Portuguese House of Peers
house of peers.—session of may 5, 1865.
Mr. Rebello da Silva. Mr. Speaker: I desire to bring forward some, considerations on an affair which I deem of importance. My object is to present my reasons for the motion which I shall presently introduce.
The House is aware, by official documents published in the foreign papers, that a criminal event has plunged in grief and mourning a great nation on the other side of the Atlantic, the powerful republic of the United States.
The Count d’Avila. I desire to speak on this incident on the part of the government.
Mr. R. da Silva. President Abraham Lincoln has been assassinated in the theatre, almost in the very arms of his wife!
The perpetration of this cruel act has caused profound pain in America and in every court of Europe. Every cabinet and every parliament have given vent to their deep feelings on such a painful event. It behooves all civilized societies, it becomes almost the duty of all constituted political bodies, to cause their manifestations to be accompanied by the sincere expression of horror and profound pain with which they deplore acts so grave and criminal. [Hear, hear.]
It very often happens, apparently through fatality or through the sublime disposition or unfathomable mysteries of Providence, which is the most Christian historic law, that in the life of nations, as in that of individuals, after attaining the highest position, after consummating the most eventful destiny, and even having reached the very highest steps in the scale of human greatness, when the road appears suddenly easy and smooth, when all clouds disappear from the horizon, and the brightest light enlivens every object around—it is then [Page 502] that an invisible hand raises itself up from darkness; that an occult and inexorable force arms itself in silence; and, brandishing the poniard of a Brutus, pointing the cannon of a Wellington, or presenting the poisoned cup of the Asiatic kings, dashes down from the heights the triumphant and laureled victor, and casts him at the foot of Pompey’s statue like Cæsar, at the feet of exhausted Fortune like Napoleon, at the feet of the Roman Colossus like. Hannibal.
The mission of all great men, of all heroes, who are looked upon almost as demi-gods, while receiving as they do, from above, that short-lived omnipotence which revolutionizes society and transforms nations, passes away like the tempest’s blast in its fiery car, and moments afterwards dashes itself against the eternal barriers of impossibility—those barriers which none can go beyond, and where all the pride of their ephemeral power is humbled and reduced to dust God alone is immutable and great!
Death strikes the blow, or ruin attains them in the height of their power, as an evidence to all princes, conquerors, and nations, that their hour is but one and short, that their work becomes weak, as all human work, from the moment that the luminous column which guided them is extinguished, and darkness overtakes them on their way. The new roads which they have carved out, and whereby they expect to proceed undaunted and secure, have turned into abysses where they have fallen and perished, from the moment that the Most High numbered the days of their empire and their ambition. [Hear, hear.]
This has been witnessed as a terrible example, as an admirable lesson, in the catastrophes which have overtaken the most conspicuous men in history. And thus do we see this day the recent pages of the annals of the powerful republic of the United States spotted with the illustrious blood of one of its most remarkable citizens.
At the close of the first four years of a government, during which war became his motto, the President of the republic is suddenly struck down at the moment of his triumph, and his now inanimate and paralyzed hands let fall those reins of administration which the force and energy of his will, the co-operation of his countrymen, the prestige and sublimity of the grand idea which he personified and defended, have immortalized, with the accumulations of millions of arms on the battle-fields, and of voices in the popular elections. Re-elected, carried a second time on the popular bucklers to the supreme administration of affairs, at the moment when the ardor of a civil contest was subsiding, when the union of that immense dilacerated body seemed to foreshadow the healing up of the wounds whence had gushed forth for so many months, and in such torrents, the generous blood of the free, almost in the arms of victory, in the midst of that populace who loved him most, in the centre of his popular court, he suddenly meets with death, and the bullet of an obscure fanatic closes and seals up the golden volume of his destiny at the very hour when success promised a new life and was welcoming peace with joyful acclamations.
This is no king who disappears in the darkness of the tomb, burying with himself, like unto Henry IV, the realization of great hopes. He is the chief of a glorious people, leaving a successor in every citizen who shared his ideas, and who sympathized with his noble and well founded aspirations. It is not a purple covered throne which has been covered with crape—it is the heart of a great empire which has been cast into mourning. That cause of which he was the strenuous champion has not ceased to exist, but all weep at his loss in horror at the crime and the occasion, and for the expectations which his pure and generous intentions had inspired.
