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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build
it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. —
Ps. 127-1.



And, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on
the protection of Divine Providence, v/e mutually pledge to each other,
our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. — Declaration of Ittdepend-
ence.



It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act,
my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the
universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential
aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may conse-
crate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States
a Government instituted by themselves. — Washington, in his first In-
augural Address.



And may that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of
Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector, in all ages of the
world, of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and
its government. — John Adams, in his Inaugural Address.



And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the uni-
verse lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable
issue for our peace and v'^'Ofi-^evitY.— Thomas Jejffcrson, in his first In-
augural Address. . . :

Having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure pur-
pose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and
with manly hearts. — Abraham Lincoln, in his first Message to Congress.



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Abraham Lincoln

ADDRESS BY

MR. J. F. DOWNING

On the occasion of the celebration of Lincoln's Birthday,
at Erie, Pa., February 12, 1903,



Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen :

In the few moments alloted to me as one of the speakers
on this occasion, I wish to call attention to a single character-
istic of Abraham Lincoln, which cannot fail to impress all who
believe, as he did, in an All-wise Superintending Providence in
the affairs of men and of nations. For four long and weary
years he bore a burden such as has fallen upon few men — a
burden as weighty as that which rested upon the great law-
giver of Israel, to whom, in some respects he has been likened
— and that burden was made bearable largely because of his
faith in the eternal justice of the Great Ruler of the Universe,
to whom he was wont to go in earnest prayer and supplication,
in times of sore distress and trouble ; when the heavens lowered
and the way before him seemed dark and uncertain. The belief
of this great and good and honest-minded man in a Divine
Providence — in the existence of the Most Pligh that "doeth his
will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the
earth" — should have a saving influence upon all Avho are dis-
posed to ignore or ridicule such a thing as a Superintending
Providence in the affairs of the world.

Prior to his inauguration as President in 1861, and while
at his home in Illinois, there were a good many earnest friends
of the government all over the land — in the South as well as
in the North — who feared that Mr. Lincoln did not grasp the
situation ; that he was not equal to the emergency in experience
and mental ability; that he was disposed to treat too lightly
or in an indiff'erent manner the dangers that confronted him
and the country. This was, perhaps, due in part to the fact
that Mr. Lincoln, in some of his public utterances at the time,
was disposed to take a hopeful view of the situation, suggesting



that the dangers ahead were not as great as they seemed to
many to be. But we know now that all these misgivings were
without real foundation ; we know now that Mr. Lincoln during
all the time between his election and inauguration as President,
was most profoundly impressed with the gravity of the situ-
ation. Though of a brave heart, and confident that God would
execute justice and judgment in due time, he looked forward
to what appeared to him to be before him with fear and with
trembling. To an old and valued friend, who called upon him
at his home in January, he said : "I see the duty devolving up-
on me. I have read, upon my knees, the story of Gethsemane,
where the Son of God prayed in vain that the cup of bitterness
might pass from him. I am in the garden of Gethsemane now,
and my cup of bitterness is full and overflowing." That was a
heart confession, spoken as one friend speaketh to another,
and not meant for the world at large. As the President-elect
was about to leave his home for the seat of government, his
friends and neighbors gathered about him to bid him good-bye,
to whom he spoke those words of farewell with which you are
familiar, concluding as follows : "I now leave, not knowing
when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me
greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without
the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I
cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trust-
ing in Him who can go with me and remain with you, and be
everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet
be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your pray-
ers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."
It has been said that "God always favors the heaviest bat-
talions ;" and Napoleon said "Providence is always on the side
of the last reserve." This may not be inconsistent with what
President Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, when,
speaking to the people of the North and of the South, he said :
"If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and
justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South,
that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment
of the great tribunal of the American people." In this we see an
expression of faith that the "heaviest battalions" and the "last
reserve" would be eventually found on the side of truth anJ



justice, which he evidently believed to Ix- on the side of the
North ; that the time would surely come when "the mystic
chords of memory, stretching- from every battle-field and
patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this
broad land would yet swell the chorus of the Union when again
touched, as surely they would be, by the better angels of our
nature."

