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.
Whether Booth was the agent of a band of conspirators, or was one of a few vile men who sought an odious immortality, it is impossible to say. We have the authority of a high Government official for the statement that "the President's murder was organized in Canada and approved at Richmond"; but the evidence in support of this extraordinary announcement is, doubtless for the best of reasons, withheld at the time we write. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that the assassination plot was formed in Canada, as some of the vilest miscreants of the Secession side have been allowed to live in that country. We know that there were other plots formed in that country against us,--plots that were to a certain extent carried into execution, and which led to loss of life. The ruffians who were engaged in the St. Albans raid--which was as much an insult to England as it was a wrong to us--were exactly the sort of men to engage in a conspiracy to murder Federal magistrates; but it is not probable that British subjects had anything to do with any conspiracy of this kind. The Canadian error was in allowing the scum of Secession to abuse the "right of hospitality" through the pursuit of hostile action against us from the territory of a neutral. If injustice is done their country in this instance, Canadians should recollect that what is known to have been done there for our injury is quite sufficient to warrant the suspicion that more was there done to increase the difficulties of our situation than now distinctly appears. The country that contains such justices as Coursol and Smith cannot complain, if its sense of fairness is not rated very high by its neighbors,--neighbors who have suffered from Secessionists being allowed to make Canada a basis of operations against the United States, though the United States and Great Britain are at peace.
That a plan to murder President Lincoln should have been approved at Richmond is nothing strange; and though such approval would have been supremely foolish, what but supreme folly is the chief characteristic of the whole Southern movement? If the seal of Richmond's approval was placed on a plan formed in Canada, something more than the murder of Mr. Lincoln was intended. It must have been meant to kill every man who could legally take his place, either as President or as President pro tempore. The only persons who had any title to step into the Presidency on Mr. Lincoln's death were Mr. Johnson, who became President on the 15th of April, and Mr. Foster, one of the Connecticut Senators, who is President of the Senate. There was no Speaker of the House of Representatives; so that one of the officers designated temporarily to act as President, on the occurrence of a vacancy, had no existence at the time of Mr. Lincoln's death, has none at this time, and can have none until Congress shall have met, and the House of Representatives have chosen its presiding officer. It does not appear that any attempt was made on the life of Mr. Foster, though Mr. Johnson was on the list of those doomed by the assassins; and the savage attack made on Mr. Seward shows what those assassins were capable of. But had all the members of the Administration been struck down at the same time, it is not at all probable that "anarchy" would have been the effect, though to produce that must have been the object aimed at by the conspirators. Anarchy is not so easily brought about as persons of an anarchical turn of mind suppose. The training we have gone through since the close of 1860 has fitted us to bear many rude assaults on order without our becoming disorderly. Our conviction is, that, if every man who held high office at Washington had been killed on the 14th of April, things would have gone pretty much as we have seen them go, and that thus the American people would have vindicated their right to be considered a self-governing race. It would not be a very flattering thought, that the peace of the country is at the command of any dozen of hardened ruffians who should have the capacity to form an assassination plot, the discretion to keep silent respecting their purpose, and the boldness and the skill requisite to carry it out to its most minute details: for the neglect of one of those details might be fatal to the whole project. Society does not exist in such peril as that. Does any one suppose, that, if the Gunpowder Plot had been a success,--that, if King, Lords, and Commons had all been hoisted by Mr. Fawkes, the English nation would have gone to wreck, that it could not have survived the loss of most of the royal family, the greater part of the peerage, and most of the gentlemen who had been chosen to serve in the House of Commons? England would have survived such a blow as that blowing-up would have inflicted on her, though for the time she might have been in a very confused condition; and so we should have survived--and we believe without exhibiting much confusion--all the efforts of assassins to murder our leading men, had those efforts been entirely successful.
