Jean Jules Jusserand (1855–1932). With Americans of Past and Present Days. 1916.
IV. Abraham Lincoln
A century of gradually increasing prosperity had elapsed when came the hour of the nation’s second trial. Though it may seem to us small, compared with what we have seen in our days, the development had been considerable, the scattered colonies of yore had become one of the great Powers of the world, with domains reaching from one ocean to the other; the immense continent had been explored; new cities were dotting the wilderness of former days. When in 1803 France had, of her own will, ceded the Louisiana territories, which have been divided since into fourteen States, minds had been staggered; many in the Senate had shown themselves averse to the ratification of the treaty, thinking that it might
What the senator feared to look upon was the possibility, awful and incredible as it might seem, of people being so rash as to go and live beyond the Mississippi. Attempts would, of course, be made, he thought, to prevent actions which would entail such grave responsibilities for the government; but those meritorious attempts on the part of the authorities would probably fail. “It would be as well to pretend to inhibit the fish from swimming in the sea.… To every man acquainted with the manner in which our Western country has been settled, such an idea must be chimerical.” People will go, “that very population will go, that would otherwise occupy part of our present territory.” The results will be unspeakable: “Our citizens will be removed to the immense distance of two or three thousand miles from the capital of the Union, where they will scarcely ever feel the rays of the general government; their affections will be alienated; they will gradually begin to view us as strangers; they
The treaty had been ratified, however, and the prediction, not of Senator White, of Delaware, but of Senator Jackson, of Georgia, has proved true, the latter having stated in his answer that if they both could “return at the proper period,” that is, “in a century,” they would find that the region was not, as had been forecasted, “a howling wilderness,” but “the seat of science and civilization.” The fact is that if the two senators had been able to return at the appointed date, they would have seen the exposition of St. Louis.
Progress had been constant; modern inventions
And now all seemed to be in doubt again; the nation was young, wealthy, powerful, prosperous; it had vast domains and resources, no enemies, and yet it looked as though her fate would parallel that of the old empires of which Tacitus speaks, and which, without foes, crumble to pieces under their own weight.
Within her frontiers elements of destruction or disruption had been growing; animosities were embittered among people equally brave, bold, and sure of their rights. The edifice raised by Washington was shaking on its base; a catastrophe was at hand, such a one as he had himself foreseen as possible from the first. Slavery, he had thought, should be gradually but thoroughly abolished. “Your late purchase,” he had written to Lafayette, “of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country, but I despair of seeing it.” And to John Francis
The dread hour had now struck, and civil broils meant to fill the page of history were at hand. Then it was that, in a middle-sized city of one hundred thousand inhabitants, not yet a world-famous one, Chicago by name, the Republican convention, assembled there for the first time, met to choose a candidate for the presidency, and on Friday, 18th of May, 1860, selected a man whom my predecessor of those days, announcing in an unprinted report the news to his government, described as “a man almost unknown, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.” And so he was;
The search-light of history has since been turned on the most obscure parts of his career; every incident of it is known; many sayings of his to which neither he nor his hearers attributed any importance at the moment have become household words. Biographies innumerable, in pamphlet form or in many volumes, have told us of the deeds of Abraham Lincoln, of his appearance, of his peculiarities, of his virtues, and of the part he played in the history of the world, not alone the world of his day, but that of after-time. For not only the souvenir of his personality and of his examples, and the consequences of what he did, survive among us, but so do also a number of his clean-cut, memorable, guiding sentences which continue alive and active among men. His mind is still living.
Few suspected such a future at the time of his election. “We all remember,” wrote, years later, the French Academician, Prévost-Paradol, “the anxiety with which we awaited the first words of that President then unknown, upon whom a heavy task had fallen, and from whose advent to
Well indeed might people have wondered and felt anxious when they remembered how little training in greatest affairs the new ruler had had, and the incredible difficulty of the problems he would have to solve: to solve, his heart bleeding at the very thought, for he had to fight, “not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies !”
No romance of adventure reads more like a romance than the true story of Lincoln’s youth and of the wanderings of his family, from Virginia to Kentucky, from Kentucky to Indiana, from Indiana to the newly-formed State of Illinois, having first to clear a part of the forest, then to build a doorless, windowless, floorless log cabin, with beds of leaves, and one room for all the uses of
But no book, school, nor talk with refined men
He was accustomed not to be surprised, but to ponder, decide, and act. The pondering part was misunderstood by many who never ceased in his day to complain and remonstrate about his supposed hesitancy; many of Napoleon’s generals, and for the same cause, spoke with disgust, at times, of their chief’s hesitations, as if a weak will were one of his faults. Confronted with circumstances which were so extraordinary as to be new to all, Lincoln was the man least astonished in the government. His rough and shrewd instinct proved of better avail than the clever minds of his more-refined and better-instructed seconds. It was Lincoln’s instinct which checked Seward’s complicated schemes and dangerous calculations. Lincoln could not calculate so cleverly, but he could guess better.
