From the Opinion Nationale
The odious crime of which the President of the United States has just become the victim will be felt as a public misfortune throughout the whole of the civilized world. Mr. Lincoln had had that rare good fortune, for a statesman, to attain to power by the idea of which he had become the personification, and of having been able to bring to a close the immense task which events, much more than his own will, had imposed upon him; an abolitionist by conviction, but, above all, a practical and experienced man, he would not, perhaps, have taken the initiative in the formidable question of slavery, if the precipitation of the South had not found in the elevation of Mr. Lincoln to the presidential chair a cause or a pretext for an insurrection which had been long premeditated. Provoked by an open revolt, which permitted him neither to fall back nor to think of a compromise, Mr. Lincoln accepted without hesitation the heavy responsibility which had fallen upon him. Without allowing himself to be discouraged by the first reverses, he applied himself with invincible tenacity to create, to organize everything that he wanted—men, generals, an army. The immensity of the pecuniary sacrifices, the mediocrity of the first generals whom he found at hand, the brilliant successes of his adversaries, the threatening sympathies of Europe, nothing stopped him, nothing made him go on faster than his own wisdom counselled him to do. It is to be remarked, too, that abolitionist as he was, he decided to proclaim the abolition of slavery with a sort of hesitation peculiar to resolute characters, who do not easily make up their minds to go forward, precisely because they know that they will not recede.
At length, after four years’ exertions, victory crowned his policy; his fellow-citizens, full of confidence in him, conferred upon him a second time the power of the presidency. Skilful generals, whom the war had brought to the surface, reduced and disarmed the insurrection. Then this firm and intractable man, who could never be brought to negotiate with insurrection, appeared in a fresh light, and showed himself as though he were disarmed by victory. The most noble sentiments of conciliation, a kind of chivalric delicacy which disguises from the conquered the bitterness of defeat, an anxious solicitude to reconstruct the Union, with the help even of those who had broken away from it, burst forth spontaneously in the language of the conqueror of a new type, and impressed upon him a character of modest grandeur and superior morality which is refreshing to the mind, and makes one feel proud and honored to belong to human nature. The attitude of Mr Lincoln during the last days of his life, and his language with regard to the southern States, form, with the correspondence so heroically simple exchanged between Grant and Lee, a characteristic picture of which the New World has a right to be proud.
The intention which guided the arm of the assassin of Lincoln appears also to have inspired the outrage of which Mr. Seward and his son have been the victims; it appears, even if reliance can be placed upon the summary details which comprise all the information that has at present come to hand, on this melancholy subject, that it is only by a fortunate accident, that Grant, and the Minister of War, Mr. Stanton, have escaped an attempt of the same kind.
So painful an experience of the furious passions left upon the mind after the defeat of the South, will urge upon the principal civil and military heads of the Union a system of personal precautions, the necessity for which is only too grievously demonstrated. Let us hope that it will occasion no other modification of the generous policy inaugurated by Lincoln, and which will be for his fellow-citizens the best and most prolific portion of their inheritance.
As for Europe it will feel acutely the premature death of the great and good man whom America has just lost. His firmness, moderation and patriotism, sincere and without ostentation, were a pledge that, entirely absorbed with the desire of healing the deep wounds inflicted by civil war, he would not divert [Page 132] attention with foreign broils so as to render the American people careless of their internal reorganization.
The death of Lincoln puts everything in a state of uncertainty. Until now Vice-President Johnson, whom this melancholy accident has invested with power, was the object of certain prejudices, which it is asserted have no foundation. Do not let us be in a hurry to judge the matter. Responsibility carries along with it much deliberation and caution; and then the force of public opinion, the power of democracy, that sound collective sense which comes from the midst of a free population, always well informed upon public affairs, and watched over by an unshackled press, and accustomed to decide upon their own interests, all this assures us that the fate of the great American republic cannot be endangered by the death of its chief magistrate, were he a superior, or a great man. There are, in the depths of democracy, valuable reserves of character and unknown talents, which necessity will raise to the surface. “We are afflicted with the death of President Lincoln, but it throws us into no uneasiness. And again, why should we grieve? Since we are all born to die, who could dream of so desirable a death?
Have not the duties of Lincoln’s career been fulfilled? Is not his work finished? And does not this triumphant death lend a tragic brilliancy to the sober and masculine virtues of this worthy successor of Washington?