Edward Norris Kirk.

Sermons preached in Boston on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Together with the funeral services in the East Room of the Executive Mansion at Washington online

. (page 6 of 21)
Online LibraryEdward Norris KirkSermons preached in Boston on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Together with the funeral services in the East Room of the Executive Mansion at Washington → online text (page 6 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he would have forgiven him. Simple in his manners,
unostentatious, and without pretence ; saying his plain
word in the most direct way, and then leaving off ; he
yet commanded respect by the omnipresence of an honest
purpose, and the evident absence of all personal vanity
and all private ends. Since Henry IV. fell by the dagger
of Ravaillac, no such woe has been wrought on a nation
by the hand of an assassin. Good Friday was well
chosen as the day, a day dedicated to the murder of
benefactors and Saviours. We shall miss him often in
the years to come, for when shall we find among poli-
ticians one so guileless ; among strong men one with so
little wilfulness ; among wise men one with so much
heart ; among conservative men one so progressive ;
among reformers one so prudent ? Hated by the South
from that instinct which makes bad mm hate the good-
ness which stands between them and their purpose, he
never hated back ; reviled by the most shameless abuse,
he never reviled again. Constant amid defeat and
disaster, he was without exultation in success. After


the surrender of Lee, lie caused to be written on the
Capitol the words, " Thanks be to God, who giveth us
the victory."

And so we find him mourned equally by the con-
servative and the progressive wing of the loyal people,
because he was in reality a thoroughly conservative and
a thoroughly progressive man. Both could depend on
him as truly their own leader. For his moderation was
not the negative moderation of a compromise which
balances between two extremes, but the positive modera-
tion of the large sincerity which accepts the truth on
both sides. The Conservatives knew that he was
sincerely cautious, and were sure he would never act
rashly. The Progressives knew that he was sincerely
ready to reform evils ; and though he might move slowly,
certain to move forward.

Fortunate man ! who thus exhausted the experience of
life, beginning as a splitter of rails and ending in a chair
higher than a monarch's throne ; studying his grammar
by the fire-light of a log-cabin when a boy ; when a
man, addressing the senate and people from the capitol
of a great nation ; tried by hardship, hardened by labor,
toughened by poverty, developed by opportunity, trained
by well-fulfilled duties, chosen by God to be the emanci-
pator of a race, and the saviour of a nation's life ; and
then, having finished his work and seen the end near,
crowned with the martyr's halo, to be made immortal
through all history and all time as the chief actor in the
greatest drama of modern days. Happy in life ; happy
also in the opportunity of death, for when could death
come more welcome than on that day, when, having


emancipated the slave, having conquered the rebellion,
having walked into Richmond and written a letter at
Mr. Jefferson Davis' desk, and having directed the flag
to be restored on Fort Sumter, he commanded recruiting
to cease throughout the land, and declared to Europe
that the blockade was at an end, and the war over as far
as foreign nations were concerned? Macaulay says of
Hampden : " Others could conquer, he alone could
reconcile. It was when, to the sullen tyranny of Laud
and Charles had succeeded the fierce conflicts of sects
and factions, ambitious of ascendency, and burning for
revenge ; it was when the vices and ignorance which the
old tyranny had generated endangered the new freedom,
that England missed that sobriety, that self-command,
that perfect soundness of judgment, that perfect recti-
tude of intention, to which the history of revolutions
furnishes no parallel, or furnishes a parallel in
Washington alone."

" The history of revolutions has furnished another par-
allel in Abraham Lincoln." So says a late London jour-
nal ; for even London journals have learned to look
through the rough shell to the rich kernel. Abraham
Lincoln is essentially of the same type as Washington.
Washington was born and bred a patrician, the lord of
slaves and of broad acres. Lincoln was born and bred
a plebeian, a man of the people. But subtract these
surface-differences and they were radically the same ;
each built up of CONSCIENCE and of COMMON SENSE.
Neither of them had imagination ; but that was a bless-
ing : it saved their lives. For if, in addition to the
heavy weight of real responsibilities, there had been


added the sleepless anxiety of a mind which constantly
pictures to itself all possible contingencies, they would
both have died, worn out by exhaustion. In the gallery
of the world's great men our good Abraham Lincoln will
stand hereafter by the great shape of Washington, hav-
ing as great a work to do as he, and having done it as