France was then an empire, governed by Napoleon III. During the great struggle of four years, part of the French people were for the North, and part for the South; they should not be blamed: it was the same in America.
But, to a man, the increasing numbers of French
They had all known Lafayette, who died only in 1834, a lifelong apostle of liberty and of the American cause. The tradition left by him had been continued by the best thinkers and the most enlightened and generous minds France had produced in the course of the century, such men as Tocqueville, Laboulaye, Gasparin, Pelletan, and many others. Constant friends of the United States, and stanch supporters of the liberal principles, they had, so to say, taken the torch from the hands of dying Lafayette and passed it on to the new generation. Tocqueville, who was not to see the great crisis, had published in 1835, with extraordinary success, his work on American democracy, showing that individual liberty, equality for all, and decentralization were the goal toward which mankind was steadily moving, and
Those who felt like him eloquently defended in their books, pamphlets, and articles, when the crisis came, the cause of the Union, and strongly influenced public opinion in European countries. Such was the case, for example, with the America before Europe of Agénor de Gasparin, full of enthusiasm for the States, and of confidence in the ultimate issue. “No,” said the author in the conclusion of his work, published early in 1862, “the sixteenth President of the Union will not be its last; no, the eighty-fifth year of that nation will not prove her last; her flag will come out of the war, rent by bullets, blackened by powder, but more glorious than ever, and without having dropped in the storm any of its thirty-four stars.”
To Gasparin Lincoln wrote thereupon: “You are much admired in America for the ability of your writings, and much loved for your generosity to us and your devotion to liberal principles generally.… I am very happy to know that
But there were, withal, men among us who, remembering the trials of our revolutionary years, the most terrible any nation had gone through, inclined to consider that, as Tocqueville had said, “to think” was indeed a real trouble, and that thinkers might prove very troublesome people. Those men, too, watched with care what was going on in America; the quiet development of the country under democratic institutions caused them little enough joy, as being the actual condemnation of their most cherished theories. They kept saying: the country has no neighbors, it is exposed to no storm; any system is good enough under such exceptional conditions. If there was any storm, the worthlessness of such institutions would soon be obvious. And it had come to pass that the storm had arisen, and that a man “almost unknown” had been placed at the helm.
Then developed that famous struggle between equally brave opponents, with its various fortunes, its miseries, its hecatombs, and the coming of days so dark that it often seemed as though there remained little chance for the survival of
General de Trobriand has left a captivating account of the campaign and of what his first regiment did in it, beginning with military instruction
On one memorable day, in the winter of 1862, the regiment, encamped then at Tennallytown, entertained Lincoln himself. The occasion was the presentation to it by the hands of the President of two flags, a French and an American one. The day chosen had been the 8th of January, as being the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, won by Andrew Jackson, some of whose
Mrs. Lincoln had accompanied the President. There was a banquet which the regiment had had cooked by its own soldier-cooks, who surpassed themselves. “The President heartily partook of the meal. Never, was he pleased to say, had he eaten so well since he had entered the White House. He wanted to taste of everything, and his gayety and good humor showed well enough how much he enjoyed this diversion in the midst of the anxious cares with which he was oppressed at that moment.”
There were toasts, of course; the then Colonel de Trobriand drank to the “prompt re-establishment of the Union, not so prompt, however, that the 55th may not first have time to do something for it on the battlefield.” President Lincoln answered good-humoredly: “Since the Union is not to be re-established before the 55th has had its battle, I drink to the battle of the 55th, and wish that it may take place as soon as possible.”
The 55th had its battle, and many others, too; the beautiful American flag handed to it on the 8th of January was torn to shreds by grape-shot; at Fredericksburg only the staff was left; during the course of that terrible day even the staff was broken, and that was the end of it. It was also
Lincoln’s instinct, his good sense, his personal disinterestedness, his warmth of heart for friend or foe, his high aims, led him through the awful years of anguish and bloodshed during which, ceaselessly, increased the number of fields dotted with tombs, and no one knew, so great were the odds, whether there would be one powerful nation or two less powerful, inimical to one another. They led him through the worst and through the best hours; and that of triumph found him none other than what he had ever been before, a shrewd man of sense, a convinced man of duty, the devoted servant of his country, but with deeper furrows on his face and more melancholy in his heart. “We must not be enemies.”
