Six Months at the White House/LXXI

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Mr. Lincoln returned from Richmond with a heart-full purpose to issue immediately a proclamation for a day of National Thanksgiving. "Babylon" had fallen, and with his own eyes, as from another Pisgah, he had looked over into the promised land of Peace,--a land which, like his great prototype, his feet were not to tread!

During his absence from Washington, Secretary Seward met with the serious accident by which his arm and jaw were broken. Mr. Lincoln's first visit was to the house of the Secretary, who was confined to his bed by his injuries. After a few words of sympathy and condolence, with a countenance beaming with joy and satisfaction, he entered upon an account of his visit to Richmond, and the glorious success of Grant,--throwing himself, in his almost boyish exultation, at full length across the bed, supporting his head upon one hand, and in this manner reciting the story of the collapse of the Rebellion. Concluding, he lifted himself up and said: "And now for a day of Thanksgiving!" Mr. Seward entered fully into his feelings, but observed, with characteristic caution, that the issue between Sherman and Johnston had not yet been decided, and a premature celebration might have the effect to nerve the remaining army of the Confederacy to greater desperation. He advised, therefore, no official designation of a day "until the result of Sherman's combinations was known." Admitting the force of the Secretary's view, Mr. Lincoln reluctantly gave up the purpose, and three days later suffered in his own person the last, most atrocious, but culminating act of the most wicked of all rebellions recorded on the pages of history! It was the last interview on earth between the President and his Secretary of State.

This incident, related by Mr. Seward to a friend[1] while slowly recovering from the murderous attack upon himself, was followed by an interesting account of his personal relations with Mr. Lincoln. "No knife was ever sharp enough to divide us upon any question of public policy," said the Secretary; "though we frequently arrived at the same conclusion through different processes of thought." "Once only," he continued, musingly, "did we disagree in sentiment." Mr. D. inquired the subject of dissent. "His 'colonization' scheme," was the reply, "which I opposed on the self-evident principle that all natives of a country have an equal right in its soil."

The knowledge of the terrible calamity which had befallen the nation was rigidly withheld from Mr. Seward at the time, his physician fearing that the shock would be too great for him to bear. The Sunday following, he had his bed wheeled around so that he could see the tops of the trees in the park opposite his residence,--just putting on their spring foliage,--when his eyes caught sight of the Stars and Stripes at half-mast on the War Department, on which he gazed awhile, then turning to his attendant, said: "The President is dead!" The confused attendant stammered as he tried to say nay; but the Secretary could not be deceived. "If he had been alive, he would have been the first to call on me," he continued; "but he has not been here, nor has he sent to know how I am; and there is the flag at half-mast." The statesman's inductive reason had discerned the truth, and in silence the great tears coursed down his gashed cheeks, as it sank into his heart.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. J.C. Derby, of New York.