Richard S. (Richard Salter) Storrs.

An oration commemorative of President Abraham Lincoln : delivered at Brooklyn, N.Y., June 1, 1865 online

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Online LibraryRichard S. (Richard Salter) StorrsAn oration commemorative of President Abraham Lincoln : delivered at Brooklyn, N.Y., June 1, 1865 → online text (page 1 of 4)
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UNCOLAiAiUI ^-Ofj *6







JXTISTE 1, 1865,








Um V




Ladies, and Gentlemen :

In February, 1801, — amid the chills and sleet of the
unfinished winter, and while the gloom of a prescient
fear, more oppressive than of any physical season, over-
shadowed the hearts of the thoughtful and troubled
American people, — a number of persons, with one
quaint, homely figure in the midst of them, took their
departure from Springfield, Illinois, to proceed by grad-
ual stages to Washington. Neighbors and friends were
hurriedly assembled to witness the departure; and a
few simple and touching words of greeting and farewell
were addressed to them by him who was central in the
group, and whose kindly face and earnest voice had
there, for twenty-four years, been familiar.

Other assemblages, hastily convened, of personal ac-
quaintances and political friends— with here and there
some generous or curious political opponents — were
afterward encountered, as the company proceeded

from city to city, along the railways which then as now
overlay and defined their winding route. At Buffalo,
Albany, New York, Philadelphia, and at other points,
men came together to see and hear, some to welcome,
and some as well to criticise or to warn, the man to
whom, by the voice of a plurality of his fellow-country-
men, the conduct of the government for four years to
come had been committed. There was much curiosity
to be satisfied concerning him. There was a natural
eagerness to hear what he might say, that involved any
pithy or pregnant suggestion as to what his course was
likely to be. But those who remembered the great
convocations which in other years had greeted the
chieftains in statesmanship as they made their progress
through the country, could not but contrast, with the
numbers and enthusiasm of such previous assemblages,
the meagreness and the dullness of those now convened.
And whcai at last the tall, uncouth, but dominant fig-
ure whichhad been central in these assemblages, disap-
peared from sight at the capital of Pennsylvania, to
reappear suddenly in a hotel at Washington — there was
with a lew a feeling of relief that suspense was oxer,
and he was sal'elv housed at the Capital; there was
with many a feeling of shame that any such precau-
tionary privacy should have been deemed to he need-
ful, and that the small degree of state till then main-
tained should have been so wholly and abruptly
relinquished before he had reached his final goal

Four crowded and fateful years have passed,— during
which the nation for the first time in its history lias
breasted the shock and tasted the bitterness of a fierce
civil war; during which a half-million of men have fallen,
dead or maimed, in skirmish and in battle ; during
which a hundred and fifty thousand households have
been shrouded in the gloom that rises only from the
grave of the beloved ; during which arbitrary measures
and policies, unknown to our previous history, have been
authorized and enforced ; and during which seasons of
clamorous expectation, and unjustified hope, have been
followed by others of utter despondency, and the pas-
sionate reproaches of which this is the parent, — four
years have passed, and another company starts from
Washington, to bear back to the quiet and distant
Springfield all that remains of that form now prostrate,
that face and eye now sealed and sightless.

Amid the shining April days, while springing grass
and greening boughs proclaim that summer draweth
nigh, they leave the Capital— which never before has
been so shaken with pain, and grief, and righteous rage—
they take the same route which he had traversed when
coming in Life to his high place, and bear him forever
from the scene of his eventful sway. And as they go,
the great capitals of the land welcome with such dem-
onstrations of honor as no preceding experience lias
witnessed, the shrunken, discolored, and pulseless frame.
The city through which he passed before in a sheltering

privacy, now crowds tumultuous, in tearful affection,
around his I tier. The great metropolis, — whose mob
then hated him, the leaders of whose fashion turned from
him with contempt, and whose authorities sought to
insult him — now pours from every street and lane the
intent and sad procession of his mourners. Its whole
business is suspended ; its houses are hung, from base
to roof, with funeral weeds; its pavements are thronged
with silent, patient, unmoving crowds ; its windows
gleam with pallid faces ; as through the hushed ex-
pectant avenues winds, hour b) r hour, while bells are
tolling, and minute-guns with measured boom are
counting the instants, that vast, unreckoned, unparal-
leled procession.