Lincoln, a martyr to the prolific principle which he represented in power and in strife, now belongs to history and to posterity. Like unto the name of Washington, whose example and principles he followed, his own name shall be allied with the memorable era to which he belonged and which he appreciated.
As the champion of freedom in America, Lincoln drew, without hesitation. [Page 503] the sword of the republic, and with the point thereof erased from the code of a free people that anti-social stigma, that blasphemy against human nature, the sad, shameful, infamous codicil of antiquated societies, the dark and repugnant abuse of slavery, which Jesus Christ was the first to condemn from the height of the cross when he proclaimed the equality of men before God, and which nineteen centuries of civilization, enlightened by the gospel has proscribed and condemned as the opprobrium of these our present times. [Hear, hear.]
At the moment that he cast away the chains of an unfortunate race of men, and when he contemplated millions of future citizens in the millions of emancipated men—at the very moment that the echo of Grant’s victorious cannon proclaimed the emancipation of the soul, of conscience, and of labor, when the lash was about to drop from the hand of the task-master, when the former hut of the slave was about to be converted into a home, at the moment that the stars of the Union, bright and resplendent with the gladdening light of liberty, waved triumphant over the fallen ramparts of Petersburg and Richmond—it was then that the grave opened its jaws, and the strong and the powerful falls to rise no more. In the midst of triumphs and acclamations, a spectre appeared untò him and, like that of Cæsar, in the ides of March, said: Thou hast lived!
Far be it from me to enter into the appreciation of the civil questions which have disturbed the brotherhood of the same family in America. I am neither their judge nor their censor. I bow down to a principle, that of liberty, wherever I see it respected and upheld; but at the same time I have learned to love and cherish another, not less sacred and glorious—the principle of independence. May the force of progress in our days bind again those who have been separated by differences of opinion, and may it reconcile the ideas which exist in the heart, the aspirations, and in the desire of all generous minded men.
In this warfare, the proportions of which have exceeded everything that has ever been seen or heard of in Europe, the vanquished of to-day are worthy of the great race from which they descend. Grant and Lee are two giants whom history will in future respect in an inseparable manner. But the hour of peace was, perhaps, about to strike, and Lincoln desired it as the reward of his pains, as the great result of so many sacrifices. After the exhibition of strength comes toleration. After the bloody fury of battles comes the fraternal embrace of citizens!
Such were his manifested intentions—these were the last and noble wishes which he had formed. And at this very instant, perhaps the only one in which a noble man is so powerful in doing good, and when the soul rises above whole legions as a pacificator, that the hand of the assassin rises up in treachery and cuts off such mighty and noble purposes. [Hear, hear.]
Were not the American nation a people grown old in the painful strifes and experiences of government, who is there that could foresee the fatal consequences of this sudden blow? Who knows but that, in such a case, the fiery torch of civil war, in all its horrible pomp and terror, would spread itself to the furthermost States of the federation? But, happily, no such calamity is to be apprehended. At the time that the press and public opinion have, with justice and severity, condemned this event, and given expression to their horror at the fatal crime—sentiments and feelings which are common to the whole of Europe—they pay homage to the ideas of peace and conciliation just as if the great man who first invoked them had not disappeared from the great scene of the world. And I purposely repeat the expression, great man, because, in truth, great is that man who, confiding alone in his own merits, rises from profound obscurity to the greatest heights, like Napoleon, like Washington, like Lincoln who elevate themselves to the heights of power and of greatness, not in virtue of the chances of birth or of a noble descent, but by the prestige of his own actions by that nobility which begins and ends in themselves, and which is, solely the work of their own hands. [Cheers. Hear! hear!][Page 504]
The man who makes himself great and famous by his own acts and by his own genius is more to be envied than he who was born among inherited escutcheons of nobility. Lincoln belongs to that privileged race—to that aristocracy. In infancy his energetic soul was tempered in poverty. In youth labor inspired him with the love of liberty and respect for the rights of men. Up to the age of twenty-two educated in adversity, with his hands hardened by honorable labor; while resting from the fatigues of daily toil, drinking in from the inspired pages of the Bible the lessons of the gospel; and in the ephemeral leaves of the public journals, which the morning brings forth and the evening disperses, the first rudiments of that instruction which is subsequently ripened by solitary meditation. Light gradually and gently illuminated that soul. The wings with which it took its flight then expanded and strengthened; the chrysalis felt one bright day the rays of the sun which called it into life; it broke through its bonds, and rose up from its humble condition to those luminous spheres where a higher destiny was awaiting its approach. The farmer, the laborer, the shepherd, like Cincinnatus, abandoned his plow, half-buried in the earth, and, as a legislator in his native State, and subsequently in the national Congress, he prepared in the public tribunal to become one day the popular chief of many millions of people—the defender of the holy principle which Wilberforce inaugurated. What strifes, what agitated scenes, what a series of herculean works and incalculable sacrifices are involved and represented by their glorious results in these four years of warfare and government.
