Albert Barnes.

The state of the country. : a discourse, delivered in the First Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, June 1, 1865, on the day appointed as a day of humiliation and mourning in view of the death of the President of the United States online

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Online LibraryAlbert BarnesThe state of the country. : a discourse, delivered in the First Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, June 1, 1865, on the day appointed as a day of humiliation and mourning in view of the death of the President of the United States → online text (page 1 of 6)
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This discourse was too long to be preached, and in fact a consider-
able portion of it was omitted in the delivery. Yet it was intended,
in its preparation, that the views presented should be closely con-
nected, and that each part should bear on the same general subject.
It is, therefore, printed.

I cannot hope, and I do not expect, that the views presented will
meet with universal approval, or even general approval, but I regard
them as vital to liberty ; to the proper interpretation of the Constitu-
tion; and to the future peace and prosperity of the country. Some
of the sentiments expressed in the Discourse, if they had been uttered
during the efforts made by the Government and the country to sup-
press the rebellion, might, perhaps, have been construed as designed
to embarrass the Government, but, whether correct or not, no such
construction could be put on them now. Great and valuable lessons
are to come out of this terrible conflict of arms, and the occasion on
which this Discourse was delivered seemed to me to be one in which
it was proper to advert to these lessons. I have exercised the right
which every man has, of expressing them.

Albert Barnes.

Philadelphia, June 2, 1865.

Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer, I am the Lord that maketh all things ;


xliv. 24, 25, 28.

The only use which I shall make of this text on this
occasion, is as suggesting the idea that God raises up
good and great men, and employs them as instruments
in delivering the oppressed from bondage, and that, in
doing this, he defeats the counsels and purposes of bad
men. Cyrus was raised up to deliver the Hebrew peo-
ple from their long captivity in Babylon, as Moses had
been long before to deliver the ancestors of the same
people from slavery in Egypt. The applicability of
this thought to the circumstances of our country, I
trust you will perceive as we advance. If the principle
is correct, the hand of God should be recognized alike in
the arrangements by which such men are raised up; in the
work which they accomplish ; in their removal, however
that removal may occur ; and in the lasting benefits
which he has conferred, through their instrumentality,
on the oppressed, on a nation, or on the world at large.

In view of profound grief such as a nation never be-
fore experienced for the loss of a Chief Magistrate ; of
deep horror felt for the crime by which he has been
removed — a crime, in itself, among the darkest that man


ever commits, and in this case, aggravated the more its
origin, and the purposes expected to be accomplished by
it, and the spirit which prompted it, are understood — we
have been summoned to the services of this day. No
words can add to our sense of the loss, or our horror of
the crime. The nation's sense of that loss has been ex-
pressed in tears, and prayers, and costly arrangements
for committing to the earth, in a proper manner, all that
was mortal of the murdered man, such as the world
never saw on the fall of the Ruler of a people before,
and the nation's horror of the crime by all the demands
which a nation could utter for the severest punishment
of those directly concerned in the assassination, and of
all those in high places who have been connected with
it. It is not for me to attempt to deepen this impression
of loss, or to give a more distinct utterance to this feel-
ing of horror. The deed is done. The work of the
President is done. His character is fixed — unmistaka-
bly fixed, and honorable ; his name will go down to future
times as among the most cherished of those of our own
country, or of any land, whose record the " world will not
willingly let die." The great event which will be seen to
have mainly characterized his administration — the de-
liverance from bondage of four millions of human beings,
and the establishment of perfect freedom throughout the
land, will place his administration among those great
epochs in human affairs which are most closely connec-
ted with the progress of the race.

It will be appropriate in the observance of this day,
if since nothing can be said to deepen the impression of
the nation's grief; nothing added to increase the sense of
the horror of the crime ; and nothing in regard to the
character of the murdered President which has not been

already many times said, we turn our thoughts to the
state of the country at his death, to the things which
have been done as the result of his administration, and
to those which remain to be done that future perils may
be avoided, and that our country, carrying out the pur-
poses of our fathers, may occupy its appropriate place
among the nations of the earth.

Our Constitution has not made it, as is done in mon-
archical countries, treason to " compass or imagine the
death" of the chief magistrate of the nation, or of any
individual in the land. In England, and in all coun-
tries under a monarchy, the act which has been per-
formed here would have bean treason.* But it was a
main purpose of the founders of our Republic to avoid
alike in name, in authority, in hereditary rank, in titles
of nobility, and in corruption of blood, all that has been
engrafted on the idea of royalty ; all that could suggest
the idea of a monarchy. To have designated such a
crime as that which has been committed treason, there-
fore, would have been to introduce an idea into the con-
stitution entirely foreign to all our notions of government.
Hence, under our laws, the assassination even of the
President of the United States, whether the act of an
individual without concert with others, or whether the
result of a wide-spread conspiracy ; whether an act per-
formed by a man accustomed to mimic tragedies and
scenes of blood, or whether the result of a plot laid by
men that have conspired against the life of the Republic,
and who have formed the plot as the consummation of
the work of rebellion ; whether it be the mere indulgence
of private malignant feeling, or whether it be the legiti-

