Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter XXII.


THE intelligence of the death of the Vice-President was received with profound emotion by the whole country. Flags were displayed at half-mast; minute-guns were fired; bells were tolled; the United-States courts were adjourned; and men of all parties, from Maine to Texas, united in expressions of sorrow. In the afternoon of the day on which Mr. Wilson died, President Grant called a meeting of his cabinet, and issued the following order: -

Nov. 22, 18Th.

It is with profound sorrow that the President has to announce to the people of the United States the death of the Vice-President, Henry Wilson, who died in the Capitol of the nation this morning. The eminent station of the deceased, his high character, his long career in the service of his State and of the Union, his devotion to the cause of freedom, and the ability which he brought to the discharge of every duty, stand conspicuous, and are indelibly impressed on the hearts and affections of the American people. In testimony of respect for this distinguished citizen and faithful public servant, the various departments of the government will be closed on the day of the funeral; and the executive mansion, and all the executive departments in Washington, will be draped with badges of mourning for thirty days. The Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy will issue orders that appropriate military and naval honors be rendered to the memory of one whose virtues and services will long be borne in recollection by a grateful nation.


By the President,

HAMILTON FISH, Secretary of State.

On Thursday, the body of Mr. Wilson in a costly casket, resting on the catafalque which bore the remains of President Lincoln, Chief Justice Chase, and Senator Sumner, lay in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol, and was visited by thousands, who bent over it with tearful emotion and profound respect. On the day following, the remains were removed to the senate-chamber, where at half-past ten, A.M., the nation, through its highest officers, performed the solemn obsequies in honor of the dead. The day was ushered in by the firing of cannon and the tolling of bells; and, though dark and rainy, every seat in the galleries was occupied long before the services commenced. The senate-chamber draped in mourning, the President and Cabinet, the Justices of the Supreme Court in their black gowns, the members of the diplomatic corps (at the head of which was Sir Edward Thornton), the officers of the army and navy in uniform, and the committee of arrangements with white silk sashes, and black-and-white rosettes, presented a most solemn and impressive scene. The chair of the Vice-President was arrayed in crape, Senator Ferry occupying another seat. When the casket, borne by twelve soldiers, and followed by Mr. Colbath and wife, with other relatives of the deceased, was brought into the chamber, the entire audience arose; and Dr. Sunderland, chaplain of the Senate, pronounced the passage: "Lord, make me to know mine end," &c., with great solemnity and impressiveness. Dr. J. E. Rankin, whose church the Vice-President attended, then delivered an appropriate eulogy, in the course of which he made this just distinction between the character of Mr. Wilson and that of his co-worker in the Senate, Mr. Sumner: -

"It is beautiful to see how these two great men of Massachusetts, born one year apart, starting so differently in life, educated so differently, supported and complemented each other. The one, a man of books; the other, a man of men: the one, a man of ideas; the other, a man of facts: the one, a man of the few; the other, a man of the many: the one sometimes almost losing himself in his distance of advance before the nation; the other always keeping step with the grand movement of the people, going forward only so fast as his true popular instinct taught him that people were ready to follow. In these two men, so unlike, and yet so representative of the extremes in American society, was the New-England idea enshrined and represented on this floor."

At the conclusion of the services in the senate-chamber, the procession attended the funeral-car, drawn by six white horses caparisoned in black, with solemn dirges, and with cannon pealing, to the station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, where Senator Thurman delivered the remains to the charge of Massachusetts Committee of Arrangements, which left for Baltimore early in the afternoon. The Fifth Regiment of that city, which Mr. Wilson had addressed, and which had received many courteous attentions on its late visit to Boston, tendered its services as an escort of the body to its final resting-place; but, inasmuch as many other military organizations had done the same, it was thought advisable to decline the offer. The rotunda of the new City hall in Baltimore was draped in mourning for the reception of the remains; and demonstrations of sorrow everywhere prevailed. In Philadelphia, funeral-honors were imposingly rendered to the body of the beloved statesman in Independence hall, on Saturday, where as many as ten thousand people passed in tearful silence by the beautiful casket. The hearse was drawn by ten black horses; the chime of St. Stephen's Church pealed forth the "Dead March;" and business was generally suspended along the streets through which the solemn cortege passed. The remains were escorted through the city of New York by a military force, consisting of several regiments, followed by representatives of the State and City authorities, the Board of Trade, the Republican Central Committee, and the New-England Society. Guns were fired, and expressions of public sorrow manifested in all sections of the city.

