President Taft, Governor Tener and Professor
Sparks, Principal Speakers at Patriotic, Exer-
cises in Tented Auditorium.
From Altoona Mirror September 25, 1912.
Prayer by Rev. Jacobs
FOLLOWING was the invocation offered by the Rev. Dr. Horace Lincoln Jacobs, pastor of the First Methodist church, at the opening of the meeting:
"Great and glorious God, our faithful Father, worthy of every tribute of thanks, adoration and obedience, accept our many acknowledgements of Thy providence and grace, our sincere confessions and our loyal resolves. In the measure of Thine infinite mercy, vouch-safe the blessings of Thy leadership, favor, wisdom and help to our favored land and people and their chief executive, the president of these United States, to our own Keystone commonwealth and its governor and our many sister states, and to our own community and its mayor, and, we pray Thee, to all visitors and citizens. Cause this historic anniversary to be fruitful in patriotism and in vision for an achieving nation. Create within us a holy hatred for sin, which is a reproach to every people. Energize as with a large love for that righteousness which exalteth a nation. O Father, fulfill our prayers. O mighty Son of God, strengthen us. O eternal Spirit, guide us. Amen."
General Chairman J. D. Hicks, who introduced Mayor Walker, spoke as follows:
"My fellow citizens---In the presence of these distinguished guests, I desire publicly to thank the citizens of Altoona who made it possible for the success that is attending our efforts to properly commemorate the meeting of the loyal governors of the northern states that convened in this city fifty years ago on this day. Since the meeting of the great men at the Logan House at that time, who met to confer concerning the ways and means to preserve this Union and maintain the honor and integrity of the flag of our fathers, the beautiful Stars and Stripes, great and wonderful has been the advancement of our common country, and we are now a world power. At that time dark clouds hung over the nation. The armies of the Union had been defeated and the triumph of treason seemed at hand. It was then that the loyal governors of the great north met in Altoona, and in solemn conference, with proper deliberation, decided to sustain President Lincoln, and to spend, if necessary, the last dollar, and to give up the last man, to preserve our integrity as a nation, and to maintain the Union established by our fathers.
"To preserve the memory of these patriotic men, and of that conference, is the object of this anniversary occasion, and I rejoice in this distinguished presence that their efforts to preserve the integrity of our country, and our efforts to immortalize the great historical event, as was then, is now, successful, and we have the honor of having as our guests the president of the United States, the Hon. William Howard Taft, and the governor of our commonwealth, the Hon. John K. Tener, and other distinguished persons to aid in properly celebrating this event.
"To do them honor, as well as the event we celebrate, has been the object of this committee that has had this matter in charge, and I with you, and you with me, rejoice together in the greatness of our country, the preservation of the Union, the glory of our flag, and the perpetuation of the government of our fathers."
Chairman J. D. Hicks introduced Mayor Simon H. Walker who delivered the address of welcome to the guests of honor. He said:
"Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies and My Fellow-Citizens:
"Fifty years have rolled backward since the day when Andrew G. Curtin, Pennsylvania's great war governor, sat on the banks of the Susquehanna pondering how best he should hold up the hands of the great commander-in-chief on the banks of the Potomac. With the clear vision of inspired patriotism, these two apostles of freedom saw that the time was freighted with tremendous possibilities of disaster or triumph, and the trend was toward irretrievable disaster.
"But the heart of the great man in the executive mansion at Harrisburg was not dismayed. Seeing the silver lining of the dark clouds that hung over the land, he tested the pulse of the states that had remained loyal, and finding them beating true and strong, called that memorable council of governors, whose action was to turn backward the tide of secession and save the union of states. In looking about for a convenient point to hold the council, Governor Curtin placed Altoona forever upon the map by putting his finger upon the big hotel perched on the side of the rock-ribbed Alleghenies, and the spot light of history has shone upon the Logan House ever since.
"It is a great event we celebrate; the longer the perspective the larger it looms. For even the mighty Lincoln had his human limitations and had not such as Curtin and his kind come to the rescue at this critical time, the floods might have swallowed him. So here, near the great eastern divide where the mountain springs start flowing to the sea on the one side, and to the father of waters on the other, it is fitting that we should set up a memorial to the fathers who planned so wisely, so bravely and well.
