Proceedings in the House of Commons

the assassination of president lincoln.

Sir G. Grey said: I very much regret the unavoidable absence of my noble friend at the head of the government, in whose name the notice was given of the motion which it now devolves upon me to ask the House to agree to. I feel, however, that it is comparatively unimportant by whom the motion is proposed, because I am confident that the address to the Crown which I am about to ask the House to agree to is one which will meet with the cordial and unanimous assent of all. [Cheers.] When the news a few days ago of the assassination of the President of the United States, and the attempted assassination—for I hope that we may now confidently expect that it will not be a successful attempt—of Mr. Seward reached this country, the first impression in the mind of every one was that the intelligence could not be true. [Cheers.] It was hoped [Page 153] by every one that persons could not be found capable of committing a crime so atrocious. [Hear, hear.] When the truth was forced upon us, when we could no longer entertain any doubt as to the correctness of the intelligence, the feeling which succeeded was one of universal sorrow, horror, and indignation. [Cheers.] It was felt as if some great calamity had befallen ourselves, [renewed cheering,] for in the civil war, the existence and the long continuance of which we have so sincerely deplored, it is well known that the government of this country, acting, as I believe, in accordance with the almost unanimous, or perhaps I may say, in accordance with the unanimous feeling of this country, had maintained a strict and impartial neutrality. But it is notorious, and it could not in a great country like this be otherwise, that different opinions have been entertained by different persons with regard to the questions at issue between the northern and southern States of America, but still I believe that the sympathies of the majority of the people of this country have been with the North. [Cries of “No, no,” “Hear, hear,” and “Question, question.”] I am desirous on this occasion of avoiding everything which may excite any difference of opinion. I may say, therefore, that in this free country different opinions have been entertained and different sympathies felt, and that in this free country the freest expression has been given, as should be the case, to those differences of opinion. [Hear, hear.] I am sure I shall raise no controversy when I say in the presence of that great crime which has sent a thrill of horror through every one who heard of it, all difference of opinion, all conflicting sympathies for a moment entirely vanished. [Loud cheers.] I am anxious to say at once, and I desire to proclaim that belief with the strongest confidence, that this atrocious crime was regarded by every man of Influence and power in the southern States with the same degree of horror which it excited in every other part of the world. [Loud cheers.] We may, therefore—and this is all I wish to say upon this subject—whatever our opinions with regard to the past, and whatever our sympathies may have been—we shall all cordially unite in expressing our abhorrence of that crime, and in rendering our sympathy to that nation which is now mourning the loss of its chosen and trustful chief, struck to the ground by the hand of an assissin, and that, too, at the most critical period of its history. [Cheers.] While lamenting that war and the loss of life which it has inevitably occasioned, it is impossible, whatever our opinions or our sympathies may have been, to withhold our admiration from the many gallant deeds performed and acts of heroism displayed by both parties in the contest, and it is a matter for bitter reflection that the page of history, recording such gallant achievements and such heroic deeds by men who so freely shed their blood on the battle-field in a cause which each considered right, should also be stained with the record of a crime such as we are now deploring. [Cheers.] At length a new era appeared to be dawning on the contest between the North and the South. The time had come when there was every reason to hope that that war would speedily be brought to a close. Victory had crowned the efforts of the statesmen and the armies of the federals, and most of us—all I hope—had turned with a feeling of some relief and some hope for the future from the record of sanguinary conflicts to that correspondence which has but recently passed between the generals commanding the hostile armies. [Cheers.] And when we turned to Mr. President Lincoln, I should have been prepared to express a hope, indeed an expectation—and I have reason to believe that that expectation would not have been disappointed—that in the hour of victory and in the use of victory he would have shown a wise forbearance, a generous consideration, which would have added tenfold lustre to the fame and reputation which he has acquired throughout the misfortunes of this war. [Hear, hear.] Unhappily the foul deed which has taken place has deprived Mr. Lincoln of the opportunity of thus adding to his well-earned fame and reputation; but let us hope, what indeed we may repeat, that the good sense and right feeling of those upon whom will devolve [Page 154] the most arduous and difficult duties in this conjuncture will lead them to respect the wishes and the memory of him whom we are all mourning, [cheers,] and will lead them to act in the same spirit and to follow the same counsels by which we have good reason to believe the conduct of Mr. Lincoln would have been marked had he survived to complete the work that was intrusted to him. [Cheers.] I am only speaking the general opinion when I say that nothing could give greater satisfaction to this country than by means of forbearance, it may be of temperate conciliation, to see the union of the North and South again accomplished, especially if it can be accomplished by common consent, freed from what hitherto constituted the weakness of that union—the curse and disgrace of slavery. [Cheers.] I wish it were possible for us to convey to the people of the United States an adequate idea of the depth and universality of the feeling which this sad event has occasioned in this country, that from the highest to the lowest there has been but one feeling entertained. Her Majesty’s minister at Washington will, in obedience to the Queen’s command, convey to the government of the United States the expression of the feelings of her Majesty and of her government upon the deplorable event; and her Majesty, with that tender consideration which she has always evinced for sorrow and suffering in others, of whatever rank, [cheers,] has with her own hand written a letter to Mrs. Lincoln, [loud cheers,] conveying the heartfelt sympathy of a widow to a widow [renewed cheers] suffering under the calamity of having lost one suddenly cut off. [Cheers.] From every part of this country, from every class, but one voice has been heard, one of abhorrence of the crime, and of sympathy for and interest in the country which has this great loss to mourn. The British residents in the United States, as of course was to be expected, lost not an hour in expressing their sympathy with the government of the United States. The people of our North American colonies are vieing with each other in expressing the same sentiments. [Cheers.] And it is not only among men of the same race who are connected with the people of the United States by origin, language, and blood, that these feelings prevail, but I believe that every country in Europe is giving expression to the same sentiments and is sending the message to the government of the United States. I am sure, therefore, that I am not wrong in anticipating that this House will, in the name of the people of England, of Scotland, and of Ireland, be anxious to record their expression of the same sentiment, and to have it conveyed to the government of the United States. [Cheers] Of this I am confident, that this House could never more fully and more adequately represent the feelings of the whole of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom than by agreeing to the address which it is now my duty to move, expressing to her Majesty our sorrow and indignation at the assassination of the President of the United States, and praying her Majesty that, in communicating her own sentiments to the government of that country upon the deplorable event, she will express at the same time, on the part of this House, their abhorrence of the crime, and their sympathy with the government and the people of the United States in the deep affliction into which they have been thrown. [Loud cheers.]