It is possible, and indeed very probable, that Booth and his associates were originally moved to become assassins by that sentiment which has caused many other men to assail public characters, and sometimes with the bloodiest success. This supposition does not exclude the action of more eminent persons from the tragedy, who may have urged on those hot-headed fools to the completion of their work. Booth was precisely that sort of man who was likely to be the victim of the astounding delusion that to kill President Lincoln would place him in history alongside of those immortal tyrant-killers whose names are in most people's mouths, and whose conduct is seldom condemned and very often is warmly approved. There is constant praise going on of those who, in classic times, put to death men who held, or who aspired to obtain, improper power, or whose conduct was cruel. Booth thought that Mr. Lincoln was a usurper, and that his conduct was cruel; and he could have cited abundance of evidence from the speeches and writings of Northern men, professing to be sound Unionists, in support of the position that the President was a usurper and a tyrant. Having convinced himself that such was the position, and character of the President, it was the most natural thing in the world that he, a Southern man, and brought up on those sensational tragedies in which human life is easily taken on all occasions, should have jumped to the conclusion that it was his duty to kill the man whose plan and actions he had so strangely misconceived. If, while he was thus deluding himself with the notion that he was about to rival Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and other Grecian foes of tyrants, there came to him men who had too much sense to be deluded by such nonsense, but who, nevertheless, were not above profiting, as they regarded profit, from his folly, it is all but certain that he may have had accomplices who have not yet been suspected, persons to whom exposure would be a much greater punishment than death. Those old Greek and Roman writers have much to answer for, as they have conferred a sort of sanctity upon assassination, provided the victim be rightly selected; and who is to decide whether he is so selected or not? If murderers are to decide upon the deserts of their victims, there never was a murder committed. Much of the literature that furnishes material for the instruction of youth is devoted to the laudation of blood-shedding, provided always the blood that is shed is that of a tyrant; and who to say whether it is so or not? Why the tyrant-killer, to be sure. This is an admirable arrangement for securing simplicity of proceedings, but it admits of some doubt whether it can be quite approved on the score of impartiality. When a man unites in his own person the characters of accuser, judge, and executioner, it is within the limits of possibility that he may be slightly untrustworthy. But in what is known as classical literature, not only are tyrant-slayers allowed to have their own way and say, but their action is upheld and defended by great geniuses who never killed anybody with their own hands, but who had a marvellous fondness for those whose hands were blood-stained. Cicero, for example, is never tired of sounding the praises of eminent homicides. He scarcely praised himself more than he eulogized illustrious murderers of other days. And on his eloquent words in honor of assassination are the "ingenuous youth" of Christian countries trained and taught. That some of them should go astray under such teaching is nothing to wonder at. This has happened in other countries, and why should it not happen here? Assassination is not an American crime;[B] but it is not the less true that Brutuses have been invoked in this country, and that more than once President Jackson was pointed at as one from whose tyranny the country might advantageously be relieved after "the high Roman fashion." One man fired at him,--an Englishman, named Laurence, in 1834; but he proved to be insane, and was treated as a mad man. Lieutenant Randolph, a Virginian, assaulted President Jackson, but not with the view to assassinate him. Brooks's assault on Senator Sumner was an assassin's act, and a far more cowardly deed than that which Booth perpetrated, though it had a less tragical termination. The assassinating spirit has been increasing fast in the South, which is one proof of the growth of the aristocratical sentiment there,--assassination being much more in vogue among aristocrats than among monarchists or democrats, and most of the renowned assassins and conspirators having been aristocrats. It denotes the change in our condition that has been wrought by slavery and civil war, that assassination should have been much talked of here, and that at last the head of the Republic should have fallen before an assassin's fire. In other countries assassination has often been resorted to by parties and by individuals, but until very recently no public man can be said to have been taken off by an assassin in America. Booth and his associates stand alone in our history. Others may have talked pistols and daggers, but it was left for them to use weapons so odious for purposes of the same nature. Under the belief that the reader may not be indisposed to see what has been done by assassins in other countries, we shall here cite some remarkable instances of their deeds, passing over classic antiquity and modern Italy.
