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The Murder of President Lincoln page 2

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But as soon as he was in the Presidential chair he called a Cabinet around him composed of anti-slave delegates. He picked men of action rather than men of words. In his first address he treated the secession as a thing of no account. It was unthinkable that it should take place. It was impossible to secede, he said, with peace.

"Can aliens make treaties," he asked, "easier than friends can make laws? Suppose you go to war. You cannot always fight, and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain to either, you cease fighting, the identical questions are again upon you. In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of the Civil War."

Then he made an appeal:

"The Government will not assail you," he said. "You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government - while I shall have a most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

This speech created a profound impression in the North, but in the South it was taken as a sign of weakness. The war began the following month with an attack on Fort Sumter by the Secessionists of South Carolina. General Beauregard was in command of the attacking forces, and after a long bombardment the fort surrendered. The president, however, had not been idle. He called at once for a force of 75,000 men - three-months militiamen - and three weeks later ordered the enlistment of 64,000 soldiers and 18,000 seamen for three years.

He, like Lord Kitchener was to do at a later period in the world's history, realised the possibility of a long struggle. Like Lord Kitchener his enlistments were for three years - or the "duration." He blockaded the Southern ports with his Navy. He called Congress together for a special sitting- - choosing the date, July 4 - Independence Day. The remaining states of the South rapidly joined one side or the other. Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri were the only ones to keep out of the Secessionist Movement. Virginia was divided, the western part going north to the Union.

The civil war dragged on, taking its toll of life. Friend often was fighting against friend; sometimes family against family. There were such names at Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, which have become a part of American history. It is not the intention in this survey to trace the four years of war, except the part played in it by Abraham Lincoln. He was the backbone of the war. He conferred, directed, and sometimes almost despaired that the end would ever come. He saw the land he loved being laid waste, bathed in the blood of its citizen soldiers; yet he never drew back his hand from the task. The term of his office expired in 1864. He had just placed Grant in supreme command of the army. He was nominated in June for a second term, and here comes a curious phase in the life of this remarkable man.

He seemed to lose heart; he felt that he would be beaten at the polls. He was urged to engage in a campaign, but he replied, "I cannot run a political machine. I have enough on my hands without that. It is the people's business; the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear they will find they have to sit on the blister." On August 23, 1864, he wrote a memorandum which he sealed in an envelope and locked away. No one knew what it contained, but at his request the members of his Cabinet signed the envelope. Later, when the seal was broken - after he had been once more made president - the memorandum was found to read as follows:

"This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect as to save the Nation between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot possibly save it afterwards. - A. L."

Those were the words of a brave man - an unselfish man who put the welfare of his country above personal ambition. Happily for the United States he was not called upon to make any such sacrifice. He was re-elected on November 8, and was inaugurated for the second time on March 4, 1865. Neither he, nor the nation, knew that he had only little more than a month to occupy the White House. Several times he visited the field of battle; once he was actually under fire. He stood in the fortifications surveying through his glasses the enemy position, a mark for every sniper - sharpshooters, they called them in those days - until he was ordered away by the officer in command, General Stantor. His place was at Washington, he was told, not wandering about battlefields.

Grant was besieging Petersburg, Sherman was marching to the sea; Thomas had defeated the Confederate Army at Nashville, the sea was held by the Union. The end was in sight. But before the end came the passing by Congress of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution - the measure which finally abolished slavery. The president, in his message to Congress, said he would never be a party to the re-enslavement of any of those emancipated. "If," he said, "the people should, by whatever modes or means, make it an executive duty to re-enslave such persons, another, and not I, must be their instrument to perform it." There were cheers and demonstrations. The house adjourned in honour of "this immortal and sublime event"; cannons roared from the battery, crowds paraded the streets, cheering. They swarmed around the White House, just as, at a later date, and for a different reason, they were to swarm around another palace in far-off England.

On March 20, Grant was closing in on Lee. He telegraphed to the president, telling him that he was about to end the war. He suggested that he should come to the front - to be in at the death, as it were. It would be a rest for him, he said. A rest! But the president went, taking with him his wife and his little son. They sailed in the River Queen, dropped down the Potomac, and ascended the James to City Point, where Grant had his headquarters. From there the president kept in touch with the last moments of that tragic fight. It thundered terribly on the night that Grant chose for his last sortie against Lee, and the president waited for news.

News came at last that Richmond, the Confederate capital, had fallen and that Jefferson Davis, the self-styled president, had fled. Lincoln went to Richmond - with a guard of ten bluejackets, and accompanied by four friends, he walked into the city. He found it in a state of terrorism mixed with jubilation. Hundreds of buildings were on fire, set alight by the retreating rebels, whisky had begun to flow freely. There was uproar and riotous scenes, yet the president walked on unalarmed. Negroes knelt before him and tried to kiss his feet - they greeted him as something almost divine. Then he went back to Washington where he heard of the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox.

On the night of April 13, Lincoln had a curious dream. He had been a believer in dreams; he had had a good many. The next morning - it was Good Friday - he told of his dream to his wife. He dreamed, he said that he was in a singular and indescribable vessel - moving towards a dark and indefinite shore. He had had another dream, too, which troubled his friends more than it troubled him. He thought he was wandering through the White House at night. All the rooms were empty, but they were all brightly lighted. When he came to the East Room he found a catafalque, the pageantry of a military funeral - crowds of people in tears. He heard a voice say, "The president has been assassinated."