"It is a time for great thankfulness and high thought, and without further words I welcome you all, to the celebration of that which meant so much for our country and our common good."
Miss Frances Pierpont Siviter, of Pittsburgh, grand-daughter of War Governor Francis H. Pierpont of Virginia, and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Sivitor of Pittsburgh, read the commemorative poem of the loyal War Governors' conference. The poem was written especially for the occasion by Mrs. Siviter, who is a daughter of Governor Pierpont, one of the participants in the conference. See page 11.
In introducing President Taft at the big tent meeting, Governor John K. Tener said:
"Mr. President and Fellow-Citizens:
I am very glad to be able to be present on this occasion and more than glad to be presiding as chairman over an occasion of this kind, especially in the city of Altoona. Altoona is known all over the country as a city where her citizens own their own homes. In fact, a greater majority of the citizens own their own homes, than any other city in the country, (Applause.) This shows in her, and justly shows, good citizenship in her people, as the highest type of good citizenship is the owning of one's own home. I am, therefore, very glad to be here today in my official capacity. I also observe that there are no other governors here at this time. They are probably fair weather friends, but there is too much Irish in me to be afraid of a little rain. (Laughter.) I am also glad to be present upon such an occasion, the fiftieth anniversary of the Loyal War Covernors' conference. Very well I know, that should you have to pick the brightest star from the flag, you would pick the star which represents Pennsylvania. You would pick the most glorious one, the brightest one in all the field of blue and call it Pennsylvania.
"As the speaker before me said, it is just fifty years ago this afternoon, when the Loyal War Governors, seated in the Logan House in this city, called together by Andrew G. Curtin, formulated plans for the preserving of the union. You may have read that in the progress of the war, when men were losing their courage, it was suggested to Lincoln that he settle the war and end it at any price. At the time when the south slid from the north for the cause of the confederacy, men offered up their lives for the great cause and as it is with us when we are in trouble, and are asked what can be done to help us, that is just what this meeting of the Loyal War Governors proposed to do. Andrew G. Curtin, Pennsylvania's great war governor, then called into conference at Altoona the executives of the fourteen loyal states, and they resolved then and there to stand back of Lincoln and promised him not only their personal support, but the entire support of their states; so Pennsylvania in that conflicting time, took its place in that great cause, which plan was the suggestion of our great Governor Curtin. After an interval of some eight months the great battle of Gettysburg was fought and which became the turning point of the great war, and as we all know, out of that struggle came united people, and not that only, but a united government serving under one grand flag. In those perilous times it is well to remember that Pennsylvania loomed up conspicuously. In hunting up some records, I find that the first man in the service and the last man killed by a bullet from the enemy was a member of the One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Volunteer infantry. So Pennsylvania has its place.
"At this time there has come to you as your special guest here today that courageous man, that brainy man, that ever pleasant man, and I have the extreme honor and distinguished pleasure of introducing to you our chief executive, Hon. William H. Taft."
Following Governor Tener's introduction, President Taft arose and was given a splendid ovation by the big crowd in the tent this afternoon. The president's address in full was as follows:
"Governor Tener, Ladies and Gentlemen and Fellow Citizens:
"I thank your distinguished governor, up to whom I always look with pleasure, (laughter and applause) for his kindly greetings. I am glad to be your guest on this occasion. I always like to come with the grand old commonwealth of Pennsylvania, (great applause) because, for one reason, you are more given to doing than to talking, (applause) and that is a substantial citizenship.
"I congratulate the city of Altoona, and her enterprising and patriotic people, upon the great festival which has been organized here to celebrate this great historic event. No one could have stood as I had the honor to stand on the reviewing platform and see that procession of the next generation of the citzens of Altoona, and not understand why it is that this is one of the happiest, most intelligent, and most moral communities in the country (Great applause.) And as there filed past me those lively youngsters and those beautiful girls and young ladies, representing all the states of the Union, and all the territories of the United States, it was imposible not to feel forced upon you the greatness of this country, upon this day, the happiness of her people and the gratitude which we should feel toward our God, for the heighth in our history which we have reached in the matter of the intelligence of our people, in the matter of their industrial success, in the matter of their moral strength and in the general happiness that prevails from one end of this country to the other beneath the starry flag, and among her one hundred millions of people, ninety, between our oceans and ten in our ocean dependencies, constituting our population.