In the sixteenth century assassination flourished to an extent never before or since known: the hundred years that followed Luther's appearance on the great stage forming murder's golden age, whether we consider the number or the quality of the persons slain or conspired against, or the sort of persons who condescended to act on the principle that killing is no murder. Reformers and reactionists had their assassins; but it must be acknowledged that the latter had the best (which was the worst) of the game, so that nearly all the infamous names that have come down to us won immortality in their service. It was a great, a stirring time, one that was fertile in all manner of crimes, and in which a gentleman that had much nerve and no scruples was sure of constant and well-paid employment, and might make his fortune--or that of his family, if he chanced to be cut off because he had cut down some eminent personage whose life was a great inconvenience to this or that sovereign or party. The conflict that was waged was one of opinion, and therefore was fertile of fanatics, a class of men who have furnished a large force of assassins, who have generally acted on principle, without being always heedless of their interests. In the fierce struggle between old ideas and new, every weapon was employed, and the talents and dispositions of all kinds of men were made available by the great managers who had the casting of the performers in the numerous tragedies that were played. There was not a country in which assassination was unknown; and in most countries it was common, kings and churchmen being its patrons, and not unfrequently perishing by the very arts which under their fostering care had been carried to the highest pitch of artistic perfection. Philip II. was the most powerful monarch of those days. His regal career began just as the Reformation was at its height, and when the Reaction was about to begin. He was a sort of Christian Old Man of the Mountain; and assassination was with him a regular business, a portion of his mode of governing the many races that owned his sway. Mignet, in his "Antonio Perez et Philippe II.," after mentioning that Philip gave instructions to put Escovedo to death, says,--"This order would appear strange on the part of the King, if we did not call to mind the practices as well as the theories of that violent age, so fertile in assassinations. Death was then the last argument of belief, the extreme, but frequent means employed by parties, kings, and subjects. They were not satisfied with killing; they believed they had the right. Certain casuists attributed this right, some to princes, others to the people. Here is what the friar Diego de Chaves, Philip's confessor, wrote upon the very subject of Escovedo's death: 'According to my view of the laws, the secular prince, who has power over the life of his inferiors or subjects, even as he can deprive them of it for a just cause and by judgment in form, may also do so without all this, since superfluous forms and all judicial proceedings are no laws for him who may dispense with them. It is, consequently, no crime on the part of a subject who by a sovereign order has put another subject to death. We must believe that the prince has given this order for a just cause, even as the law always presumes that there is one in all the actions of the sovereign.'" When such a king as Philip II. has such a ghostly father as Diego de Chaves, assassination may become common. Escovedo was murdered; but there were others besides the King concerned in his taking off, one of them being the Princess of Eboli, widow of Philip's first favorite, Ruy Gomez de Silva, and Antonio Perez; and it was because the King believed they had tricked him in the business, that Perez fell, and, when in exile, had his life sought by some of his old master's assassins. Two Irishmen were authorized to kill him, by Philip's Governor of the Netherlands, but failed, and were hanged in London. Baron de Pinella tried to kill Perez at Paris, was detected, and executed. As he had been himself an active assassin, Perez could not well complain of these attempts; but they illustrate the theory and practice of the powerful Spanish monarch. Perez was one of those persons who labored to bring about the assassination of William (the Silent) of Orange. Writing to Escovedo, who was Secretary to Don John of Austria, then in the Netherlands, Perez observes,--"Let it never be absent from your mind that a good occasion must be found for finishing Orange, since, besides the service which will thus be rendered to our master, and to the States, it will be worth something to ourselves"; to which highly moral injunction Escovedo replied,--"You know that the finishing of Orange is very near my heart." There is something almost comical in this correspondence, considering its circumstances: Perez urging upon the man whom he was soon to assassinate the duty of procuring the assassination of the Prince of Orange, to whose party in Europe he was destined erelong to join himself. Philip has been suspected of having procured the death of his half-brother, Don John of Austria, by poison; but in this instance he is entitled at least to the Scotch verdict of Not proven. He did bring about the assassination of his ablest enemy, the Prince of Orange, though not until after failures so numerous as would have served to discourage a man of less persistent mind. Five unsuccessful attempts to kill the Prince were made in two years; the sixth was successful, that of Balthazar Gérard, who shot the Dutch deliverer on the 10th of July, 1584, in his house at Delft. Like Booth, Gérard used the pistol, a weapon that seems to have been invented for the promotion of murder. He made a determined effort to get off, and might have succeeded, had he not stumbled over a heap of rubbish. To all these attacks on Orange some of the most eminent Spanish statesmen and soldiers of that time were parties, and Spain was then the premier nation. The Prince of Parma, one of the foremost men of a period in which there was an absolute glut of talent, spoke of Gérard's detestable crime as a "laudable and generous deed," and strongly recommended that the reward which had been offered for the Prince's murder should be conferred on his parents, a suggestion with which Philip gladly complied. Those parents were made noble, and were further rewarded by the grant of certain estates in Franche-Comté, the property of their son's victim. This was to reverse the old saying, "Happy is the child whose father goeth to the Devil!"--for the happiness of the father was made by the child's taking the downward road. "At a later day," says Motley, "when the unfortunate eldest son of Orange returned from Spain, after twenty-seven years' absence, a changeling and a Spaniard, the restoration of those very estates was offered to him by Philip II., provided he would continue to pay a fixed proportion of their rents to the family of his father's murderer. The education which Philip William had received, under the King's auspices, had, however, not entirely destroyed all his human feelings, and he rejected the proposal with scorn. The estates remained with the Gérard family, and the patents of nobility which they had received were used to justify their exemption from certain taxes, until the union of Franche-Comté with France, when a French governor tore the documents to pieces, and trampled them under foot."
