Abraham Lincoln (15 April 1865) Eulogy By Ralph Waldo Emerson

Abraham Lincoln (15 April 1865)

Eulogy By Ralph Waldo Emerson




This address was delivered by Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, orator, poet and essayist, at Concord, Massachusetts, on the occasion of funeral services in honor of Mr. Lincoln, in April,

It is an epitome of the life of the martyred President, a marvelous tribute from a contemporary singularly fitted to pronounce the verdict of time upon a great leader, spoken while the shock of the assassination absorbed the minds of all alike.

The collection of Lincolniana of Mr. Judd Stewart of Plain- field, New Jersey, contains The Oratorical Year Book for 1 865, published in London 1866, in which this oration appeared. Follows a list of speeches also included in this Year Book upon the same subject: In the House of Commons On the Assassi- nation of President Lincoln by Sir George Grey, Mr. Benjamin Disraeli, Mr. W. E. Forster and Mr. J. Stansfeld; the address of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865, on which day Lincoln was shot; the speech of Mr. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, at Auburn, N. Y., on October 20, 1865, “in return for the public congratulations offered him in his escape from the assassination intended by the cowardly accomplice of Wilkes Booth;” and this oration by Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Included also is the second in- augural address of President Lincoln and his speech upon the Conclusion of the War delivered at Washington on the evening of April 11, 1865.

The title page of the book is shown in fac-simile. The re- markable photograph of Mr. Lincoln is one of several made by Gardner on April 9, 1865, the last made of the President. That of Mr. Emerson was made later in Philadelphia.

This address was printed without paragraphs and is re- printed here in the same form. It is hoped that it may be of interest to admirers of Lincoln and Emerson.Abraham_Lincoln_O-116_by_Gardner,_1865-crop

New York, December, 1914.


Abraham Lincoln
By Ralph Waldo Emerson
WE meet under the gloom of a calamity which darkens down over the minds of good men in all civilized society, as the fearful tidings travel over sea, over land, from country to country, like the shadow of an uncalculated eclipse over the planet. Old as history is, and manifold as are its tragedies, I doubt if any death has caused so much pain to mankind as this has caused, or will cause, on its announcement ; and this not so much because nations are by modern arts brought so closely together, as because of the mysterious hopes and fears which, in the present day, are connected with the name and institu- tions of America. In this country, on Saturday, every one was struck dumb, and saw, at first, only deep below deep, as he meditated on the ghastly blow. And, perhaps, at this hour, when the coffin which contains the dust of the Presi- dent sets forward on its long march through mourning States, on its way to his home in Illinois, we might well be silent, and suffer the awful voices of the time to thunder to us. Yes, but that first despair was brief; the man was not so to be mourned. He was the most active and hopeful of men; and his work had not perished; but acclamations of praise for the task he had accomplished burst out into a song of triumph, which even tears for his death cannot keep down. The President stood before us a man of the people. He was thoroughly Ameri- can, had never crossed the sea, had never been spoiled by English insularity or French dissipa- tion; a quiet, native, aboriginal man, as an acorn from the oak; no aping of foreigners, no frivolous accomplishments; Kentuckian born, working on a farm, a flatboatman, a captain in the Blackhawk war, a country lawyer, a repre- sentative in the rural legislature of Illinois — on such modest foundations the broad structure of his fame was laid. How slowly, yet by happily prepared steps, he came to his place! All of us remember — it is only a history of five or six years — the surprise and disappointment of the country at his first nomination at Chicago. Mr. Seward, then in the culmination of his good fame, was the favorite of the Eastern States. And when the new and comparatively unknown name of Lincoln was announced (notwithstand- ing the report of the acclamations of that con- vention) we heard the result coldly and sadly.

It seemed too rash, on a purely local reputation, to build so grave a trust, in such anxious times; and men naturally talked of the chances in politics as incalculable. But it turned out not to be chance. The profound good opinion which the people of Illinois and of the West had conceived of him, and which they had imparted to their colleagues, that they also might justify themselves to their constituents at home, was not rash, though they did not begin to know the richness of his worth. A plain man of the people, an extraordinary fortune attended him. Lord Bacon says, “Manifest virtues procure reputation; occult ones, fortune.” He offered no shining qualities at the first encounter; he did not offend by superiority. He had a face and manner which disarmed suspicion, which inspired confidence, which confirmed goodwill. He was a man without vices. He had a strong sense of duty which it was very easy for him to obey. Then he had what farmers call a long head; was excellent in working out the sum for himself, in arguing his case and convincing you fairly and firmly. Then it turned out that he was a great worker, and, prodigious faculty of performance, worked easily. A good worker is so rare; everybody has some one disabling quality.