While the death of Mr. Wilson, who was perhaps personally known by more people than any other statesman of his time, produced a deep impression of sorrow through the entire country, which might be said to be all arrayed in mourning, it was in Boston and vicinity, where he had spent so many of his days, and where his sterling virtues were best understood, that the national loss was most profoundly felt, and the manifestation of grief the most prolonged and touching. On the reception of the sad intelligence of Mr. Wilson's death, Gov. Gaston made the announcement:-


It becomes my most painful duty to announce to the people of this Commonwealth the death of Vice- President Wilson, which occurred at the Capitol at Washington, this morning, at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.

The loss of this pure and distinguished statesman and honest man will be the cause of great mourning throughout the country, and especially in the State in which he resided, where he was best known, and therefore most highly honored.


A meeting of the Board of Aldermen was held; resolves were passed, and addresses made, in the course of which Mr. Stebbins said, -

"For a period of nearly forty years, his struggles, defeats, and labors, which were crowned in his later years with reward and honor, have closely identified the name of Henry Wilson with the history of Massachusetts and of our country. His life has ever been an incentive to the common people in their aspirations by honest personal labor to reach a higher level. His death will teach the lesson and value of personal integrity, which enabled him to withstand the temptations which ever surrounded his years of public service. His labors in behalf of the oppressed will endear his memory in their hearts; and on the memorial which will mark his last resting-place should be engraved,

He served his imperilled country faithfully, withstood temptations, and died an honest man."

"The good and true never die, never die:
They live in our hearts, ever nigh, ever nigh.'"

The United-States District Court was adjourned; and, in his address, Judge Clark appropriately said, -

There is a beautiful prayer of Eastern poetry, 'May you die among your kindred!' The Vice-President has died, not among his kindred in the ordinary sense, nor in the land of his nativity, but in the broader sense, - among the American people, who were his kinsmen, at the nation's capital, at the place of his highest usefulness, and the scene of his greatest activities. Fortunate in his life, fortunate in his death. Eminently fit it is that we pause, and recognize the solemnity of the occasion. . . . When a public servant falls by death, it is a public loss; and the nation mourns. But when a person so eminently active, wise, honest, and good, as was Henry Wilson, dies, the public heart is well-nigh crushed. The Court has no inclination to proceed with the business of the day; and sure it is that Massachusetts, called so lately to bury her illustrious senator, will pause, and let fall bitter tears, as she receives to the bosom of her soil the remains of the late Vice-President to rest in fit companionship with him by whose side he struggled so heroically in the nation's peril.

"The Court will now adjourn until to-morrow."

On the reception of the mournful news at Natick, the bells were tolled, a public meeting was held, at which eulogistic speeches were made; and this among other resolutions was unanimously adopted: -

"Resolved, That, in the death of Henry Wilson, our town has lost a valued and beloved citizen; and as a people, without regard to sectarian or party lines, we unitedly mourn the loss of one whose character and career have reflected so much honor upon the town of his adoption."

A committee, consisting of Messrs. Dunn and Turner of the Executive Council, and Cols. Wyman and Campbell of Gov. Gaston's staff, were appointed to convey the remains of the Vice-President to Massachusetts; and on Saturday, Nov. 27, a large memorial meeting was held in Faneuil hall, in which eloquent tributes of respect were paid to the dead by Mayor Cobb, Gov. William Gaston, Gen. N. P. Banks, Hon. E. R. Hoar, Hon. Charles F. Adams, and George L. Ruffin, Esq. The hall was festooned in black and white; and the white bust of Mr. Wilson stood upon the platform. In the course of his remarks, Goy. Gaston most truly said, -

"A statesman has gone to his rest, and a nation mourns. The benediction of a people grateful for his services will follow him to his grave. Such, under the providence of God, even in this world, are the final rewards of an honest and well-spent life. By his energy, his ability, and his merit, he trod the various paths of honor, until he reached almost the highest office in the gift of forty millions of people. From his example and success, the humblest boy in the nation may learn that in this republic there are no summits upon which his eyes may not rest, or upon which his feet may not stand."

