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Davis ought to be hung. The President quoted from his inaugural, “ Let us judge not, that we be not judged.” It was then said that the sight of Libby Prison forbade mercy. “Let us judge not,' Lincoln repeated, “ that we be not judged.”
Steaming up the Potomac on this day, April 9, the President read aloud to his companions, for several hours, passages from Shakespeare, mainly from “ Macbeth,” including the lines which follow Duncan's murder.
Whatever was said at these various steamboat conversations about the treatment of the South merely confirms what is implied in the President's whole course.
“We should,” he had said a year before, “avoid planting and cultivating too many thorns in the bosom of society.” Two days after he reached Washington, April 11, 1865, in his last public address, he said :
“Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union, and each forever after innocently indulge his own opinion whether in doing the acts he brought the states from without into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it. The amount of constituency, so to speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all if it contained 50,000 or 30,000, or even 20,000, instead of only about 12,000, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.
Still, the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is, will it be wiser to take it as it is and help to improve it, or to reject and disperse it? Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new state government? Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the state, held elections, organized a state government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union and to perpetual freedom in the state — committed to the very things, and nearly all the things, the nation wants — and they ask the nation's recognition and its assistance to make good their committal.
“Now, if we reject and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We, in effect, say to the white man, “You are worthless or worse; we will neither help you nor be helped by you.' To the blacks we say, 'This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how. If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have so far been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize and sustain the new government of Louisiana, the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work and argue for it and proselyte for it and fight for it and feed it and grow it and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man, too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance and energy and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it.”
April 14, the last day of Lincoln's life, the cabinet discussed reconstruction. As members differed as to whether trade between the states should be carried on under military supervision or more liberally, the President appointed Stanton, Welles, and McCulloch, the three Secretaries who had expressed divergent views, a commission with power to examine the whole subject, and he said that he should be satisfied with their conclusions.
About the reëstablishment of civil government, Lincoln, trusting himself and his cabinet and distrusting Congress, was anxious to get the South
ern state governments in operation before the December session, and that with as little discussion as possible.
“No one need expect he would take any part in hanging or killing these men,” runs Secretary Welles's abstract of the President's words, “even the worst of them. Frighten them out of the country, open the gates, let down the bars, scare them off,” said he, throwing up his hands as if scaring sheep. “Enough lives have been sacrificed; we must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union."
As Lincoln did not live to enforce and modify his own ideas of reconstruction, he cannot be judged by the results. Those results were bad enough. They are still bad enough. Whether they could have been better, no man knows. Lincoln always looked with horror on the race problems that would come with freedom, and he fought desperately to have the negroes removed and colonized. Told by the almost universal voice of the people that it was impracticable, he made the best of necessity and henceforth tried everything — compensation, kind words, amnesty
to remove bitterness in the South. Had he lived four years longer, it is probable that his skilful hand would have done much to make his Christian charity effective in the rebel states; and, as always, he would have learned with every step how best to take the next. We may drop this subject with one incident.
When the negro Frederick Douglass attended the reception on the evening of the second inauguration, a policeman tried to stop him at the door. Lincoln ordered the negro admitted, and he always took pains to speak of him as “my friend Douglass.” 1
The last high literary effort of the doomed President was his second inaugural —
— a paper which stands, on a plane with the Gettysburg address, at the height of his more solemn utterances. It is :
“FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN: At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
1 This is one of the many significant stories in the volume of reminiscences edited by Mr. Rice.