* Blackstonc, iv. 74, scq.

mate result of a barbarous system of slavery, culminating
in a crime so horrid, is, in the eye of the law, simply
murder, as it would be in respect to the lowest citizen of
the Republic, and to be tried and punished in the same
way. The punishment due to treason could not enter
into the sentence of the individual assassin, or of those
who employed him. Yet though not treason, but mur-
der, in the eye of the law, it is no ordinary act of
murder. It is a crime against the state ; against the
constitution ; against the entire people of the land ;
against liberty. For even in a sense which does not
occur under a hereditary monarchy, the honor of the
nation is entrusted to the President of the United States,
and he is more directly the representative of the princi-
ples of its liberties and its laws. As one of the people,
not by a hereditary claim, he is placed in that high office
by their own direct act ; he is clothed with authority
solely by their choice ; he is exalted by their will to be
at the head of the army and the navy ; he is appointed
to execute the laws of the land ; he is entrusted, with
his constitutional advisers, to regulate the intercourse of
the nation with the other nations of the earth. Never,
in any country, has so much been permanently entrusted
to a public ruler by the direct will of the people as is
entrusted to a President of the United States ; in no
other land can a prince, potentate, emperor, king, czar,
sultan, shah, feel that he has been made so directly the
depository of honor and power as a President of the
United States. In a sense then which could not occur
even in the assassination of shah, sultan, king, emperor,
or czar, even though it be technically called " treason,"
there is in the murder of a President of the United
States a malignity and atrocity ; an offence against a


nation ; a personal offence against every individual of the
nation, which could not occur elsewhere. Technically
it is not treason ; morally, such an act is blacker than
that by which Henry of Navarre fell, and is only to be
compared with that in which William of Orange was
consigned to the grave.

The world is always shocked at the assassination of
the supreme Magistrate of a nation. So even in Russia,
the government of which has been defined to be " an ab-
solute despotism, limited by the right of assassination."
So when Henry IV, and William the Silent were mur-
dered ; so even in the multiplied assassinations of the
successors of the Antonines in the Roman empire, where
in the ninety-two years that followed the reign of Com-
modus, himself assassinated, " thirty-two emperors, and
twenty-seven pretenders to the empire alternately
hurled each other from the throne"* — when Commodus,
Pertinax, Caracalla, Eliogobalus, Severus, Maximus,
Balbinus, Gordian perished by assassination ; so under
Oriental despotism; so in the attempts made on the
lives of the First and the Third Napoleons ; and so the
attempts made on the life of the present Queen of Eng-
land. In a monarchy such an act may unsettle and de-
range the whole government, and change the succession
as it may be intenced to do ; it may lead to the horrors
of civil war ; it may deluge a land in blood. In our own
country, such is the felicity above other nations of our
civil institutions, that such an act, bloody and horrible
as it is, does not arrest the wheels of government for a
moment ; lays a foundation for no hope in rebellion ; does
not disturb the peaceful relations to foreign powers, and

* Sismondi.


may be followed, as soon as the oath of office can be ad-
ministered, by efficient efforts to bring to punishment
the immediate murderers, and all those who have in any
way been concerned in planning and promoting the
crime. We were appalled by the crime ; we mourned as
no nation ever mourned ; but the operations of the Gov-
ernment were not suspended for a single day, or even
for an hour.

The crime of assassination, however, great as it is in
itself, and aggravated as it may be by the position and
office of the murdered man, may be aggravated by pe-
culiar circumstances in regard to his character, to the
work which he is engaged in performing, to the service
which he has rendered or is rendering to his country,
to the sacrifices which he has made, and to his near ap-
proach to triumph, and honor, and peace. In a passage
in the great dramatist which will occur to every one as
applicable to the event which we mourn, and which pro-
bably, in reference to that event, has been more frequently
in the minds of men, or more frequently quoted than any
other, these circumstances are referred to with all the
beauty of poetry, and with all the tenderness of appeal
of which our language is capable :

Treason has done his worst ; nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing

Can touch him further. He

Hath born his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking off;
And pity, like a naked, new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.


