Hardin W Masters.

Ceremonies at the unveiling of monument to William H. Herndon, Abraham Lincoln's last law partner : Oak Ridge cemetery, May 30, 1918, Springfield, Illinois online

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erunner for Abraham Lincoln and his
mission was to pave the way to his election, — not
only of his election to the presidency, but for the
ultimate success of his theory and belief, in freedom
for all the people of these United States.

Wm. H. Herndon had few equals as a public
speaker, and if not the first he was among the first
to speak in favor of the abolition of slavery which
was made in this State. He took a bold stand
against slavery and the first address was delivered
by him at Petersburg, Illinois, — yet remembered by
some of the older citizens. This was a classic and
one of the greatest orations Herndon ever made
from the stump. It was an historic oration, and in
his peroration he appealed to Donati's comet, asking-
it to inform its heavenly sisters of what was about
to take place in the United States for God and hu-

Mr. Herndon was not only not an office seeker, but
he cared but little for the goods of this world, and
true to the old saying as a la^^^^er he ''worked hard,

lived well and died poor. ' ' Of his time and labor he
gave without stint to the great cause he had es-
poused. No man who ever lived or died had greater
love or admiration for Lincoln than did William H.
Herndon, and when the news flashed over the wire
in this country in 1860, announcing Lincoln's elec-
tion, his was a boyish joy. In the daily intercourse
in the dingy law office between these two great men,
a friendship and admiration for each other had been
established that time could not change nor modify.

Temperamentally and in almost all other respects,
they were as unlike as two men might be. Lincoln
in a sense was an uneducated man, while Herndon
had a liberal education. Historical facts were at his
command and philosophy and literature were not
unknown to him, and in the fullness of his mental
storehouse he was able to and did render valuable
service, as it was his pleasure to do, to his partner,
his friend and afterward the martyred president.

In the decline of his life it was my good fortune and
honor to have intimately known Mr. Herndon. As I
entered upon the way and the struggles that were
before me, I frequently and freely met and talked
with him. It was with profound interest I heard
from his lips of the past, the road over which he had


then traveled and the struggles he had had to con-
tend with. His life as I knew it was an honest, earn-
est struggle for the right as he saw it. He had no
ambition to acquire riches or fame. His life was
devoted to succor the oppressed and to eradicate
and blot out the stain of slavery in this nation. It
was his ambition to make the Declaration of Inde-
pendence everywhere a living truth. While he was
a lawyer, he disliked the technicalities of practice
and frequently made jocular remarks about the dif-
ference between "tweedle-de and tweedle-dum. "

Knowing him as I did, if he could be heard from
the spirit world to speak and express his wish here
today beyond that expressed on his tomb, it would
be his wish that no unjust claims should be made for
him, and that no eulogy be pronounced upon his life
which was not supported by the record and sustained
by the proofs. He would also in his honest, blunt
way command that no excuse be offered for his faults
nor that his failings be exaggerated.

Such was the character of William H. Herndon.
He loved the truth. His early life, so far as I know,
was much the same as that of other young men sim-
ilarly situated.


He came of splendid ancestry, who were from the
South, and in their sentiments were pro-slavery, but
when the Whig party was dissolved in 1854, he
allied himself with the Whigs and Democrats, who
took the view of slavery that it was a moral wrong
and ought to be done away with. It may be true that
in his youthful zeal the murder of Love joy, hereto-
fore referred to, changed the whole course of his
life, because from that day he espoused the cause
for which Lovejoy died, and the force of his logic
and versatility of his pen were used to light the fires
of liberty throughout the land, and he was fortunate
to know that what he had labored for had been ac-

He did his work with which the world may be con-
cerned within comparatively a few years, — from
1854 to 1870 embraces the time in which he wrought.
During that period and until the period of 1861, he
was the active business partner of Lincoln.

As I said a while ago, Lincoln was a conservative,
having his origin in the South, he hated slavery, but
recognized that under the organic law of the land,
the slave was the property of the southern people,
and if it were necessary to prove that Lincoln was a
conservative, in the emancipation proclamation


which was issued by him, the abolishment of slavery
was contingent upon the States then in rebellion re-
turning to the Union, and that they would lay down
their arms, otherwise the emancipation proclama-
tion at a certain time would take effect. The States
in rebellion refused to accept this condition and slav-
ery was therefore abolished. This result was hailed
by Herndon as an epoch in history and an answer to
his soulful prayer for liberty, and so it is that his
life is connected with that of Lincoln.

Being as he was, a firm friend and admirer of
Lincoln and long before he was nationally known he
from the mountain tops and the sublime points of
vantage, looked down upon the plain where the sen-
timent was created which was to materialize and
bear the fruit which in God's good time would weld
together the nations of the world and all mankind in
one common brotherhood.

Those who scoffed at Lincoln and carricatured him
and ridiculed him as an incompetent did not know
or understand him. Herndon knew Lincoln better
than Seward, Greeley or Chase, or any other of the
legal advisers in or out of his cabinet. He was con-
fident and so expressed himself in his correspond-
ence with Theodore Parker and others when he said,


''Wait and see," and in waiting he was justified
when the world became aware of the fact that Lin-
coln was greater than the whole of those who tra-
duced him and sought to be his advisers or to belittle

Herndon therefore not only supported and aided
Lincoln in his proper ambition before, but after he
became the head of the nation and commander of the
greatest army of the world up to that time.

