Jean Jules Jusserand (18551932). With Americans of Past and Present Days. 1916.
IV. Abraham Lincoln
ON two tragic occasions, at a centurys distance, the fate of the United States has trembled in the balance: would they be a free nation ? Would they continue to be one nation ? A leader was wanted on both occasions, a very different one in each case. This boon was granted to the American people, who had a Washington when a Washington was needed, and a Lincoln when a Lincoln could save them. Neither would have adequately performed the others task.
A century of gradually increasing prosperity had elapsed when came the hour of the nations 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 prove rather a curse than a boon. As to Louisiana, this new, immense, unbounded world, Senator White, of Delaware, had said, if it should ever be incorporated into this Union I believe it will be the greatest curse that could at present befall us; it may be productive of innumerable evils, and especially of one that I fear even to look upon.
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 will form other commercial connections, and our interests will become distinct.
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.1 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 had brought the remotest parts of the country nearer together. The telegraph had enabled the rays of the general government to reach the farthest regions of the territory. That extraordinary attempt, the first transcontinental railroad, was soon to be begun (1863) and was to be finished six years later.
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.2 And to John Francis Mercer: I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase, it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.3 For many reasons the steadiness of the new-born Union caused him anxiety. We are known, he had written to Doctor W. Gordon, by no other character among nations than as the United States. When the bond of union gets once broken everything ruinous to our future prospects is to be apprehended. The best that can come of it, in my humble opinion, is that we shall sink into obscurity, unless our civil broils should keep us in remembrance and fill the page of history with the direful consequences of them.4
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; his own party had hesitated to nominate him; only on the third ballot, after two others in which he did not lead, the convention decided that the fate of the party, of abolitionism, and of the Union would be placed in the hands of that man almost unknown, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.
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 power might be dated the ruin or regeneration of his country. All we knew was that he had sprung from the humblest walks of life; that his youth had been spent in manual labor; that he had then risen, by degrees, in his town, in his county, and in his State. What was this favorite of the people ? Democratic societies are liable to errors which are fatal to them. But as soon as Mr. Lincoln arrived in Washington, as soon as he spoke, all our doubts and fears were dissipated, and it seemed to us that destiny itself had pronounced in favor of the good cause, since in such an emergency it had given to the country an honest man.
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 Lincolns 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 the nine inmates: Lincoln, the grandson of a man killed by the Indians, the son of a father who never succeeded in anything, and whose utmost literary accomplishment, taught him by his wife, and which he had in common with the father of Shakespeare, consisted in bunglingly writing his own name, the whole family leading a life in comparison with which that of Robinson Crusoe was one of sybaritic enjoyment. That in those trackless, neighborless, bookless parts of the country the future President could learn and educate himself was the first great wonder of his life. His school-days, in schools as primitive as the rest of his surroundings, attended at spare moments, did not amount, put together, to so much as one year, during which he learned, as he stated afterward, how to read, write, and cipher to the rule of three, but that was all till within his twenty-third year, he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrumentan axe, not a pen.5 The event proved once more that learning does not so much depend upon the masters teaching as upon the pupils desire. This desire never left him; as recorded by himself, he nearly mastered the six books of Euclid since he was a member of Congress.
But no book, school, nor talk with refined men would have taught him what this rough life did. Confronted every day and every hour of the day with problems which had to be solved, problems of food, of clothing, of shelter, of escaping disease ague and fever by which they [the people of the place] were greatly discouraged6of developing mind and body with scarcely any books but those borrowed from distant neighbors, in doubt most of the time as to what was going on in the wide world, he got the habit of seeing, deciding, and acting for himself. Accustomed from childhood to live surrounded by the unknown and to meet the unexpected, in a region with many bears, he wrote later, and other wild animals still in the woods, his soul learned to be astonished at nothing and, instead of losing any time in useless wondering, to seek at once the way out of the difficulty. What the forest, what the swamp, what the river taught Lincoln cannot be overestimated. After long years of it, and shorter years at now-vanished New Salem, then at Springfield, at Vandalia, the former capital of Illinois, where he met some descendants of his precursors in the forest, the French coureurs de bois,7 after years of political apprenticeship which had given him but a limited notoriety, almost suddenly he found himself transferred to the post of greatest honor and greatest danger. And what then would say the man almost unknown, the backwoodsman of yesterday? What would he say? What did he say? The right thing.
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 Napoleons generals, and for the same cause, spoke with disgust, at times, of their chiefs 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 Lincolns instinct which checked Sewards complicated schemes and dangerous calculations. Lincoln could not calculate so cleverly, but he could guess better.