But this man was sound to the very core, cheerful, persistent, all right for labour, and liked nothing so well. Then he had a vast good nature, which made him tolerant and ac- cessible to all; fair-minded, leaning to the claim of the petitioner, affable, and not sensible to the affliction which the innumerable visits paid to him, when President, would have brought to any one else. And how this good nature be- came a noble humanity in many a tragic case which the events of the war brought to him everyone will remember, and with what increas- ing tenderness he dealt when a whole race was on his compassion. The poor negro said of him, on an impressive occasion, “Massa Linkum am ebery where.” Then his broad good humour, running easily into jocular talk, in which he delighted and in which he excelled, was a rich gift to this wise man. It enabled him to keep his secret, to meet every kind of man and every rank in society, to take off the edge of the severest decisions, to mask his own purpose and sound his companion, and to catch with true instinct the temper of each company he addressed. And, more than all, it is to a man of severe labour, in anxious and exhausting crises, the natural restorative, good as sleep, and is the protection of the overdriven brain against rancour and insanity.

He is the author of a multitude of good sayings, so disguised as pleasantries that it is certain that they had no reputation at first but as jests; and only later, by the acceptance and. adoption they find in the mouths of millions, turn out to be the wisdom of the hour. I am sure if this man had ruled in a period of less facility of printing, he would have become mythological in a few years, like Aesop or Pilpay, or one of the Seven Wise Masters, by his fables and proverbs. But the weight and penetration of many passages in his letters, messages, and speeches, hidden now by the very closeness of their application to the moment, are destined hereafter to wide fame. What pregnant definitions; what unerring com- mon sense; what foresight; and on great occa- sions, what lofty and more than natural, what humane tone ! His occupying the chair of State was a triumph of the good sense of mankind and of the public confidence. This middle-class country had got a middle-class President at last. Yes, in manners, sympathies, but not in powers, for his powers were superior. His mind mastered the problem of the day; and, as the problem grew, so did his comprehension of it. Rarely was man so fitted to the event. In the midst of fears and jealousies, in the Babel of counsels and parties, this man wrought incessantly with all his might and all his honesty, labouring to find what the people wanted, and how to obtain that. It cannot be said there is any exaggera- tion of his worth.

If ever a man was fairly tested he was. There was no lack of resistance, nor of slander, nor of ridicule. The times have allowed no State secrets; the nation has been in such a ferment, such multitudes had to be trusted, that no secret could be kept. Every door was ajar, and we know all that befell. Then what an occasion was the whirlwind of the war ! Here was place for no holiday magis- trate, no fair-weather sailor; the new pilot was hurried to the helm in a tornado. In four years — the four years of battle-days — his endurance, his fertility of resources, his magnanimity, were sorely tried and never found wanting. There, by his courage, his justice, his even temper, his fertile counsel, his humanity, he stood, an heroic figure in the centre of an heroic epoch. He is the true history of the American people in his time. Step by step he walked before them; slow with their slowness, quickening his march by theirs; the true representative of this conti- nent; an entirely public man; father of his country, the pulse of twenty millions throbbing in his heart, the thought of their minds articu- lated by his tongue. Adam Smith remarks that the axe which in Houbraken’s portraits of British kings and worthies is engraved under those who have suffered at the block adds a certain lofty charm to the picture.

And who does not see, even in this tragedy so recent, how fast the terror and ruin of the massacre are already burning into glory around the victim? Far happier this fate than to have lived to be wished away; to have watched the decay of his own faculties; to have seen, — perhaps, even he, — the proverbial ingratitude of statesmen ; to have seen mean men preferred. Had he not lived long enough to keep the greatest promise that ever man made to his fellow men — the practical abolition of slavery? He had seen Tennessee, Missouri and Maryland emancipate their slaves. He had seen Savannah, Charleston and Rich- mond surrendered; had seen the main army of the rebellion lay down its arms. He had con- quered the public opinion of Canada, England and France. Only Washington can compare with him in fortune. And what if it should turn out, in the unfolding of the web, that he had reached the term; that this heroic deliverer could no longer serve us; that the rebellion had touched its natural conclusion, and what re- mained to be done required new and uncommitted hands — a new spirit born out of the ashes of the war; and that Heaven, wishing to show the the world a completed benefactor, shall make him serve his country even more by his death than his life. Nations, like kings, are not good by facility and complaisance.

“The kindness of kings consists in justice and strength.” Easy good nature has been the dangerous foible of the Republic, and it was necessary that its enemies should outrage it, and drive us to un- wonted firmness, to secure the salvation of this country in the next ages.


Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from The Institute of Museum and Library Services through an Indiana State Library LSTA Grant


” Iterat voces et verba cadentia tollit.” — lion. Ep. 1. 18. 12.



Privately Printed

XXVIII Speech at Second Annual Meeting of Free Religion


THOU metest him by centuries,

And lo! he passes like the breeze;
Thou seek’st in globe and galaxy,
He hides in pure transparency;
Thou ask’st in fountains and in fires,
He is the essence that inquires.


FRIENDS: I wish I could deserve anything of the kind expression of my friend, the President, and the kind good will which the audience signifies, but it is not in my power to-day to meet the natural demands of the occasion, and, quite against my design and my will, I shall have to request the attention of the audience to a few written remarks, instead of the more extensive statement which I had hoped to offer them.