In his eloquent eulogy, Gen. Banks paid this noble tribute to his lamented friend -

"It was the choice and the privilege of every man in this country to fashion his own career. Mr. Wilson made his choice, and worked out his own career. It was a majestic, a multitudinous constituency, of which he became at once the distinguished representative. It was for the poor and the oppressed that he gave his life-long services, in the same category with Messrs. Burlingame, Rantoul, Sumner, and others, among whom he was entitled to a distinguished position. There may have been momentary departures; but he always returned to duty with unfailing fidelity and with undaunted heroism. It was necessary for such men to work constantly among the masses of the people, whom he represented. As a practical man, he stood one of the first and foremost of the time. In all that information which was more necessary for government than all the learning of the schools, he was one of the leaders of the age.

"Added to this, he had an unceasing activity, an exuberance of strength, and a determination of personal character, that enabled him fully to acquaint himself with the wants and feelings of the people. He had left behind him, through his energy, and his devotion to principle, a reputation second to none in our day, and which entitled him to the respect, the love, the enduring remembrance, of all his fellow-men in this and in coming years."

The funeral train, draped in mourning, arrived in Boston at half-past ten o'clock on Sunday morning, Nov. 28, where it was awaited by a vast concourse of sincere mourners, who felt that they had lost a personal friend. Amid the tolling of bells and other signs of general lamentation, the casket was escorted by the Independent Cadets to the Done Hall in the State House, where Col. Wyman, delivering it to Gov. Gaston, spoke as follows: -

"YOUR EXCELLENCY, - In obedience to your orders, we proceeded to Washington, where we received from the National Committee the remains of the late Vice- President; and we have escorted them to this place."

To which his Excellency replied: -

"Massachusetts receives from you her illustrious dead. She will see to it that he whose dead body you bear to us, but whose spirit has entered upon its higher service, shall receive honors befitting the great office which in life he held; and I need not assure you that her people, with hearts full of respect, of love, and of veneration, will not only guard and protect the body, the coffin, and the grave, but will also ever cherish his name and fame. Gentlemen, for the pious service which you have so kindly and tenderly rendered, accept the thanks of a grateful Commonwealth."

Doric Hall was heavily draped in black, the battle-flags being looped with crape, and covering the cannons; while Mr. Wilson's monogram rested on a black curtain at the head of the catafalque. A harp composed of white roses and other flowers rested on the casket; while a cross and crown of violets and roses, and of elegant design, stood at the head, and an anchor of funeral-flowers at the foot, of the casket. A single soldier, immovable as a statue, guarded the remains, as the vast throng, amounting, it might have been, to twenty thousand, filed in silence through the hail, and gazed for the last time on the pallid features of the beloved advocate of civil progress, freedom, and fraternity.

Eloquent memorial discourses were pronounced in many of the churches during the day; among which those of Dr. D. C. Eddy, Dr. George C. Lorimer, Dr. S. F. Upham of Lynn, of the Revs. M. J. Savage, J. B. Dunn, and Henry A. Cooke, evinced a just appreciation of the exalted worth of the deceased Vice- President.

On Monday, Nov. 29, the citizens of Massachusetts, through the State officers, performed the obsequies of - the Vice-President in a style of grandeur and solemnity that evinced the depth of sorrow in the bosom of the Commonwealth. The public buildings generally were closed; flags were placed at half-mast; mourning- emblems were displayed on many private residences; and half-hour guns were fired. The Hall of Representatives was most elaborately decorated with festoons of smilax intwined with delicate white flowers. The speaker's desk, draped with black cloth, was almost covered with flowers; while on that of. the clerk was placed a stately shaft composed of tuberoses, camellias, and white pinks, and resting on a base of ferns and other graceful leaves. The catafalque opposite the speaker's desk was decorated with tender vines and roses. The pall-bearers, ex-Govs. Boutwell, Banks, Gardner, Washburn, Bullock, Claffin, together with the Hon. A. H. Rice, the Hon. Carl Schurz, and Frederick Douglass, entered about twelve o'clock, followed by other dignitaries of the State, and friends of the deceased. The services were opened by the solemn strains of the anthem, "I heard a voice saying unto me, Write," from a quartet of Dr. Eben Tourje. Dr. A. A. Miner then followed with an impressive prayer. Dr. W. F. Warren presented selections from the Scriptures. The Rev. Phillips Brooks read a chant, "Lord, let me know mine end, the number of my days," to which the choir responded; and Dr. J. M. Manning then delivered a discourse from the words, "Thy gentleness bath made me great," which was worthy of the man and of the occasion. Of the many eloquent passages we can cite only the following, the former referring to Mr. Wilson's almost superhuman labors in the Senate, and the latter to his departure from the scenes of earth: -

