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American HerosKing's Mountain
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The brilliant historian of the English people [*] has written...
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O captain. My captain. Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! Heart! Heart!
Leave you not the little spot,
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O captain. My captain. Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
O captain. Dear father.
This arm I push beneath you;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor win:
But the ship, the ship is anchor'd safe, its voyage closed and
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won:
Exult O shores, and ring, O bells.
But I with silent tread,
Walk the spot the captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
As Washington stands to the Revolution and the establishment of the
government, so Lincoln stands as the hero of the mightier struggle
by which our Union was saved. He was born in 1809, ten years after
Washington, his work done had been laid to rest at Mount Vernon. No
great man ever came from beginnings which seemed to promise so little.
Lincoln's family, for more than one generation, had been sinking,
instead of rising, in the social scale. His father was one of those
men who were found on the frontier in the early days of the western
movement, always changing from one place to another, and dropping a
little lower at each remove. Abraham Lincoln was born into a family
who were not only poor, but shiftless, and his early days were days
of ignorance, and poverty, and hard work. Out of such inauspicious
surroundings, he slowly and painfully lifted himself. He gave himself
an education, he took part in an Indian war, he worked in the fields,
he kept a country store, he read and studied, and, at last, he became
a lawyer. Then he entered into the rough politics of the newly-settled
State. He grew to be a leader in his county, and went to the
legislature. The road was very rough, the struggle was very hard and
very bitter, but the movement was always upward.
At last he was elected to Congress, and served one term in Washington
as a Whig with credit, but without distinction. Then he went back to his
law and his politics in Illinois. He had, at last, made his position.
All that was now needed was an opportunity, and that came to him in the
great anti-slavery struggle.
Lincoln was not an early Abolitionist. His training had been that of a
regular party man, and as a member of a great political organization,
but he was a lover of freedom and justice. Slavery, in its essence, was
hateful to him, and when the conflict between slavery and freedom was
fairly joined, his path was clear before him. He took up the antislavery
cause in his own State and made himself its champion against Douglas,
the great leader of the Northern Democrats. He stumped Illinois in
opposition to Douglas, as a candidate for the Senate, debating the
question which divided the country in every part of the State. He
was beaten at the election, but, by the power and brilliancy of his
speeches, his own reputation was made. Fighting the anti-slavery battle
within constitutional lines, concentrating his whole force against the
single point of the extension of slavery to the Territories, he had
made it clear that a new leader had arisen in the cause of freedom. From
Illinois his reputation spread to the East, and soon after his great
debate he delivered a speech in New York which attracted wide attention.
At the Republican convention of 1856, his name was one of those proposed
When 1860 came, he was a candidate for the first place on the national
ticket. The leading candidate was William H. Seward, of New York, the
most conspicuous man of the country on the Republican side, but the
convention, after a sharp struggle, selected Lincoln, and then the great
political battle came at the polls. The Republicans were victorious,
and, as soon as the result of the voting was known, the South set
to work to dissolve the Union. In February Lincoln made his way to
Washington, at the end coming secretly from Harrisburg to escape a
threatened attempt at assassination, and on March 4, 1861 assumed the
No public man, no great popular leader, ever faced a more terrible
situation. The Union was breaking, the Southern States were seceding,
treason was rampant in Washington, and the Government was bankrupt. The
country knew that Lincoln was a man of great capacity in debate, devoted
to the cause of antislavery and to the maintenance of the Union. But
what his ability was to deal with the awful conditions by which he was
surrounded, no one knew. To follow him through the four years of civil
war which ensued is, of course, impossible here. Suffice it to say that
no greater, no more difficult, task has ever been faced by any man
in modern times, and no one ever met a fierce trial and conflict more
Lincoln put to the front the question of the Union, and let the question
of slavery drop, at first, into the background. He used every exertion
to hold the border States by moderate measures, and, in this way,
prevented the spread of the rebellion. For this moderation, the
antislavery extremists in the North assailed him, but nothing shows more
his far-sighted wisdom and strength of purpose than his action at this
time. By his policy at the beginning of his administration, he held
the border States, and united the people of the North in defense of the
As the war went on, he went on, too. He had never faltered in his
feelings about slavery. He knew, better than any one, that the
successful dissolution of the Union by the slave power meant, not
only the destruction of an empire, but the victory of the forces of
barbarism. But he also saw, what very few others at the moment could
see, that, if he was to win, he must carry his people with him, step
by step. So when he had rallied them to the defense of the Union, and
checked the spread of secession in the border States, in the autumn of
1862 he announced that he would issue a proclamation freeing the slaves.