It would be tedious to mention all the assassinations with which Philip II. was connected. He and his proconsuls and ambassadors were concerned in many of the plots that were directed against the peace of countries whose power was dreaded by Spain, or against the lives of their sovereigns or other eminent personages. Elizabeth of England was to have been served after the same fashion as Orange. Alva sent assassins to take her off. Much of the assassination-work that was done in France proceeded from Spain. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew was a Spanish inspiration. In these days it would be called a coup d'état. All Philip's proceedings toward his enemies were characterized by the spirit of assassination. The murder of Montigny is a strong case in point; and the artful manner in which Egmont and Horn were inveigled into his toils shows that he was a master-hand at conspiracy. Had there been two Philips in Europe, one would have assassinated the other, and it would have been dangerous to bet on the success of either.
France had her grand assassinations in the sixteenth century; and a perfect crop they were, in which kings were conspirators or were conspired against, killed or were killed, according to the supposed requirements of state policy or the necessities of high-placed individuals. At earlier dates assassination was far from being unknown in France; and some remarkable cases occurred there in those awful times when the Burgundian and Armagnac parties existed. The Duke of Orleans was assassinated, and, later, the Duke of Burgundy. Louis XI., who had rebelled against his father, is believed to have murdered his brother, and also to have sought the death of Charles of Burgundy. But it was in the sixteenth century that French assassinations were of the most striking order. The marriage of Catharine de' Medici with that French prince who became Henry II. is supposed to have been attended with the effect of debauching French morals, as the Italians had a prodigiously bad reputation as assassins, and particularly as poisoners. Catharine was totally unscrupulous, having about as much of moral sense as goes to the making of a tigress; but it needed not that she should marry into the House of Valois to render assassination a Gallic crime. It would have existed in France all the same, had she never been born. It was a moral plague that ran over Europe, as the Black Death made the same tour a couple of hundred years earlier. Poltrot killed Francis, Duke of Guise, the greatest man of a great race. Henry, Duke of Guise, Francis's son, was concerned in a plot to murder the Admiral Coligny, shortly before the St. Bartholomew, and was one of the Admiral's murderers in the Massacre. Henry of Guise was assassinated by Henry III., last of the Valois kings of France, who took upon himself to act in accordance with the principles laid down by Diego de Chaves, which James II. had acted on in the case of the Black Douglas, and on which Ferdinand II., Emperor of Germany, afterward acted toward Wallenstein, who was basely murdered. Henry III. was soon made to follow his victim, being assassinated by Jacques Clément, a Jacobin monk and a Leaguer. Henry IV. was killed by Francois Ravaillac, a Romish fanatic, who was in bad odor with all respectable Catholics who knew him. Richelieu lived in a condition not unlike that which Cromwell knew, being often conspired against. Louis XV. was attacked by Damiens, who was put to death by cruel tortures. In the Revolution there were several assassins, the most noted of whom was Charlotte Corday, praises of whom are so common as to weaken the force of that feeling which should ever be directed against murder. Granted that Marat was as bad as he is painted, no individual had the right to slay him. Bonaparte was in great danger from assassins; and it was not until he had the Duc d'Enghien assassinated that he obtained a respite from their attacks, which were regarded with ill-disguised approbation even by respectable persons who were his enemies or those of France. A German youth endeavored to kill Napoleon in 1809, and was shot. In the "Declaration" put forth by the Congress of Vienna against Napoleon, after his return from Elba, the Emperor was deliberately delivered over to assassins in the following terms: "Les Puissances déclarent en conséquence, que Napoléon Bonaparte s'est placé hors des relations civiles et sociales, et que, comme ennemi et perturbateur du repos du monde, il s'est livré a la vindicte publique." To the paper containing this rascally sentence stands affixed the name of Wellington, who, however, indignantly denied that he ever meant to authorize or to suggest the assassination of Napoleon. No doubt his denial was honestly made, but the legitimate construction of the words is favorable to the opposite view. A French officer named Cantallon was charged with having attempted to assassinate Wellington, and was tried and acquitted; and Napoleon bequeathed ten thousand francs to Cantallon, which bequest was paid after Napoleon III. became master of France, much to the indignation of some Englishmen. The Duc de Berri, son of the Comte d'Artois, (later Charles X.,) and the hope of the Bourbons, was killed by Louvel, at the opera, in February, 1820; and his son, the present Comte de Chambord, was born in the following autumn. Louis Philippe, when King of the French, was so often attacked with fire-arms and infernal-machines that one becomes dizzy in thinking of his escapes. Napoleon III. has been in great peril from assassins. Orsini's attempt to kill was a terrible piece of butchery, causing the death or mutilation of many persons, resembling in that respect the result of Fieschi's attempt to murder Louis Philippe. Had Orsini's attempt proved as successful as Booth's, it is probable that there never would have been a Secession War in this country. The Rebels counted much on European intervention, as they supposed that France and England would act together in their behalf; and had the Emperor been killed in 1858, the "cordial understanding" between the great nations of Western Europe would have come to an end, and perhaps they would have gone to war. The state of foreign affairs in 1860 had much more to do with bringing on our civil war than appears on the surface of things.
