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Abraham Lincoln





BY JAMES L. CURTIS, of New York

[Note 37: Speech delivered on the Centenary of his birth, February
12, 1909.]


Since the curtain rang down on the tragedy of Calvary, consummating the
vicarious sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth, there has been no parallel in
history, sacred or profane, to the deeds of Abraham Lincoln and their
perennial aftermath.

For two hundred years this nation writhed in the pain and anguish of
travail; and as a happy sequel to this long night of suffering, in the
dawn of the nineteenth century, she bore a son who was destined to
awaken a nation's somnolent conscience to a monstrous evil; to lead a
nation through a fierce siege of fratricidal strife; to strike the
shackles of slavery from the limbs of four millions of bondsmen; to fall
a victim to the assassin's bullet; to be enshrined in the hearts of a
grateful nation; and to have an eternal abode in the pantheon of
immortals.

* * * * *

Abraham Lincoln! What mighty magic is this name! Erstwhile it made the
tyrant tremble on his throne and the hearts of the down-trodden leap for
joy. Now, over the chasm of two score years, it causes the drooping
hopes of freemen to bud anew, and the smoldering embers of their
ambition to leap into flame.

With talismanic power, it swerves the darts of hate and malice aimed at
a defenseless race, so that though they wound, they do not destroy. With
antidotal efficacy, it nullifies the virus of proscription so that it
does not stagnate the blood nor paralyze the limb of an up-treading and
on-going race.

When the nation was rent in twain, Lincoln, the propitiator, counselled
conciliation. When the States of the South sought to secede, Lincoln,
the concatenator, welded them into a solid chain, one and inseparable.
When brother sought the life of brother and father that of son, Lincoln,
the pacificator, advised peace with honor. When the nation was stupefied
with the miasma of human slavery, Lincoln, the alleviator, broke its
horrid spell by diffusing through the fire of war the sweet incense of
liberty.

The cynic has sneered at the Proclamation of Emancipation. The dogmatist
has called the great Emancipator a compromiser. The scholar, with the
eccentricity peculiar to genius, has solemnly declared that the slaves
were freed purely as a war necessity and not because of any
consideration for the slave. The undergraduate, in imitation of his
erudite tutors, has asserted that the freedmen owe more to the pride of
the haughty Southerner than to the magnanimity of President Lincoln. But
the mists of doubt and misconception have been so dissipated by the
sunlight of history, that we, of this generation, may clearly see the
martyred President as he really was.

* * * * *

All honor to Abraham Lincoln, the performer, not the preacher; the
friend of humanity, the friend of the North, the friend of the South,
the friend of the white man, the friend of the black man; the man whose
heart, like the Christ's, was large enough to bring within the range of
its sensibilities every human being beneath the stars. The man who, when
God's clock struck the hour, swung back on its creaking hinges the door
of opportunity that the slaves might walk over its portals into the army
and into new fields of usefulness in civil life.

One hundred years have rolled into eternity since freedom's greatest
devotee made his advent on this earth. One hundred years, as but a
moment compared with the life of nations; yet, changes in our form of
government, in the interpretation of our laws, in the relation between
the North and the South, in the status of the Negro, have been wrought,
that were beyond the wildest dreams of Lincoln. And wonderful as have
been these changes to our advantage, in the acquisition of property, in
moral and mental development, in the cultivation of sturdy manhood and
womanhood, yet, all these have come to us as a direct result of the
labors of Lincoln, who, with the ken of a prophet and the vision of a
seer, in those dark and turbulent days, wrought more nobly than he knew.

From these prodigious tasks so well performed, I adjure you, my friends,
that you catch inspiration; that you take no backward step in the
future; that you prove worthy heirs and joint heirs to the heritage of
golden opportunities bequeathed you; that you demand every right with
which his labors have endowed you; and that the righteous sentiment of
"Equal and Exact Justice" be emblazoned on a banner and flaunted in the
breezes till every foe of justice is vanquished and right rules supreme.

That you will do this, I doubt not, for in my heart of hearts, I believe
with Henry Clay that "Before you can repress the tendencies to liberty,
or the tendencies to absolute emancipation from every form of serfdom,
you must go back to the era of our independence and muzzle the cannon
which thunders its joyous return; you must penetrate the human soul and
eradicate there the love of liberty." Then, and not till then, can you
stifle the ennobling aspiration of the American Negro for the unabridged
enjoyment of every right guaranteed under the Constitution and the
laws.





Next: Abraham Lincoln And Fifty Years Of Freedom

Previous: William Lloyd Garrison: A Centennial Oration



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