"And today, right in the harvest times, we are garnering crops that make necessary the greatest prosperity that has ever blessed this country, and we are today where every man and every woman may have work if they will, (applause) and wages of the highest, and the individual happiness of everyone averages higher than ever before.
"Now, my friends, why do I dwell on that fact today, borne in upon me by the procession of beautiful children that filed by us this morning, evidencing happy comfortable homes, and moral teachers in the schools and in the homes? It is because this is the fiftieth anniversary of a day as different in respect to the happiness of the people and prospects before them as day is from night.
"Fifty years ago today, we were in the throes of rebellion, the like of which have never been seen in the world before, and I pray may never be seen in the world again. (Applause.)
"We were torn apart, brothers and sisters, families, all America, and we were struggling to do what? To lift ourselves up and to cut out the cancer of slavery that had been the cause of it all, and we had been trying for two years to bring about a better condition of affairs and bring back the erring sisters, to compel them to come in the Union again.
"Now, my friends, what I want to bring to your attention, and what so frequently we lose sight of, is: That the task which was before Abraham Lincoln and those who supported him, to reasonable people, to cold, calculating people, seemed almost impossible. It is true that the North had more people, had more capital, but what the North had to do under those conditions was not to defeat an enemy, not to drive out of the territory of the North an enemy, what they had to do was to subdue nearly an equal force over a territory half a continent wide, to bring them into the Union again by compulsion, and that task was greatly more than the task of the confederacy in merely keeping the North out and maintaining a status quo, in which they were separated from the North.
"They only wanted to be let alone. We had to, under God, bring them back in the Union, in order that they and we might enjoy the inestimable blessings of that aggregation of people who were brothers and sisters and should have remained so. Now with that problem before him, what was the condition? It is true that General Grant had won the battle of Donelson and Fort Henry, both in the east, while General McClellan had succeeded in training a magnificent army, he was as President Lincoln said, troubled with the "slows," and he could never get the army ready to fight because it was always lacking in horses, shoes or something else. He had been dismissed from the command and then brought back, manifesting that uncertainty of aim that was calculated to discourage those who were most intense in their sympathies of the cause of the north in the north, and to encourage those in the north, of whom we all know there were only too many, we would like to forget it now, who sympathized with the cause of the south in that controversy.
"Just at that time your great war governor, Andrew G. Curtin (applause) concluded that while the war governors had been working and helping along the cause as well as they could, that the time had come when three hundred thousand additional troops were necessary in order to accomplish the task before the federal government, and so he suggested to Mr. Seward whom he met in New York that it might be a good thing to call together the loyal governors and have them speak out, and tell the president how they sympathized with him, and how they were determined to uphold his hands.
"My friends, if you ever had any responsibility, you may know the difference between the committee that comes to express you their sympathy in what you are doing and then spends most of the time in telling you how many mistakes you have made (laughter and applause) and that other committee that comes in and says: 'Old man, we are with you to the end.' (Great applause) That was what Andrew G. Curtin proposed to do and he told Mr. Seward so, and Mr. Seward told President Lincoln, and the great president said: 'Let us have them, and they had them.
"So these loyal war governors came here, some of them could not come in person and sent representatives, but they came and they did not have any reporters present, but they just sat there and talked it out, in that room in the Logan House, in which we-ve lunched today, and then after they talked it out, and got into their minds what they were going to do and say, they went down to Washington on the 27th and through Governor Andrews of Massachusetts, another hero who occupies a pedestal in the hall of fame, drafted an address to President Lincoln.
"I want you to read that address. There were no 'buts' or 'ifs' nor 'ands'; there were no suggestions as to what the president should do and that he had done something which he should not have done or that there should be a complete change; there was one suggestion that they would like to raise 100,000 additional troops to have them in reserve, and then they did what was very dear to the heart of President Lincoln, because but two days before he had issued his proclamation of emancipation. They said we are with you and we rejoice with you that you have taken the step.
