Abbildungen der Seite

States, has been foully murdered by an assassin. Truly the murderer must have well studied the effect of contrasts. Had the deed been done when, as it is said, it was first contemplated, it might have harmonized somewhat better with the confusion which swayed the popular mind, with the anxiety respecting the still unfinished conflict, and the still menacing rebellion. But this had passed. Victory had perched upon the banners of our brave generals. The routed army of the Confederacy had laid down its arms. The pseudo President had abandoned his capital and fled, none knew whither. The land was gay with waving banners and vocal with the thunder of cannon and the pealing of bells; and the President, a man of the people, was rejoicing with the people. For the moment

“Grim visaged war had smoothed his wrinkled front.”

For a moment the nation that had sailed so long under the gloomy, bristling head-lands of war, had caught a glimpse of a calm, open bay, with the sun of peace shining down on its green encircling hills. And for an hour the man whose shoulders had borne, for over four years,

the heaviest burden ever placed upon any ruler,


the man whose unceasing vigilance had been in demand to guide the vessel of State through such tortuous channels and around such reefs as never threatened nation before, for an hour he had laid aside the cares of State: for an hour he had said “Good bye to pain and care:” for an hour he had forgotten the nation's burden and given himself up to the current of the nation's joy. And in that hour of grateful relaxation the blow fell. The assassin, inspired with hellish daring, threw his life upon the issue, and to-day the nation mourns his success.

I will not dwell upon the horrible fact. It is my duty to-day to gather up its lessons as far as may be; and I go back now to my introductory thought, that some of the deeds of history are the concentrated expression of a long train of previous events, giving in their expression a typical character to the whole. It were easy enough to cite illustrations, did time permit; yet it is unnecessary with such an illustration before our eyes. To repeat once more what I have already said from this place, I go back of the deed and of its perpetrator. I remind you only of the words of the assassin as he leaped to the floor Sic semper tyrannis. Virginia is avenged — as


showing that the fatal blow was struck in the spirit of hatred to constituted authority, in the spirit of devotion to that pestilent heresy of State Sovereignty, in the interest of rebellion. The rebellion was the direct outgrowth of slavery, and the assassination of the President is the grand consummate expression of the spirit of slavery. This is not the first time it has struck from behind. It is full of the instinct of its own

It knows it is a vile thing, a suspected thing, a dangerous, false and cruel thing, and it would fain call itself by other names, and make its way under a mask. But thank God its name is written, and to-day it stands baptized in the name of the devil and all his angels as the spirit of assassination and murder.

For, look you calmly at this thing. I ask the most strenuous advocate of slavery, if there be one left, whether, in reason, we could expect any other development? Go back to the fundamental principle of this institution which enables a man to own another, and tell me if that is a safe right to entrust to any man.

Tell me if the testimony of history is not uniform on this point ? Tell me if the principle which permits one man to regard another as a chattel is not destructive in

the end of respect for all human right, even the inalienable right of life ? You may put restrictions upon a master, forbidding him to kill his slave; but the spirit which thinks nothing of whipping a man or degrading a woman, will only be restrained by policy or penalty or want of opportunity from going further. The moment you admit in any case the absolute right of one man over another's person or property or family, that moment you remove the question from its only substantial basis, and put it upon varying circumstances, such as distinctions of social position or color. Be what you are to-day, mentally and morally, only black, and the planter will sell you, or whip you, or degrade you as readily as lie would the African fresh from the Guinea coast. The man who is taught that he is at liberty to disregard any right of another, is in a fair way to disregard all. It is dangerous to set such a principle in motion. You cannot stop it where or when you will. It laughs at statutes. It is like the demons in the old story, which were called to draw water by one who knew the spell to set them at work, but had forgotton how to lay them again ; and which drew and drew until they flooded his dwelling. You can confine the

application of this principle to no one class. Begin with distinction of color, and gradually it will have come to overleap all distinction of color, as it has done already; for you know that men and women have been sold in the slave marts with skins as white as yours. Assume that a slave woman is rightfully the toy and property of her master, and you lessen the respect for female virtue everywhere, and stop not short of that state of society which this is no place to lay bare, but which has been for years existing at the South, and than which Hell itself can present nothing more revolting. Begin with right over a slave's person, and insensibly the master spirit will assert itself over other persons; and if it dare not strike, will affect contempt of wise and virtuous men, and come with its slave-driving airs and its talk of “ mudsills” into the National councils. Begin with killing a negro in the heat of passion, or by the administration of a few dozen lashes too many, and under a system which finds it most politic to wink at such deeds, and the transition is easy to holding the life of a white man in light esteem. The hot blood, the childish view of honor which sends the hand of the Southern desperado to his knife-hilt or pistol

« ZurückWeiter »