William M. (William Melanchthon) Johnson.

Our martyred President : a discourse on the death of President Lincoln, preached in Stillwater, N.Y., April 16th, 1865 online

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Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Melanchthon) JohnsonOur martyred President : a discourse on the death of President Lincoln, preached in Stillwater, N.Y., April 16th, 1865 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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April 16th, 1865,



T EO Y, N . Y.:



Stillwater, N. Y., April 22d, 1865.

To Rev. "VVm. M. Johnson, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church :

Dear Sir : — The undersigned, participating in the national sorrow that over-
whelms all loyal hearts, in view of the awful calamity that has befallen our
Republic in the death (by assassination) of its great and good President, Abraham
Lincoln ; and desiring often to recall his shining virtues and his patriotic deeds,
his integrity of purpose and great wisdom in promoting the welfare of the country
in whose service he has fallen ; — having listened to your discourse on the solemn
Sabbath following this sad event, do hereby request the manuscript for publica-
tion, and preservation in a more permanent form.

Very truly yours,

Reuben Wescott, E. Widdemer.

Samuel G. Eddy, C. D. Bull,

E. K. Woolsey, G. "V. Lansing,

Wm. M. Bartlett, Egbert Gardner,

Jared W. Haight, Lyman Tucker,

Lyman Dwigiit, G. N. Benton,

Peter Schoonmaker, A. W. Grey,

Stillwater, N. Y., April 24th, 1865.

To Reuben Wescott, E. Widdemer, S\ G. Eddy, E. K. Woolsey, C D. Bull,

G. V. Lansing, and others :
Gentlemen .—I herewith transmit to you the manuscript of which you speak.
Yours, in the bonds of Christian patriotism,

Wm. M. Johnson.


II Samuel, 1 : 19. " The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places : how-
are the mighty fallen !"

" Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow ;
A blow, which, while it executes, alarms ;
And startles thousands with a single fall."

All loyal hearts beat sadly and slowly to-day. The nation is
draped in mourning. We had not yet grown calm from the
excitement of victory and triumph, we were just highly elated
with the prospect of peace, when once more darkness covers
the earth, arid gross darkness the people. The sun has gone
down while it was yet day. The toll of the death-bell follows
the peal of victory. For " the beauty of Israel is slain upon
thy high places : how are the mighty fallen. Tell it not in
Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon ; lest the daugh-
ters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncir-
cumcised triumph. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no
dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings ;
for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away." The
wail of a great people ascends to heaven. And the mournful
cadences of the bereaved king of Israel can but feebly express
the agony of our hearts.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the merciful Conqueror, the pure Pa-
triot, the Idol of the people, the Chief Magistrate of the nation, is
dead. And this, too, is greatly aggravated by the fact, that the
hand of a vile assassin dealt him the murderous blow, and that
one so gentle, so tender of others, should be a martyr through
inhuman revenge. Had he died by ordinary disease, in the
regular course of God's providence, we could have readily said,
"It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him aood." But

now, though we would still recognize God's permissive decree
in this " sum of all villainies," the blow to us is awfully severe,
and ordinary consolation affords but little relief. It is a solemn
hour, and it is a solemn service to reflect upon the sad event.
We feel that " the Eepublic has lost its truest friend, its great
protector, its trusted savior." Next to the Almighty Arm, we
have placed confidence in him. The voice of calumny has never
dared to question his love for his country. He loved her with
the instinctive and unreserved devotion of a child for its mother.
Possessed of a giant manhood, and the sagacity of astute states-
manship, and with abundant opportunity to exercise both, he
has left this record, he has done what he could. Great was the
task which he was called to perform. He was taken quite un-
expectedly from his quiet home near the Father of Waters, he
was placed in a new position, he was met by every form of
perplexity and embarrassment ; but his brave heart avoided no
responsibility, he paled at no opposition, he stumbled at no
obstacle. In March, 1S61, he took a solemn oath to sustain the
constitution and the laws, and nobly did he keep his vow, till
the hand of the assassin deprived him of his life. We have
believed from the first that he was raised up, and schooled, and
endowed by Providence, to meet the emergency of the times.
Again and again has it appeared that God was with him. Again
and again, when hope was almost gone, have we turned to him,
as an instrument in the hands of the King of Kings, to save us
from utter destruction. From this sacred desk the prayer has
often gone up, that God would keep him in the hollow of His
hand, would shield him from all clanger, and keep his mind firm
and his heart pure. Those prayers have been all answered by a
covenant-keeping God till now — till now He seems to turn away
His face from us in this great national bereavement. "Verily,
thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour."
Abraham Lincoln was a man of the people, from the people,
and among the people. We never could have loved a titled
aristocrat, a man who boasted of his blood, as we have loved
him. All his antecedents, all his speeches, all his public acts,