"At length the gathering cloud burst. It could not be averted: the storm must come. God foreknew this as we did not; and the men whom his gentleness had been lifting up were ready, each for his solemn part. To Henry Wilson fell the chairmanship of military affairs; and the prodigious capacity for work which he showed in that place is known to all who saw him there. What president or cabinet officer, what general in the field, what governor, or regiment, or patient in the hospital, or soldier's widow, ever had occasion to complain of him? The general-in-chief at the opening of the war said that his daily task was equal to the strength of ten men. Thus he toiled till the forces of the Rebellion were spent. And in the clear dawn of peace, during the weary efforts at reconstruction, which were finally successful, the problem of his life was solved. We all saw for what God had made and endowed him, in the light of the terrible exigency which had been his grand opportunity.

"'You will ride out to-day, Mr. Vice-President,' said his attendant, just as his last earthly dawn was fading into the everlasting morning, He did ride out, but not in any material vehicle. The chariot of God was in waiting for him, he rode out of death into life, out of the shadow into eternal sunlight, but of corruption into incorruption."

At the conclusion of the eulogy, the vast audience united in singing Mrs. Adams's beautiful hymn, -

"Nearer, my God, to thee."

Dr. R. H. Neale offered an appropriate prayer; the choir sang with touching effect,-

"Unveil thy bosom, faithful tomb;"

and the Rev. Phillips Brooks pronounced the benediction.

A procession, consisting of a long array of military forces, among which was the Twenty-second Regiment, of which Mr. Wilson was the original commander, government officials, and civic organizations, attended the remains, while guns were pealing, bells were tolling, and bands performing dirges, to the station at Cottage Farm, from which the casket was conveyed, under a special guard, to Natick for the final obsequies. Here it was received at Concert Hall, which was tastefully draped in funereal emblems, by Mr. C. H. Perry, on behalf of the mourning citizens, who came with tearful eyes to view the sacred dust of their distinguished and beloved townsman. On the day following, private funeral services were held at the house of the Vice- President, on Central Street, on account of the inability of Mrs. Howe, [Mrs. Mary (Toombs) Howe, relict of Mr. Amasa Howe, Is the daughter of Joseph and Mary (Homer) Toombs of Hopkinton. He was born in 1750, and was the son of Daniel Toombs, who married Mary Cohen, Oct. 3, 1739. They were of Scotch-Irish descent, and among the early settlers of Hopkinton. Amasa Howe (son of Perley Howe, and his wife Anna Hill of Medway) was descended from Hezeklah Howe, who married Jane Jennison of Sudbury, Oct. 81, 1746.] his aged mother-in-law, to be present at the Hall. They were conducted by the Rev. A. E. Reynolds and the Rev. Edmund Dowse, the latter of whom, a long and intimate friend of the departed, said, in substance,-

"We are to-day gathered in the home of Henry Wilson. Here he lived for many years. Here he enjoyed the sweets of domestic life. Here he watched over a loving wife in sickness, and, when her spirit passed away, with loving hand bore her remains to a resting-place in yonder cemetery. Here he rested from his labors, and, could he have had his wish, he would have closed his eyes in this house upon the world and its cares, amidst friends and relations. But God decreed otherwise. We feel to-day that darkness is around and about us; yet we have full faith in the saying, that light dwelleth with the righteous. Here in this house, though the former occupant sleeps in dust, is the holy Bible; here is the family altar he created; and from all these sources comes to us to-day comfort, preparing us to say, 'Even so, Father thy will be done, not mine.'" The minister closed with a touching allusion to the great kindness manifested by Mr. Wilson to his aged mother-in-law.

The remains were then carried back to the Hall, from the ceiling of which was suspended a large black canopy having a beautiful wreath of flowers beneath, that sent forth a white dove with unfolded wings, directly over the coffin, which was also covered with flowers. The services were opened by singing, -

"God is our strength;"

when the Rev. A. E. Reynolds offered a tender prayer; the Rev. J. S. Whedon read selections from the Scriptures; the response, "Abide with Me," was sung; and admirable addresses were made by the Rev. Edmund Dowse and the Rev. Francis N. Peloubet, pastor of the church of which Mr. Wilson was a member. In the course of his eulogy, Mr. Peloubet said, "He needs no monument to show where he died; for he built his own monument here, by which men shall remember where he lived. We are surrounded by his labors as by a great cloud of witnesses.