In writing the words quoted above, Prévost-Paradol was alluding to the now famous first inaugural address. But even before Lincoln had reached Washington he had, so to say, given his measure. Passing through Philadelphia on his way to the capital, he had been entertained at Independence Hall and, addressing the audience gathered there, had told how he had often meditated on the virtues and dangers of the men who used to meet within those walls in the days when the existence of the nation was at stake, and on the famous Declaration signed there by them. The purport of it, said the new President, is that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. And he added: Now, my friends, can this country be saved on that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest of men in the world if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it.8
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 Liberals, making ready for a definitive attempt at a republican form of government in their own land, were for the abolition of slavery and the maintenance of the Union. The American example was the great one which gave heart to our most progressive men. Americans had proved that republican government was possible in a great modern country by having one. If it broke to pieces, so would break the hopes of those among us who trusted that one day we would have one, tooas we have. These men followed with dire anxiety the events in America.
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 that such a system, with all its defects, was better than autocratic government with all its guarantees. Although living under a monarchy, he could not help sneering at the kindness of those omnipotent governments who, in their paternal desire to spare the people they govern all trouble, would like to spare them even the trouble of thinking.
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.9
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 my course has not conflicted with your judgment of propriety and policy. I can only say that I have acted upon my best convictions without selfishness or malice, and that, by the help of God, I shall continue to do so.10
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 one great, powerful, united nation: the hatreds were so deep, the losses so immense. One of the generals who served the cause of the Union was French, and as a colonel first commanded a regiment, the 55th New York, otherwise called the Lafayette Guards, in which French blood predominated, and who wore the red trousers, red képi, and blue coats of the French army. It was before the war one of those regiments whose functions, owing to the prevalence of peace, had for a long time been of the least warlike, mainly consisting in parades and banquets, so much so that, with that tendency to irony rarely lacking in Gauls, those Gardes Lafayette had nicknamed themselves Gardes La fourchette.11 War came, the country was changed, a new spirit pervaded the nation, and the Gardes La fourchette became Lafayette again, and worthy of the name.
General de Trobriand has left a captivating account of the campaign12 and of what his first regiment did in it, beginning with military instruction hastily imparted before the start by French sergeants, some of whom had made war in Algeria, others in the Crimea or Italy, familiar, all of them, with field service; then the coming of his soldiers to Washington, as yet a small, sparsely peopled city, with Pennsylvania Avenue for its principal artery; their following Rock Creek, not yet a public park, cadencing their march by singing the Marseillaise or the Chant des Girondins, hymns unknown to the echoes of the region, which repeated them for the first time, perhaps the last, and crossing Chain Bridge to camp beyond the Potomac.
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 troops were French creoles, who, they too, had fought to the sound of the Marseillaise.
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.13
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 the end of the 55th: reduced to 210 men, it was merged into the 33d.
Lincolns 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 shot forth a mass of black hair, thick, and bristling as a bunch of pine-boughs; a face of irresistible attraction.
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.14
When the news of his tragic death reached France, the emotion was intense; party lines at that solemn hour disappeared for a moment, and the country was unanimous in the expression of her horror. The Emperor and Empress telegraphed their condolences to Mrs. Lincoln; the Senate and Chamber voted addresses of sympathy; M. Rouher, the premier, interrupted by applause at every word, expressed himself as follows in proposing the vote: Mr. Abraham Lincoln has displayed in the afflicting struggle which convulses his country that calm firmness which is a necessary condition for the accomplishment of great duties. After victory he had shown himself generous, moderate, and conciliatory. Then followed these remarkable words: The first chastisement that Providence inflicts on crime is to render it powerless to retard the march of good. The work of appeasement commenced by a great citizen will be completed by the national will.
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 the sons of America. France ardently desires the re-establishment of peace in the midst of that great nation, her ally and her friend.
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 Lincolns 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 Lincolns 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 mourn a fellow citizen; for no country is now inaccessible, and we consider as ours that country where there are neither masters nor slaves, where every man is free or is fighting to become free.
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.
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 from my window patrolling about in the neighborhood, who occasionally stop persons calling to see me, and in some instances, I am told, send them away.15
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 Hugos 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 Lincolns character and career: Dedicated by French Democracy to Lincoln, President, twice elected, of the United StatesLincoln, honest man, who abolished slavery, re-established the Union, saved the Republic, without veiling the statue of liberty.16
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 ours, in the image of God, and who by a word from him have been endowed with freedom.17
In his La Victoire du Nord aux Etats Unis, Montalembert expressed, with his usual eloquence and warmth of heart, the same sorrow at Lincolns 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: Dont 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 have revived, in the midst of the nineteenth century, the patriotism, devotion, abnegation of the Roman ones in the heyday of the republic. Clelia, Cornelia, Portia have found their equals in many a hamlet, many a plantation of Louisiana or Virginia.18
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.