In his first message to Congress, July, 1861, President Lin-
coln, having expressed clearly and fully his theory of and justi-
fication for the war, in closing said : "Having thus chosen our
course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our
trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly
hearts." It was not long after that when the first disastrous
battle of Bull Run was fought ; and soon after that came the
Balls Bluff disaster, when the brave Colonel Baker, a dear
friend of Lincoln's, was killed. Following these disasters
came the great pressure for a proclamation of emancipation
of the slaves in the rebel states. The President was told that
it was God's will that he should issue such a proclamation ; but
he wanted some evidence of that, saying, "I hope it will not be
irreverent for me to say that, if it is probable that God would
reveal His will to others on a point so connected with my duty,
it might be supposed He would reveal it directly to me; for
unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my
earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter.
And if I can learn what it is, I will do it." Providence led
President Lincoln to prepare a proclamation of emancipation
in the summer of 1862, which he submitted to his cabinet ; but
it was decided to postpone its publication until after some sub-
stantial victory should be achieved by the Union army, which
would have the efifect to revive the spirits of the people and
strengthen the administration of the government. The battle
of Antietam came in September, and while not an overwhelm-
ing Union victory, it really led up to the promulgation of the
emancipation proclamation. At the cabinet meeting called to
consider the matter, the President, as recorded by Mr. Chase
in his diary, said among other things :

"When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as
soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a procla-



mation of emancipation, such as I thought most likely to be
useful. I said nothing to any one, but I made the promise to
myself and (hesitating a little) to my Maker. The rebel army
is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise ;" and
fulfill it he did. This was the preliminary proclamation, which
was made eiTective on the following first of January, 1863. As
to his action President Lincoln said : "I can only trust in God
that I have made no mistake." No immediate good to the
Union cause followed, but rather darkness and uncertainty.
God delayed the revealing of His purposes; but in due time
the President's action was vindicated by events.

Notwithstanding the defeat of General Lee at Gettysburg
in July, 1863, and the taking of Vicksburg, the same time, by
General Grant, and other favorable conditions, when the sum-
mer of 1864 came, and Mr. Lincoln had been nominated by
the Republicans for re-election, there were grave fears that he
would fail to receive an expression of confidence on the part
of the people ; that he would fail of re-election. This was the
feeling of Mr. Lincoln himself. Happily the tide turned in time
to save him ; and he expressed himself as "deeply thankful to
God for the approval of the people." From the first. President
Lincoln was controlled by this one idea : that if we do right,
God will be with us, and if God is with us we cannot fail. 'Tn
great contests," said he, "each party claims to act in accord-
ance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be,
wrong."

Why the struggle for the maintenance of the Union should
be so prolonged he could not understand, unless God's purpose
was something diiTerent from the purpose of either party. Tn
his second inaugural address he suggests a reason, which can
never be forgotten as long as the memory of our first martyr-
President shall endure. These are his words: "Fondly do we
hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war
may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue
until all the wealth piled up by the bondman's two hundred
and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every
drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another
drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago,



so still it may be said, The judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.' "

Moses, who led the children of Israel out of bondage in
Egypt to the land of promise, was not permitted, because of a
sin committed against God, to enter that land himself; but he
was permitted to get a view of it from Pisgah's peak, and then
"died there in the land of Moab; but no man knoweth of his
sepulchre unto this day." We know of no sin against God,
committed by Abraham Lincoln, the chosen leader of the hosts'
of Liberty and Union in our great Civil War, which justified
his assassination just as his hopes for the preservation of the
Union had been so signally realized; it was a dispensation oi
Divine Providence hard to understand. But if the martyred
President could be here to speak, he would, perhaps, console us
with this thought :

"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His Grace,
Behind a frowning Providence,

He hides a smiling face."

Like Moses, Abraham Lincoln was permitted to reach
Pigsah's height and "view the landscape o'er." His heart
was filled with inexpressible joy; his countenance changed
from that sadness which had so long characterized it; in a
word, he was transfigured, his whole being suddenly changing
to a condition of serene joy, as he became conscious that the
great purpose of his life had been accomplished. Only the
joys of heaven itself could be greater. In such a happy condi-
tion of soul and body he was summoned to enter heaven's gate
and be at rest!



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Online LibraryJerome F DowningAbraham Lincoln → online text (page 1 of 1)