The extremists had doubted him in the beginning, the conservative and
the timid doubted him now, but when the Emancipation Proclamation was
issued, on January 1, 1863, it was found that the people were with him
in that, as they had been with him when he staked everything upon the
maintenance of the Union. The war went on to victory, and in 1864
the people showed at the polls that they were with the President, and
reelected him by overwhelming majorities. Victories in the field went
hand in hand with success at the ballot-box, and, in the spring of 1865,
all was over. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and five
days later, on April 14, a miserable assassin crept into the box at the
theater where the President was listening to a play, and shot him. The
blow to the country was terrible beyond words, for then men saw, in one
bright flash, how great a man had fallen.
Lincoln died a martyr to the cause to which he had given his life, and
both life and death were heroic. The qualities which enabled him to
do his great work are very clear now to all men. His courage and his
wisdom, his keen perception and his almost prophetic foresight, enabled
him to deal with all the problems of that distracted time as they
arose around him. But he had some qualities, apart from those of the
intellect, which were of equal importance to his people and to the work
he had to do. His character, at once strong and gentle, gave confidence
to every one, and dignity to his cause. He had an infinite patience,
and a humor that enabled him to turn aside many difficulties which could
have been met in no other way. But most important of all was the fact
that he personified a great sentiment, which ennobled and uplifted his
people, and made them capable of the patriotism which fought the war
and saved the Union. He carried his people with him, because he knew
instinctively, how they felt and what they wanted. He embodied, in
his own person, all their highest ideals, and he never erred in his
He is not only a great and commanding figure among the great statesmen
and leaders of history, but he personifies, also, all the sadness and
the pathos of the war, as well as its triumphs and its glories. No words
that any one can use about Lincoln can, however, do him such justice as
his own, and I will close this volume with two of Lincoln's speeches,
which show what the war and all the great deeds of that time meant to
him, and through which shines, the great soul of the man himself. On
November 19, 1863, he spoke as follows at the dedication of the National
cemetery on the battle-field of Gettysburg:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or
any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on
a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives
that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we
should do this.
But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate--we
cannot hallow--this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who
struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or
detract. The world will little note or long remember what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living,
rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who have
fought here, have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to
be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from the
honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they
gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that
these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by
the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
On March 4, 1865, when he was inaugurated the second time, he made the
Fellow-Countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of
presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address
than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of
a course to be pursued, seemed proper. Now, at the expiration of four
years, during which public declarations have been constantly called
forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs
the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is
new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else
chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is,
I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope
for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were
anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it--all sought
to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this
place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent
agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to
dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties
deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let it
perish. And the war came.
One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed
generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it.
These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew
that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen,
perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the
insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government
claimed no right to do more than to restrict the Territorial enlargement
of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration
which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the
conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should
cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental
and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and
each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any man
should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from
the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not
judged. The prayers of both could not be answered that of neither has
been answered fully.
The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of
offenses, for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man
by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery
is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs
come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now
wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible
war, as the woe due to those by whom the offenses come, shall we discern
therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers
in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope-fervently do
we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if
God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's
two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until
every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn
with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must
be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the
right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish
the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who
shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan-to do all
which may achieve and cherish a just, a lasting, peace among ourselves
and with all nations.
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