"Is there a work-bench that is not made more sacred and honorable and hopeful, because Henry Wilson for years worked at one, and while there gained his education, and grew into larger powers? Is there a young man whose heart does not expand, and hopes grow brighter, because Henry Wilson contended with the same difficulties, fought the same temptations, encountered the same trials, and came off conqueror?

"We look at our beautiful library, and remember that Henry Wilson was the first, or one of the first, subscribers to the fund from which the town library grew. We think of our schools, and remember that he was once a teacher in them; and more, under what hard schoolmasters, after what hard days' works, by what light of the kitchen-fire, he gained his education.

We look at our thriving churches, and remember that he was a Christian, and took a deep interest in all that pertains to the kingdom of Christ. His voice was heard in the prayer-meeting. He helped found, and was one of the most liberal supporters of, the Young Men's Christian Association.

"Henry Wilson made many speeches; but the best speech was his life and character at home. He longed to finish the book he was writing; but Natick itself is his best book, known and read by all.

"To us, his fellow-townsmen, many lessons come from yonder coffin. His spirit seems to come back from the mansions of the blest, and, taking us each by the hand, points to the lessons he has lived, written in letters as bright as the light on the emblems of mourning. Let us read them: Religion, temperance, industry, patriotism, courage, principle, character. He shows how we may gain an education. He shows us the way to true success. He shows us the possibilities of good before us all, - what we can be, and what we can do, if we will trust God, and do the right; that the circumstances which would hinder us may be made stepping-stones of success; that the enemies which bar our way may be made soldiers to fight our battles for us; that the burdens which would crush us may become the eagle's wing to bear us upward."

At the close of Mr. Peloubet's address, the audience united in singing, -

"Nearer, my God, to thee;"

and the Rev. B. R. Gifford pronounced the benediction. At three o'clock, p.m., the long procession, in which were the officers of the Maryland Fifth Regiment, moved with slow and reverent step to the Dell Park Cemetery, a charming eminence that overlooks Cochituate Lake and the town of Natick; and there, in tearful silence were deposited, just as the sun was sinking in the west, the mortal remains of the illustrious dead in their final earthly home. The lot of Mr. Wilson, in the north-east corner of the burial-ground, is tastefully ornamented with shrubs and flowers, and contains a marble sarcophagus, surmounted by a hat, feather, sword, belt, and sash, and having the inscription given on p. 870 of this biography. At the right of this stands a well-wrought marble headstone, bearing these words:-

Harriet M. Howe, born in Natick, Nov. 21, 1824; married to Henry Wilson Nov. 28, 1840; died May 28, 1870. She made home happy.

But oh for the touch of a vanquished hand.
And the sound of a voice that is still!" *

Beside this grave the body of the late Vice-President reposes.

*A beautiful white lily chiselled on this monument, and intwined by an Ivy planted by the bereaved husband, is noticed in these graceful lines, which appeared In the Traveller in September, 1872:-

A lily on the marble slept,
Emblem of one whom many wept.
Chiselled by the sculptor's care,
It lay in graceful beauty there,
While flowers blooming In the ground
Shed a sweet fragrance all around.
A little ivy planted there,
And fostered by a husband's care,
Had with its clinging tendrils sought
The flower on the marble wrought,
Then 'mid the lily's leaves so fair,
It wove its green ones closely there,
As to the emblem it would cling
And a rich, leafy tribute bring,
To show that love still fondly turned
To her whose form was there inurned. — E. W. S.

No monument a broader base sustains
Than thine must have, - on equal rights and laws:
No memory the continent retains
Truer to God's will and manhood's holy cause."

At a little distance, in the same lot, stands the twin headstone of his father and mother. It is of beautiful design and on it is inscribed: -

"Winthrop Colbath, born April 7, 1787; died Feb. 10, 1800; and Abigail Colbath, born March 21, 1785; died Aug. 8, 1800."

