New Jersey. Legislature. General Assembly.

Addresses delivered at the presentation of the portrait of Abraham Lincoln online

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his soul? It was the outward form of a perception the most keen
and delicate, not of the grotesque and the odd merely, but ol the
very deepest' significance" of life. He told many stories, bu never
one that did not point a moral or clinch an argument. Without a
vice or the suspicion of one, scandal never dared to wag its em en-
on ed tongue at him, but contented itself with efforts to wound him
through those he held most dear. Every act of his .life passed under
the convex lens of universal scrutiny, and yet none had the hardihood
to attribute to him a single dishonorable act or unworthy motive

A man who could thus pass such a fiery ordeal must have been
rarelv endowed by nature for the very work he was ca led to per-
form He did not possess genius in the sense m which that woid is
commonly used-bat what man of reputed genius had we or have we
to-day who would have been likely to prove a safe substitute for
him" ' How many of our statesmen would have had strength to resist
the people when they were wrong, and to wait amid deafening clamor
for the right hour to do the right thing ?

Abraham Lincoln had, as we have seen, no advantages of eaily
education, but taught himself chiefly after he had begun the struggle
ofHfe-y'et though Everett was more polished and Sumner more
copious and elegant, no man in our day has spoken or written moie
terse and nervous English, or struck with director force at the heart
of the question he attempted to discuss.


But his great gift, or rather combination of gifts, was what we call
common sense — that fine balance of faculties, that quick and delicate
perception of what is fit or unfit, of what will do and what will not
do. Against this trenchant blade of mother wit, no form of folly or
sophistry could stand for a moment, but the blow descended, not that
lie might win a personal triumph, but only that truth might be vindi-

I have been led further than I intended toward an attempt to
analyze his character. That work remains for the historian who, in
the mellowing light and juster perspective of years, shall sec our
times with eyes unclouded by passion or prejudice. He may vary in
some minor respects the estimate now placed by his friends upon the
character and career of Abraham Lincoln, but he will come short of
his duty if he does not record that no man ever rose from beginnings
so humble to the foremost place in the world's love and veneration,
yet bore himself so meekly in his high office and kept his heart so free
from pride and avarice and the lust of power; that none who ever
held such vast and priceless hopes in his keeping, discharged his great
trust with more earnest fidelity, or more unselfish devotion ; that no
public character ever more nobly united private purity with public
integrity ; that in all the tide of time no man was ever so widely and
justly beloved in life, and none ever mourned by the whole human
race with a sorrow so profound and tender as Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Speaker, it is fit that we honor this man, and place his portrait
beside that of Washington. If one was the Founder, the other was
the Preserver of whatsoever we hold dear as Americans.

In honoring him we place ourselves in sympathy with the friends
of liberty and justice throughout the world, to whom his name is a
synonymn for all that is noble and good. To them, as to us, he is the
ideal of a true Democrat, embodying his creed in those immortal
words uttered at Gettysburg, on laying the corner stone of the Sol-
diers 7 Monument :

'• It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining be-
fore us * * * that this nation, under God, shall have a
new birth of Freedom, and that government of the people, by the
people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

His name is a household word in every cottage of Europe and
wherever else the idea of Liberty has penetrated — his proclamation
of Freedom has gone into history, to stand beside Magna Charta and
the Declaration of Independence, and through the ages to conic, as
the great ideas for which he lived and died grow stronger and deeper
in the heart- of men. the nam" and fame of Abraham Lincoln shall
grow brighter and brighter to the end of time.


Mr. Speaker: 'Tis fitting that the State should preserve, by every
means, the memory of the truly great men that have been given to
the nation ; and especially appropriate do I deem it to be that the
form features and countenance of those greatest in work, most
eloquent in language, purest in patriotism and most noble in charac-
ter, should be preserved, as they may be, through painting and sculp-
ture, that their beneficent teaching and bright example may be often
brought to the mind and impressed upon the attention as, day by
day, we look upon the perfect representation of their human embodi-
ment; and to-day 'tis with a hopeful spirit that I take part in dedica-
ting to the people of this State the portrait of Abraham Lincoln — a
perpetual memento, whilst painting may endure, of the peerless man
among the many noble ones that have been given to this nation —
especially as I contemplate its preservation by the side of that of him
of whom it was truthfully said: " First in war, first in peace, and
first in the hearts of his countrymen"; and that in this chamber,
where the representatives of the people meet for legislation, for legis-
lators of the State or Nation need, above all others, to be inspired by
whatever is noblest and purest, least selfish and most patriotic in hu-
man example and teaching.

On such an occasion as this 'tis becoming that we consider, for such
short time as may be allowed us, those special traits of mind and
heart that made him, whose portrait we present, all he was in himself
and to the nation.

