Rolfe S Saunders.

An oration on the death of Abraham Lincoln : late President of the United States online

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Fellow-Citizens :

Wo live in one of the most eventful
perif>dsiof the workl's liistoiy since the dawn of civilization
upon earth. Not a day passes but some thrilling incident
occurs — seme deed, dark and bloody, is committed — some
startling event transpires — some brilliant achievement wit-
nessed, — which wnll furnisli material tliat will live in history
or in song. The annals of the world afford few parallels to
what the American people have witnessed — the scenes and
hardships they have passed through — the part in the great
drama they have acted, in the past four years of bloody war.
The "dark ftges' — the horrors of the French Eevolution —
the iniquities ^of the Spanish Inquisition — the treachery,
perfidy and barbarity of Italian scenes — &nd the ferocity of
savage warfare, — present not a page so dark and damning,
mournful and heart-rending — so diabolical and wicked, and
so cruelly inexcusable, as has blighted and blasted the fair
name of our Country in that short space of time. All
Christendom stands aghast at the horrid picture, and Hu-
manity weeps tears of blood over the sad reality it presents.
It is left for the middle of the nineteenth Century, with the
lights of Christianity and Civilization before them, for the


American people to shock the world, and put in awe, all
mankind, at the hideous deeds of blood perpetrated " in the
name of libert}"," by a race of people claiming the first rank
among the nations of the earth ! That a people so enlight-
ened — a people professing love for God and a belief in the
Christian Eeligion — a people blessed above and beyond any
other on earth — a people, happy, prosperous, free and un-
trarameled — living in a land of liberty — better educated, as
a whole, than any other nation of Ancient or Modern times
— surrounded by everj^ blessing they could ask, and the pro-
tection of the best government which God ever bestowed
upon man, since the fall of Adam j — that such a favored
people, should, in an evil hour, bring upon themselves and
their posterity such untold evils as we have been cursed
with, is indeed, a most strange and unaccountable an*mflfly.
We have assembled together to-day on a most solemn and
momentous occasion, to express, if possible, our deep sense
of the bereavement the country has sustained in the sad and
ti^agic death of the illustrious ai\d lionored CUiief Magistrate
of this great Nation. For the first time in the history of
our government are we called upon to mourn the death of
our President b}'^ the blood}'^ hand of assassination. The
whole land is filled with mourning. The lamentations of
soi'row flow from every heart. Men weep, who but a day
before had no tears to shed for any human being on earth.
The language of sorrow and distress gush forth spontane-
ously from every bosom. Abraham Lincoln, the President
of the United States, has fallen by the bloody hand of a
fiendish assassin. It was a most terrible blow to our dis-
tracted country, particularly at this most critical juncture
in our aftairs. It is the saddest blow ever aimed at the peace
and happiness of a great nation. Benedict Arnold betra3^ed
the cause of his countiy ; Aaron Burr plotted treason
against her Constitution and Laws ; Jeff. Davis lifted his


impious hand to strike down her liberties and destroy the
great work of our Fathers ; but the severest and most fear-
ful blow ev^er aimed dt the vitals of onr eountvv, by any
man, was inflicted bgf^J. Wilkes Booth w- t j on -l»e struek
down Abraham Lincoln !

We were just emerging from a long and bloody night oi'
lour years' war — such a war as had never before blackened
the annals of time. For the first time since the commence-
ment, was a gleam of the joyous light of Peace seen to dawn
upon the impenetrable gloom that hung as a pall of death
over our country and destruction to our people. Patriotic
exultation ran high in eveiy honest heart at the glorious —
the heavenly prospect of Peace, and the return of law and
order. The giant contest between the master military
chieftains of the age, one for the vindication and maintenance
of his government, and the other battling for the establish-
ment of his — a contest in which the fote of the great
struggle seemed to be staked, turned the scales. The victor,
greater than Alexander, Caesar or Napoleon, Avith the (God-
like impulses of Washington, tendered the welcome olive
branch to his " erring brethren ;" and the great leader — the
humane, unselfish and patriotic chief, accepted the magnani-
mous terms, and surrendered to the flag of his Country ! Tt
was the sublimest spectacle ever witnessed in the military
history of the world. The terms offered and accepted wei-e
such as had never before been granted by an army flushed
with victory ; — such terms as only an American and a patriot,
who loved his Country and her welfare above every other
consideration, could offer; and every honest heart in the
nation lelt that at last, after a long and bloody struggle,
peace was to be restored, and our people, laying aside the
bloody implements of war, were again to become '•' one and
inseparable," free, prosperous and happy.

