Six Months at the White House/X

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Six Months at the White House by Francis Bicknell Carpenter
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X.

"We will turn you in loose here," proved an "open sesame" to me during the subsequent months of my occupation at the White House. My access to the official chamber was made nearly as free as that of the private secretaries, unless special business was being transacted. Sometimes a stranger, approaching the President with a low tone, would turn an inquiring eye toward the place where I sat, absorbed frequently in a pencil sketch of some object in the room. This would be met by the hearty tones of Mr. Lincoln,--I can hear them yet ringing in my ears,--"Oh, you need not mind him; he is but a painter." There was a satisfaction to me, differing from that of any other experience, in simply sitting with him. Absorbed in his papers, he would become unconscious of my presence, while I intently studied every line and shade of expression in that furrowed face. In repose, it was the saddest face I ever knew. There were days when I could scarcely look into it without crying. During the first week of the battles of the Wilderness he scarcely slept at all. Passing through the main hall of the domestic apartment on one of these days, I met him, clad in a long morning wrapper, pacing back and forth a narrow passage leading to one of the windows, his hands behind him, great black rings under his eyes, his head bent forward upon his breast,--altogether such a picture of the effects of sorrow, care, and anxiety as would have melted the hearts of the worst of his adversaries, who so mistakenly applied to him the epithets of tyrant and usurper. With a sorrow almost divine, he, too, could have said of the rebellious States, "How often would I have gathered you together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" Like another Jeremiah, he wept over the desolations of the nation; "he mourned the slain of the daughter of his people."

Surely, ruler never manifested so much sympathy, and tenderness, and charity. How like the last words of the Divine one himself, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," will the closing sentences of his last inaugural address resound in solemn cadence through the coming centuries. Truly and well says the London "Spectator" of that address: "We cannot read it without a renewed conviction that it is the noblest political document known to history, and should have for the nation and the statesmen he left behind him something of a sacred and almost prophetic character. Surely, none was ever written under a stronger sense of the reality of God's government. And certainly none written in a period of passionate conflict ever so completely excluded the partiality of victorious faction, and breathed so pure a strain of mingled justice and mercy."