"Now friends, there was no relation of a casual character between that meeting of the governors and the proclamation, although a great many people who criticized the governors and were opposed to the proclamation said there was, but there was a casual connection between them in that, when President Lincoln had taken this step, it was of the utmost importance that he should carry the country with him, and when the sixteen loyal governors set their approval on it, it helped the movement in such a way as to carry the whole country with it.
"There were no reporters present as I have said, but one of the governors, Governor Blair of Michigan, has given us an account of the meeting; so, too, has Governor Kirkwood of Iowa. While they were in Washington, they wanted to ask President Lincoln one question, and they said that, if he answered it, all right; then they would go home entirely satisfied. They asked him whether he thought General McClellan was loyal and the president replied: "I do, gentlemen. He and I do not always agree as to what should be done and he has the 'slows' but nevertheless, I believe he is as loyal as you are or as I am" and he was right. (Applause).
"There wasn't anything to be advertised. They didn't say anything about that. It was not advertised. There was nothing following that meeting, only there entered into the soul of that great patriot, Abraham Lincoln, the feeling--- you know it and I know it---that he had a nation behind him; that the cause he was engaged in was worthy of their lives and their fortunes, and that he proposed to fight it out and to bring back the erring sisters, bring back our brothers into the Union, to constitute the greatest nation for the elevation of humanity that this world has ever seen. (Great applause.)
"Now fifty years afterwards, what I like to think of is that Abraham Lincoln is looking down upon us and rejoicing in his heart that that willing life of his, ending in so great a tragedy, was offered up to something that was worthy and that now as he sees the ninety millions of his fellow citizens in happiness, he rejoices that he gave all that he had to bring that upon us." (Tremendous applause).
Dr. E. E. Sparks' Oration.
Posterity sits forever at the feet of history, learning the lessons of the past, "Die Welt Geschichte ist die Welt Gerichte," says the German poet. Nations are revivified by the contemplation of a glorious past; that people which fails to keep alive its traditions must itself soon perish.
The city of Altoona is performing a distinct service today in keeping alive the memory of one of the most critical periods of the most critical time in the history of the nation. The success of the Confederate arms in the South had given them an opportunity of invading the North, of turning the Northern tactics of blockade, forage, and confiscation against themselves. Central Pennsylvania offered the most vulnerable point, with a final objective of Philadelphia, including the tide water in one direction and Pittsburgh, the gateway to the inland waters, in the other.
This was the plan and this the crisis which alarmed the Northern states and suggested a conference of State Executives. Precedent for concerted action was found in the request sent to President Lincoln during the preceding spring that he would call for additional volunteers from the several states by assigned quotas. Eighteen governors signed the request. Supported by this assurance of the loyalty of the Executives, Lincoln issued his call with good results.
Although the threatened invasion was checked by the battle of Antietam, the conference of Governors which this occasion celebrates brought lasting results in the great rally of the following year when the invasion finally came and the "high tide of the Civil war" was successfully reached on the field of Gettysburg. Pennsylvania in her relations to the Union stood the test of loyalty unto death. In loving commemoration I link together the words "Pennsylvania and the Federal Union;'' in equally sweet fragrance of memory I unite the name of the promoter of the conference, the foremost of the "war governors," the dependable leader of the leading Northern state, Andrew G. Curtin, with that of the great leader of the war, the defender of the Union, the emancipator of the slave, Abraham Lincoln.
You will pardon me if I attempt to call your attention to the central figure of the time, to the troubled man in the White House, whom the conference was called to assist. I shall not weary you by rehearsing his deeds, by eulogizing his character, nor by praising his virtues; rather I prefer to inquire into the cause of his greatness, the reasons for his perfection of character, and those noble traits which succeeding generations may profit by imitating. The immortal dramatist says "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune." All will agree that the occasion came to Lincoln and that he was prepared for it.
The two great laws of man's development are known as the law of heredity and the law of environment. By inheritance Lincoln was peculiarly an American. For three generations his family had lived to the west of the Allegheny mountains, separated by that impassable barrier from the influence of Europe which dominated the Atlantic coast plain. He breathed the air of the untrammelled West; unfettered by precedent, he grounded his ideals in pure democracy; with no mentor other than nature, he was taught the absolute equality of man. And we must remember that the problem which he was called upon to solve embraced these principles that it was an American question, and that an American inheritance served Lincoln in solving it.