Mr. Disraeli said: There are rare instances when the sympathy of a nation approaches those tenderer feelings which are generally supposed to be peculiar to the individual, and to be the happy privilege of private life, and this is one. Under any circumstances we should have bewailed the catastrophe at Washington; under any circumstances we should have shuddered at the means by which it was accomplished. But in the character of the victim, and even in the accessories of his last moments, there is something so homely and innocent, that it takes the question, as it were, out of all the pomp of history and the ceremonial of diplomacy; it touches the heart of nations, and appeals to the domestic sentiment of mankind. [Cheers.] Whatever the various and varying opinions in this House, and in the country generally, on the policy of [Page 155] the late President of the United States, all must agree that in one of the severest trials which ever tested the moral qualities of man he fulfilled his duty with simplicity and strength. [Cheers.] Nor is it possible for the people of England at such a moment to forget that he sprung from the same fatherland, and spoke the same mother tongue. [Cheers.] When such crimes are perpetrated the public mind is apt to fall into gloom and perplexity, for it is ignorant alike of the causes and the consequences of such deeds. But it is one of our duties to reassure them under unreasoning panic and despondency. Assassination has never changed the history of the world. I will not refer to the remote past, though an accident has made the most memorable instance of antiquity at this moment fresh in the minds and memory of all around me. But even the costly sacrifice of a Cæsar did not propitiate the inexorable destiny of his country. If we look to modern times, to times at least with the feelings of which we are familiar, and the people of which were animated and influenced by the same interests as ourselves, the violent deaths of two heroic men, Henry IV, of France, and the Prince of Orange, are conspicuous illustrations of this truth. In expressing our unaffected and profound sympathy with the citizens of the United States on this untimely end of their elected chief, let us not, therefore, sanction any feeling of depression, but rather let us express a fervent hope that from out of the awful trials of the last four years, of which the least is not this violent demise, the various populations of North America may issue elevated and chastened, rich with the accumulated wisdom and strong in the disciplined energy which a young nation can only acquire in a protracted and perilous struggle; then they will be enabled not merely to renew their career of power and prosperity, but they will renew it to contribute to the general happiness of mankind. [Cheers.] It is with these feelings that I second the address to the Crown. [Loud cheers.]

The motion was then put and adopted unanimously, the announcement of which fact by the speaker was received with cheers.