Such were the auspicious onvens of peace to onr distracted


land, when one of the moBt wicked and diabolical deeds
known in the book of crime, was perpetrated ; and our
whole country filled with a _i;-loom and sadness which had
never beXore. pervaded it, even wheiii; t'he sainted spirit of
the immortal Father of his Country was called from earth
to the blessed abode of the Just made Perfect.

It is not uncommon, now-a-days, to hear zealous partizan
friends of fiivoi-ite leaders attribute to them a comparison to
AVashinoton. Kespect to the memory of the illustrious
Father of his Country, as well as to all men who may live
after him, forbid the use of all such comparisons. No man
has lived, or is likely ever to live, who is entitled to that
distinction. Wastttnoton possessed a rare combination of
virtues and excellencies, Avhich all may strive to emulate,
but none claim to equal. Parallels have been instituted
between great minds that have been the terrtn- or the glory
of their age: comparisons are urged concerning the precepts
of philosophers, the codes of reformers and the achievements
of conqueroi's; but in them is no mention of George Wash-
ington. He stands alone, a character without a prototype
and without a successor. The Eevolutionist who led man-
kind to Liberty : the Statesman who constructed the edifice
of Freedom : the Conqueror who laid down his sword in
the hour of triumph : the Ivuler who abdicated power in the
zenith of his popularity : the Man who could look down
from the loftiest pinnacle of human greatness without
dizziness, and look up from the humble sphere of the citizen
without envy!

"No lii";-' can cover liislliigh fame but heaven,
No pyramids set-oif his memories
But the eternal substance of his greatness:
To which I leave him,"

Bolivar was a gallant soldier, a wise statesman and an in-
corruptible patriot; but when flushed with success, in the


hour of triumph, proclaimed himself " the Washington of
the South." All mankind smiled with contempt at his
presumptuous arrogance.

Select your favorite of all the great men who have " ruled,
reigned or fell " in Ancient or Modern times, — laud them to
the full measure of their deserts, — heap upon them the lan-
guage of panegyric — exhaust the powers of eulogy j but
compare them not to Wasuington.

Mr. Lincoln came into power at the most fearful and
critical period of our Grovernment, assuming responsibilities
even weightier than those resting upon the illustrious Father
of his Country, in first entering upon the duties of that
office. The responsibilities he had to meet were such as to
put to the utmost of their powers, the incomparable wisdom
and patriotism of Washington ; the skill, statesmanship
and ability of Hamilton, Clay and Webster; and the valor
and heroism of Jackson, Taylor and Scott. Never before
was mortal man called upon to meet such exigencies. The
Country was at a most fearful crisis. U2:)on his action de-
pended the '' lives and fortunes" — the peace and happiness,
of thirty millions of freemen. The integrity of the Govern-
ment, which had chosen him as its Executive Head, was to
be maintained. The Union was threatened with dismem-
berment, and presented a scene never before witnessed, of
six of the States comprising it, claiming to have thrown off
their allegiance and formed a separate and independent gov-
ernment of their own ! A faction, hatched in the hell-born
hotbeds of Treason, — smothered for a time by the undaunted
patriotism of Andrew Jackson, and crushed, at a later day,
by the serene and Washington-like statesmanship of Millard
Fillmore, — had revived in a more formidable shape than
on any former occasion their efforts to destroy the Govern-
ment, and had actually put into operation their government
purporting to embrace six of the sovereign States of The


Government of the United States of America ! Their
government was organized. A president, vice-president,
cabinet and congress were formed and had set up for them-
selves. Commissioners were dispatched to Washington
City to treat with the United States Government for terms
of separation and their acknowledgment as an independent
nation! It was indeed a cintical period. All felt it.
Every patriot in the land trembled with forebodings for the
result. Ttiere may have been insane and infamous factions
of very bad men, both in the North and in the South, who
witn:osed these scenes with fiendish joy; but subsequent
ev,ats have proven, when the hour of triiil came, that that
jlass, at both sections, proved false to their professed princi-
ples, and true only to the instincts of the hyena, were found
feasting over their country's misfortunes !