indeed his whole course from boyhood up to the clay of his death,
placed him in sympathy with the people. Let us glance briefly
at his life.

He was born in Hardin county, Kentucky, (which is now in-
cluded in Larue county) Feb. 12th, 1S09, and was therefore at
his death fifty-six years of age. The name is English, and his
ancestors were co-laborers with William Penn, in settling the
State of Pennsylvania. They belonged to the Society of
Friends. Emigration was then as rife as now. The new coun-
try offered so many inducements to settlers, that only a few
remained in their first location. Branches of the Lincoln family
removed to Virginia, to Kentucky, to Indiana, and finally to
Illinois. The grandfather of our lamented President fell a victim
to the savage ferocity of the Indians in one of the new settle-
ments. His father and mother were both born in Virginia, but
in 18 16 removed with their family to the then distant West.
Like most of the pioneers in the new country, they engaged in
agricultural pursuits, and here our Chieftain grew up to man-
hood. There were then no advantages for education in the
West, as now, and he only obtained snatches of learning,
amounting in the aggregate to less than a year, and with such
helps as our young people would hardly think worthy of men-
tion. His own account of his mental training was substantially
as follows: It is true, I never went to school much. But
I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated
when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand. I
don't think I ever got angry at anything else in my life. I can
remember going to my little bed-room, after hearing the neigh-
bors talk of an evening with my father, and spending no small
part of the night walking up and down, and trying to make out
what was the exact meaning of some of their, to me, dark
sayings. I could not sleep, though I often tried to, when I pot
on such a hunt after an idea, until I had caught it. This was a
kind of passion with me, and it has stuck by me. Years after,
when I commenced the study of law, I constantly came upon
the word demonstrate. I soon became satisfied that I did not

understand its meaning. I said to myself, " What do I do when
I demonstrate more than when I reason ox prose ?"■ I threw down
my law books, left my situation in Springfield, went home to
my father's house, and staid there till I could give any proposi-
tion in the six books of Euclid at sight. Then I returned to
my law books, satisfied that I knew the meaning of demonstrate.
And that is the extent of my education.

After leaving his father, and before taking up the study of
law, he was variously employed — building boats, sailing on the
Mississippi, trading, and such like. He was captain of a com-
pany of volunteers in the Black Hawk war. He was ready for
anything, and efficient in everything. Finally he became post-
master of a small town, and in the interval of mailing and de-
livering letters, but mostly in the night, he commenced to
prepare for the legal profession, borrowing his books in the
evening and returning them in the morning. From this point he
began rapidly to rise. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in
his youth. He bore a heavy one, and experienced all the bene-
ficial effects. In 1834, '36, '38 and '40, he was elected to the
legislature of Illinois, and first took his seat with that body two
years before he had license to practise law. In 1847, when he
was 3S years of age, he became a representative in the National
Legislature, and two years after he was the author of a scheme
which was to abolish slavery in the district of Columbia. But
he only saw his plan consummated after it had been maturing
fifteen years, and when he was serving his first term as President
of the United States.