Each one will form a somewhat different estimate of his character,
and each will take a different view of the qualities that individualized
him ; and we can be just to ourselves and true to those to whom we
speak — only as we declare, faithfully and unreservedly, the thoughts
which lie deepest in our own minds — as calmly we contemplate him
as revealed in his words and work, and present that view of the man
which, in our estimation, makes him worthy of remembrance, and ex-
cites our admiration and love. Permit me then, candidly, but with
much diffidence, to declare the thoughts of my mind as I contemplate
Abraham Lincoln, and to present that view of his character which, in
my estimation, entitles — and alone entitles him to a place among
men to which few in earth's history have attained ; and makes him a
man worthy of being loved by the nation, and one that will be a
blessing to his race through the influence of bright example whilst
history endures. 'Tis simply this: In the great work to which he


was called, his mind and heart were in harmony with the will and pur-
pose of the God of Nations ; and m the prosecution of that work he
had no will or plan of his oivn, save as he apprehended the will and
plan of the Infinite Mind. What may be the great end to be attained
through the establishment of this nation — what the great mission in all
its fulness to which this people is called — I will not predict, nor take
time to discuss; but this I feel we are justified by the unfolding of
events, in declaring, viz.: that be it what it may, it is to be attained
through the unity of these States, and the practical realization through-
out the land, by all the people, of the truth that all men are created
equal — this practical realization being promoted and secured through
constitutional provision and legal enactment, faithfully and impar-
tially executed. But this, though comparatively clear to us now,
through the rapid unfolding of the plan of God in the history of the
last five years, and in the inevitable tendency of present events, was
not clear to any when Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President
of the United States. Many deemed the Union already and hope-
lessly dissolved, six States at least having passed ordinances of seces-
sion; others deemed its presentation impossible, save upon the impos-
sible condition of a surrender to slave institutions ; and others deemed
the Union undesirable even, whether with or without the restriction
or existence of slavery. Others again, who clung to the Union, and
declared tnat it must and should and would be preserved, freely
granted slavery in the States, and proffered the promise that it should
not be there disturbed. The preservation of the Union, and at the
same time the extinction of slavery and security of equality of even
civil rights to all, was what none dared to expect, what many would
have deprecated, and few had faith even to hope for. Yet such and
more was the purpose of the God of Nations, to be speedily wrought
out through the events of the war then practically begun, but still
disbelieved in and unprovided for by the Northern States, and not
more than feared by any. And Lincoln himself was not wiser than
his fellows. He had faith in the preservation of the Union, and be-
lieved slavery to be a mighty wrong in the eyes of God and a curso
to men; but how and when, or whether at all it should be removed,
he divined not nor felt himself called upon to determine. More than
two years previously he had prophetically declared : "This Union
cannot permanently endure half slave and half free; the Union will
not be dissolved, but the house will cease to be divided." But the un-
certainty as to whether the house, when it ceased to be divided,
would be the home of freedom on the stronghold of slavery, appears
in these glowing words spoken soon after, which, whilst they express
the doubt also prove the harmony of his soul with the great unknown
purpose of the future, and his fitness to be the instrument of its ac-
complishment. Speaking of slavery, he said: " Broken / by it I too
may be, bow to it I never will. The probability that we will fail in
the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause which
I deem to be just — it shall not deter me.. Here, without contem-


plating consequences, before High Heaven and in the face of the
world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just cause, as I deem it, of the
land of my life, my liberty and my love." Noble words, worthy of
the noblest of men.

Other such may be found in his speech in the old Independence
Hall, on his way to Washington. They have possibly more of faith
in them, but nothing of certainty, and express as forcibly as words
may, the deep sympathy of his soul with the end to be wrought out.
He there said, " I have never had a feeling politically that did not
spring from the Declaration of Independence, which gave liberty not
only to the people of this country, but to the world, for all future
time. If this country cannot be saved without giving up that prin-
ciple, I had rather be assassinated on the spot than surrender it."
No human mind foresaw the end, which indeed is not yet, nor human
intellect devised the plan, nor human skill guided in its execution.
Himself wrote, when the war had been raging for three years, and
the emancipation proclamation had been issued for more than fifteen
months, and the black man was found in the ranks of the army, bat-
tling for his country. " I claim not to have controlled events, but
confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of
three years struggle, the nation's condition is not what either party
or any man devised or expected. God alone can claim it." But
though he claimed not the honor of what had then been attained to,
nor yet what had been attained at the time of his assassination, enough
has been said, especially when we bear in mind his subsequent acts,
to show how thoroughly his whole being was in harmony with the
result of God's work, wrought out through his instrumentality, and it
remains only for us to make clear that other quality which we claim
to be the crowning glory of the man, viz. : that in the prosecution of
the work to which he was called, he had no will or plan of his own,,
save as he apprehended it to be the will and plan of the Infinite
mind ; but that, determined by the unfolding of events, he was firm
and uncompromising in enforcing it. Most men with his positive
faith in the perpetual unity of these States, coupled with his positive
conviction of the injustice, impolicy and cruelty of slavery, of its in-
compatibility with our free institutions or the preservation of liberty
to any class of people, and withal of his self-dedication to the work of
breaking its power, would, placed in his condition and surrounded by
the circumstances that surrounded him at the time of his elevation to
the Presidency and during the first year of his administration, have
had a will and a plan that combined with the preservation of the
Union the extinction of slavery. Slavery had rebelled against his
constitutional election; against the unity of the States; against the
teachings of the Declaration of Independence, and against the grow-
ing civilization of the age. Why should he, with his convictions,
clothed with his mighty power, in full view of slavery's rebellion,
have hesitated to strike at it in the States and everywhere, and whilst
preserving the Union, destroy that which alone threatened the Union,