A French traveller who saw him at his second inauguration has thus described him: “I shall never forget the deep impression I felt when I saw come on to the platform the strange-looking great man to whom the American people had been so happy as to intrust their destinies. The gait was heavy, slow, irregular; the body long, lean, over six feet, with stooping shoulders, the long arms of a boatman, the large hands of a carpenter, extraordinary hands, with feet in proportion.… The turned-down shirt-collar uncovered the protruding muscles of a yellow neck, above which
“From this coarse bark emerged a forehead and eyes belonging to a superior nature. In this body was sheathed a soul wondrous by its greatness and moral beauty. On the brow, deep-furrowed with lines, could be detected the thoughts and anxieties of the statesman; and in the large black eyes, deep and penetrating, whose dominant expression was good-will and kindness mixed with melancholy, one discovered and inexhaustible charity, giving to the word its highest meaning, that is, perfect love for mankind.”
The nation was saved, and when the work was done Lincoln went to his doom and fell, as he had long foreseen, a victim to the cause for which he had fought.
When the news of his tragic death reached
Addressing the Chamber in the same strain, its President, Mr. Schneider, said: “That execrable crime has revolted all that is noble in the heart of France. Nowhere has more profound or more universal emotion been felt than in our country.… After having shown his immovable firmness in the struggle, Mr. Lincoln, by the wisdom of his language and of his views, seemed destined to bring about a fruitful and durable reconciliation between
But more noteworthy than all was the feeling of unofficial France, that of the whole people. Trying to describe it, the American minister to France, but recently taken from among us, Mr. Bigelow, wrote home: “The press of the metropolis shows sufficiently how overwhelming is the public sentiment”; and sending, only as samples, a number of testimonials of sympathy received by him, he added: “They will suffice to show not only how profoundly the nation was shocked by the dreadful crime which terminated President Lincoln’s earthly career, but how deep a hold he had taken upon the respect and affections of the French people.”
Once more, owing to the death of a great American, the whole nation had been moved. From thirty-one French cities came addresses of condolence; students held meetings, unfavorably seen by the imperial police, little pleased to find how closely associated in the sentiments expressed therein were admiration for Lincoln’s work and the longing for a republic similar to that over which he had presided. The youthful president of such a meeting thus conveyed to Mr. Bigelow the expression of what was felt by “the young men of the schools”: In President Lincoln we
“We are the fellow citizens of John Brown, of Abraham Lincoln, and of Mr. Seward. We young people, to whom the future belongs, must have the courage to found a true democracy, and we will have to look beyond the ocean to learn how a people who have made themselves free can preserve their freedom.…
“The President of the great republic is dead, but the republic itself shall live forever.”
Deputations flocked to the American legation, “so demonstrative” that the police more than once interfered, as if to remind the delegates that they were not living as yet in a land of liberty. “I have been occupied most of the afternoon,” Bigelow wrote to Seward, “in receiving deputations of students and others who have called to testify their sorrow and sympathy. Unfortunately, their feelings were so demonstrative in some instances as to provoke the intervention of the police, who would only allow them in very limited numbers through the streets.… I am sorry to hear that some have been sent to prison in consequence of an intemperate expression of their feelings. I can now count sixteen policemen
A unique thing happened, unparalleled anywhere else. A subscription was opened to offer a commemorative medal in gold to the unfortunate widow, and this again did not overplease the police. The idea had occurred to a provincial paper, the Phare de la Loire; its success was immediate. All the great names in the Liberal party appeared on the list of the committee, Victor Hugo’s conspicuous among them, and with his those of Etienne Arago, Louis Blanc, Littré, Michelet, Pelletan, Edgar Quinet, and others. In order to allow the poorer classes to take part, and so as to show that the offering was a truly national one, the maximum for each subscriber was limited to two cents.
The poorer classes took part, indeed, with alacrity; the necessary sum was promptly collected; the medal was struck, and it was presented by Eugene Pelletan to Mr. Bigelow, with these words: “Tell Mrs. Lincoln that in this little box is the heart of France.” The inscription, in French, is an excellent summing up of
The French press had been unanimous; from the Royalist Gazette de France to the Liberal Journal des Débats came expressions of admiration and sorrow, by the writers of greatest repute, present or future members, in many cases, of the French Academy, Prévost-Paradol, John Lemoine, Emile de Girardin, the historian Henri Martin, the publicist and future member of the National Assembly of 1871, Peyrat, and with them some ardent Catholics, like Montalembert.
“Who among us,” said the Gazette de France, “would think of pitying Lincoln? A public man, he enters by the death which he has received in the midst of the work of pacification after victory into that body of the élite of the historic army which Mr. Guizot once called the battalion of Plutarch. A Christian, he has just ascended before the throne of the final Judge, accompanied by the souls of four million slaves created, like
In his La Victoire du Nord aux Etats Unis, Montalembert expressed, with his usual eloquence and warmth of heart, the same sorrow at Lincoln’s death, and the same joy also at the “success of a good cause served by honorable means and won by honest people.… God is to be thanked because, according to the surest accounts, victory has remained pure, unsullied by crimes or excesses.… That nation rises now to the first rank among the great peoples of the world.… Some used to say: Don’t talk to us of your America with its slavery. She is now without slaves; let us talk of her.”