He first attracted the special attention of the entire nation in
his memorable contest with the gifted Douglas, during the
summer of 1S5S. Day after day, in the presence of large as-
semblies, these two giants received and parried each other's
blows, as only they could do, both displaying eminent ability,
and at the same time preserving that dignity in debate which is
the mark of noble minds. Some time in the winter of 1S59, he
came to New York, where he spoke before the first men of the
country, in such a manner that all began to forecast his high

destiny. Subsequently he spoke in many of the New England
cities, the people everywhere crowding to hear him as if he were
an oracle, and reading his speeches with the greatest eagerness.
One little incident which occurred while he was in Connecticut
will serve better than anything else I can say, to show what
manner of man he was. After speaking one evening to a large
audience, and closing his remarks with these noble words :
" Gentlemen, it has been said of the world's history, hitherto,
that might makes rigid ; it is for us and for our times to reverse
the maxim, and to show that right makes might ;" he was stand-
ing the next morning at the railroad depot, waiting for the train
to bear him to the next town, when a clergyman came up and
was introduced to him. " Ah," said he, " I have seen you be-
fore." The minister said he thought not. He rejilied, " I have
seen you ; you were at the meeting last night, and I saw you
there." The surprised inquiry then was, "Is it possible that
you could observe individuals so closely in such a crowd?" " Oh
yes," said he, " that is my way. I generally look around when
I am speaking, and I do not forget faces." That was enough to
stagger the most credulous. But it showed the mighty intellec-
tual power of the man. To speak extemporaneously at all,
acceptably, is a great thing. But to speak to thousands of
strangers, and at the same time be studying and fixing their
faces, is a gift which nature has not often bestowed upon man.
In the May following this, he was nominated in Chicago for
the Presidency, to succeed James Buchanan ; and though in the
election there were three opposing candidates, he was successful.
But the hour of his triumph was only the precursor of his peril
and his trial. That day, when the news of his. election was re-
ceived in Charleston, the first ordinance of secession was decreed.
And he was hardly seated in the Presidential chair, before the
slaveholders' rebellion was fairly inaugurated. Even his first
passage to the capital was obstructed, and only the good hand
of Providence saved him from assassination then. God spared
him for long and toilsome service, and for a harder fate. I say
a harder fate, for then we scarcely dared to hope ; but now when

he is taken from us, oui' whole sky is illuminated with the bright
omens of better times, and we were all preparing to thank God
for a united, peaceful, and regenerated Republic.

His first term of administration was probably more difficult
than any that our Presidents have passed through. The country
did not fully know him yet, but we did know that the greatest
prudence and wisdom were necessary to save us from irretrieva-
ble ruin. The South w r as already in arms and prepared for war,
while the North was crippled on every side. False men in the
government had carefully prepared everything for the success of
the rebellion. With empty hands, and an empty treasury, with
no navy and no army, with mighty foes arrayed before him,
and masked batteries in his rear, our noble President went to
work. We prayed that the God of nations would help him, but
we looked on trembling lor the result. Now that he has served
us so long and so well, and while his body is preparing for the
tomb, we look back and marvel to see what God hath wrought
through him.

He called around him an efficient cabinet, the first and ablest
of whom, has now, like him, been made the victim of barbaric
revenge. The sagacity of Lincoln and the diplomacy of Seward,
have been, under God, the salvation of the government.

The next business after selecting his Cabinet, was to organize
an army, and engage in war against an enemy of our own blood.
It was his to subdue a rebellious household. His first proclama-
tion did not come up to the expectation of loyal hearts. But we
hoped he would do better, and he did. Gradually he grasped
the whole condition of affairs. If he thought at first that
seventy-five thousand men could suppress the rebellion, he
thought just as thousands more in the North thought and spoke.
He was never hasty, never precipitate ; but, on the other hand,
a calm review of his whole administration plainly shows he was
never dilatory, never too late.

His first order was to reinforce Sumter, beleaguered by thou-
sands of rebels. In that, he was as careful as he was deter-
mined. Not one word was said by him, then, or after, to arouse

the least resistance in the Southern heart. The closing words
of his first inaugural plainly foreshadowed his future policy. He
said then, addressing the traitors from the steps of the Capitol :
" In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in
mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. You have no oath
registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I have
the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it. The
mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and
patriot grave, to every living heart in this broad land, will swell
the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will
be, by the better angels of our nature." Solemn and prophetic
words ! That oath registered in heaven never was violated.
But he scarcely lived to hear the " chorus ol the Union" which
was just beginning to ascend from millions of enraptured hearts.

