Mr. Perry to Mr. Seward .
Madrid, April 29, 1865.
Sir: Thank God, we are permitted still to address you. A telegram from Queenstown informs me at this moment “that Mr. Seward and his son are likely to recover.”[Page 539]
It is a relief from the suspense which has kept my hand bound since the evening of the 26th, when Mr. Adams’s telegram informed me of the tragedy in Washington.
Pray accept for yourself, dear sir, the expression of my horror and my grief at the foul crime of which you have been the victim; and say also to the Assistant Secretary of State that I associate myself with him in sympathy for all his sufferings.
The death of President Lincoln by the hand of an assassin at the moment when the great work with which his name is indissolubly connected for all time touched the term of success when the greatest insurrection known in history, striking for human slavery and at the life of the republic, succumbs at last to the valor of our democratic armies, and the persistent virtue of our people, led by the President of their own choice twice elected, and set up before friends and foes as their executive. The death of this Chief Magistrate, elevated by force of great events to a place in history not less than that of every other human name which the annals of the race record, and filling that broad place worthily, occurring at such a moment and in such a way, has sent a shock of horror through Europe.
The Spanish people have been thunderstruck. I have heard ordinary men, ignorant that an American was listening, offer to lose a right hand if only this news might not be true. Men were rushing into this office until one o’clock at night, unwilling to believe, unable to control the emotion this news had stirred, and an unfeigned grief got the better of all form and etiquette in the manifestation of the sympathy of this generous-hearted people for the loss of President Lincoln.
Your name, sir, was also on every lip; but men hoped against hope, and God has permitted this yearning of the universal heart of men to plead for you.
I felt it would be so; I cannot tell you how or why, but in spite of the desolating sweep of the first telegrams, something stirred within me with the consciousness that Mr. Seward still lived and would live. Heavy as the pall of grief closed over the loss of Lincoln, we have refused to mourn for you, and now we know that your work was not yet finished.
How should it be, if it is now, precisely when the military triumph is gained, and the political and diplomatic questions generated by the war are up for settlement, that the sage counsel, the long-experienced and the steady hand of William H. Seward is needed in America and relied upon in Europe?
We mourn for our President. But after all let an American speak, for whom the 3,000 miles of distance which separate him from the turmoil and distraction of that scene serve, perhaps something as the lapse of time will serve to his countrymen at home, to enable him to see events in their general form and purport as they will stand in history.
The triumph of the American democracy in saving the second great republic attacked by a slaveholding oligarchy, stands parallel in the world’s record with the triumph of the Roman democracy when they destroyed the first great republic, attacking that slaveholding oligarchy.
Abraham Lincoln and Julius Cæsar are names which henceforth personify the throes of men for liberty in two supreme epochs of history, which can be compared only the one with the other. An emperor was the result of the efforts of the Roman democracy, as it has since been of other people.
A citizen President, equally triumphant over the slaveholding patrician element, but himself obedient to law, is the result of our people’s virtue and his own. The singular parity of incident which closed the career of these two men, when the triumph was assured, will grave eternally on the memory of the generations the contrast of the result established, the immense advance of humanity since Cæsar fell.
God’s instrument in a work which makes his name immortal, Lincoln died [Page 540] at a glorious moment; success was assured, and if he had been ambitious he could not have chosen another death. His work was done! We call out for his tenacity in doing right, his steady honesty in executing justice tempered with mercy; but these are qualities of our northern people, and he was great only as he typified these. The people remain, and I doubt not will find their representative.
Meantime, what do we know of the divine purposes to be served by this crowning crime which sets the everlasting seal on the forehead of this rebellion?
What is the position to-day of those men who rose against the republic for the perpetuation of human slavery?
Speaking from Europe, I may say, already that assassin blow has done more to finish up the sympathies of men for the defenders of slavery and oligarchy than all that has happened before or since the war began. Though the military power of the rebels is broken, men still paid their tribute of respect to the valor of their soldiery, the skill of their generals, and the political decision, of their leaders; and these sentiments have great sway over the minds of men, and impede them from discerning the deformity of the principles for which those armies and those leaders fought.
But the night of April 14, 1865, has dispelled forever the mistaken sympathies which the audacity of April 13, 1861, generated, and has left the enemies of human progress naked before the world, with only such moral support henceforth as those decidedly of their own kind can give them.
This in Europe. I ought to forbear from speculating upon its effects in America, but I will say that I do not suppose the men who have made their names illustrious in a bad cause had any personal connection with a deed so foul; their errors have not clouded the moral faculties of the leaders of the rebellion to such an extent as this, nor are the southern people generally to be charged with immediate complicity in this infamy.
It is precisely because I do not believe this that I wait to see a reaction in the south itself against the cause which can prepare such instruments, and give rise, even incidentally, to such a deed. God’s hand shall work in the hearts of the South itself through the martyrdom of Lincoln and the steadfast magnanimity of that great people whose principles he represented, and which I do not look to see belied even under this last provocation. Thus I do not doubt the moral death of the rebellion in the South itself will date from the day Lincoln was murdered. And I shall be greatly mistaken if the political work of pacification and reconstruction of the great democratic republic, homogeneous and united as never before, shall not be found to be notably facilitated by the very events which might seem at first to disturb its course. Such is my faith; pardon its expression.
I have not waited instructions to order mourning in this legation, and recommend the same in all our consulates in this jurisdiction for thirty days.
The popular newspapers appeared in mourning yesterday. The members of the foreign diplomatic corps and many eminent men have called to express their sympathy.
No manifestation has yet been received from the Queen’s government, nor the Chambers now in session.
The interior condition of affairs in Spain is at a point so critical that hardly anything else can be expected to be thought of by this government.
The minister of state is ill, and retires from Madrid. His substitute ad interim, the minister of grace and justice, is also ill and confined to his chamber.
Once more, sir, I grasp your hand in respectful sympathy.
Your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State, Washington.