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 world to whom liberty and justice are dear a great remembrance and a great example.20
Accounts of Lincolns 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.21
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. Such a cause is worth every sacrifice. By defending it at all costs the United States have done more than fulfil a task worthy of their power and patriotism, for their triumph is a victory for mankind.
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.22
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 upright ideas, a model of courtesy, counting only friends in the very large circle of his acquaintances. He ended with these admirable lines:
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 everybodys 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.
Note 1. Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, vol. XIII, col. 33 ff., November 2 and 3, 1803. Senator White had also objected that the price, of fifteen million dollars, was too high; while the French plenipotentiary, Barbé-Marbois, had observed that the lands still unoccupied, to be handed to the American Government would have a value of several billions before a century had elapsed, in which he was no bad prophet. Marbois added: Those who knew the importance of a perfect understanding between these two countries attached more value to the twenty million francs set apart for the American claims than to the sixty offered to France. In accordance again with Senator White, the deciding motive had not been that longing for a perfect understanding mentioned by Marbois, but a feeling that Louisiana would, at the next war, inevitably fall into the hands of the British. Of course, it would, future Marshal Berthier, who was averse to the cession, had observed when the point had been mentioned at the council held at the Tuileries, before the First Consul Bonaparte, on Easter Day, 1803, but Hanover would just as soon be in our hands, and an exchange would take place at the peace. Remember this: no navy without colonies; no colonies without a navy. Barbé-Marbois, Histoire de la Louisiane, Paris, 1829, pp. 295, 315, 330. [back]
Note 7. Some French settlements were still in existence in the region, and were still French. The French settlements about Kaskaskia retained much of their national character, and the pioneers from the South who visited them or settled among them never ceased to wonder at their gayety, their peaceable industry, and their domestic affection, which they did not care to dissemble and conceal like their shy and reticent neighbors. It was a daily spectacle which never lost its strangeness for the Tennesseeans and Kentuckians to see the Frenchman returning from his work greeted by his wife and children with embraces of welcome at the gate of his dooryard, and in view of all the villages. The natural and kindly fraternization of the Frenchmen with the Indians was also a cause of wonder. Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, 1904, I, 58. [back]
Note 11. Lesprit Gaulois, toujours moqueur, avait saisi le côté plaisant de cet inutile étalage dépaulettes et de tambours, et les officiers du 55° New York qui, à lheure du danger, prodiguèrent pour leur nouvelle patrie le sang français sous la direction dun chef habile et vaillant, M. de Trobriand, sétaient donnés à eux-mêmes, dans lun des repas de corps qui terminent toujours ces cérémonies, le titre joyeux de Gardes La fourchette. Comte de Paris, Histoire de la Guerre civile en Amérique, 1874, I, 311. [back]
Note 12. Quatre ans de campagnes à larmée du Potomac, par Régis de Trobriand, ex-Major Général au service volontaire des Etats Unis dAmérique, Paris, 1867, 2 vols. As is well known, two French princes took part in the war as staff-officers in the Army of the Potomac, the Comte de Paris and the Duc de Chartres. An American officer who was present told me that, whether on foot or on horseback, the Comte de Paris had the habit of stooping. During a severe engagement he was asked to carry an order across an open field, quite exposed to the enemys fire. He took the order, straightened on his saddle, crossed the field quite erect, fulfilled his mission, recrossed the field, keeping perfectly straight, and when back in the lines, stooped again. [back]
Note 14. Abraham Lincoln, by Alphonse Jouault. The work was begun in Washington at the time of Lincolns assassination, which the author witnessed, but printed only in 1875. The text of the second inaugural address had been read in France with great admiration. The famous bishop of Orleans, Dupanloup, wrote concerning it to Augustin Cochin: Mr. Lincoln expresses with solemn and touching gravity the feelings which, I am sure, pervade superior souls in the North as in the South. I thank you for having made me read this beautiful page of the history of great men, and I beg you to tell Mr. Bigelow of my sympathetic sentiments. I would hold it an honor if he were so good as to convey an expression of them to Mr. Lincoln. Orleans, April 2, 1865; an appendix to Montalemberts Victoire du Nord, Paris, 1865. [back]
Note 15. April 28, 1865. Text as well as that of the documents just quoted in The Assassination of President Lincoln. Appendix to Diplomatic Correspondence of 1865, Government Printing Office, 1866. [back]
Note 16. Dédié par la Démocratie Française à Lincoln, Président deux fois élu des Etats UnisLincoln, honnête homme, abolit lesclavage, rétablit lunion, sauva la République, sans voiler la statue de la liberté. The medal is now the property of the Presidents son, Mr. Robert T. Lincoln. [back]
Note 17. A very long article by L. de Gaillard, April 30, 1868. [back]
Note 18. La Victoire du Nord, Paris, 1865, pp. 7, 11, 20, 23. [back]