The public acts of all men are the legitimate theme
of criticism; and in discharging the duties of this occasion,
it may be necessary for me to give expression to views and
opinions from which some m;iy difter with me. The truth
of history requires it at my hands, and 1 siiall do so with ;ill
respect to the illustrious and lamented dead, not desiring or
Avishing to detract from a laurel of his well-earned fame.

Mr. Lincoln took into his hands the reins of governnuMit
with six sovereign States unrepresented in our national
councils — with their delegations withdrawm from our na-
tional congress. What was he to do ? A majority of the
people in every State in the Union, with perhaps the solitai-y
exception of South Carolina, undoubtedly desired his course
should be such as to crush treason, avert civil war, and save
the country. Many speculations arose as to the policy he
would adopt. We all remember the painful anxiety the
whole country experienced on that occasion. Mr. Lincoln
left many people in doubt as to whatpolic^y he w^ould pursue
in administering the government. His Inaugural Address,



tand the speeches made by him en route from Springfield to
the National Capitol, were interpreted to mean different
things in different latitudes. The country did not know for
a long time whether it was his intention to " hold, possess
and provision " Fort Sumter, or abandon it to the rebels.
The Commissioners sent by the rebels were kept in Wash-
ington lor a long period of time, when General Jackson or
Mr. Fillmore would never have received them at all, or if
they had, would have dismissed them before breakfast.

Time passed oii. The first gun was fired at Sumter upon
the flag that had waved in triumph and victory in every
conflict. It was the first time it had ever been lowered to
an enemy. The effect was electrical. The Avhole North
was aroused with patriotic indignation, and a determination
to vindicate the Flag of the Nation and retrieve— wipe out
the insult. The South, with an unanimity almost as great,
rallied as a man, after the first blow hadbeeu struck, to fight
it out to independence as the only alternative. The flush and
passion of the moment was aroused and acted upon without
calculating the cost or the consequences. Virginia, Ten-
nessee, North Carolina and Arkansas, which had steadfastly
refused to join their fortunes to that of the seceded States,
now faltered, and were "precipitated" into this mighty
whirlpool of civil strife. The wildest commotion ruled.
Chaos and confusion prevailed throughout the whole vast

Mr. Lincoln occupied a very peculiar relation to the
American people. He was the first Presideat ever elected
by a sectional vote ; and in the election, fell short about one
million votes of the popular vote, of receiving a majority.
It was a most unfortunate occurrence for the American
people, that by divisions, bickerings and strife, any candidate
of a sectional party should have succeeded in that, or any

10. OllATION.

other national contest. Equally is it to be regretted that*
Mr. Lincoln should have ever been the representative of a
sectional party.

A greater mistake was never made by the Southern leaders
than when they used the pretext of his election — which was
in strict conformity to the Constitution, — as a justification
for secession. But at such a crisis as this, the country
needed for her Chief Magistrate, not a new man, as Mr.
Lincoln was, nor the representative of a sectional party, —
but a national man in all his feelings and in all his surround-
ings; a man of long experience in public affairs, and
possessing the confidence of the whole American people in
his ability, statesmanship and patriotism; — a man of the
Andrew Jackson-Henry Clay-Daniel Webster stamp, in
whose presence treason would not dare show its foul head.
The election of such a man would have united the Union
element of the South with the mighty Conservative feeling
of the North, and made rebellion but a halter to those who
dared try the experiment ! But had a man of that character
been in the Presidential chair in the place of the perfidious,
corrupt and infamous Buchanan, and had arrested the
leading conspirators at the beginning of their work, and
brought them to that summary punishment with which Gen.
Jackson threatened the original Cataline of the tribe, in
the dai'k days of South Carolina nullification, — there would
have been a short road, and sure end, to all our national
troubles, then and for all time to come.