With this inadequate application of the law of heredity, let us turn to the more powerful law of environment. What was the early environment of this plain man? To answer must be to define that factor in our development which has now passed forever---the American frontier.
As the mass of people moved across this continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, there has always been a front line of hardy spirits--the pioneers; those who felled the forests; those who built the log cabins; those who cultivated the fields. We call them the frontier of the American people, the vanguard of the onward march. Abraham Lincoln lived during; all his formative days on what was then the frontier, in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Many characteristics marked this front line of people. For one thing it contributed largely to American democracy. It did not make much difference who your grandfather was, but it did make a great deal of difference what you could do. It was an aristocracy of worth, not of birth. They had to do things out on the frontier, and Abraham Lincoln was trained in that compelling environment.
What did this frontier do for the man? In the first place, it taught him to investigate. We do little investigating now. Why? Because we have so many books. "What is the use," we say, "of spending time investigating, when we can read it in the books?" Abraham Lincoln had very few books; in the formative period of his life he had to look into things himself. The lawyers who travelled with him around the circuit said that frequently when he would see a tree of unusual dimensions or some peculiarity of growth, he would dismount from his horse and examine the tree. When his little son received a mechanical toy, the father was not satisfied until he took it to pieces. He wanted to see how it worked---investigating always. When he came back from serving his second session in Congress a number of members came with him over the Great Lakes around by Niagara Falls. Most of the party stayed on deck, talking politics, smoking, and telling stories; but Lincoln was always down in the engine room, even among the stokers, examining everything, finding out how it worked, and showing his natural talent for investigating.
Soon after this Lincoln took out his patent. It was a scheme for navigating in the Western waters at times when the rivers were low, during the summer season, and sandbars appeared. Lincoln's plan was to put buoys under the keels of vessels, and when the vessels came to obstructions like sandbars in the river, the boatmen would inflate these buoys with air, which would lift the vessel over the bar. He never sold one, so far as I know, but it serves to illustrate my point, that he was an investigator. During the Civil war, diplomats, financiers, ambassadors and others testified to the wonderful way in which Lincoln had investigated in advance every matter brought before him. That was what the frontier environment taught him.
The frontier environment also taught a man extreme caution. One man never went alone to plough in the field; two men went together, and while one man ploughed, the other man watched against Indians. It was said in later times, after the country was settled, if two of these frontiersmen met in town, that, remembering the old habit, when they talked together they stood with their backs to each other on the lookout for danger. I am not sure, in these automobile days, whether we shall not return to this habit.
The frontiersman, when ploughing, had to plough so carefully that he would not break his plough, because he could not probably buy another plough within twenty miles, or find a blacksmith within a ten miles' journey. The thing which characterized Abraham Lincoln as president, if there was one characteristic above another, was his extreme caution. He moved so slowly in the Civil war that he never had occasion to wish to retrace his steps.
I see, scattered in the audience, some people who remember the days of the Civil war, and they will bear me witness that Horace Greely and other hot-headed men constantly urged Lincoln to more haste. Mr. Greely called him, "Mr. Ready-to-Halt;" "Mr. Faint-Heart;" "Mr. Man-Afraid-of-His-Shadow." They said, "Why don't you do something? Free the slaves! Close the war! Do something!" Lincoln, from his frontier training was moving so slowly that he never had occasion to retrace his steps. He even gave a hundred days' warning in advance before he issued his Emancipation Proclamation. His slow motion saved the Union from breaking its plough!
This frontier training also taught a man to be an all-around man. There was no piece work on the frontier; you had to make the entire article out there. A shoemaker made a whole shoe; he did not punch a hole in a partly made shoe and then pass it on to another man to punch another hole. The blacksmith made a whole plough. That was frontier workmanship and of such was Lincoln. He was a rail-splitter and a farmer; in a small way, he was a soldier; he was a miller; he was a flat-boat man; he was a lawyer---he was an all-around man. And that crucial time when he became president of the United States needed a man who was an all-round man. It needed a general; it needed a financier; it needed a diplomat. The environment of the frontier made Lincoln equal to the demands of the position.
