Six Months at the White House/LVII
On the Fourth of July an unprecedented event was witnessed in Washington. By special consent of the President, the White House grounds were granted to the colored people of the city for a grand Sunday-school festival, and never did they present a busier or more jubilant scene. Inside the grounds a platform was erected, upon which accommodations were placed for speakers. Around this were rows of benches, which, during the greater part of the day, were not only well filled but crowded. Meanwhile groups reposed under every tree or walked to and fro along the shaded paths. From the thick-leaved branches of the trees were suspended swings, of which all, both old and young, made abundant use. Every contrivance which could add to the pleasure of the time was brought into energetic requisition, and altogether no celebration of the day presented a greater appearance of enjoyment and success.
By the Act of Emancipation, Mr. Lincoln built for himself the first place in the affections of the African race on this continent. The love and reverence manifested for his name and person on all occasions during the last two years of his life, by this down-trodden people, were always remarkable, and sometimes of a thrilling character. In the language of one of the poor creatures who stood weeping and moaning at the gateway of the avenue in front of the White House, while the beloved remains were lying in state in the East Room, "they had him."
No public testimonial of regard, it is safe to say, gave Mr. Lincoln more sincere pleasure during his entire public life, than that presented by the colored people of the city of Baltimore, in the summer of 1864, consisting of an elegant copy of the Holy Bible. The volume was of the usual pulpit size, bound in violet-colored velvet. The corners were bands of solid gold, and carved upon a plate also of gold, not less than one fourth of an inch thick. Upon the left-hand cover, was a design representing the President in a cotton-field knocking the shackles off the wrists of a slave, who held one hand aloft as if invoking blessings upon the head of his benefactor,--at whose feet was a scroll upon which was written "Emancipation"; upon the other cover was a similar plate bearing the inscription:--
"To ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, the friend of Universal Freedom. From the loyal colored people of Baltimore, as a token of respect and gratitude. Baltimore, July 4th, 1864."
The presentation was made by a committee of colored people, consisting of three clergymen and two laymen, who were received by the President in the most cordial manner, after which the Rev. S. W. Chase, on the part of the committee, said:--
"MR. PRESIDENT: The loyal colored people of Baltimore have delegated to us the authority to present this Bible, as a token of their appreciation of your humane part towards the people of our race. While all the nation are offering their tributes of respect, we cannot let the occasion pass by without tendering ours. Since we have been incorporated in the American family we have been true and loyal, and we now stand by, ready to defend the country. We are ready to be armed and trained in military matters, in order to protect and defend the Star-spangled Banner.
"Our hearts will ever feel the most unbounded gratitude towards you. We come forward to present a copy of the Holy Scriptures as a token of respect to you for your active part in the cause of emancipation. This great event will be a matter of history. In future, when our sons shall ask what mean these tokens, they will be told of your mighty acts, and rise up and call you blessed.
"The loyal colored people will remember your Excellency at the throne of Divine Grace. May the King Eternal, an all-wise Providence, protect and keep you, and when you pass from this world, may you be borne to the bosom of your Saviour and God."
The President, in reply, said:--
"It would be a very fitting occasion to make a response at length to the very appropriate address which you have just made. I would do so if I were prepared. I would promise you to make a response in writing, had not experience taught me that business will not allow me to do so. I can only say now, as I have often said before, it has always been a sentiment with me that all mankind should he free.
"So far as I have been able, so far as came within my sphere, I have always acted as I believed was right and just, and done all I could for the good of mankind. I have, in letters and documents sent forth from this office, expressed myself better than I can now. In regard to the great book, I have only to say, it is the best gift which God has ever given man.
"All the good from the Saviour of the World is communicated to us through this book. But for that book we could not know right from wrong. All those things desirable to man are contained in it. I return you my sincere thanks for this very elegant copy of the great book of God which you present."
After some time spent in the examination of the gift, which drew out many expressions of admiration from the President, the party withdrew, Mr. Lincoln taking each of them by the hand as they passed out.
Caroline Johnson, an estimable colored woman of Philadelphia, an active nurse in the hospitals during the war, who had once been a slave, as an expression of reverence and affection for President Lincoln, prepared, with much taste and ingenuity, a superb collection of wax fruits, together with a stem-table, appropriately ornamented, which she desired to present to the President. Through a friend an opportunity was secured, and she went to Washington, with her minister, to attend personally to the setting up of the stand and fruit.
The result is given by a correspondent of the "Anti-Slavery Standard," in her own words:--
"The Commissioner, Mr. Newton, received us kindly, and sent the box to the White House, with directions that it should not be opened until I came. The next day was reception day, but the President sent me word that he would receive me at one o'clock. I went and arranged the table, placing it in the centre of the room. Then I was introduced to the President and his wife. He stood next to me; then Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. Newton, and the minister; the others outside. Mr. Hamilton (the minister) made an appropriate speech, and at the conclusion said: 'Perhaps Mrs. Johnson would like to say a few words?' I looked down to the floor, and felt that I had not a word to say, but after a moment or two, the fire began to burn, (laying her hand on her breast,) and it burned and burned till it went all over me. I think it was the Spirit, and I looked up to him and said: 'Mr. President, I believe God has hewn you out of a rock, for this great and mighty purpose. Many have been led away by bribes of gold, of silver, of presents; but you have stood firm, because God was with you, and if you are faithful to the end, he will be with you.' With his eyes full of tears, he walked round and examined the present, pronounced it beautiful, thanked me kindly, but said: 'You must not give me the praise--it belongs to God.'"