Elected by a sectional party, flushed with victory, and
after a most heated and exciting contest, Mr'. Lincoln too
often yielded to the unwise and unreasonable behests of
that party, when the very men who were bringing " pres-
sure " to bear upon him, were •politicians who were looking
to such a policy as would advance their party and selfish
schemes, leaving the country to take care of itself ! In such


an hour of trial and peril to our glorious institutions, he
should have spurned them with patriotic indignation, and
never deviated from the remembrance that he had a Country
to save and not a Party to serve. It was no time for party.
Washington had no party when he subdued and put down
the whiskey insurrection. General Jackson, though strictly
a party man, lost all sight of party and party ism when
South Carolina nullified our laws, and leaned upon the strong
riffht-arm of Webster and Clay as his main defence in
hewing down and crushing out the hydra-headed monster
of ISTullification and Treason. The wise, good and great
Fillmore, elected on a party ticket, atatime when disunion
ran high and civil war threatened ns, in the hour of trial
called around him Clay and Webster, Cass and Douglas,
Clemens and Foote, and glorious old Sam Houston, and by
their united efforts, averted the horrors of civil war, saved
the country, and won the plaudits of all good men of all
parties, for all time to come. Had Mr. Lincoln followed
their wise example in this particular, there is not a doubt
that he would have long since brought ua out of our
present great troubles ; and as the diinculties he encountered
were much greater and more complex than those presented
to any of his predecessors, he would have, in like proportion,
added to his renown in . the magnitude and extent and
unparalleled greatness of the achievement, and his hold upon
the gratitude and affections qf the American people.

But this is not the occasion to indulge in criticism. Mr-
Lincoln made mistakes — committed blunders ; and who of
all our great and wise rulers have not ? But his blunders
were not wilful nor his mistakes criminal — they were honest
— errors of judgment — which it is " divine" in all who may
differ — " to forgive." He was an honest man,

" The noblost T:ork ■."'f God ;"

of warm and generous impulses, and a kind and noble heart.

" All the ends he aimed :,t.
Were his Country's, his God's, and Truth's."

" With malice towards none, with charity for all, firm in the
" right as God gives us to see the right, let us bind up the
" wounds of our country." ITobie sentiments, sublimely and
most fitly spoKsn ! This lofty and pati-iotic expression is a
key to the whole life and character of Abraham Lincoln.


It will ever stand a proud monument to his name.
The reward so beautifully expressed by G-ray, will be most
tenderly ascribed to him by millions of grateful hearts, to

" Read his history in a nation's eyes."

The present generation may not do him justice — may con-
demn some of his public acts ; the American people may re-
gret his policy on important subjects; yet impartial history
will draw over his life the mantle to cover all his short-
comifigs, and rising above sectional feeling and party rancor,
do justice to his fame and honor to his memory.

" To live with fame

The gods allow to many; but to die.
With equal lustre, is a blessingr Heaven
Selects from all her choicest boons of Fate,
And with a sparing hand, on few bestows."

Whatever diiference may have existed as to the policy by
which he was governed, it shoidd now be enough for any
honest man and p^riot to know that he was actuated by
good motives, high resolves and an honest heart. " The
restoration of the Union in the shortest way," as he wrote
one of his friends, was no doubt the ruling wish and desire
of his life. The latter portion of his days were especially
devoted to the accomplishment of that great end — the
crowning glory of his fame, and what would have resulted
in the speedy peace of the nation, and the eternal and ever-
lasting good and happiness of our whole people. He showed
in that great instance that he could