But happy as he was at the results, Montalembert rendered, nevertheless, full justice to the South and its great leaders: “The two parties, the two camps, have shown an equal courage, the same indomitable tenacity, the same wonderful energy … the same spirit of sacrifice. All our sympathies are for the North, but they in no way diminish our admiration for the South.… How not to admire the Southerners, while regretting that such rare and high qualities had not been dedicated to an irreproachable cause! What men, and also, and especially, what women! Daughters, wives, mothers, those women of the South
Many among the Liberals seized this opportunity to praise the American system of government as opposed to European ones: “Democracy,” said Peyrat, “is not incompatible with great extent of territory or the power and duration of a great government. This has been demonstrated on the other side of the Atlantic, and that is the service which the United States have rendered to liberty.
“They have rendered another, equally important to human dignity, in showing that the citizen has become among them great and powerful, precisely because he has been little governed; they have proved that the real grandeur of the state depends upon the high personal qualities of the individuals. In our old societies, power put man into tutelage, or rather, man put himself in that position at the hands of the government, to which he looked for everything he wanted in life and for solutions which no government, whether monarchical or republican, could give.
“The United States, on the contrary, have
In the Journal des Débats, Prévost-Paradol, one of the best writers of the day, said: “The political instinct which caused enlightened Frenchmen to be interested in the maintenance of American power, more and more necessary to the equilibrium of the world, the desire to see a great democratic state surmount terrible trials and continue to give an example of the most perfect liberty united with the most absolute equality, assured to the cause of the North a number of friends among us.… Lincoln was indeed an honest man, if we give to the word its full meaning, or rather, the sublime sense which belongs to it when honesty has to contend with the severest trials which can agitate states and with events which have an influence on the fate of the world.… Mr. Lincoln had but one object in view from the day of his election to that of his death, namely, the fulfilment of his duty, and his imagination never carried him beyond it. He has fallen at the very foot of the altar, covering it with his blood. But his work was done, and the spectacle of a rescued republic was what he could look upon with consolation when his eyes were closing in death. Moreover, he has not lived for his country alone, since he leaves to every one in the
Accounts of Lincoln’s career multiplied in order to answer popular demand. The earliest one, by Achille Arnaud, was printed immediately after his death, and concluded thus: “There is in him a more august character than even that of the statesman and reformer, namely that of the man of duty. He lived by duty and for duty.… No mistake is possible; what Europe honors in Lincoln, whether or not she is aware of it, is duty. She thus affirms that there are not two morals, one for the masters, the other for the slaves; one for men in public life, the other for obscure citizens; that there is only one way to be great: never to lie to oneself, nor to others, and to be just.”
Régis de Trobriand, whose loyalty to Lincoln never wavered, and who had believed in him even in the darkest hours, well saw the importance for the whole world of the issue of the great conflict, and justly stated that, though more directly concerning the United States, the fight had been for “those grand principles of progress and liberty toward which modern societies naturally tend, and to which civilized nations legitimately aspire.
Lectures were delivered in France on Lincoln and America, one, under the chairmanship of Laboulaye, by Augustin Cochin, a member of the Institute, showing that Lincoln was “not only a superior type of the American race, but one of the highest and most respected of the human race,” something more than a great man: a great honest man.
As a sort of pendant and counterpart for the funeral ceremony held in the Invalides at the death of Washington, the French Academy gave as the subject of its grand prize in poetry: La mort du Président Lincoln. Selected in the year following the event, the subject excited immense interest; almost a hundred poets (some of whom, truth to say, were only would-be poets) took part in the competition, which was decided in 1867; several of the productions proved of great literary merit. The prize went to a former secretary of embassy, Edouard Grenier, who had already made his mark as a gifted literary artist, and whom many of us still remember: a lovable old man, of
When, in a log cabin of Kentucky, over a century ago, that child was born who was named after his grandfather killed by the Indians, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon I swayed Europe, Jefferson was President of the United States, and the second War of Independence had not yet come to pass. It seems all very remote. But the memory of the great man to whom these lines are dedicated is as fresh in everybody’s mind as if he had only just left us; more people, indeed, know of him now than was the case in his own day. “It is,” says Plutarch, “the fortune of all good men that their virtue rises in glory after their death, and that the envy which any evil man may have conceived against them never survives the envious.” Such was the fate of Lincoln.