When he told his wife about this previous dream he told her something else, too, which revealed a curious streak of fatalism in the man. He had picked up a Bible, he said, and opened it at random. It opened at the 28th Chapter of Genesis, which relates the story of the wonderful dream of Jacob. "I turned to other passages," he said, "but seemed to encounter dreams or visions wherever I looked." Those whose duty it was to look after the president urged these dreams as reasons why he should have greater protection. He laughed at them. Already he had received many threats, as every great man must. After his death they were found in an envelope in his desk. It was marked "Assassination."

"I do not see that I can make myself secure," he told them, "except by shutting myself up in an iron box, and in that condition I think I could hardly satisfactorily transact the business of the presidency." To another he said, "If I am killed I can die but once; but to live in constant dread of it is to die over and over again." So Lincoln went on his way. He was, if ever there was one, a man with a mission. How he fulfilled that mission the whole world knows.

The last speech he ever made in public was prophetic, as so many last speeches have proved to be. It seemed as though the president knew that he was speaking to the people he loved so well for the last time. It seemed as though he knew, from some inward knowledge, that he would have no further chance to say the things that lay so near to his heart. In this speech he epitomised the whole of his simple creed; the welfare of the nation before everything else.

The speech was made from the balcony of the official residence in Washington. Thousands of people had gathered to cheer him, as they did for many days, after the victory. It was a "Serenade," as they charmingly called it. Imagine a still evening in April - the green things beginning to put on their summer dresses - a balcony on which stood an earnest man; a gaunt man with a straggling beard and restless hands, telling his people in simple words how to adjust themselves to the new conditions which had been thrust upon them.

There was little of fire in this oration; none of the biting sarcasm which had made him feared in earlier days. He spoke with a gentleness - and yet with a force - that was strange to him; and to his hearers. Every word was weighed; every word was measured as though he realised that every word would go down the ages to posterity.

"I was present," he said, "in the final operations of the war, but no part of the honour for plan or execution was mine."

Then he told how he would deal with the restoration of the States. He refused, he said, to be provoked into controversy as to the question of whether the rebel States - he called them the "Insurrectionary" States - were in or were out of the Union. They had fought to keep out, he said.

"The question is not a practical material one, and any discussion of it, while it remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends. As yet, whatever it may hereafter become, that question is bad as a basis of controversy, and good for nothing at all - a merely pernicious abstraction. We all agree that the seceded States - so-called - are out of their proper practical relation with the Union, and that the sole object of the Government, civil and military, in regard to those States, is to again get them into that proper practical relation.

"I believe it is not only possible, but, in fact, easier, to do this without deciding, or even considering, whether these States have even been out of the Union. Finding themselves at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad.

"Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restore the proper practical relations between these States and the Union, and each, for ever after innocently indulge his own opinion, whether in doing the acts, he brought the States from without into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance - they never having been out of it."

It was a masterly piece of compromise, the acceptance of which would hurt neither party.

Then he discussed the recent action, of Louisiana, where 12,000 voters had just pledged their allegiance. He approved their action, but he did not intend to make it a precedent with regard to other States. They must please themselves, and act according to their conscience. There could be no exclusive and inflexible plan - that would only lead to fresh trouble.

"If we reject and spurn them," he said, "we do our utmost to disorganise and disperse them. We say, in effect to the white men: 'You are worthless or worse. We will neither help you nor be helped by you.' To the blacks we say: 'This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, held to your lips we will dash from you and leave you to the chances of gathering die spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined way - when, where and how.'

"If, on the contrary, we sustain the new Government of Louisiana the converse is made true. Concede that it is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it."

These were the last words he ever uttered in public. A few days later he met his Cabinet and elaborated his views. He met with no differences of opinion; the Government and the people of the land seemed ready to accept the advice of tolerance towards old foes who had once been friends. The barometer pointed to "set fair." Then the blow fell.

So we come to the last act in the drama - an act that was to be played in the home of drama, the theatre. Good Friday, April 14, 1865. All Washington was celebrating the news of the great victory and the end of the war. Flags were everywhere, hanging from windows, across the streets, in restaurants, in places of amusement. People talked of the defeat of the rebels. "There are no rebels," Lincoln said. "They are our fellow citizens." In the afternoon the president and Mrs. Lincoln drove out in an open carriage. It was springtime, the young shoots were beginning to clothe the trees. The day and the hour - sitting beside his wife among a rejoicing populace - took Lincoln back to happier times.

His face seemed to lose that drawn look it had worn so long; he seemed to have grown younger. He talked with his wife of the day when, his presidential term finished, they should return to their home in Springfield to spend the evening of their days. He had been able to save a little money, he told her, and there would be nothing more to worry about. Yet Mrs. Lincoln was sad. Afterwards she said that the president's manner was just as it was before the death of their beloved son, William Wallace. It frightened her. She had need to be frightened, poor soul. She was about to undergo an ordeal that dried up all the joy in her heart and left her a lonely woman with a mind dwelling ever upon tragedy. So they drove back to the White House - a happy man, his work completed, and an apprehensive woman,

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