Address delivered by Rev. E. Corwin, (inadvertently inserted under this head.)
Address delivered by Rev. E. Comvin, in Fort street church, Honolulu, before a crowded assembly of American and other foreign residents, Tuesday, May 9, on the reception of the news of the murder of President Lincoln.
American Fellow-citizens: No wonder that so many are congregated here to-day to testify their heartfelt sorrow for our nation’s loss. And no wonder that so many of almost every clime and every nationality, deeply sympathizing with our grief, are here with us in the sanctuary to-day. That thrill of anguish which every loyal American felt all across yonder continent, as the sad tidings were borne to them that President Lincoln had fallen by the hand of an assassin, has been felt not less deeply by every one of us. Why, yesternight, did strong men, little accustomed to weep, shed tears as they met each other on our streets? Why was there mourning in so many households? our children saddened as if by the tidings that one of our dearest kindred had died? Why, but because we all felt that this was to each one of us a personal bereavement—to every true American the saddest intelligence that had ever reached these [Page 475] shores? Our isolation from our fatherland has not bleached out our love of country. Not all the waves that roll between us and yonder far distant shore could wash out our patriotic devotion to that dear land from which for a time we are voluntary exiles—as not all those waves could suffice to wash out that organized crime which to-day causes a whole nation to mourn as they never mourned before. Not that Abraham Lincoln, great and good as he was, was so much greater or so much better than all others of our illustrious dead. But as none had ever borne the responsibilities of Chief Magistrate during such troublous times, and thus been permitted to live so useful a life, so neither had any of our great men ever died such a death. The nation, sorely bereaved, had wept for its departed statesmen and heroes before, but never had it mourned the untimely death of so illustrious a martyr. The fathers of the republic, with fitting honors, had been laid to rest. The people, devoted to their chosen rulers with that intelligent devotion which liberty alone can foster, had shed tears of commingled sorrow and gratitude, when the only Washington the centuries could afford died in a good old age in quietness and full of honors. Such statesmen as Clay and Webster, too great to be Presidents, had been almost idolized by the people while living, and sincerely mourned by them when they died. Twice before had they carried to the grave their Chief Magistrate when as yet he had served but a small portion of his official term. But never before have they mourned, as now they mourn, for one stricken down at the very height of his popularity, from the very pinnacle of earthly glory, not by the act of God, but at the instigation of the devil; not by the gradual approach of disease, which might have prepared us for the shock, but suddenly, by the blow of a fiend in human form, a rash and foolhardy, yet calculating and deliberate assassin.
But it is no part of my purpose to rouse your indignation or to intensify your grief, as it is alike needless and impossible to increase your abhorrence of this monstrous crime. Let me the rather, as a minister of the gospel of peace, whose mission it is to comfort the afflicted, indicate some of those elements of consolation which, while they serve not to mitigate the crime or to lessen our loss, may help to assuage our grief.
Think not alone of the nation’s loss in the President’s death, but also of what the nation has gained by his most useful and laborious life, through more than one official term marvellously preserved.
Nobody doubts that this same malignant, murderous spirit, which has at length culminated in organized assassination, has been cherished in the hearts of multitudes at the south and the north ever since this infernal treason was hatched. It plotted and thought to consummate its hellish purpose at Baltimore, before the man of the people, that man of common honesty and common sense, should be installed in the place of his imbecile predecessor, who was content to see the nation die under his hand without remedy, and who knew of no way in which rebellious States could be coerced; and it has been breathing out threats of assassination and offering bribes and large rewards for assassination ever since. But He, the all-wise preserver of the man and the nation, thwarted the fiendish purpose for more than four long years. The marvel is, not that he is slain at last, but that God has shown His great love to our nation by preserving him so long. Think you that he who for those long anxious years had held with a steady hand the helm of state, while the vessel was outriding the protracted storm, and had, under God, guided it safely through the breakers till it had almost reached the port of peace—think you that when Richmond was taken and Lee surrendered he was not ready to say, with one of old, “Now let me depart in peace!” Ah yes, if it had only been in peace, then we could the better have borne it. But to die a violent death in the midst of his usefulness, when as yet the work was not finished, and the proclamation of peace, signed by that honored name, Abraham Lincoln, had not as yet been issued to the world—to be murdered when there was seemingly less cause than ever to anticipate [Page 476] it—to fall a victim to that malice which struck at the head of the nation, only because it utterly despaired of destroying the nation itself—to come, like Moses, to the very border of the promised land, and by faith to behold, as from the heights of Nebo, the future glory of the republic, and yet not be permitted to enter the land and see the promise fulfilled—this seems sad indeed. But what if the nation had been left without their great leader while as yet wandering in the wilderness, and no promise of peace had greeted their longing eyes? Yes, even in the bitterness of our sorrow, there is this occasion for gratitude: the dark cloud is fringed with this golden edge, and we can say, thank God, he lived to see the promised land, towards which, with the patience of a patriotic faith, he had so long been journeying. Yes, thank God, he was permitted to behold that promised land ready to become the perpetual and peaceful heritage of a great and strong and united people; but he knew not that the time and manner of his own death should be the miracle by which the Jordan waves of difficulty and doubt should be rolled away, that the united tribes, bearing the sacred ark of liberty, might at once go over to possess it.