and sought the destruction of everything dear to us and him ? 'T was
simply because, whilst he could declare as he did in his first inaugu-
ral, " I hold that, in contemplation of universal law and of the Con-
stitution, the union of these States is perpetual," he found slavery in-
trenched in our history, in our Constitution, and in our laws, with no
warrant to him to destroy or impair it in the States. The preserva-
tion of the Union, through the preservation, protection and defence
of the Constitution and the faithful execution of the laws was clearly
the work committed to him, and nothing more. The Union might be
preserved and slavery maintained. If so, though his whole nature
revolted against slavery, by making its destruction a purpose of his
administration or a part of his plan for the preservation of the Union,
he would have substituted his own will and judgment for the wisdom
and commands of God, as expressed in law and the history of our
country. His character would not permit that. His judgment and his
will bowed before a supreme faith in the wisdom, justice and truth
of the Supreme Ruler, and humbly he awaited the unfolding of His
will in relation to slavery, and His plan for its attainment, not doubt-
ing but that it would be unfolded so plainly that man need not
err. If that wisdom, justice and truth required the destruction of
slavery, it would be wrought out, not against, but in harmony with
law ; not through the violation of the Constitution or the destruction
of the Union, but through the highest demands of the one, and in ac-
cord with the highest security of the other. His faith and his intel-
ligent humility, this phase of his character that I would impress on
your minds as, in my judgment, the key to his entire outer and inner
life, is strongly presented in his reply to one who, during the progress
of our struggle, sought to strengthen and cheer him by the remark
that the Lord was on our side. He replied : " I am not concerned
that the Lord should be on our side, but 1 am concerned that we
should be on the Lord's side." ' Twas his concern, not that God
should approve his ideas and his plans, and work them out in the
overruling of His Providence, but rather that he might learn and ap-
prove and work in harmony with the will and plan of the Almighty.
With this character he entered upon the duties of the Presidency,
declaring " I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with
the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I
have no lawful right to do so," and having no right " I have no in-
clination to do so," but declaring at the same time that " to the ex-
tent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly
enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in
all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my
part, and 1 shall perform it as far as practicable." And declaring
this also, " I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations,
and with no purpose to construe the Constitution and laws by any
hypercritical test." Reviewing his action in a letter to A. G. Hodges,
dated April 4th, 1864, he places the matter in this strong light: " I
am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.


I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel, and yet I have
never understood that the Presidency conferred on mean unrestricted
right to act officially on this judgment and feeling. It was in the
oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect
and defend the Constitution of the United States, and I understood
that in ordinary and civil administration this oath ever forbade me
to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral
question of slavery." With such views, while he could declare from
the depth of his soul " If slavery is not wrong nothing is wrong,' 7 he
could also consistently declare, as he did in his letter to Horace
Greeley, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I
would do it;" and could consistently forbid military emancipation, as
he repeatedly did in the early part of the war when he did not re-
cognize its indispensable necessity to the preservation of the Union.
To save the Union was his highest and only clear duty — to wipe out
the wrong of slavery was the province of Him in whose hands he was
but an instrument, and who had as yet given him no authority to do
it. But the time came when his highest duty was in harmony with
his soul's conviction of the absolute and unmitigated wrong of slavery ;
when the preservation of the Union, the very defence of the Consti-
tution to which he was sworn, demanded unmistakably the proclama-
tion of emancipation and the arming of the negro. God had wrought
out the necessity and made the way plain, and cheerfully and reso-
lutely he walked therein. He writes: "In my best judgment I was
driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with
it the Constitution, or of laying strong hands on the colored element."
The processes of his mind through which his duty became clear, are
revealed in that letter to Col. Hodges, which we have already quoted,
and which of itself is a monument worthy of the best of earth's sons.
u Was it possible," he reasons, " to lose the nation and yet preserve
the Constitution. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I
had even tried to preserve the Constitution, if to save slavery or any
other minor matter I should permit the wreck of Government, Coun-
try and Constitution altogether," and "I felt that measures otherwise
unconstitutional might become lawful by becoming indispensable to
the preservation of the Constitution through the preservation of the
nation." Who now doubts the correctness or justice of his reason-
ing ? Himself lived to be able to declare : " The emancipation policy
and the use of colored troops were the greatest blows yet dealt to the
rebellion." The struggle of his soul, as he passed from the convic-
tion that it was his duty to defend slavery to the conviction that it
was his duty to destroy it; from the conviction that as an instrument
in the hands of God it was his great work to preserve the Union
irrespective of slavery, to the conviction that he was called by Him
whom he served to save the Union through emancipation, may be
apprehended in his language when he announced to his Cabinet that
the proclamation could be delayed no longer. "The people," he
said, were prepared for it, public sentiment would sustain it, and I