Not capitals only, but States themselves, become
his mourners. Churches put off their Easter emblems,
to hide pillar, and wall, and arch, in sable woe. Each
railway is made a via Dolorosa. The spontaneous
homage of millions is offered, through the uncovered head,
the crape, the wreath, through all the sombre insignia of
grief, as the train with its precious burden speeds.
The country shrouds its weeping face; and all the
blooms of Spring around can bring no flush to its
changed countenance; the song and sparkle, and the
SWeel impulse ol* which the very air is full, can stir no
pulse of gladness or of hope, while still that spectacle
haunts its gaze. For over every loyal heart there broods
a sorrow as if the mosl revered had fallen; as if the

shock of personal bereavement had smitten separately
every household.

It is to give the reason of this change that we are
gathered here to-day. It is to tell why this amazing
contrast appears; which would be yet incredible to us,
if our eyes had not seen it, if freshest memories did
not to-day remind us of it.

Nay, not of this only must we give explanation.
When Abraham Lincoln left his home for that still re-
cent journey to Washington, his name was only known
to his countrymen through its association with late and
local political discussions. It was utterly unknown,
except as it appeared on the ballots of those who had
chosen him President, to the other civilized peoples of
the world. And when their eyes were unexpectedly
turned to him, they saw in him only a village attorney,
who had hardly before been responsibly associated with
great aifairs, whom his friends believed to be honest
and sagacious, but whom his opponents described as a
rough rail-splitter, of humble origin, of no early advan-
tages, without experience, without signal capacity, and
more remarkable than for anything else for his fondness
for coarse and pungent jokes. It was therefore with
a natural and utter indifference that the multitudes
heard his unmusical name. It was with a smug
self-satisfaction that the aristocratic leaders of opinion,
in England and on the Continent, pointed to the elec-
tion of such a man, to administer the government at a

critical time, as the final condemnation of Democratic
institutions. And it was with a quick and rational
anxiety that even educated liberals in Great Britain and
France rehearsed what they heard that was favorable
to him, and awaited the first indications of his policy.
This was only four years ago. And now, from the
entire civilized world arises the chorus of respect for
his powers, of admiration for his character, of horror
and grief at his untimely end. No other American
name since Washington's has become so familiar, or lias
won such esteem, among the progressive peoples of
Europe. It is henceforth a name to charm with, in
Italy and in England, on the boulevards of Paris, in
the studies of Germany, and among the precipitous
passes of the Alps. The presses and the men that
once made shift) apologies for him, have honored him
for years as one of the leading statesmen of the world.
Even the papers which month after month insulted
him without stint, now eagerly applaud his prudence,
his fortitude, his commanding ability. The English
Pit/rich, whose ridicule was so bitter that it seemed to
have in it a personal malice, confesses its error, and
atones for its jeers in lofty and pathetic lines. And
with the voices of eulogy and homage rising from his
still sorrowing countrymen, — rising not only from the
millions he has ruled, and the other millions whom he
has emancipated, but even from the impoverished
States over whose acres his armies swept, and whose

most practised and crafty commanders Lis patient
wisdom utterly defeated, — with these rise also, in
kindred homage, the voices of all the intelligent lead-
ers of opinions and affairs throughout Christendom. Par-
liaments, as well as peoples, bring their tribute to his
memory. The halls of National Assemblies arc
draped, in sad commemoration of his worth and of
his death. And debates are suspended, and diplomacy
waits, while Emperors and Queens clasp hands with
us before his bier.

It is one of the strangest contrasts in history ; and it
is of this contrast, as well as of the other, that we to-
day are to give explanation. The phenomenon is
astonishing. It demands at our hands an adequate so-
lution. But that solution it is not difficult to find.

A singularly critical and eminent position, singularly
improved; immense, and almost unparalleled responsi-
bilities, modestly assumed, and with rare capacity, and
a rarer patience and magnanimity fulfilled : — here is tic-
key to this strangest sequence. The only en logy that
need be pronounced on him is that which sets just this
before us.

