Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Peace 'Fraught With Great Difficulty'

44th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
At about sundown on April 9 [1865], Lincoln returned to a capital still celebrating the capture of Richmond and eagerly anticipating the surrender of Robert E. Lee. . . . That night the President learned that Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, and he immediately told Mary. At daylight the next day he firing of five hundred cannon gave the news to the entire capital. "Guns are firing, bells ringing, flags flying, men laughing, children cheering," recorded Gideon Welles; "all, all jubilant." Throngs of people collected around the White House, filling the north portico, the carriageways, and the sidewalks. "The crowds around the house have been immense," Mary wrote; "in the midst of the bands playing, they break forth into singing." Repeatedly they called for the President, and when he failed to appear, the shouting grew even louder. A great cheer arose when Tad appeared at a second-story window, waving a Confederate flag. Finally Lincoln came out to say a few words. Anticipating that there would be a more formal demonstration the following night, he told the crowd, "I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before." But he again asked the band to play Dixie, "one of the best tunes I have ever heard," and joked that he had a legal opinion from the Attorney General that the song was "a lawful prize," since "we fairly captured it." . . .

On April 11 it seemed that the whole city turned out to celebrate. All the government buildings, and many of the private houses were illuminated. Though the evening was misty, the illuminated dome of the Capitol could be seen for miles. Across the Potomac, Lee's home, Arlington, was brightly lit, and thousands of freedmen gathered on the lawn to sign "The Year of Jubilee." An immense throng of people, many carrying banners, poured into the semicircular driveway leading to the north portico of the White House. After repeated loud calls, the President appeared in a second-story window just under the portico, and "cheers upon cheers, wave after wave of applause, rolled up." Lincoln began to read from his carefully prepared manuscript in order to avoid any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of his ideas, but the light was bad. After unsuccessfully trying to hold a candle in one hand and the pages of his manuscript in the other, he beckoned to Noah Brooks, who took a place behind the draperies and held up the light while the President read. As he finished each page, he dropped it to the floor, where Tad scrambled about, collecting them and, growing restless, importuned his father for another.

"We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart," the President began, and he expressed hope that the recent victories "gave hope of a righteous and speedy peace." Promising a day of national thanksgiving, he offered the nation's gratitude to "Gen. Grant, his skillful officers, and brave men." That much was to be expected -- but the rest of the address was not at all what the crowd had anticipated. "The re-inauguration of the national authority" was his principal subject, and he warned that it was going to be "fraught with great difficulty," the more so since "we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.

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