In his will, dated April 21, 1874, Mr. Wilson bequeathed all his property of whatever kind to his nephew, W. L. Coolidge, to be held in trust for the benefit of his venerable mother-in-law, Mrs. Mary Howe, for the support and education of his adopted daughter, Eva Wilson, an intelligent girl, now about ten years old, and under the charge of Mrs. Fifield; and for other minor purposes, leaving it all to the "friendship, discretion, and sense of right" of Mr. Coolidge, who is constituted the sole executor. The whole property will not exceed $10,000. The life of the testator was insured for $3,500. The third and last volume of Mr. Wilson's "Rise and Fall of the Slave-Power," of which about sixteen chapters are written, will, it is supposed, be completed by the Rev. Samuel Hunt, an intimate friend, and, for the last seven years, private secretary, of the Vice-President. Mr. Wilson left four brothers, all of whom are younger than himself; and all are married, and have had children. John Colbath, the oldest, is a farmer, living in Compton, Canada; Charles H., who married Eliza Newcomb, is a stone-cutter, residing in Hingham, Mass.; Samuel is a doorkeeper at the United-States Senate; and George Albert is an inspector at the Custom House in Boston.

In person, Mr. Wilson was robust and well proportioned. He was five feet, ten inches in height, and weighed about one hundred and eighty pounds. With a light complexion and a clear skin, his whole countenance glowed with health and vigor. His eyes were quick and clear: his forehead, broad and high. The portrait by Mr. Butre, from a photograph by Mr. Black, in this volume, presents his features with correctness; but the marble bust of the sculptor Milmore, introduced by a resolution of the General Court into the State Library in May, 1872, exhibits something more of the ideality and the lofty spirit by which his countenance was in his happiest hours irradiated. His frame was compact and solid, and, even to the last, bore little indication of the eventide of life. In dress and manner he was plain and unpretending, and, when at leisure, remarkably frank, open, and confiding in his conversation.

NOTE. His family, as has been stated, belonged to that excellent stock, the Scotch-Irish, who emigrated to New England in the beginning of the last century. The earliest form in which his family name appears in this country is Colbreath; evidently the same as Calbreath, a name of respectability in Scotland. James Colbreath was baptized Sept. 19, l72, at Newington, N.H.; and from him is descended, through Winthrop, and Winthrop, jun., the subject of this memoir. The children of James and Olive Colbreath were Leighton, Independence, Winthrop, Hunking, Benning, Keziah, Deborah, and Amy. His son Winthrop married Hannah Rollins of Newington, N.H., and they removed to Rochester, now Farinington, about 1183, or a little anterior to the birth of Winthrop, Mr. Wilson's father. The name Colbreath is among those Scottish emigrants who petitioned Gov. Shute for permission to settle in this State. They were largely from Argyleshire in Scotland. The coat-of-arms of the Colbreath family is, "Bendy of six argent and azure on a chief sable, three crosses pattee or." - BURKE's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HERALDRY.

As an orator, Mr. Wilson was strong and vehement, rather than bland and graceful. He cared but little for the rules of the rhetorician, and seldom turned aside in search of ornament: still he studied the best English and American models, - Pitt, Burke, Sheridan, Adams, Wirt, Webster, - and used elevated, or what might be termed forensic diction. Grasping his subject firmly, he presented his propositions with distinctness, and defended them by a constant appeal to facts. His memory was an inexhaustible magazine of facts; and out they came as solid shot from a columbiad, to break up the intrenchment of his enemy.

His great speeches in reply to Mr. Hammond, in reply to Mr. Butler, as well as those on the Pacific Railroad, the Lecompton Constitution, and the Crittenden Compromise, consist mainly of statements, or citations of matters of fact. With some speakers, such a liberal use of facts would be intolerable; but with Mr. Wilson they were so pertinently selected, and so earnestly presented, that they, in general, commanded profound attention.

With kindly sympathies and an earnest purpose, with an open countenance, a clear, strong voice, and animated gestures, Mr. Wilson always secured the attention of a popular assembly; and his words, where more finished speakers failed, were greeted with applause. He found the way to the heart of the people; and that is something higher than any studied eloquence.