Observe first his Position.

Nations are more and more plainly every year the
grand, organized, almost personal Powers, to whom is
committed the Future of the World. With thesteady
advances of civilization, individuals are comparatively
less influential over the opinion and action of mankind,


except as they affect the Nation they are part of. But
the Nation itself becomes every year a mightier pres-
ence, a more distinct, efficient actor, amid the system of
allied peoples. And to those which fill with their in-
stitutions, and outline with their boundaries, the maj)
of Christendom, is the moulding of the destinies of
Mankind entrusted.

Their origin is explained, and shown to be not acci-
dental, but providential, as we look at them from this
point. Slowly emerging, like the heads of continents,
from the waste chaos of the earlier centuries, each one
has been unfolded, all have been arranged, on an orderly
plan ; a plan that contemplates results so vast that we
even yet can scarcely predict them. It is not topo-
graphy, climate, soil, it is not altogether the kinship
of blood, it is God, in His eternal wisdom, who has set
these Nations in their places, and with Divine pres-
cience and patience of skill has nursed and nurtured
their tiny germs, lias succored their growth, and has
built them to their majestic strength, that through
their final combined might, His plans may lie realized.

The same thought interprets the permanence of these
Nations ; the constantly increasing unity of each with-
in itself, the sharper lines that discriminate each from
every other. The tendency of our times, with all the
advance of individual Liberty which has prominently
marked them, is not toward the disintegration of em-
pires, but toward their more thorough organization,


tlieir more profound internal oneness. And while
forms of government, throughout Europe for example,
have been subject to sudden and violent mutations
during the two-thirds now elapsed of the present cen-
tury, it is a fact full of significance that none of its
great national organisms has been destroyed; that
none of them has been seriously changed in its boun-
daries, or impaired in its strength. The most import-
ant changes among them have been the increased
strength of Prussia, and the emeronno; into substantive
existence of the kingdom of Italy. The progress of
free thought within their boundaries has not dissolved,
but has only developed them. The progress of inven-
tion, overleaping those boundaries, and making neigh-
bors of distant peoples, has not obliterated or even ob-
scured the historic lines that stand between them. The
centripetal force within each has the mastery ; and in
its more intimate self-centred coherence each stands
more clearly apart from the rest. The public life in-
corporated in it, — from whatsoever ancestry derived, by
whatsoever influences trained, through whatsoever ex-
perience developed, and in whatsoever legislations, let-
ters, or arts revealed, — maintains its identity, and
only perfects its force, and is prepared always for a
larger impression upon the progress and culture of the

Yet while this development within each is going on,
the equilibrium of all is only thereby more firmly es-


tablished, and the relations between them becomevital
;iinl constant* Diplomatic alliances only tardily and
partly represent the progress of their moral sympathies.
Because it is separate, each acts on the others with
which it is allied, with more freedom, directness,
and positive force. Its acts, and reacts. It gives,
and it gathers. It makes its own peculiar contri-
butions, of art, thought, commercial exchange,
moral powei : and it receives those which are brought
to it in return. And through this continual recipro-
city, more vital than treaties, more effective than inter-
national congresses, each assists the progress of every
other, and all work together, whether consciously or
Dot, low ard general results.

Into the ultimate power of Christendom goes
therefore a force derived in part from every people.
The influence of each is made cosmopolitan. Audit be-
comes more evident constantly that not by individuals,'
but \>\ these Nations, so separate yet associated, al-
ways mole unlike, l»ut always also more intimately al-
lied, is gradually to 1 e reared the world-wide struct are
of a Universal Civilization ; t hat as the great Persons of
the continents and the ages, they are to elaborate the
welfare of Mankind, and accomplish His plans who is
i be i uler and i he architect of all.

["here is nothing that more clearly sets God
before us in the scope of Mi- designs, that more
vividh unfolds the significance of History, that

more sublimely impresses on our thoughts the grandeui
of the times in which we live, thau this view of Na-
tions, as the ever-renewed and co-operative workers,
whose power and patience are to build up the Future.
The earth is illustrious, through their presence upon it.
The Future is secure, through the mighty concurrence
with which they march toward it. And the brain that
swings yonder suns into systems is not so unsearchable
as that which orders this mighty plan.