The frontier taught a man self-help. The education of the frontier was something different from our education now-a-days, when we frequently seek first aid to the injured in our schools; where we can have pre-digested food, and a crutch under each arm to help us along. What facilities for education did Lincoln have on the frontier? He had to teach himself for the most part; he was in the school of nature since nature was the teacher, and Lincoln was the only student in the room.
"Then nature, the dear old nurse, took the child upon her knee,
Saying: 'Here is a story book Thy Father has written for thee."'
The frontier life also taught a man self-reliance. When Lincoln floated his flat-boat down the Sangamon river, taking his flour to market, he had no chart of that river. The Sangamon was so small and insignificant that it had never been surveyed by the United States government. The navigator had to meet each sand-bar, snag, and stump as he came to it. Likewise, when Lincoln took hold of the helm of the great ship of state, whatever charts preceding pilots had used were useless to him, because the vessel was in danger of going to pieces. He had to meet each obstacle as he came to it. He was self-reliant and confident always, because he had been taught self-reliance. One time when a general said to him, "Now, Mr. President, if we do thus and so now, what is going to happen next year?" What did Lincoln answer? "You know, my friend, out in Illinois we never cross the Sangamon river until we come to it."
His environment taught the man also to speak very simple language. They had no time out on the frontier for sesquipedalian words. You must say what you had to say in short words of one syllable mostly. I wonder what Mark Anthony would have done with an audience of frontiersmen? They would have said, "Here, Mark, show us the body or shut up; one of the two."
The frontiersmen spoke in simple language, and that was the most marked trait of this great American. Many times the language he used was so plain,so original, so American, that it distressed those learned gentlemen with whom he surrounded himself in his cabinet. After his second election, the election which occurred in the midst of the war, what should he have said? A man cast in the ordinary mould would have said: "The people have decided by an appeal to the ballot box that it would be extremely hazardous to chance a change of executive in a time of great national peril." Did Lincoln say that? No. What did he say? "The people have decided not to swap horses in the middle of the stream." Everybody could understand that; they all knew what it meant.
I have seen prominently displayed in your shop windows fac-smiles of Lincoln's Gettysburg address, and that reminds me of evidence of his simplicity of composition. You know the story. The committee postponed the celebration for three months to allow the great orator, Edward Everett, to write his oration. Lincoln had three months' notice also; but think what tasks he had to do also during three months in the midst of the war! He had ten thousand things to distract his attention; a thousand griefs gnawing at his heart. Even when he started to Gettysburg he had written only a dozen lines; and on the road there, or after he reached there (the testimony varies), he added a few more lines. When the great day came, what a crowd was there! Colonel Carr sat on the platform, and testifies that Edward Everett held those people spellbound for three hours by his oratory. Beginning with a description of how the Greeks buried their dead, he proceeded to discuss secession, and the rights of the north, ending with a magnificent peroration.
When Lincoln arose to give the dedication address, there was a great movement in the crowd. Everyone wanted to see the president. There were cries of "Order, order, order!" "Down in front," and before order was restored, Lincoln had finished reading his address and sat down, amidst universal disappointment, as Colonel Clark Carr testifies.
There was no applause at that time---the "tremendous applause" being inserted by the reporters; but Edward Everett walked across the stage to Mr. Lincoln, reached out his hand, and said: "Mr. Lincoln, if I could have come as near striking the keynote of this occasion in three hours as you did in three minutes, I should be better satisfied with my performance." That was true. What had the way the Greeks buried their dead to do with the dedicating of that field? What had the rights of the secession to do with the consecration of the battle ground? Lincoln struck the keynote when he said: "We cannot dedicate---we cannot consecrate---we cannot hallow---this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract * * It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us;"---that was the point, the war was not half over---"that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." That expresses the very essence of the occasion. And yet, if I take a tablet containing that immortal address and look it over, I shall find only two hundred and sixty-seven words in the whole address. Who reads Edward Everett's oration now? Very few; but Lincoln's little speech of two hundred and sixty-seven words has become a classic, recited in all the schools, and will probably endure as long as the English language endures.