My friends, Herndon 's love for Lincoln did not
cease upon his death, but he was his champion after-

Herndon may have made mistakes in some of his
writings. He was human and made mistakes in
other matters. If I should say he did not, I would
offend against the truth and place him in character
above the human and above the man for whom he
did so much. The history of each of these men is
written. It may be that it is not as well understood
now as it will be a hundred years from now. Tho
relation between Herndon and Lincoln will become
better understood as time goes on. If it be granted
that Mr. Herndon made a mistake in his biography
of Mr. Lincoln, it was a mistake of the head and not
of the heart, and in no sense does it detract from the


glory or grandeur of Mr. Lincoln's character, and
if there is a word or statement that can be found in
any of William H. Herndon's writings with refer-
ence to Lincoln, which is not strictly in accordance
with the truth, knowing Herndon as I did, I with
confidence assert that when he wrote the same he
believed it to be true.

Yes, Mr. Herndon had his faults as all men have,
but a multitude of faults in his case could be over-
looked when we say and challenge the world to dis-
pute it, that he was scrupulously honest and a man
of truth and integrity. It is no great deed or act to
revile the living at least in their absence; it is easy
and requires little courage to make charges against
the dead, as no word comes back from the grave in
reply, and as the memory of the martyred Lincoln
shall grow brighter and his colossal figure stand
forth adorning the pages of history for all time to
come, so shall be known the virtues of his co-agitator
and friend, who sleeps beneath this stone.

"In the struggles of this age and the ages to come,
for God, humanity and liberty, may they conquer
forever is my soulful prayer. ' ' Who but a soul and
mind devoted and dedicated to the cause of human-
ity and to God and to the principles of liberty and


the cause of righteousness, on the moment, could
have penned these words, so pregnant with patriotic
sentiment, so earnest, and impressive? No friend
nor adversary ever could or did charge William H.
Herndon with duplicity or insincerity. He was
loyal to his friends and an open, courageous adver-
sary. He was zealous, but abounded in charity. In
the epoch and history-making period in which he
lived, he stood forth as the champion of and advo-
cated the principles announced by the sentiment on
this stone.

In the re-birth of civilization now taking place in
which the world is being drenched with human blood
and the issues of force and might are arrayed
against right and democracy, in this struggle may
we not know, had William H. Herndon lived today,
where he would have stood? Yes, with incisive, terse
language, with keen logic, by voice and pen, he
would be heard in the cause of liberty, for the cause
of democracy, for the people and for God, — in this
great struggle which he seems to have foreshadowed,
when he wrote those words, would some day arise.

Dead! His wish, his recorded, soulful prayer is
with us today, — the wish and soulful prayer of the
American nation and the civilized world, that autoc-


racy and might shall be crushed by democracy and
right; and this soulful prayer of Herndon's is also
that America and her heroic allies whose blood and
treasures are being poured out in the cause of hu-
manity shall not have been in vain.

Thus, in life, Lincoln and Herndon, allies and
friends, partners in the practice of law, differing
radically, yet firmly held together, and in accord as
to ultimate truth and facts, — in death their memory
so blended as to be inseparable.

Live on, oh Lincoln ! Live on, oh Herndon ! and
ages to come may your lights be reflected and your
labors for humanity be the more prized and appre-
ciated. And may your example be forever the in-
spiration of the youth of the land and the star of
their hope, and as time goes on be better under-

So today with feeble words and simple ceremonies,
but with loyal hearts and loving hands, we decorate
with flowers the grave of our friend, a civilian hero,
and dedicate this stone as pointing the spot where
forever will repose the ashes of Illinois' illustrious
son, whose prayer, a continuing wish for liberty, God
and humanity, is with us, and an inspiration to all
those who this day, on the blood-drenched battle

fields of France are bravely challenging the advanc-
ing hosts of autocracy and might.

* ' The struggles of this age and succeeding ages for
God and man — religion, humanity and liberty, with
all their complex and grand relations — may their tri-
umph and conquer forever, is my ardent wish and
most fervent soul-prayer."

In the ages to come, when this stone, through ihe
ravages of time shall have crumbled to dust and
decay, may this sentiment now chiseled thereon be
the creed and the realized hope of all the world, and
the memory of its author, William H. Herndon, live
on to bless and cheer mankind until struggles shall
be no more !


There hy the ivindoiv in the old house

Perched on the bluff, overlooking miles of valley,

My days of labor closed, sitting out life's decline,

Day by day did I look in my memory,

As one who gazes in an enchantress' crystal globe,

And I saw the figures of the past,

As if in a pcif/eant fjlassed by a shining dream,
Move through the incredible sphere of time.
And I saw a man arise from the soil like a fabler-
And throw himself over a deathless destiny,
Master of great armies, head of the republic,
Bringing together into a dithyramb of recreative

The epic hopes of a people;
At the same time Vulcan of sovereign fires,
Where imperishable shields and sivords were beaten

From spirits tempered in heaven.
Look in the crystal! See how he hastens on
To the place where his path comes up to the path
Of a child of Plutarch and Shakespeare.
Lincoln, actor indeed, playing ivell your part,
And Booth, who strode in a mimic play within the

Often and often I saiv you,

As the cawing crows tvinged their ivay to the ivood
Over my house-top at solemn sunsets.
There by my tvindoiv,

From Spoon River Anthology by

Edgar Lee Masters


Online LibraryHardin W MastersCeremonies at the unveiling of monument to William H. Herndon, Abraham Lincoln's last law partner : Oak Ridge cemetery, May 30, 1918, Springfield, Illinois → online text (page 1 of 1)