Seventy-five thousand men, undisciplined in the art of war,
were insufficient to cpiell the most gigantic rebellion the world
has ever seen. He soon called for more volunteers, and then for
more, till the popular song announced our readiness to furnish
all that were necessary. " Father Abraham," it said. Yes, that
was the spontaneous response, which we soon learned to make
to his appeals. He had been trained in the wilderness of the
West ; he was uncouth in manners, and unpolished in speech ;
but before he had been two years our Chief Magistrate we loved
him as a man, we reverenced him as a father. That father, we,
the bereaved family, mourn as dead to-day. We drape our
sanctuary with the symbols of our grief, and looking up to God
we try to say, while tears choke our utterance, " Father in
heaven, thy will be done."

Perhaps the hardest task he had to do, was to obtain the
proper leaders for the armies. Winfield Scott was Lieutenant-
General, but in his dotage. Events soon demonstrated that he
had not strength adequate to the occasion. Some of our most
gifted military men had proved false to the hand that nourished
them, to the government that had munificently endowed them
with accomplishments and skill. One man was tried, and then
another. Each had his friends, clamorous for his promotion or


retention in office. But the President so skillfully and so kindly
treated them all as to lose the respect of none, and to win the
love of many. Every one of these generals, including his polit-
ical opponents, will mourn the loss to the country, and will
applaud the virtues of the man. Ah yes ! the sorrow is univer-
sal now. Even many who opposed Mr. Lincoln while living,
now seem to be loudest in lamenting his death, and deploring
the great national calamity.

" Brief, brave and glorious was his bright career, —
His mourners were two hosts, his friends and foes ;
For he was Freedom's Champion, — one of those,
The few in number, who had not o'erstept
The charter to chastise which she bestows
On such as wield her weapons : he had kept
The whiteness of his soul, and thus men o'er him wept."

Towards the rebellion, Mr. Lincoln never manifested anything
like spite or ill-nature. He accepted it as his commission from
God to quell it. This work he set himself deliberately to per-
form. But he exhibited no spirit of revenge. He had not the
savage atrocity of the tyrant. The assassin who shot him leaped
from the box upon the stage, and waving his dagger exclaimed,
" Sic semper tyrannis," — So may it always be with tyrants. But
that grossly belies him. The inhuman traitor added insult to
cruelty. Just the opposite spirit possessed the breast of the
murdered man. He was kind and lenient, almost to a fault.
His subordinates may have been unjust, but he never was. His
heart was as tender as a woman's. Thus he united in his char-
acter the qualities of true nobility. He was manly, but gentle ;
he was brave, but compassionate ; he was strong enough to rule,
but pitiful enough to weep. He lacked the finished accomplish-
ments of Washington, but in the positive qualities of his
character, he was in no respect inferior to the Father of his
Country. Washington blended in himself all the virtues of the
old-time heroes ; Lincoln reproduced the same virtues in beau-
tiful symmetry of character, and made all subservient to the
best interests of his country.


The great moral event of his career was the Proclamation of
Emancipation. All parties had begun to desire that the great
evil of slavery might be plucked up by the roots. But many
feared the time had not yet come. With eagle eye he discerned
the auspicious moment, and proclaimed the dawn of universal
liberty; throwing, however, the whole responsibility upon the
traitors in arms. If they returned to their allegiance, as the
cause of absolute justice demanded, he would not interfere with
their domestic institutions ; otherwise human bondage was at an
end. The die was cast. The rebels, with mad faith in an un-
righteous cause, persisted in their chosen course, and a just God
visited upon them his holy retribution. Congress soon affixed
its sanction to the merciful decree, and the loyal part of the
nation to-day, both North and South, rejoices in the triumphs of
Liberty. Oh ! America, thou knowest not the debt thou owest
to the departed hero. The prisoner goes free ; the clanking of
chains will be heard no more in thy land. Freedom is the
watchword now, and the Goddess of Liberty, with her mild
sceptre, will soon rule the world. But the merciful heart has
stopped its beating, and the pitying eye is glazed in death.
Ichabod, Ichabod, the glory is departed. But he is not dead.
His name, his works, his spirit, still live. Embalmed in the
memory of a grateful people, we will write his name high up
by the side of Washington, and with subdued thanksgiving re-
peat his story to our children's children. Let him sleep on. The
peace of death will be to him as tranquil as the peace he has
wrought out for the nation. He died in obtaining what we live
to enjoy. Let his failures be entombed with his inanimate body,
and only his virtues remembered by his bereaved country.
" Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth :
Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors ; and
their works do follow them."

