The record of the Civil War in America is destined to occupy a conspicuous place in the history of human events. To have shared in the mighty struggle, now closed in the triumph of our arms, will ever be regarded as a distinguished honor. The inception, progress, and final results of the Great Rebellion entitle it to a high rank in the long and fearful catalogue of wars that have drenched the earth in blood.
The important lesson inculcated by a careful review of the conflict is the permanency of republican institutions and the self-preserving power of a free people. This lesson is written in living characters, for the instruction of the nations of the earth. The monarchs of Europe may no longer hope to see the republican form of government set aside as impracticable. The capacity of a representative democracy to resist and suppress insurrection and rebellion against the constituted authority of the people has been fully tested and triumphantly established. No other form of government could have so successfully defended the life of the nation, when assailed by an insurrectionary faction possessing the combination of numbers, resources and unity of purpose which characterized the revolted States of the Federal Union.
Preceding events only serve to show more clearly the reserved power of a free people to repel the assaults of internal foes. The long lists of treasonable acts committed by the Cabinet of Mr. Buchanan, and the imbecility of the Executive himself, afforded the insurgents every facility for the accomplishment of their well-matured plans. While great advantages were thus secured to the foul conspiracy, and the power of the Government was almost paralyzed by the withdrawal of arms into the seceded States and the dispersion of the fleet in distant seas, the ready acceptance by the people of the issue presented, of war for the maintenance of the Union or peaceable secession, furnished a most conclusive evidence of the conscious strength of the nation. The gross abuse of power by those entrusted with the administration of the Government roused the love of liberty in every loyal heart and fired the masses with an unalterable determination to preserve the national integrity. On the displacement of the treacherous Executive and Cabinet, by men of inflexible principle and tried devotion to the interests of the country, the public heart beat in glad response to every call of duty, and nerved the people to meet all the emergencies of the long and bloody struggle that ensued. Thus, while the gigantic arm of rebellion found us almost powerless for immediate resistance, it stimulated the exercise of all the skill and energy of the nation, in busy preparation for the inevitable conflict, with the firm purpose to wrest from the insurgents their usurped power, and strike quick and vigorous blows when fully armed for battle. That purpose is accomplished and the great question concerning the vitality of our free republic is satisfactorily answered. The problem is solved, and in its solution the nation has practically exemplified the loftiest principles in the science of government.
Another prominent feature of the national character, developed in the hour of trial, is the capacity to meet and conquer covert treason at the ballot box, while suppressing armed rebellion on the battle field. The moral influence of our triumph over the sympathizers with treason in the North can scarcely be over-estimated. The darkest hour in the day of our affliction was that in which Northern demagogues were seeking to array the State Legislatures in opposition to the war policy of the Administration. The result of their success would have been the ruin of our cause. With the public heart cut off from the governmental head, by the interposition of disloyal State legislation, the hands of our brave men would have been palsied, and treason would have triumphed through the agency of our professed friends. The army penetrated the designs of these base deceivers, and aided the people, in the use of the elective franchise, to cast down the idolaters' Dagon before the ark of the covenant, in which were deposited the sacred rights of man. The slimy folds of the serpent were unmasked, and the hateful "Copperhead" was revealed to the public eye in all his loathsome repulsiveness. Shrinking back into the dark recesses of crime, whence he came to deceive the people with the apple of discord, he saw the mighty power of the Government, under the guidance of the immortal Lincoln, brought to bear upon the hosts of treason, as our great chieftains, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Thomas, with their noble armies, crushed their enemies in the dust, and restored peace to the land amidst the applause of a loyal people.
The hour of our triumph was succeeded by the deepest sorrow. Scarcely had the sound of rejoicing over our great victories been heard in the land, when all hearts were filled with grief and indignation at the fall of our noble President. At the very brink of Jordan, beyond which lay the Canaan of peace, upon whose beauteous prospect he gazed with gratitude to God, the great leader of the people, like Moses on Pisgah's summit, died, and a nation mourned his loss no less sincerely than did Israel on the day of their deliverer's death. He had led his people through the wilderness of rebellion, bearing patiently all the murmurings of those who could not understand the purity of his motives. He had performed no miracles, but he had struck the chains of slavery from the necks of four millions of bondsmen. For this he was upbraided by the blind devotees of the Baal of African slavery. He fell by the hand of one of those base idolaters, at the very zenith of his fame. "Then you, and I, and all of us fell down, and bloody treason triumphed over us." Thousands of homes had ere this been involved in sorrow for the heroes slain in battle, but no such grief had ever visited the nation. "There was not a house where there was not one dead," for Abraham Lincoln was the friend of the people, and in his sudden and tragic death al who loved their country lost a heaven-sent protector. As Washington is acknowledged Father of his country, so is Lincoln her Saviour. Side by side they will abide in the hearts of their countrymen, and of generations to come, and the world shall own them peers in all that renders man an object of universal esteem and affectionate remembrance.
The complete history of the Great Rebellion must be written by the future historian. The important results of our struggle for the maintenance of civil and religious liberty in our land, and for its extension throughout the world, cannot be fully appreciated at the present day. Great events attain their just proportions when seen from afar, as the mountains rear their majestic heads above the clouds, and become objects of sublime contemplation when view at a distance. As the traveler upon the mountain side, when the summit is hidden from his view, and the proportions of the whole scene are not discoverable, gathers the details which help to form a full description, so may we who have shared in the conflicts and triumphs of the struggle now closed, record the results of our experience and observation for the use of the future historian.
The philosophy of the history will more fully appear in the results of our success, as the future shall develop them. the specific value of our triumph must be measured by our advancement in social, moral and religious influence. Our honor will depend upon the formation of correct sentiment. It will be of little avail that we have subdued armed treason, if we are ourselves conquered by vice. The influence of our returned volunteers will constitute an important element of social and national character. Four years of civil strife should not impair the social fabric, but strengthen the foundations of virtue and intelligence, and stimulate all classes to nobler efforts for distinction. Thus, alone, shall we be qualified to vindicate the right and attain to the full dignity of citizens of a free government, restrained only by Constitutional and self-imposed obligations.