" Look on rebellion

In the calm light of mild philosophy ,"

and in a spirit only of love and patriotism, grant such terms
of pacification and reconciliation as would bind up the
wounds of a bleeding country, make our people united and
happy, and place our glorious Union upon a firm basis from
which it could never be again shaken by all the storms of
/ party faction that may hereafter howl and rage around it.
Had Mr. Lincoln's life been prolonged thirty days, it is
believed there would not have been found a rebel in arms
against the Grovernment. It is understood his plans for
peace were entirely acceptable to General Lee, the greatest,
wisest and best of the Southern leaders. The Southern
people have long looked to him to lead them out of their
great diflS.culties ; and reposing confidence more fully in him
than any one else, there is every reason to believe that they


would have embraced the opportunity of following his
example of laying down their arms and returning to the
fold of their fathers, with rapturous joy and delight. Then
who can estimate the magnitude and extent of the nation's
loss, at such an hour ? Who can fathom the depths of the
•misery, ruin and desolation that may flow from that awful
calamity to the American people, and especially to the people
of the South ? If there be an human being in this broad
land, who does not feel his loss — the loss of the natiofi — of
the cause of free government, — in the untimely death of
Abraham Lincoln, that being is to be pitied, and is
unworthy to live in a land of liberty.

Mr. Lincoln was a Eepresentative-Man of the great
North- West; and his elevation to the Presidency was a
most remarkable illustration of the genius and workings of
our institutions — showing how the humblest, by dint of
energy and perseverance, may reach the highest positions
of honor and trust within the gift of the people. I stand
to-day upon the banks of the mighty Mississippi, almost
immediately opposite, and in sight of the house where,
thirty-four years ago, he was employed by a venerable and
respected citizen now living in Memphis, in chopping cord
wood at seventy-five cents per cord! In less than thirty
years from that date, Abraham Lincoln was President of
the United States of America !

The instance of his successor, Andrew Johnson, is no less
striking an illustration. His history we all know; the
difficulties he encountered and triumphed over, we are ail
familiar with. With an education derived entirely without
the aid of schools, he commenced life, poor and penniless
— an apprentice boy, without friends, and in less than a
quarter of a century from the time he is first honored by
the people with an election, we find him Euler of the first
nation of the earth! It is now to be hoped, that as he has
ever yet shown himself, equal to the occasion, in this great
trial of the Nation's salvation and Peace— the People's
welfare and Posterity's happiness, he will prove himself
worthy the successor of Washington, and go down to all
coming time, as the Great Instrument in the hands of
Providence in restoring law and order, peace and quiet to a


distracted land. He has but to cany into effect Mr.
Lincoln's and the Country's plan to accomplish that end.

I am one of those who have ever been opposed to the
damnable heresy of secession. For ten years, as the editor
of a public journal, I fought it with all my might and power.
The evils that have followed in the train of the sad experi-
ment, I long felt would be of the consequences, only they
far outreached my calculations, as they did those of every
other 'person. I have ever believed there was never a real
difference of opinion or conflicting interest between the
North and the South suflScient ever to justify a clash of arms;
and I am as firmly of the opinion now, that with the proper
wise policy, that conflict would never have taken place. A
miserable, canting, hypocritical, insane faction of fanatics
and trading politicians on the one side, and a contemptible,
worthless, disgraceful band of fire-brands on the other, have,
by co-operating, stirred and agitated the public mind to such
a degree — brought politics to such a low standard as to drive
from the councils of the nation our wisest statesmen and best
men, who would not enter into such competition, and left
the affairs of the Government in the hands of unscrupulous
political hacks and unprincipled partizans who would have
ruined any country on earth. It was by the American
people allowing such cliques to rule the country that we were
" precipitated " headlong into this awful and terrible war.

Look back a few years and see the result on our institu-
tions, worked by this disgraceful and infamous band of
drivelling traitors. Take a glance at our national councils
in 1860, immediately preceding the breaking out of the war,
and behold the instigators — the very small manner of men
they wer®. There we behold the seat in the United States
Senate, once rendered illustiious by the august presence of
Daniel Webster, filled by a fawning hypocrite and cringing
coward, who is unworthy to unloosen the 8hoe*latchets of
his immortal predecessor ! The classic and eloquent Everett


Online LibraryRolfe S SaundersAn oration on the death of Abraham Lincoln : late President of the United States → online text (page 1 of 2)