Our martyred President ivas a Christian. The following inci-
dent is well authenticated : A pious gentleman called at the
executive mansion on business. This being transacted, just as
he was leaving, he turned to Mr. Lincoln and said : " My dear


sir, I wish to ask you one question. When I left home on this
mission, my friends charged me to inquire of you, if you loved
Jesus.'''' This touched a tender chord. The President's eyes
filled with tears, and for a moment he was silent. Then he said :
" When I came to Washington, I was not a Christian. When
our little boy was taken from us, I was not a Christian. But
when I went to the battle-field of Antietam, and passed among
the dead and dying of our brave volunteers, then I became a
Christian. Yes, I do love Jesus.''''

This satisfies the religious sentiment of the land. In him we
lose a friend and brother. But though our sorrow is deep to-day,
we sorrow not without hope. He has passed from a noble ser-
vice on earth, to the nobler services of heaven. He was taken
away from his earthly reward, only to receive a crown that shall
never fade away. He was taken from the midst of his useful-
ness, and in full vigor, only to be a brighter trophy in heaven.
Had he been less our idol, had he been less worthy, had he been
less noble, had he been less prepared, God might have spared
him to us. Had we been more worthy of him, had we sustained
him better, had we been more careful to guard him, perhaps he
might have been spared to us. But oh ! no. The appointed
time had come, and an inscrutable Providence permitted the
assassin to take his life. It is too late now to say that he ought
not to have gone out unguarded. It was his way. We all
trembled when he went to Richmond. But there he was not
harmed. This proves to us his personal bravery on the one
hand, and his confidence in his fellow-citizens on the other. He
was spared in Richmond, only to return to the Capital to die by
the hand of violence. " Shall there be evil in the city, and the
Lord hath not done it?" Here we stop, not striving to fathom
the depths of Providence. " We are dumb with silence before
God. We hold our peace, even from good, and our sorrow is

In this calamitous event, God speaks to us with an awful
voice. And what are the lessons of the hour '.

The first lesson is this : " Put not your trust in princes, nor


in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth
forth, he returneth to his earth ; in that very day his thoughts
perish." The arm of man is a frail support. Trusting to this,
we lean upon a broken reed. " It is better to trust in the Lord
than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord
than to put confidence in princes." We feel the force of these
Scriptures now, more clearly than ever before. Perhaps we
were inclined to hero-worship. Perhaps we were inclined to
exalt the man above the Almighty Supporter. Never since the
days of Washington, has this nation had so much faith in any
one man as in Abraham Lincoln. His friends and foes alike
knew that he was honest. And we gave him our implicit trust.
But if we have transferred our faith in God to him, now we
must receive the Divine rebuke. Here, then, warned in a man-
ner we cannot mistake, we fix our resolve. " Some trust in
chariots, and some in horses ; but we will remember the name
of the Lord our God."

Once more, in this calamity we are taught, as God has
taught us in the past, that he alone decides the destinies of
nations. " Promotion cometh neither from the East, nor from
the West, nor from the South. But God is the Judge : he put-
teth down one and setteth up another." " Be still, and know
that I am God." Thou Sovereign of the Universe, teach us in
sadness to recognize thy Supreme Authority. Now we commit
our way unto God, trusting that he will direct our steps.

My fellow-citizens, shall we stop a moment before we sepa-
rate, to forecast the future ? to ask what next ? The helm of
government is already in untried hands. Does the new pilot
know the shoals ? Will he weather the gale ? These are the
questions that now burden the national heart. We turn from


Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Melanchthon) JohnsonOur martyred President : a discourse on the death of President Lincoln, preached in Stillwater, N.Y., April 16th, 1865 → online text (page 1 of 2)