And now among these vast, historic, almost personal
Powers, it is not presumptuous or idle to feel that this of
which we ourselves are part, is to have a special and an
eminent place. We feel it instinctively. An audible un-
dertone in European society shows the world aware of it.

Placed on a continent where it stands by itself, and
from which its influence passes continually, across both
oceans, to affect all peoples whom commerce reaches, all
tribes indeed whose languages are known ; founded at
the beginning, as Chatham said, ' upon ideas of Liberty,'
and prepared by the very blood that went into it, as
well as by its subsequent training, to illustrate the
capacity of Christianized men to organize and maintain
a democratic autonomy ; with a vast force of thought,
will, feeling, faith, of all that makes the intensest moral
life of a Nation, inherited by it, and continually nourish-
ed by schools, presses, churches, homes, by all the
labors it has had to perform, and all the hopes that have
strengthened its heart, — it cannot be but that this Nation


shall affect with still increasing power the other civilized
peoples of the Earth. In a degree it does this already ;
and when its energies shall cease to be concentrated, as
they hitherto have been, on the preparation of the
country itself for its habitation, and the swift and
mighty mastery of its riches, and on the fashioning and
the upbuilding of its own institutions, — when the edu-
cational influences that mould it shall have come to
their fruition, and the spirit of the Nation shall be
finally formed and declared, — it must pour abroad,
through constant channels, an infinite influence.

Either with distrust, then, anxiety, fear, or with
confidence, affection, expectation, the thoughtful minds
throughout the world must look upon the people here
established: whose existence is so recent, its develop-
ment so rapid, its history so remarkable, and whose
future hitherto has seemed so uncertain. It is not one
fact, « >r an< >ther, 1 >y itself, that secures this interest of the
civilized world in our Republic. The whole drift of civ-
ilizat ion makes it inevitable. For wod or for evil there
is here a power that must a.ffect the entire system of as-
sociated Nations, to make or mar the Future they are
building. And yonder ocean may as easily be with-
drawn from fchesight of our eyes, the continent itself maj
,-i- easily be obliterated from t lie map of t lie world, as the
Bense of the connection of the development of this peo-
ple with the destinies of the Race be st rick en from our
minds, or from the general judgmenl of Christendom.


When then a terrific crisis suddenly appeared in
our public experience — when a wide-sweeping and
passionate rebellion threatened to become a complete
revolution, to split the Nation into fragments, and to
change the course of its development forever — it was
not wonderful, it was only inevitable, that more than
by any other event of modern times the thoughts of
Mankind should be occupied with it ; that here not
only but all abroad it should be felt that the palpable
leaves of destiny were turning; that forces were
evolved than which none others more portentous had
broken upon the world since the modern Nations of
Europe were born. It was inevitable that with di-
verse hopes and opposite predictions not Americans
only but the peoples of Christendom should look to
see what the issue was to be.

No man on this continent, therefore, since Washing-
ton's day, has had such room as was o;iven to him
whose death we mourn to manifest all of power and
character which he possessed; to manifest this to the
eyes of the Nation, to the eyes of Mankind. No other
man has had the chance to so utterly wreck himself,
and bury his name in an absolute ignominy, amid the
sinking fortunes of his country. And, on the other
hand, to no other man has been given the opportunity
to make for himself a place forever in the inmost heart
of the Nation which lie saved; to make for himself a


world-wide fame ; to touch the centuries still to come,
and gild their skies with higher splendor. And it is
because he proved himself equal to the critical, provi-
dential, unparalleled position, — because he so borehbu-
self in his grand office that all men saw him a man to
be loved, a statesman to be trusted, a patriot to be fol-
lowed through darkest perils without dismay, — there-
fore it is that eulogies now make the continents vocal;
that those eulogies take the poetic form which only
intensity of feeling produces ; and that one of the
grandest names of the World is to be henceforth, while
history continues, the plain, untitled, and recent name
of Abraham Lincoln.