have promised my God that I would do it." "Yes," being ques-
tioned as to whether he was correctly understood, " Yes, I made a
solemn vow before God, that if Gen. Lee were driven back from
Pennsylvania I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom
to the slaves."

lie who had conscientiously defended slavery in the States, lest he
should by any other course assume the prerogative of the Great
Judge, now is troubled lest he be found fighting against God by
longer withholding the Proclamation ; and we see him in the hour of
deep anxiety, when Lee presses to the heart of Pennsylvania, humbly
bowing before the God of battles and solemnly pledging that it shall
be withheld no longer if He will give the opportunity for its issue by
victory. Victory was given ; the proclamation was issued ; and he
never faltered in sustaining and enforcing it. Nearly two years after
it went into effect, in his annual message to Congress he says : " I re-
peat the declaration made a year ago, that while I remain in my
present position I shall not retract or modify the Emancipation Proc.
lamation, nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the
terms of that proclamation or by any of the acts of Congress. If
the people should, by whatever mode or means make it an Executive
duty to re-enslave such persons, another and not I, must be the in-
strument to perform it." His true relation to God, and to the work
to which he was called was clear to his mind, and was expressed by
him in such language as this : " I am but an accidental, temporary
instrument for the preservation of the Union. Without a name ;
without a reason why I should hrve a name, there has fallen on me a
task such as did not rest even upon the Father of his Country. He
never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence.
On the same Almighty Power I place my reliance. Pray that I may
receive that Divine assistance without which I can not succeed, but
with which success is certain." He did receive the Divine assistance,
denied to none who humbly seek it as lie did. A glorious success
was measurcably achieved before his death, and success perfect and
complete is the nation's heritage in the future ; and to-day we place
the art representation of his form and features beside that of Wash-
ington, in whose history there is no brighter scene than that which
presents him as kneeling before God in the camp at Valley Forge,
and lifting his soul in prayer for his country in its darkest hour, and
for his army lying hungry and bleeding about him. Glory to those
immortal men whose words, whose example, and whose work have
been, now are and will be, through all time, a blessing to our country
and to the world.

I dare not trespass longer on your time and patience. A thought
more and I am done. God, through Abraham Lincoln, has preserved
to us the Union, threatened no longer by any armed foe, and acknow-
ledged to be. by eternal decrees, indissoluble; has wrought out for us
the removal of slavery, that thing which caused such anxious fore-
boding to our forefathers, and which alone threatened our stability,


prosperity and happiness as a people ; and by constitutional provision,
freedom is secured for all time to come to every inhabitant, and by
law of Congress equality in civil rights is acknowledged and accorded
to all. But more is required; and upon the men of to-day devolves
the responsibility of securing it. Civil rights to all is not yet secured
by the fundamental law ; and political equality, alike with civil
equality, demanded by the "self evident truths" upon which the
fabric of our government rests, is not yet acknowledged or secured by
United States or State constitutions or laws. When will the people
be prepared to accord it? There is no rest for the country until it
be granted. Clearly, God hath decreed as we have said: " That His
purpose is to be achieved not only through the unity of these States,
but also the realization by all the people, of the truth, that 'Ml men
are created equal. 1 " To that point we must press on. If we hesi-
tate, and whilst we wait, it will be only to bear the anger of the
Almighty and suffer the penalty of our pride and injustice.


I do not know but I may be deemed guilty of presumption, in mak-
ing an extemporaneous address, while the gentlemen who have pre-
ceded me have read from manuscript carefully prepared.

I feel the propriety of carefully compiling ideas and condensing
thoughts, so as to present them in proper form before this dignified
body on this occasion. If I should say, sir, that for the past two
hours my heart has been filled with intense emotion, I should simply

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Online LibraryNew Jersey. Legislature. General AssemblyAddresses delivered at the presentation of the portrait of Abraham Lincoln → online text (page 2 of 4)