Edward Everett's speech is lofty, high, full of classical allusions; Abraham Lincoln's address is in the plain language of the plain people---language of the frontier. Of those two hundred and sixty-seven words only twenty-two are longer than two syllables. To get simpler language than that Lincoln used on that occasion you will have to go to King James version of the Bible or to John Milton.
The result of that plain speech was that all through the Civil war the people trusted Lincoln. They knew just what he was trying to tell them; and no ruler, ancient or modern, was ever entrusted with the power that Abraham Lincoln used during those four years. One time there were more than five thousand editors in prison in various parts of the United States. The constitution says that free speech and a free press shall never be violated. Yet Lincoln did that. Why? In order to suppress insurrection in certain states of the Union. Even Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania in a message to the legislature suggested the taking of steps to protect citizens of Pennsylvania from arbitrary arrest by federal officers. When the chief justice of the United States, the highest judicial power in the land, issued a writ of habeas corpus to get Merryman out of jail at Baltimore, Lincoln refused to allow the writ, but he did this in order to suppress the rebellion in the southern states, and to save the Union.
Do you realize that he confiscated hundreds, and thousands of dollars' worth of southern slave property, when he had no right under the constitution to free the cheapest, meanest slave that ever breathed? Why did he do this? In order to suppress insurrection, and save the Union that our fathers had given to us. The people allowed him to do this---the people allowed him to use these extraneous powers, because they knew that at the end of the war he would hand back the government to them. He would not usurp their power. They understood him; they knew him; and all because he used simple language within the public comprehension.
Lincoln was reared in the Mississippi valley; he knew little about the Old World; he never visited Europe; he was purely an American. By contrast with him, George Washington was an English gentlemen living in America. I do not do injustice to the shade of George Washington if I say that by contrast with Lincoln, he simply reflected England. For instance, George Washington sent to England to get his coats of arms. He had the Washington arms in silver on the harness of the horses; he also had it on the coach which he used as president. You are sure to see that coach because it is preserved in three differdent places in the United States at the present time! Did Abraham Lincoln have any coat of arms? If he did, the device must have been two rails, a maul, and a wedge. George Washington sent to England to get his family tree. He traced the beginning of his family back to William, the Conqueror; it is just as good a family tree as you can buy nowadays. Did Abraham Lincoln have any family tree traced out? Out there on the frontier the settlers were too busy with felling the natural trees to pay much attention to family trees. Even when Lincoln went to congress he wrote to a man named Lincoln, living in Virginia, trying to find out something more about his own grandfather.
George Washington had his clothes made in England up to the time of the revolutionary war. Were Abraham Lincoln's clothes made in England? It makes you smile to think of it. As a young boy the wool for his clothes was grown in Kentucky and spun there and was dyed with the juice of the butternut tree.
The result was that Abraham Lincoln reflected the American environment, and George Washington reflected the Old World environment. George Washington was president eight years and had one task, and that was a foreign problem---how to keep from going to war with England on the one side, or with France on the other. He set the pattern of neutrality for America, which, thank God, we have not departed from all the years that have followed. Abraham Lincoln was president a little over four years, and what was his task? To save the American Union; a task peculiarly American. And his American environment, in the Providence of God, had fitted him to meet that problem.
Lincoln was the most original American who ever reached the presidency and was also the most misunderstood. We have never had a man in all American history who, in his life, was as much vituperated and blamed, and, in his death, as praised and deified as was Abraham Lincoln. His was the fate of every individuality which differs from the mass.
What does the poet say?
"Nature, they say, doth dote,
And cannot make a man,
Save on some wornout plan,
Repeating us by rote;
For him her Old-World moulds aside she threw,
And, choosing sweet clay from the breast
Of the unexhausted West,
With stuff untainted shaped a hero new."
If sufficient time were at my disposal, I should like nothing better than to take the reverse of what I have said thus far, and show that while in the White House the training of Lincoln's western environment never deserted him; nor did his originality. Seward might have made a better Union than Lincoln; but Seward could never have saved the Union as did Lincoln. Seward's policy was to get up a foreign war; to bring in something from the outside; to throw dust in the eyes of the people. But you could not fool the people all the time. Lincoln's originality solved the problem. If he had done as Horace Greely demanded, freed the slaves early in the war, and if he had recognized the Confederacy from the beginning, as many wanted him to, what would have been the result? We should have had two governments on the same soil in the south. But he never recognized the Confederate states; he never spoke of them other than as states in rebellion. He gave us back our southland as pure, unpolluted, virgin-like in its character, as when it was intrusted to his hands. He never compromised. Why? Because he was taught in the school of nature in the west, and nature never compromises. You have to pay the penalty of nature every time.