He made his loftiest record as a speaker in the senate-chamber. In most of the stirring debates that agitated the country during its most tremendous struggle, he took a leading part. He measured blades with most of the veteran champions of the South, - Toombs, Davis, Benton, Hammond, Butler, Breckenridge, - and often gained the mastery. Many of his brief speeches here are models of forensic eloquence; and parts of some of them have found their way into our reading-books. Of his speaking and his influence in the Senate, a letter-writer at Washington, March 16, 1867, said, -

"But yesterday he rose to speak in the middle of the protracted debate on Supplementary Reconstruction Bill; and at once the great indifference disappeared. Senators on every side turned from their papers and letters to listen; and what Mr. Wilson had to say was attended to with a greater degree of interest and respect on the floor of the Senate than had been given to any thing which had fallen from the lips of Mr. Sumner, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Fessenden, or, in fact, of anybody else, since I have been an observer in the galleries. Such a phenomenon must mean something; and, listening to the remarks of the Massachusetts senator myself, I found the explanation in the fact that he talked more directly to the matter in hand, with more of fact, and less of theory, more of substance, and less of ornament, than any other speaker who had taken part in the debate; and so I concluded that Congress, if not also the country, on this subject of reconstruction at any rate, has had enough of rhetoric, and enough of oratory, and has an appetite only for those plain facts of the need of the day, which Mr. Wilson so forcibly urged."

Had Mr. Wilson read more of the classic poets, his style might, indeed, have had more finish, but not, perhaps, more force. Great national crises demand of leaders, not smooth, rounded periods, and rhetorical flourishes, but substantial facts, strong argumentation, and honest purpose: these Mr. Wilson had, and hence the Senate and the people heard him gladly.

His reasoning was sustained by the grand argument of a consistent life: hence it came home to the conscience, and was fraught with power. No man of his time, perhaps, addressed so many people in America as Henry Wilson; and none, perhaps, spoke so few words that he, if living, would wish to have unsaid. On rising to speak before an audience, his manly form, his honest, open, florid face, and sympathetic voice, bespoke for him a generous reception. The people saw at once that "honesty, poverty, and politics had agreed with him, and that a congressman might ignore crime, keep a clean palm, hold his Maker in remembrance, and yet wear a rosy, unclouded face." Thus he moved the masses to accept his counsels, and translate them into practice; and, if this be not eloquence, it is something above eloquence: it is, in the words of Webster, "Action, —noble, sublime, Godlike action."

As a statesman, Mr. Wilson's views were broad and comprehensive, and at the same time eminently practical. The works of the immortal sages - Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, Jay, Marshall, and others who laid the foundation of this government - were his lifelong study: in their spirit and opinions, his political education was perfected. His inspiration came indeed from a still higher source, - the instructions of the Son of Mary. The great principles of equality, fraternity, civil and religious freedom, and social progress, formed the basis of his political system; and, having confidence in the stability of popular government so administered, he labored with invincible determination to defend those principles. Because he apprehended with such clearness the extent and bearing of a present exigency, so quickly saw the tendency and drift of things, some thought that his political views were superficial rather than profound; but a rapid river may be also deep and strong. Mr. Wilson was a thinker, grasping as easily the broadest principle as the most restricted precept; and he had the power to examine them either under the light of past experience, of present utility, or of future good. His view of the slavery-question from the outset, his forecast of the final issue, his legislation for the conduct of the war, and his conviction of the grand result, most clearly manifest the scope, as well as the accuracy, of his vision. While he was a sound, sagacious statesman, he at the same time possessed great administrative ability. He framed a bill with remarkable precision, and carried it through its various stages up to its final passage with surprising speed and skill. It has been said that more than half the legislation in Congress during the civil war was done by Massachusetts, and certainly enough of that by the military senator to entitle him to a grand historic position in the annals of the nation.

As a writer, Mr. Wilson's style is characterized by perspicuity, force, and dignity. his figures, when they do occur, are striking; his quotations from the poets, apt and pertinent; his pictures, strongly drawn, and sharp in outline, He had no turn for wit or humor: indeed, the subjects on which he wrote do not demand it. His periods are, in general, well rounded and harmonious. His last work is his best; and this, in point of diction, as well as in respect to accuracy of statement, cogency of reasoning, scope of vision, and unity of construction, will rank with the writings of the best historians of America.