Armies in the field, such as ancient history speaks not of! Immense battles, during which the sun rises and sets two and three times before victory declares itself on either side! Heavy marches, where thousands of victims, whole legions covered with their dead every foot of conquered ground! Invasions, the daring and dangers whereof far surpass the records of Attila and the Huns! What awful obsequies for the scourge of slavery! What a terrible and salutary lesson has this people, still rich and vigorous in youth, given to the timid scruples of ancient Europe, now the battle-field of principles likewise sacred! These were the beacons, the landmarks which guided his grand career. If the sword was the instrument in his hands, yet liberty, inspiration, and the courage which were the outgrowth of his principles were equally effective. Trampling down the thorns on his path, guiding his steps amidst the tears and the blood of so many holocausts, he still lived to see the promised land! He was not permitted to plant on that soil the auspicious olive-branch of peace and concord when he was about to reunite the loosened bond of the Union; when he was about to infuse into the body of his country the vivifying spirit of free institutions, after collecting and reuniting its dispersed and bloody members; when the standard of the republic, its funeral dirges ended, its agonies of pride and defeat silenced and subsided, was about to rise again and to spread its glorious folds over a reconciled people, purified and cleansed from the stain of slavery—the great athlete stepped in the ring and fell, thus proving that, after all, he was but mortal! [Hear, hear, hear. Applauses.]
I think this brief and hurried sketch is quite sufficient for the occasion. The Chamber being by its nature, by duty and by organization, not only the conservator but the faithful warden of traditions and principle, will not hesitate to take part in the demonstration which the elective Chamber has already adopted, thus following the example of all the enlightened parliaments of Europe. Silence in the presence of such criminal attempts can only be maintained by such senates as are dumb and void of elevated sentiments and aspirations. [Hear, hear.]
By voting the present motion the Chamber of Peers takes a part in the feelings of pain now experienced by all civilized nations. The crime which has closed the career of Lincoln—a martyr to the noble principles of which this epoch has reason to be proud—is almost, is essentially a regicide, and a monarchical country cannot but abhor and condemn it. The descendants of those men who were the [Page 505] first in the sixteenth century to reveal to Europe the new road which, across stormy and unknown seas, opened the gates of the eastern world, must not be the last to bow down before the grave of a great citizen and a great magistrate, who himself piloted his people through terrible tempests and succeeded in leading them in triumph over the fallen ramparts of slavery’s stronghold. Let each people and each era have its task and its share of glory. Let each illustrious citizen have his crown of laurel or his civic crown. [Hear, hear. Applauses.]
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count d’Avila. As a peer of the realm he takes part in this noble manifestation; as minister of the Crown-he had already done as much in his own name at first, when mere rumors were circulated that the crime had been committed, and again after having received the order of his Majesty, as soon as no doubt unfortunately existed on the subject, in order to show what were the sentiments of the Portuguese government.
Mr. Rebello da Silva. Mr. Speaker: I am rejoiced to hear the words of the minister of finance and of foreign affairs. They give evidence that the government has acted in this affair with that propriety and promptitude which its duty indicated, and which are inspired by noble feelings. I shall now lay on the table my motion of order, as follows:
“The Chamber of Peers deplores, with the most sincere feelings of pain, the criminal act which has just thrown into mourning the sons of a great nation, by the death of the President of the United States of America, Mr. Lincoln, who died a martyr to his duty.
The Speaker. The Chamber has he are the reading of this motion; I do not consider it necessary to have it again read from the table, as it would not have a better effect than when read by its author. [Hear, hear.]
Mr. Rebello da Silva. The Count d’Avila has likewise signed the motion.
The Speaker. All the worthy peers who approve of the motion will be pleased to indicate as much.
It was unanimously approved.
The Count d’Avila. I request that it be recorded in the minutes that the voting was unanimous. [Hear, hear.]