. We are thankful that God gave
to Abraham Lincoln the decision and wisdom and
grace to issue that proclamation, which stands high
above all other papers which have been penned by
uninspired men.

Abraham Lincoln was a good man. He was
known as an honest, temperate, forgiving man ; a
just man ; a man of noble heart in every way. As
to his religious experience, I cannot speak definitely,
because I was not privileged to know much of his
private sentiments. My acquaintance with him did
not give me the opportunity to hear him speak on
those topics. This I know, however, he read the
Bible frequently; loved it for its great truths and its
profound teachings ; and he tried to be guided by its
precepts. He believed in Christ the Saviour of sin-
ners ; and I think he was sincere in trying to bring
his life into harmony with the principles of revealed
religion. Certainly if there ever was a man who
illustrated some of the principles of pure religion,
that man was our departed president. Look over all
his speeches; listen to his utterances. He never
spoke unkindly of any man. Even the rebels re-
ceived no word of anger from him ; and his last day
illustrated in a remarkable manner his forgiving dis-
position. A dispatch was received that afternoon
that Thompson and Tucker were trying to make


their escape through Maine, and it was proposed to
arrest them. Mr. Lincoln, however, preferred rather
to let them quietly escape. He was seeking to save
the very men who had been plotting his destruc-
tion. This morning we read a proclamation offering
$25,000 for the arrest of these men as aiders and
abettors of his assassination ; so that, in his expiring
acts, he was saying, " Father, forgive them, they
know not what they do."

As a ruler I doubt if any president has ever shown
such trust in God, or in public documents so fre-
quently referred to Divine aid. Often did he remark
to friends and to delegations that his hope for our
success rested in his conviction that God would bless
our efforts, because we were trying to do right. To
the address of. a large religious body he replied,
" Thanks be unto God, who, in our national trials,
giveth us the Churches." To a minister who said he
hoped the Lord was on our side, he replied that it
gave him no concern whether the Lord was on our
side or not, " For," he added, " I know the Lord is
always on the side of right ; " and with deep feeling
added, " But God is my witness that it is my con-
stant anxiety and prayer that both myself and this
nation should be on the Lord's side."

In his domestic life he was exceedingly kind and
affectionate. He was a devoted husband and father.
During his presidential term he lost his second son,
Willie. To an officer of the army he said, not long
since, " Do you ever find yourself talking with the
dead \ " and added, " Since Willie's death I catch
myself every day involuntarily talking with him, as


if he were with me." On his widow, who is una-
ble to be here, I need only invoke the blessing of
Almighty God that she may be comforted and sus-
tained. For his son, who has witnessed the exercises
of this hour, all that I can desire is that the mantle
of his father may fall upon him.

Let us pause a moment in the lesson of the hour
before we part. This man, though he fell by an
assassin, still fell under the permissive hand of God.
He had some wise purpose in allowing him so to fall.
"What more could he have desired of life for himself?
Were not his honors full ? There was no office to
which he could aspire. The popular heart clung
around him as around no other man. The nations
of the world had learned to honor our chief ma^is-
trate. If rumors of a desired alliance with England
be true, Napoleon trembled when he heard of the fall
of Kichmond, and asked what nation wguld join him
to protect him against our government under the
guidance of such a man. His fame was full, his
work was done, and he sealed his glory by becoming


Online LibraryMatthew SimpsonFuneral address delivered at the burial of President Lincoln → online text (page 1 of 2)