So much for his Position. Observe now the personal
Character and Power which he brought to his office and
the Work which he wrought in it. — Of course the full
exhibition of these would take volumes, not paragraphs,
and be the occupation of months of leisure instead of
a few hurrying hours. Yet we may notice the leading
traits, and recognize briefly the more prominent pow-
ers of mind and will, by which he became so apt for
his work ; and may glance, at least, at the principal
features of the great work itself.

It is an impulse of the heart with every one who
speaks of him to delineate first his moral properties;
and though these may be dwelt upon so exclusively
as to seem to involve an injurious forgetfulness of the

greal intellectual abilities he possessed, yet the course


of discussion thus suggested is the one which every
one still must take if lie would not violently constrain
and divert his own mental processes; if he would not
it pulse the public heart. The moral, which should be
supreme in every man, was so, to a degree almost un-
exampled, in President Lincoln. It made the prime
impression of the man on those who approached him. It
shines most prominently before us to-day, throughout
that crowded and turbulent history along whose dizzy
paths he has led us. It will be spoken of first and
most fondly wherever future American parents repeat
his sayings, rehearse his traits, and tell to their chil-
dren the story of his career. Of this then, first, we
may, and we must, with propriety speak.

And yet it is impossible to speak of it as we would,
because it is impossible to comprise in words that sub-
file, essential spirit of Character, which was paramount
in him; and because— when we analyze, as we say,
such a Character, and distribute its single though com-
plex beauty, into the traits which made it up— it is like
fracturing the diamond to exhibit it; it is like un-
1 .raiding the strand of light, to show the sunbeam's
inmost splendor. So far, however, as any formula can
express what must, by virtue of its spiritual nature,
elude the grasp and surpass the compass of verbal
propositions, it may be said that a deep, unselfish Sym-
pathy with Men, a profound Conviction of the validity
and authority of certain great principles of Equity


and Liberty, and an abiding personal Faith in the over-
ruling- Providence of God, were the principal and per-
manent constituent forces in the Character which he

The genesis of this, the influences by which it was
rooted and formed in him, it must be left to the bio-
grapher to unfold. The Character itself, which these
elements composed, is as distinct as it is also great ; and
the memory of it will live forever.

Wholly individual, utterly genuine, — so independent
of outward circumstances that obscurity had not at
all embittered it, and investiture with the vast prero-
gatives of office only gave it new development,
through immenser opportunities, — it was the essential
moral force on which the Nation for four years hung,
as on a very power of nature ; from which, more than
from any thing else, it has drawn its present stability
and hope ; and by reason of which the death of him
in whom it was revealed has thrilled with new and
strange emotion the civilized world.

His Sympathy with Men was shown not only in his
singularly warm personal attachments, to his family
and his friends, to all who for any considerable time
were confidentially associated with him; it was shown
as well in thai kindness to the poor, the sorrowful, the
imperilled, with instances of which the journals of
tli'- country, for four years past, have been running
over. The wearied, sick, or wounded soldier found


always a friend in him as solicitous for his welfare as
if he had been his kinsman by birth. The Little chil-
dren in the Home for the Destitute were touched b\
the tearful tenderness and dignity, the instructive
clearness, and the quickening playfulness with which
he addressed them. The poor treed people— who had
escaped from the slavery through which his armies
crushed their way, but had escaped to communities that
seemed less friendly than those they had left, and had
passed from a bondage which at least had given them
shelter and food, to a liberty that threatened to doom
them to idleness, and to overwhelm them in an absolute
wa nt— it was not with ostentatious charity, it was with
no splendid philanthropical theory, it was with a ten-
der welcoming respect, that he heard their story, ex-
amined their condition, and opened the way for (-.ape
from their fears.

After four years of incessant, bloody, desperate
struo-o-le he entered Richmond, with characteristic un-
ostentation,— not at the head of marshalled armies,

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Online LibraryRichard S. (Richard Salter) StorrsAn oration commemorative of President Abraham Lincoln : delivered at Brooklyn, N.Y., June 1, 1865 → online text (page 1 of 4)