The assassination of Washington would at any time
have filled the world with horror. But suppose it had
occurred just at the close of the war of the Revolution —
on his way to Yorktown — and in full prospect of the
capture of Cornwallis, and of the end of the conflict :
after all the struggles, and trials, and sacrifices, and toils
of seven years' war ; after the scenes at Valley Forge,
and the retreats which he had been compelled to make,
and the days of darkness so long and so gloomy, and
now when light was dawning, and the war was ending,
and the wisdon of his plans was about to be manifested
to the world, and the world was about to do him homage
as among the greatest of its captains, and the purest of
its patriots, and he had the prospect of reposing many
years the honored of mankind in his own quiet home,
suppose that then the assassin's dirk had laid him ' low
in death. What is the assassination of a despot, a he-
reditary prince, a man who has nothing but a hereditary
rank to entitle him to the notice of the world, as com-
pared with such a deed !

Our late President was murdered just as the war was
ending, and as the results of his plans were about to be
apparent. No man ever entered on an office in such cir-
cumstances as he did ; no man ever had more difficulties
to contend with; no man ever had more perplexing ques-
tions to solve ; no man was ever placed in circumstances
when there was so little in the past to guide him ; no
man ever entered on an office with more decided, bitter,
keen-eyed, suspicious, relentless, powerful enemies; 'no
man, in so high a position, with so little of personal ex-
perience, or with so little in his previous history to en-
able a nation to determine what would be his course,
whether one of wisdom or folly, success or failure. No


man ever passed four years of more anxious care, and of
patient trial ; of disappointments, reverses, and disasters;
of uncertainty as to the result; of things that try a
man's soul and all that there is in man of patience, kind-
ness, firmness, patriotism, wisdom, justice, and mercy.
The end was reached. The dark days were passed. The
war was closing. The object was about to be accom-
plished, and honor, shall any one say inferior to that
which awaited Washington when Cornwallis surrendered,
awaited him, and he fell. So if Moses had fallen when
he saw the promised land, after the forty years' wander-
ing in the wilderness ; if Tell, or Bruce, or Wallace had
thus fallen, shall we say that the world would have been
more shocked, or that succeeding ages would have re-
garded the crime as more atrocious, or the murdered man
as worthy of a more cherished remembrance ?

In comparing the public life of Mr. Lincoln with
that of his predecessors in that great office, as must
and will be done, we cannot now see that any one of
them, even the greatest, would have accomplished the
work demanded in his circumstances in a better manner.
We can be in no uncertainty as to what the majority at
least of those men would have attempted ; of some of
them we can have no doubt as to what would have been
the result. Few of them, indeed, were placed in cir-
cumstances which would enable us to determine from
what they did as to what they would have done in our
time. But the circumstances were such that we know
what Washington and Jackson would have attempted ;
for that which, under the blessing of God, they did,
would lead us to entertain no doubt of what, under the
same blessing of God, they would have done now. Of
Washington we know what he would have done. He


who made arrangements to suppress the " Insurrection "
in Pennsylvania, and to bring " Shay's Rebellion " in
Massachusetts to an end, would not have hesitated to
call forth all a nation's strength to suppress a much
greater " insurrection," and to annihilate a much more
formidable "rebellion." Of Jackson, too, we know
what he would have done. Of him who issued that
proclamation which the world will never forget in refer-
ence to the Acts of Nullification in South Carolina ; of
him who was informed by the Governor of Virginia that
he would never permit the President of the Uuited States
to send an army through that State to suppress an in-
surrection in South Carolina, and who is reported to
have said to those who conveyed the message, " Go and
tell the Governor of Virginia that I shall not send an
army but lead it," we cannot doubt what he would
have attempted, or what he would have done in this rebel-
lion — the development — the culmination — the climax —
the appropriate ending of the doctrine of nullification,
and of the life and labors of its great author John C.
Calhoun. Under God, the conqueror of Cornwallis, and
the hero of New Orleans, would have suppressed this
" insurrection," and brought this " rebellion " to a close.

Without any disparagement, however, to the memory
of those great men, it may be doubted whether either of
them would have accomplished the work to be done in
suppressing this great rebellion, and in restoring the
Union of these States, in a better manner than has been
done by him who has been so suddenly taken from the
nation. He had not indeed their military ability. He
had had little experience in public life. He had not
been tried in any position that determined his fitness for
the emergency; but he had a character of thorough


honesty and integrity. He had been formed to habits
of patient industry and incorruptible virtue. He was
eminently a man of good sense and far-seeing sagacity.
He was distinguished for kindness, for large-heartedness,
for a regard for the rights of all. He was a man who
felt his way; who studied events; who adapted his
measures to the course of things. He had an object ;
but he had no inflexible theory in regard to the measures
in which the object was to be reached. That object was
to preserve the government ; to restore the Union ; to
suppress the insurrection. From that he never swerved,
and every measure of the administration tended to that
end. In that he was firm, immovable, unchanging. At
first, it was to restore the Union, expecting that slavery
would continue to exist as before ; then, to restore the
Union with slavery, if that could be done, or without
slavery, if it should be necessary to abolish it in order
to that restoration ; and then, when it became apparent
that the rebellion was for the support of slavery, and
was sustained by slavery, that the Union should be re-
stored, and that slavery should be abolished altogether,
by the progress of the army ; by a proclamation of free-
dom ; and by a fixed and permanent amendment of the