If Lincoln had lived, I believe he would have spared us that awful period which we call "Reconstruction." Take the southern people today. Have they lost the bitterness of the Civil war? Yes, but they cannot forget the reconstruction times. That was a bitter period, when the "carpet bagger" plundered the south and placed the negro in the saddle. I believe that Lincoln would have saved us that experience. Why? Because he was by birth a southerner. He was born in the slave state of Kentucky, and he was surrounded by southern people when he moved over into Indiana in the early days. Then he moved into the southern part of Illinois, which was settled by southern people. He loved the south. He never wanted to take away their slaves, and to the day of his death he supported the theory of compensated emancipation. In the midst of the war he secured the passage of a bill by congress offering to buy the slaves of any states not in rebellion; that was his theory. One day he threw his great long arms around Senator Speed of Kentucky, whom he had known in boyhood. "Oh, Speed" he said "if we could get one state, if we could only get Kentucky, to accept our offer to buy their slaves rather than take them away, then you and I would not have lived in vain." They would not do it, and he had to take away the slaves in some of the states, and allow the people by an amendment to the constitution to take them away in all the states.
On the basis of the last speech that he ever made, I believe that he would have saved us many of the horrows of reconstruction. Lee had surrendered. Great crowds flocked into the White House grounds and called for Lincoln, who stepped out on the south portico. His long, gaunt figure and homely face appealed to the crowd in the flaring light of the many torches. He got the crowd quiet and then raising his voice to a thrilling falsetto, as he always did when he was anxious to make everybody hear, said: "The good news which has reached us, that Lee has surrendered, bids us fair to think that the end of the war is at hand. Now will come the great task of reconstructing the Union. As to whether the southern states have been out of the Union or have not been out of the Union, I consider all that merely a pernicious abstraction. They have not been in their proper relations, and it is your duty and my duty to get them back into their proper relations as soon as possible." This was the simple plan for which fate, through the death of its originator, substituted many years of contention, bickering, retaliation and commercial distress.
Lincoln's whole life was fraught with tragedy. A nature overburdened with melancholy, a face masked by the tragic muse, a life never free from the burden of poverty, in his birth and early life apparently the sport of the fates, it was enough for this strange man to have lived a great life; it but adds to his grandeur to have him die a noble death. Strangulatus pro Respublicae might well be his requiem. If a finite being ever showed the omnipotent power of prescience, Lincoln surely had premonition not only that he had been set aside for a given task but that it was to end in death.
Plunged into a fratricidal war, himself a victim, Lincoln was a man of peace. I cannot close without reminding you that upon Pennsylvania soil in 1861 before the first gun was fired, when viewing the state militia at Harrisburg, Lincoln said, "It shall be my endeavor to preserve the peace of this country so far as it can possibly be done consistently with the maintenance of the institutions of the country. With my consent this country shall never witness the shedding of one drop of blood in fraternal strife."
How can I forget that it was upon Pennsylvania soil at Philadelphia that Lincoln declared "I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and if it be the pleasure of Almighty God to die by." Was there not a strain of prophecy in this statement?
Lincoln and Pennsylvania! These names are indissolubly connected, not alone by significant utterances on Pennaylvania soil, not alone by the invasion which culminated at Gettysburg; not alone by the glories of a victory in which each shared, but also by this conference of governors which assured the great leader of local military support, and which also upheld his arms of faith in the doctrine of the confiscation and emancipation of the slaves of the states in rebellion. May this day of celebration which recalls these incidents be an inspiration not only to the residents of this enterprising city but to all the many strangers assemble to participate in the festivities. May all these historic facts bring to us as American citizens a fresh devotion, a more established faith, and a more steadfast love for the Republic, together with a fresh determination that a government established and maintained of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.