O, our bereavement is bitter; our loss is great; our hearts are very heavy; but we accept all that God has permitted, with an unfaltering faith that He will bring great good out of the monstrous evil, and that He will, by the sympathy of their mutual griefs, bind the hearts of loyal Americans together, as they could have been bound together in no other way. O, my countrymen! was such a sacrifice needed to seal with more than royal blood our bond of love to our country, and our covenant of faith in freedom? Who shall say that he who has died for that faith would not willingly have offered himself a voluntary victim?
It is also comforting to think that Abraham Lincoln, the poor man’s friend, the emancipator of the oppressed, the chosen champion of liberty and law, died at a time and in a manner most favorable for his own already illustrious fame; and so, as a martyr for liberty, is his memory most securely embalmed in the grateful hearts of an affectionate people.
Have you ever thought if Moses, the great leader and lawgiver of Israel, had lived to enter Canaan and to attempt the adjustment of all the difficult questions pertaining to the driving out of the heathen and the peaceful settlement of the tribes, he might have left some slight blot upon the record of his fair fame, and somewhat tarnished the transcendent brilliancy of a most illustrious career? History has no record of shame to make on all those pages devoted to the life of Abraham Lincoln. As his best legacy to his bereaved country, he leaves a clean record and an unsullied name.
Nor less may we derive comfort from the thought that this awful, this aggravated crime, sweeps away the last vestige of an apology from those misguided sympathizers with treason, at home and abroad, who had done so much to weaken our faith in human nature, and to make us almost ashamed of the race to which we belong. The true spirit of the rebellion is by this act written as in letters of fire across the very heavens, that all may see it, declaring that in theory and in fact it is nothing less than organized assassination, He who in his very heart condemns the crime and detests the perpetrators, the instigators and the sympathizers with it, as the basest of villains, may claim to be your friend and mine. But he who in his heart rejoices, or by word or look justifies it, is our worst enemy. He is himself at heart a murderer, as well as a traitor, and we cannot fellowship him without ourselves partaking of his guilt.
This event, in itself so evil, will bring forth its legitimate fruits of good if it shall serve, as it surely will, to show to all men how vile the intent, how malignant the spirit, and how fiendish the hate of those who planned and instigated that wholesale assassination which has slain so many victims, bereaved so many households, and, without a cause, spread desolation and woe over one of the most favored lands that yonder sun in the heavens ever shone upon.[Page 477]
Nor less is it a comfort to think that this event, in its immediate effect, is another illustration of the fact, of late so often impressed upon us, that God maketh the wrath of man to praise Him, and turneth the counsels of the wicked headlong. What those assassins sought to do was to paralyze the nation. But they have only been the unwitting instruments of rousing it to new life, and of calling forth all its latent energies. They thought to help the already doomed, hopelessly doomed, rebellion, but they only wrote its death-warrant in the best blood of the nation, and robbed the South of its most kind and conciliatory friend. That mock-tragical shout of the fleeing assassin, Sic semper lyrannis, was the death cry of despair, destined to be applied to the real tyrants over the revolted States, the leaders of the rebellion. It was, in behalf of those leaders, a decree against themselves, saying—since in their madness and folly they have rejected the terms of peace so often extended to them, and consummated their guilt by instigating the murder of the most lenient of rulers, the kindest-hearted of men—so let them perish! Vindicative, but not vindictive, our rulers had been disposed to deal too tenderly with traitors—erring, if at all, on the side of mercy. But those plotters of treason have by this act demanded strict justice instead. Henceforth there can be no compromise with traitors; no sacrifice of principle; no permission to talk and think treason, much less to act it. To this standard of patriotism and this test of nationality has this last act of infamy brought the great bulk of the nation; throughout the length and breadth of that land treason can no longer be tolerated in thought, speech, or behavior. Henceforth the only basis of settlement is unconditional surrender and uncompromising loyalty. And what more shall I say, but that this act, if it does not seal the lips, brands with lasting shame the brow of every apologist for that institution, hated of man and accursed of God, which has so far debauched the conscience, and perverted the reason, and maddened the heart of those who, because of their devotion to slavery, have willed that the nation should die, and that liberty should perish. Go read the record of our heroes slain, who have freely poured out their blood, and willingly yielded up their lives to maintain the integrity of the nation; ask who slew all these, and from the tomb comes back but one response—slavery! Go look at that casket, all unpolished, which held a diamond of rarest worth—an honest patriot’s soul—ask who dealt, that death-wound, and listen to the verdict of a mourning nation—it was slavery! Go stand by the bedside of that great statesman who, with such masterly ability, has conducted the foreign correspondence of the government for more than four years, maintaining the honor of the nation abroad, saving us from ever-threatening complications, and extorting honor and victory from apparent concessions and apologies—go ask who struck that helpless sick man with the knife of a cowardly assassin, and there comes back but one response—slavery!
As Hamilcar, the father of the greatest of the Carthaginian generals, led his son Hannibal to the altar in the temple, at the age of nine years, and there, laying the hand of that son upon the bleeding victim, bade him swear eternal hatred to Home, so let every American father bring his son into the temple of liberty, and there, laying his hand all reverently upon the bleeding victim, exhort him to swear eternal fealty to freedom, eternal hatred to slavery.