A man more confident in regard to the measures to be
pursued — with a theory to be carried out at all hazards —
would not have studied events ; a man more stern, severe,
harsh, unforgiving, would have irritated the enemies of
the government, and produced a more bitter hostility ; a
man less genial, kind, affable, accessible, could not have
secured the warm affection of the great mass of the
nation; for a man of mere intellectual power, or military
ability, or great qualities as a statesman, if distinguished


only for these things, the nation would not have wept
as this nation did when he died ; for of no other ruler of
any nation, probably, could it have been said after four
years of such a war, after summoning more than half a
million of men to break up the confederacy, to put down
the rebellion, and even to abolish slavery, that " the South
had lost its best friend." As much as any man in this
nation, perhaps as much as any man in any country, he
has shown that he had talents equal to the emergency ;
and this is after all the best tribute that can be paid to
human ability.

There was an impression quite prevalent in the nation
when he died that was not justified by anything that had
occurred in his life, and the justice of which history will
not sanction. Men at once, as they generally do on such
occasions, began to be wise, and to speculate on the designs
of Providence in such an event, and became prophets in
interpreting the designs of Providence in his removal.
The theory of interpretation was, that he was too mild,
too kind, too gentle for the emergency ; that his heart
was too full of clemency to meet what was demanded in
the punishment of the authors of the public calamities ;
that in his nature mercy and justice were not blended in
proper proportions; rebellion and treason, under him
would have little to fear ; that the great ends of jus-
tice would be defeated, and that, therefore, it was neces-
sary that he should be removed, even by the hand of an
assassin, that the interests of justice might be lodged in
hands that would more sternly execute the laws. Had
it required no firmness to maintain one steady course
through four years of unequalled war, and when all the
experiences of other wars failed to instruct the nation ?
Did it indicate no sense of the majesty and authority of


law that all this array of forces was called forth to re-
establish law, and to maintain its authority ? Did it re-
quire no firmness to remove men from high places in civil
life, in the army, in the navy, and to call others to their
places when they were found incompetent, or when it
was seen that the public service required men that would
more vigorously prosecute the war ? Those who have
thought that he was removed by death for want of that
firmness which would have promoted the ends of justice,
cannot have carefully reflected on the comparative firm-
ness required to remove a military commander at the
head of a hundred thousand men, the idol of the army,
in a great emergency when the result of the conflict was
at stake, and even on a march towards a fearful battle,
placing another, as yet untried, in command, and that
kind of firmness required to prosecute great criminals by
the slow and careful processes of law, and to punish men
of enormous and acknowledged crimes. When the whole
history of this administration shall have been written,
it will be found that the controlling element of the
character of the man who was placed at the head of
it, was not mere gentleness and compassion ; was not
levity and trifling ; was not kindness at the expense of
the public good ; was not mercy regardless of justice ;
and that those prophets have been mistaken who have
supposed that God removed him in order that the affairs
of justice might pass into sterner hands.

At the commencement of the administration of the late
President, a conflict of arms on a scale unparalleled in this
country, and almost in the world, was inevitable. There
was no way in which it could be avoided, but by aban-
doning the Constitution, the Union, and the idea of gov-
ernment itself; by admitting that the Union under the


constitution was a mere cenfederacy, held together by no
sacred tie, arid to be dissolved at the pleasure of any one
of the States. No one saw what would be the magni-
tude of the conflict, yet no one could be ignorant that it
must be on a large scale when eleven of the States should
rise in arms against the rest of the Union. It was called
"war" and was in certain senses regarded as "war,"
though the true name which should have been given to
it, and the name which posterity will give to it, was
"insurrection' and "rebellion? In the future records of
the history of this country it will be placed beside the
" Whiskey Insurrection " in Pennsylvania, and " Shay's
Rebellion " in Massachusetts. It was the magnitude of
the attempt, and not its nature, that exalted it into the
dignity of war, as far as there can be dignity in war, and
that made it necessary that it should be conducted, in
some measure, in accordance with the recognized rules
of warfare, as between independent nations. Yet this
very recognition, at home and abroad, and all the acts
consequent on it, always implied a falsehood, and was
based on a false idea — an idea which the events of the last
two months have shown to be false. War is a conflict
between real governments ; between independent powers ;
between governments and people that have the right to

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Online LibraryAlbert BarnesThe state of the country. : a discourse, delivered in the First Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, June 1, 1865, on the day appointed as a day of humiliation and mourning in view of the death of the President of the United States → online text (page 1 of 6)