The assassination of President Lincoln threw a whole nation into mourning, — the few exceptions to those who deplored the President's violent and untimely end only serving to make the general regret the more manifest. Of all our Presidents since Washington, Mr. Lincoln had excited the smallest amount of that feeling which places its object in personal danger. He was a man who made a singularly favorable impression on those who approached him, resembling in that respect President Jackson, who often made warm friends of bitter foes, when circumstances had forced them to seek his presence; and it is probable, that, if he and the honest chiefs of the Rebels could have been brought face to face, there never would have been civil war,--at least, any contest of grand proportions; for he would not have failed to convince them that all that they had any right to claim, and therefore all that they could expect their fellow-citizens to fight for would be more secure under his government than it had been under the governments of such men as Pierce and Buchanan, who made use of sectionalism and slavery to promote the selfish interests of themselves and their party. The estimation in which he was latterly held by the most intelligent of the Secessionists indicates, that, had they been acquainted with him, their Secessionism never would have got beyond the nullification of the Palmetto Nullifiers; and that was all fury and fuss, without any fighting in it. Ignorance was the parent of the civil war, as it has been the parent of many other evils,--ignorance of the character and purpose of the man who was chosen President in 1860-61, and who entered upon official life with less animosity toward his opponents than ever before or since had been felt by a man elected to a great place after a bitter and exciting contest. There is not the slightest reason for doubting the sincerity of Mr. Lincoln's declaration, that his administration should be Constitutional in its character; nor can it be said that the earlier Rebels ever supposed that he would invade their Constitutional rights. They rebelled because circumstances enabled them to attempt the realization of their long-cherished dream of a slave-holding Confederacy, and because they saw that never again, in their time, would another such opportunity be offered to effect a traitorous purpose. It was clear to every mind that a year of quiet under the new administration would dispel the delusion that the North was about to overthrow the old polity; and therefore the violent men of the South were determined that that administration never should have a fair trial. Their action at Charleston, in 1860, by rendering the election of the Republican candidate certain, shows that they wished an occasion for revolt; and the course of President Buchanan, who refused to take the commonest precautions for the public safety, gave them a vantage-ground which they speedily occupied, and so made war inevitable.
That one of the most insignificant of their number should have murdered the man whose election they declared to be cause for war is nothing strange, being in perfect keeping with their whole course. The wretch who shot the chief magistrate of the Republic is of hardly more account than was the weapon which he used. The real murderers of Mr. Lincoln are the men whose action brought about the civil war. Booth's deed was a logical proceeding, following strictly from the principles avowed by the Rebels, and in harmony with their course during the last five years. The fall of a public man by the hand of an assassin always affects the mind more strongly than it is affected by the fall of thousands of men in battle; but in strictness, Booth, vile as his deed was, can be held to have been no worse, morally, than was that old gentleman who insisted upon being allowed the privilege of firing the first shot at Fort Sumter. Ruffin's act is not so disgusting as Booth's; but of the two men, Booth exhibited the greater courage,--courage of the basest kind, indeed, but sure to be attended with the heaviest risks, as the hand of every man would be directed against its exhibitor. Had the Rebels succeeded, Ruffin would have been honored by his fellows; but even a successful Southern Confederacy would have been too hot a country for the abode of a wilful murderer. Such a man would have been no more pleasantly situated even in South Carolina than was Benedict Arnold in England. And as he chose to become an assassin after the event of the war had been decided, and when his victim was bent upon sparing Southern feeling so far as it could be spared without injustice being done to the country, Booth must have expected to find his act condemned by every rational Southern man as a worse than useless crime, as a blunder of the very first magnitude. Had he succeeded in getting abroad, Secession exiles would have shunned him, and have treated him as one who had brought an ineffaceable stain on their cause, and also had rendered their restoration to their homes impossible. The pistol-shot of Sergeant Corbett saved him from the gallows, and it saved him also from the denunciations of the men whom he thought to serve. He exhibited, therefore, a species of courage that is by no means common; for he not only risked his life, and rendered it impossible for honorable men to sympathize with him, but he ran the hazard of being denounced and cast off by his own party. This places him above those who would have assassinated their country, but who took care to keep themselves within the rules of honorable action, as the world counts honor. He perilled everything, while they staked only their lives and their property. Their success would have justified them in general estimation, but his success would have been his ruin. He was fortunate in meeting death so soon, and not less so in the mode of his exit from the stage of life. All Secessionists who retain any self-respect must rejoice that one whose doings brought additional ignominy on a cause that could not well bear it has passed away and gone to his account. It would have been more satisfactory to loyal men, if he had been reserved for the gallows; but even they must admit that it is a terrible trial to any people who get possession of an odious criminal, because they may be led so to act as to disgrace themselves, and to turn sympathy in the direction of the evil-doer. No fouler murder ever was perpetrated than that of which Booth was guilty; and had he been taken alive and sound, it is possible that our conduct would not have been of such a character as it would have been pleasing to think of after our just passion should have cooled. We should recollect, that, a hundred and sixty years after its occurrence, the shouting of Englishmen over the verdict of Guilty rendered against Charnock and his associates, because of their part in the Assassination Plot, is condemned by the greatest of English historians, who was the last man to be suspected of sympathizing with men who sought to murder William III. A disposition to insult the fallen, no matter how vile may be their offences or how just their fall, is not an American characteristic; but so wide-spread and well-founded was the indignation caused by the basest murder of modern times, that we might have been unjust to ourselves, if the murderer had come whole into our hands. Therefore the shot of Sergeant Corbett is not to be regretted, save that it gave too honorable a form of death to one who had earned all that there is of disgraceful in that mode of dying to which a peculiar stigma is attached by the common consent of mankind.