But what shall we do without him ? What shall be-
come of us, in this doubtful Present around us, this dark
Future approaching us ? We thought our trials over ;
they seem about to begin anew. But we have learned
in these years to see the hand of God in all things, and
how He makes the wrath of the wicked to praise Him.
Still let us believe that He knows what we need, and
that this black event will also turn to good. Let the
day on which he fell teach us a lesson saddest day in
the history of men. The death of Jesus, at the begin-
ning of his work, seemed the direst calamity that could
befall mankind. It was the loss of the one being whom
the world could not afford to lose, the one perfect soul
the race had produced ; cut off, with his word appa-
rently half uttered, his work seemingly half done, his
life half lived, leaving only a few half- taught disciples
behind him.

But as out of that evil came so much good, so out of
this God will educe the blessings and discipline we want.
We thought our trials over ; but perhaps we need more.
The people of the North, always hopeful and good-
natured, needed perhaps another example of the spirit of
barbarism which has grown up in slavery, in order not
to trust again with power any of this existing race of
rsbels, Always audacious, they were just about to


come together to tell us how the Union was to be recon-
structed. Having been beaten in the field, they were
quietly stepping forward to claim the results of victory.
But this murder has probably defeated their expectations.
As Abraham Lincoln saved us, while living, from the
open hostility and deadly blows of the slaveholders and
secessionists, so, in dying, he may have saved us from
their audacious craft, and their poisonous policy. We
are reminded again what sort of people they are.

]t is idle to say that it was the work only of one or
two. When the whole South applauded Brooks in his
attempt to assassinate Charles Sumner ; when, during
these four years, they have been constantly offering
rewards for the heads of Lincoln and of Butler ; and
when no eminent Southern man has ever protested
against these barbarisms, they made themselves accesso-
ries before the fact to this assassination. Throughout
the South, to-day, there is, probably, very general exul-
tation. FOOLS AND BLIND ! Throughout the North,
this murder will arouse a stern purpose, not of revenge,
we trust, or only such a revenge as will consist with the
memory of Lincoln. The revenge we shall take for the
murder of Lincoln will be, to raise the loyal black popu-
lation of the South not only to the position of freemen,
but of voters ; to shut out from power forever the leaders
of the rebellion ; to re-admit no Southern State into the
Union until it has adopted a free-state constitution, and
passed that anti-slavery amendment so dear to Abraham
Lincoln's heart.* We might not have insisted on these

* See, at the end of this discourse, an extract from the sermon
preached by the writer on Fast Day, the day before this assassi-
nation, in regard to these points.


conditions, perhaps it was necessary for Lincoln to
die, to bring the nation to the point of demanding them.

I suppose that since the beginning of the world, there
never was an hour in which a whole nation experienced
at the same moment such a pang as was felt from Maine
to San Francisco yesterday morning. The telegraphic
wires sent a thrill of horror into every city and every
large town on the Atlantic and Pacific, on the Kennebec
and the Missouri, at the same time. It was like the
blow of a hammer descending on the heart of the nation.
But such a hammer and fire welds together the soul of a
people into a strong, righteous purpose. As the attempt
of Guy Fawkes to destroy the British Parliament united
all England for two centuries against the Papacy ; as the
attempt of Brooks to murder Sumner united the free
States against slavery, so this crime will unite the whole
North to make thorough work with the rebellion, and
put it down where it can never stir itself again.

The word "assassin," it is said, was introduced into
Europe by the crusaders, and took its name from that
mountain chief whose followers devoted themselves to
murder any. of his foes. He was named Ha-shish-in :
so named from hashish, the intoxicating herb, which
they took to give themselves the energy of madness.
Assassins are always madmen, they destroy the cause
they mean to help.

To-day, then, amid our grief and tears, let us not lose
that trust in Providence which the past four years have
been teaching to this nation, and which every Good
Friday and Easter Sunday, during eighteen centuries,
have been leaching to mankind.


" Bear Mm, brothers, to his grave ;
Over one more true and brave

Ne'er shall prairie grasses weep
In the ages yet to come,
When the millions in our room,

What we sow in tears, shall reap.

" One more look of that dead face,
Of his murder's ghastly trace !

One more kiss, O widowed one !
Lay your left hands on his brow,
Lift your right hands up, and vow

That his work shall yet be done.

" Patience, friends ! The eye of God
Every path by murder trod

Watches, lidless, day and night ;
And the dead man in his shroud,
And his children weeping loud,

And our hearts, are in his sight.

" We, in suffering, they, in crime,
Wait the just award of time,

Wait the vengeance that is due ;
Not in vain a heart shall break,
Not a tear for Freedom's sake

Fall unheeded : God is true.

" Lay the earth upon his breast,
Lay our slain one down to rest,

Lay him down in hope and faith.
And above the broken sod,
Once again to Freedom's God

Pledge ourselves for life or death."



The following extract from a sermon preached by the writer,
two days before, gives a further explanation of the points touched
on our page :

No doubt much remains to be done. The gravest questions
rise before us. There loom up now the questions, " what shall
be done with the rebels ? Shall the leaders of the rebellion be
punished, and how r What shall be done with the conquered
States ? How shall they be governed ; by military or civil power ?

In answering these questions it is evident, that, first of all, we
need guarantees that the substantial results of the war shall not
be lost that the cure of the South shall be radical that there
shall be no more treasons, no more rebellions. Any leniency
that overlooks this necessity is not moderation, is not generosity
it is folly, cruelty, and crime. We may forgive ; but we
have no right so to forgive as to leave the old conspirators with
power to conspire again.

What guarantees, then, do we need ? Plainly, the first is the
utter abolition and destruction of slavery in the South. We
must not have it in any form or shape. We must not allow it
to remain as apprenticeship, or as serfdom, or as pupilage. But
can this be done if we give back the power over the Southern
States into the hands of the old disloyal leaders, now made ten
times as bitter as before their defeat ? I see by the prints that
distinguished citizens of Virginia are on their way to Washing-
ton to arrange terms for the reconstruction and re-admission of
Virginia into the Union. What do we want of distinguished
citizens of Virginia ? We want them all to keep out of the
way. We are to deal now with the real people of the
South, colored and white, not with the old slaveholding aristo-
cracy. We do not want any Hon. Mr. Hunters or Breckinridges ;
no Governor Wise, no Governor Foote, to arrange terms with.

It seems to me that the question of punishment may be en-
tirely set aside. We do not wish to punish any one. " Ven-
geance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." They will be


punished enough, no doubt of that. If defeat, disgrace, and
utter ruin are punishments, if contempt at home and neglect
abroad are punishments, if to have shown a want of statesman-
ship and ignorance of history, to have destroyed the peace and
prosperity of these States is punishment, they have it. We
have, no doubt, a right to punish them to any extent. The
crimes of rebellion, treason, and waging civil war without a
cause, are the blackest which can be committed by man. To
lose life, property, and all, is not too severe a punishment. But
what we wish is not to punish them, but to protect ourselves.
And the most moderate punishment which is adequate is the
best, because it is the most certain to be inflicted. And there-
fore I say, that, in my opinion, what we want is to keep all the
old rebel leaders, and old slaveholding aristocracy out of the
way, until the States of the South can be re-organized on the
basis of freedom. We want to keep them from having anything
to do with the government or control of the South until every
Southern State is as loyal as Massachusetts. Now, every emi-
nent Southern man is liable to be tried, convicted, and put to
death for treason under the law of 1790. It is true that he
can only be tried within the State where the act of treason
was committed. But when Lee invaded Pennsylvania, he com-
mitted treason there, and so did the whole rebel government, for
in treason all are principals and the purpose of overthrowing
the government of the United States by arms is a treasonable
purpose arid every one who deliberately aids in any way that
purpose, even by furnishing supplies, is held by the Courts to
be a principal. .

The punishment of death for treason is therefore hanging to-
day over the head of every man concerned in the rebellion.
They may be very grateful if allowed to escape by exile, confis-
cation, and disqualification. But looking, not at vengeance or
punishment, but simply at self protection, it is my opinion that
we might agree to waive the trial for treason, and substitute for
it these penalties : 1st. In the case of Jefferson Davis, and his
government, and all the chief conspirators, we might substitute


for death, exile for a term of years, say ten year 3. This would
be so moderate a punishment that it would pretty certainly be
carried out. 2d. Then for those who have left the service of
the United States to fight against it, and for the civil officers of
the rebel States let the punishment be disqualification for any
office, and inability to vote duiing ten years. So fast do things
move in this country, that in ten years, when the exiles return,
they will find no opening left for them, all their influence gone,
others in their places, the whole machinery of state re-organized,
and they all sent into obscurity and oblivion. 3d. Let all those
who have committed specific crimes, such as murdering citizens,
starving to death our prisoners, and killing colored persons in
cold blood, be tried and punished for those crimes under the
laws. 4th. Let all the common people who have been forced
and cheated into rebellion be pardoned on taking the oath of
allegiance and keeping it. 5th. Let no rebel State be re-admit-
ted into the Union till its Legislature has passed the Constitu-
tional amendment abolishing slavery in the United States.

This is my plan for reconstruction. Let the military govern-
ment of the U. S. be continued over the States, and let garrisons
of colored troops be kept in all the large towns. Let no State
be re-admitted till a convention of the people has met, revising
its Constitution and abolishing slavery, and till its Legislature
has passed the Constitutional amendment. Let the Federal
Courts for the District of Pennsylvania find indictments for
treason against every member of the rebel government, rebel
Congress, and every head officer in the rebel army. Let the
Federal Courts in Ohio, Maryland, and Missouri, do the same.
Then let Congress be called together, and modify the law, substi-
tuting exile for a term of years, and disqualification for office,
under certain conditions. So that by accepting and submitting
to the lesser punishment, they may escape the greater.




BKETHREN, last Thursday morning I read to you the
first part of the verse which I have chosen for my text.
It was a day appointed for fasting, humiliation, and
prayer ; but so signal had been the victories of the few
preceding days, that this people, with one accord, united
their voices in a great chorus of thanksgiving. Little
dreamed we then, that so soon the latter clause of my
text would call this mourning nation to the saddest duty
of its life.

Who can measure the great grief of this people ? The
blow came so unexpectedly, that we hardly yet know
how to express our feelings in fitting words. Each man
weeps for a friend in the loss of this our Foremost Amer-
ican Citizen. When the dreadful tidings first flashed
upon our hearts, it seemed too appalling to be credible.
We struggled against it. The wires have played us
10 < 109 )


false, we said, and we almost grew indignant with the
tamed lightning which but a few hours before had
thrown the whole North into such a bewilderment of
joy as it told us the story of the fall of Richmond, and
which now changed our joy into the very bewilderment
of woe as it wrote upon the bulletin, " The President is
dead ! " We did not know how much we loved that
good man', nor how much confidence we had reposed in
him, until the fearful certainty of our loss assured us.
Was ever public officer so sincerely mourned before ?
Every home of the North will drop its tear of genuine
sorrow upon his grave, for mothers sent their boys to do
the dreadful work of war all the more willingly because
our commander-in- chief was so prudent, careful, and
thoughtful ; every hamlet will learn the lesson of the
hour from its draped pulpit when the preacher shall tell
how fell the unsullied patriot from the affections of the
whole people into the bosom of immortal life ; every
city, from where the Atlantic wave moans its sorrow to
the rising sun to where the Pacific sighs out its grief to
the sinking orb, testifies its respect and love for the
great man, by those emblems which sadly decorate
every public building, if not every private residence,
and which always tell us that the people's heart is

Brethren, it is not merely a brave warrior whom
America mourns. No battle chieftain, however great
his exploits in the field of danger and of conquest,
could ever rouse such love as this we bear to Abraham
Lincoln. It is not merely the clearness and sagacity of
his mind that most we miss. No philosopher, however


gifted, ever rested so securely in the affections of the
whole community. No : these tears are shed for one,
who, standing on an eminence so high that few would
not be made dizzy by it, walked humbly, honestly,
and faithfully, doing the greatest work of many a cen-
tury, as a servant of the people and a servant of God.
We felt that the Republic was safe while he stood at
its head. In those seasons of intense public excitement
when great and important questions were to be decided,
questions affecting our welfare in the distant future,
and our relations to foreign powers, he was the calmest
man in the country ; and many and many a time, when
we have rebelled against his judgment, and given way to
passionate criticism, we have learned to regret our own
heat, and wonder at his serenity. Ah ! where shall we
not miss him ? His influence was potent within the
halls of Congress, shaping the legislation which is to
affect the country when the glad morrow of peace
comes ; it was felt in all the ramifications of our
foreign and domestic policy, tempering all decrees by
a statesmanship not more remarkable for its sagacity
than for its kind consideration of all parties ; and it
will be felt by every soldier in the field in whose heart
the destinies of his native land and the name of Abra-
ham Lincoln have been so intimately interwoven.

In 1809, in a little village in Kentucky, beneath the
thatched roof of a poor man's cottage, was born a child,
whose prospects for the future seemed very limited.
He received from his parents nothing but poverty and a
good name. His childhood was in no degree remarkable.
There were no foreshadowings of the greatness to be


achieved, and very few of those traditions of wonderful
precocity, which, in some mysterious way, cluster about
every eminent name. His library consisted of a well-
thumbed Bible, and his fortune of an empty purse.
He spent the first thirty years of his life upon that
monotonous plane on which every poor farmer's boy
lives. He spent his days in driving the team afield, in
caring for the little flock as it wound slowly o'er the lea,
and in the common drudgery which marks the lowly
position he occupied.

When he was on the threshold of middle life, a
resident of a village in Illinois, he was intrusted with
some slight responsibility by his fellow- citizens. He
was regarded with kindness because he had been some-
thing of a traveller, and an observer of men and things
having made a voyage down the lordly Mississippi and
because he had given his services to the Government in
the Black Hawk war, and shown no lack of courage, but
rather a quiet persistency and fearlessness which added
to the lustre of the shoulder-straps which made him a
captain. Having served his constituents faithfully in a
minor position, he began that slow and toilsome journey
of promotion, which is marked at every step by honesty
of purpose ; and which ended, when, obedient to the will
of the North, he assumed the position of President of the
United States.

Never have I been more proud of my country than
when, gazing upon the lowly spot on which he was
born, and the straitened circumstances of his youth,
and then upward to the proud position he won for
himself, I remembered that in America we have no royal


circle from whose narrow limits the rulers of the kingdom
are chosen, while the gaping multitude look on in open-
mouthed wonder ; but that every boy on the continent
has royal blood in his veins, and, if he but will it, he
shall rise, forgetful of his humble origin, nay, nay,
forgive me, proud of his humble origin, to the most
responsible positions in the land. Happy country, which
sees the brilliant light of promise and of hope in the eye
of every boy ! Blessed institutions, which instead of
veneering the top of society, sends the school-book and
the prayer book to the lowliest, and electrifies the great
body of the people with an honorable ambition !

If a stranger were to offer his criticism upon Mr. Lin-
coln, I think the first characteristic of which he would
speak would be the extreme and charming Simplicity of
the man. This is so marked a peculiarity, that no one
can have failed to notice it. It is to be observed not
only in his daily talk, and in his always courteous
bearing, but also in his public speeches, and in those
documents, some of which are to become a part of our
national literature. He is the most truly Republican
President we have ever had. Occupying a position a?
important and as influential as that of the Emperor of
France, he carried to the White House the rigid sim-
plicity of his Illinois home ; and in his endeavor to do
the work, the arduous work of .the hour, he forgot
to put on any of the trappings or pomp of royalty.

So noticeable was this peculiarity, that many of us

regretted what we called a certain want of refinement.

We would have had him keep in remembrance that he

was President of the United States ; but he could never

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryEdward Norris KirkSermons preached in Boston on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Together with the funeral services in the East Room of the Executive Mansion at Washington → online text (page 6 of 21)