I think we have disputed long enough. I think we might now relinquish our theological controversies to communities more idle and ignorant than we. I am glad that a more realistic church is coming to be the tendency of society, and that we are likely one day to forget our obstinate polemics in the ambition to excel each other in good works. I have no wish to proselyte any reluctant mind, nor, I think, have I any curiosity or impulse to intrude on those whose ways of thinking differ from mine. But as my friend, your presiding officer, has asked me to take at least some small part in this day’s conversation, I am ready to give, as often before, the first simple foundation of my belief, that the Author of Nature has not left himself without a witness in any sane mind: that the moral sentiment speaks to every man the law after which the Universe was made; that we find parity, identity of design, through Nature, and benefit to be the uniform aim: that there is a force always at work to make the best better and the worst good.

We have had not long since presented us by Max Müller a valuable paragraph from St. Augustine, not at all extraordinary in itself, but only as coming from that eminent Father in the Church, and at that age, in which St. Augustine writes: “That which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist from the planting of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion which already existed began to be called Christianity.” I believe that not only Christianity is as old as the Creation,—not only every sentiment and precept of Christianity can be paralleled in other religious writings,—but more, that a man of religious susceptibility, and one at the same time conversant with many men,—say a much-travelled man,—can find the same idea in numberless conversations. The religious find religion wherever they associate. When I find in people narrow religion, I find also in them narrow reading. Nothing really is so self-publishing, so divulgatory, as thought. It cannot be confined or hid. It is easily carried; it takes no room; the knowledge of Europe looks out into Persia and India, and to the very Kaffirs. Every proverb, every fine text, every pregnant jest, travels across the line; and you will find it at Cape Town, or among the Tartars. We are all believers in natural religion; we all agree that the health and integrity of man is self-respect, self-subsistency, a regard to natural conscience. All education is to accustom him to trust himself, discriminate between his higher and lower thoughts, exert the timid faculties until they are robust, and thus train him to self-help, until he ceases to be an underling, a tool, and becomes a benefactor. I think wise men wish their religion to be all of this kind, teaching the agent to go alone, not to hang on the world as a pensioner, a permitted person, but an adult, self-searching soul, brave to assist or resist a world: only humble and docile before the source of the wisdom he has discovered within him.

As it is, every believer holds a different creed; that is, all the churches are churches of one member. All our sects have refined the point of difference between them. The point of difference that still remains between churches, or between classes, is in the addition to the moral code, that is, to natural religion, of somewhat positive and historical. I think that to be, as Mr. Abbot has stated it in his form, the one difference remaining. I object, of course, to the claim of miraculous dispensation,—certainly not to the doctrine of Christianity. [1] This claim impairs, to my mind, the soundness of him who makes it, and indisposes us to his communion. This comes the wrong way; it comes from without, not within. This positive, historical, authoritative scheme is not consistent with our experience or our expectations. It is something not in Nature: it is contrary to that law of Nature which all wise men recognize; namely, never to require a larger cause than is necessary to the effect. George Fox, the Quaker, said that, though he read of Christ and God, he knew them only from the like spirit in his own soul. We want all the aids to our moral training. We cannot spare the vision nor the virtue of the saints; but let it be by pure sympathy, not with any personal or official claim. If you are childish, and exhibit your saint as a worker of wonders, a thaumaturgist, I am repelled. That claim takes his teachings out of logic and out of nature, and permits official and arbitrary senses to be grafted on the teachings. It is the praise of our New Testament that its teachings go to the honor and benefit of humanity,—that no better lesson has been taught or incarnated. Let it stand, beautiful and wholesome, with whatever is most like it in the teaching and practice of men; but do not attempt to elevate it out of humanity, by saying, ‘This was not a man,’ for then you confound it with the fables of every popular religion, and my distrust of the story makes me distrust the doctrine as soon as it differs from my own belief.

Whoever thinks a story gains by the prodigious, by adding something out of nature, robs it more than he adds. It is no longer an example, a model; no longer a heart-stirring hero, but an exhibition, a wonder, an anomaly, removed out of the range of influence with thoughtful men. I submit that in sound frame of mind, we read or remember the religious sayings and oracles of other men, whether Jew or Indian, or Greek or Persian, only for friendship, only for joy in the social identity which they open to us, and that these words would have no weight with us if we had not the same conviction already. I find something stingy in the unwilling and disparaging admission of these foreign opinions—opinions from all parts of the world—by our churchmen, as if only to enhance by their dimness the superior light of Christianity. Meantime, observe, you cannot bring me too good a word, too dazzling a hope, too penetrating an insight from the Jews. I hail every one with delight, as showing the riches of my brother, my fellow soul, who could thus think and thus greatly feel. Zealots eagerly fasten their eyes on the differences between their creed and yours, but the charm of the study is in finding the agreements, the identities, in all the religions of men.

I am glad to hear each sect complain that they do not now hold the opinions they are charged with. The earth moves, and the mind opens. I am glad to believe society contains a class of humble souls who enjoy the luxury of a religion that does not degrade; who think it the highest worship to expect of Heaven the most and the best; who do not wonder that there was a Christ, but that there were not a thousand; who have conceived an infinite hope for mankind; who believe that the history of Jesus is the history of every man, written large.