As a man, Mr. Wilson was intensely earnest and sincere. He had a wonderfully quick conception of what was just and right: he dared to act on his convictions, and this was one secret of his power. He had no fear of his antagonist: he never cowered in front of danger. In every trying crisis of his life, he stood a hero, undaunted and unterrified. At the first National Republican Convention in Philadelphia, when an assault was anticipated, he came upon the platform with a stout hickory cane in his hand, and, after the protracted applause which greeted him had subsided, commenced very deliberately and emphatically as follows: 'I learn that there is much apprehension existing here and at the North in regard to the peril which your senators and representatives are supposed to be in at the national capital, in consequence of their non-combative principles. Gentlemen, I beg you to dismiss your fears. Your public servants there have made up their minds, and know how to defend their persons, whenever, however, by whomsoever, attacked.' A storm of the wildest cheers told how accurately the senator had read the temper of the convention."

So when a musket-ball was fired into the assembly which he was addressing in New Orleans, and struck into the ceiling near his head, he manifested no emotion, but proceeded with his address as steadily as if nothing had occurred.

He was large-hearted, self-sacrificing, and liberal to a fault, He was a friend of the friendless, and a compassionate comforter of the poor and needy. Here is a single instance among thousands that could be cited. An Irish boy was killed by the cars, while his mother, for drunkenness, was an inmate of the House of Correction. She had an intense desire to see her son's remains; but no one could remove her. Mr. Wilson then went himself to Cambridge, gave bonds for her return, took her in the cars to Natick, gave her his arm, and escorted her to the house, and, when the funeral services were over, went back with her to the prison. Though having it in his power to hoard millions, he lived and died comparatively poor. He was ever in liveliest sympathy with the working-classes. From them he sprang; with them he fought the battle for free labor; and for their rights, their social, moral, and intellectual elevation, he spent with cheerful heart his time, his money, and his mental energies. He believed in human progress, and in the power of the people to perpetuate republican institutions. The means for doing this he clearly indicated, in an able article on "The New Departure of the Republican Party," in "The Atlantic Monthly," January, 1871, to be the education and unification of the people. He saw with hopeful eye the prospective grandeur of the United States, yet felt, that, to attain it, we must have a nobler educational system, a broader knowledge of the principles of our civil and political institutions, a better understanding, and a closer application of the teachings of Christianity to our public, social, and private life.

He was, therefore, the earnest friend of the public school, the university, the pulpit, and the press. Profoundly acquainted with the genius and the spirit of the nation, from the workshop to the halls of Congress, he labored wisely and persistently to make the nation what it is: hence his opinions are entitled to profound respect. Among the self-made men of the times, he stood pre-eminent as a man magnificently made. Though reared among the intemperate, his tongue was never contaminated by the touch of alcohol though wielding immense patronage, his palm was never stained by bribery; though breathing for so many years the infected atmosphere of politics, his heart still beat fresh and free for human sorrow; though rising by indomitable energy and integrity from a low position to the vice-presidency of the United States, his spirit remained subdued and humble. His life, so marked by manly struggle, earnest words, and noble deeds, is a model for the young men of America to hold before them for encouragement and imitation. It was developed and guided by the solid principles of a Book which he received in childhood, and which sustained him in his conflict with the world, and gave him full assurance, when the scenes of earth were fading, of a more resplendent life to come: hence above the statesman, patriot, and historian, he stood, and will ever stand, before the world, as the devoted and aspiring CHRISTIAN.

It is not by any means desired to present him as a perfect man, nor to claim for him any thing more than is justly due; but so far as those grand elements which form true manhood go, so far as a living sympathy with man as man, so far as a life unselfishly devoted to the sons of toil and suffering, so far as the daily exemplification of the ennobling principles of Christianity, may be regarded, he made a record that will hold its brightness when the memories of men more brilliant in exterior graces shall have passed into oblivion. He was an intensely practical and earnest working-man; but work finds little room for outward graces: yet the times demanded working-men strong and fearless. He had the will to work; and, as we said in the beginning, WORKERS WIN.

From boyhood, he sought wisdom as most men seek gain. He stood firm for human right in defiance of power. He bore an honorable part in guiding this nation through the perils of war, through the equal perils attending peace. He spent his life in giving liberty to the slave, and in opening this continent to free labor. He evinced an integrity which no temptation could corrupt, no threat intimidate, no danger shake; a confidence in God, which triumphed over death itself: and, having so lived and died, he deserves well of his country. His character, as a star of serene, benignant ray, will shine the brighter as men shall examine it the more.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus