[From the Gazette de France, April 30, 1865.]


My Dear Friend: What frightful news this is about the assassinations in America. If the chief victim was not the worthiest of Washington’s successors, we should have to ask ourselves whether the horrible event of the night of the 14th of April really took place on the other side of the Atlantic. What! in an open theatre, by the side of his wife; in the midst of an enthusiastic and grateful population; on the morrow of the greatest success which the Union has ever obtained since its foundation, this excellent man—this great and honest citizen, Abraham Lincoln—killed by a shot from the revolver of a fanatic. The assassin, a comedian, jumping on to the stage, and blandishing the classic dagger, exclaiming to the affrighted public the stupid phrase, Sic semper tyrannis! No, really—and you are right in saying so—that is not American, I remember but one assassination adorned with a Latin quotation, but it took place in Florence, and in the sixteenth century. Lorenzino treacherously killed his cousin, Alexandre de Medicis, who was in reality a tyrant, and left in writing near the body the line of Virgil on Brutus: Vincet amor patrice laudisque immensa cupido! To tell you what I really think, the great want of fame, of which the poet speaks, has been, I believe, the real incentive to these savage deeds. In this way the public is found to be an involuntary accomplice. Perhaps it is our duty to remind the public of it on the occasion of every fresh attempt to acquire favor by the perpetration of a crime. At all events, John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of the President, and the accomplice, who at the same time stabbed the Prime Minister, Mr. Seward, may be sure that they will never find apologists, although they may take their place in the gallery of historical assassins. Like Ravaillac, they killed in the bud the hope of an entire people, and perhaps destroyed the peace of a whole continent. Like Louvel, Fieschi, and Orsini, they have, besides shedding innocent blood, sacrificed the life and honor of the cause they desired to save. Who, I ask, will dare to undertake their defence? If the whole of Europe has condemned them—if the North rises up in indignation—what will not the South do, more cruelly, afflicted by the crime committed, in spite of her, in her name, than by the taking of Richmond and the capitulation of Lee?

Moreover, it would be just—it would be providential, if the tragic denouement served at least to bring back to a greater sense of equity—I do not say of favor—the feeling of our country respecting the quarrel which for four years has stained America with blood. How far we are removed from the period when the young noblesse of France, represented by the Lafayettes, the Rochambeaus, the Castries, the Noailles, the Broglies, the Segurs, the Chastellaxes, and so many others, crossed the seas to defend, against the attacks of England, the independence of some millions of Quakers and Methodists. At the present day, on the contrary, the prejudices against America proceed from the English journals, [Page 122] and are accepted, without dispute, by the public of France. Because cer tain agents of the United States (all of the south, be it said, by the way) were able, before the presidency of Mr. Lincoln, to alienate themselves from the cabinets to which they were accredited; because numerous piratical expeditionsall southern—had gone to brave Spain at Cuba, and England at Canada because the evident interest of these same southern States, which has already taken Texas from Mexico, would be immediately to oppose their intervention to ours in that unfortunate country; because President Monroe (a southerner, and appointed by the south) determined, forty-five years ago, that America should remain to the Americans, and that Europe should never be permitted to interfere in any way whatever with her affairs; because, in short, the people of Washington are too apt to assume the heirs of the New World, claiming a right to disdain the Old, is that any reason to forget all principles of policy, and to labor with England for the dismemberment of that great republic which we have contributed so greatly to create—of that great navy, which would be for us so natural and so powerful an ally? The worst of it would be, that the Americans would discern, under this systematic hostility to the maintenance of the Union, a vague fear, unavowed and unavoidable, of witnessing the success of the experiment of liberty without anarchy, and of democracy without Csesarism, of which the United States has afforded us, up to the present time, the seductive spectacle.

We must have the courage to acknowledge that, in this direction, as well as many others, public opinion has gone back. Drawn towards the United States by the lingering idea of her monarchy, and the first bound of her revolution, she has seen herself led on to an imitation of ancient Rome by the splendors and despotism of the first empire. Washington and Napoleon belonged to history within a few years of each other. I defy any one to admire, at one and the same time, the simple grandeur of the liberator of America, and the theatrical genius of the dominator of Europe.

However that may be, the foundation of the American republic is a part of our history and national policy—not less gloriously so than the crusades, or the struggle between the house of France and that of Austria. It should remain for us a monarchical tradition, and of the brightest epoch, since it dates from Louis XVI, and from ’89. On this ground I venture to say that no journal has been more directly identified with the republic than the Gazette de France.

But, I shall be asked, cannot America be respected without sacrificing the South to the North? Ought we to forget Louisiana was French up to the epoch when the First Consul sold that beautiful province for eighty millions? Do we not know that slavery was the pretext and not the cause of the war which has just been brought to a close?

You will doubtless recollect that admirable passage in Tocqueville’s book, where he describes, from the quarter-deck of his steamer, the two banks of the Ohio, one of them belonging to the slave States, the other to the free States. On the left bank there are few habitations, and but little going on; some negroes going and coming, carrying on the work of cultivation indolently and disinterestedly; many forests not yet turned to account, and the activity of nature substituted for that of man. On the right bank, on the contrary, are farms, villages, magazines in great numbers, a Variety of crops-—everywhere life and industry, and the willing application of manual labor. Well, up to within late years, the government of the Union was on the left bank of the Ohio, and it was because the elections of 1860 made it pass to the right bank that civil war broke out. The cause of the South, as we have often said, is that of the feeble and oppressed, and that, we feel sure, is the reason that has procured the South so many partisans. Let us be understood. It has never been denied that the southern confederation was inferior to its rival, not certainly in bravery, but in the numerical strength of its armies and resources, The northern States reckon [Page 123] from thirteen to fourteen millions of inhabitants. The seceded States only between six and seven millions, not taking into account the slave population. It is not less true, that out of eighteen Presidents who have succeeded Washington, twelve were chosen from among the southerners—slaveowners. It is equally true, too, that nearly all the Secretaries of State, charged with the foreign relations, of the Presidents of the Senate, of the Speakers in the Chamber, and the Attorney Generals, of the foreign ministers, were also slave owners.*

How is this apparent anomaly to be explained? In two ways, as it seems to me: one, a general reason, the other special. The first is, because the rich planters of the slave States formed in the republic a kind of aristocracy of men of leisure and study, whose aptitudes made them writers, orators, statesmen; and the military profession developed itself with more facility among them than among the busy and laborious populations of the North. The second is, that the maintaining inviolable what they called their “particular institution,” was confounded by them with the defence of their own existence, while to declare war upon them would only be to the people of the other States an affair of pure reform in a day an abuse of many ages duration; but he was one of those Christians who see in the negro a brother more oppressed and despised than any other, and that was sufficient for the South to discern immediately that it had no other resource than an appeal to force. Far from feeling themselves sufficiently strong to resist the North, the slave States were obliged to gain over, one by one, all the States to their “particular institution,” either by substituting slave labor for free labor in the newly formed States, or by making themselves recognized over the whole territory of the Union, by establishing the right of pursuit of the fugitive negro doctrine, about which they were far from coming to an agreement among themselves. Thus slavery, vigorously upheld on one side, was feebly contested on the other. Only this odious interest was a matter of life and death for a part of the Union, and whenever the abolitionists exclaimed against slavery in the Congress they were answered with the threats of immediate separation; and scarcely had Mr. Lincoln been elected President, when the South drove out the federal garrison from Fort Sumter, and fired the first shot of the civil war.

Lincoln, however, was not like General Frémont, who was one of these enemies to slavery who think to give an account of the progress of this propagandism. It is sufficient to state that when the war broke out there were fifteen States where slavery was established, and seventeen free States, and that the negro population which only numbered from 300,000 to 400,000 when Washington, dying, pronounced the manumission of those of Mount Vernon, now reckons from three to four millions. It will be seen whether it is the North which threatened the South, and if it was not time to stop this gangrene of slavery, which by degrees would have gained over all the wholesome members of the great American republic.

Abraham Lincoln was the worthy instrument chosen by Providence to commence this great work. God grant that it may be continued in the same spirit of moderation and justice! God grant that in that country blood may not be answered with blood, and that a private crime may not be invoked as an excuse for public crimes. “Yet, if God wills,” said Lincoln on the 4th of March last, when he took possession of the Presidency for the second time, which was so soon to terminate in his martyrdom, “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, [Page 124] 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 and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Do you know any government in Europe who can speak such language as this, and a people who are worthy of listening to if? That, however, is the language of real power and true liberty. No funeral oration can attain to the simple and religious eloquence of these words, which will remain as the political bequest of Abraham Lincoln. Who among us would think of pitying him? A public man, he enters, by the death which he has received in the full work of pacification after victory, into that body of the elite of the historic army which M. Guizot once called the battalion of Plutarch. A Christian, he has just ascended before the throne of the final Judge, accompanied by the souls of four millions of slaves created, like ours, in the image of God, and who have been endowed with freedom by a word from him.

  1. For full details on this subject, see the practical and instructive book of M. Cochin, on the “Abolition of Slavery.”