Scotland is a country in which assassins have figured largely, and her history is more disfigured by their acts than that of any other modern nation, due allowance being made for the smallness of her territory and the limited number of her people. This peculiarity in Scotch history is principally owing to the circumstance, that, as a rule, Scotland has been more aristocratically dominated than any other community; and aristocracies are more prolific of assassins than democracies or monarchies, as before said. Aristocrats, members of privileged classes, are less patient of restriction, and more prone to take the righting of what they call their wrongs into their own hands, than are other men. Violence of all kinds was for centuries more common in Scotland than in any other European country that had made the same advances in civilization; and the troubles that overtook so many of her monarchs were the natural consequences of their position. The House of Stuart has been called "the Fated Line"; and it deserved the name, because it stood nominally at the head of a nation that really was ruled by the fiercest aristocracy that ever plagued a people or perplexed monarchs. The independence of Scotland, her salvation from that English rule with which she was threatened by Edward I., whose success would have made her what Ireland became under English ascendency, was based on a deed which even some Scotch writers have not hesitated to speak of as reprehensible,--the killing, namely, of Comyn in a church at Dumfries, by Bruce and Kirkpatrick; and it seems as if the blood-stain then and there contracted clung to the Stuarts, who were descended from Bruce by the female line. The Duke of Rothesay, son of Robert III., and heir-apparent, was murdered by his uncle, the Duke of Albany, whose purpose was to divert the crown to his own branch of the family. Rothesay's brother became James I., and he was assassinated by Sir Robert Grahame,--the King's offence being that he wished to introduce something like regular government into Scotland, having learned, the value of order in England, where he had passed many years as a prisoner. Grahame was one of the most ferocious of the savages who then formed the Scotch aristocracy, and he had no idea of seeing radicalism made rampant in his country; and so he headed a conspiracy against the King and murdered him. James II. was himself an assassin, as he stabbed the Earl of Douglas, who had come to him under an assurance of safety, and who was cut to pieces by some of the royal retainers, after their master had set them an example. The King's excuse was, that the Douglas had become too powerful to be proceeded against regularly; and, indeed, the question then before Scotland was, whether that country should be ruled by the House of Douglas or the House of Stuart, and we cannot wonder that a king in the fifteenth century should conclude rather to murder than to be murdered. James II. overthrew the Black Douglas, and in his case assassination did prosper. James III. was assassinated while flying from a field of battle on which he had been beaten by rebels. Mary Stuart, daughter of James V., is believed by many historical inquirers to have been a party to the assassination of her husband, (Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who was her relative,) the question whether she did thus act forming the turning-point in that famous Marian Controversy which has raged for three hundred years, and which seems to be no nearer a decision now than it was before Loch Leven and Fotheringay,--Mr. Froude, the last of the great champions in the fight, having pronounced, with all his usual directness, adversely to the Rose of Scotland. Whether Mary was an assassin or not, it is beyond all doubt that her husband was one of the assassins of her servant Rizzio, who was murdered in her very presence. Mary's son, James VI., stands in the strangest relation to an extraordinary assassination of any man in history. The Gowrie Conspiracy is yet a riddle. According to one class of historical critics, the Earl of Gowrie and his brother, Alexander Ruthven, were bent upon assassinating the King; while another class are quite as positive that the King was bent upon assassinating the Ruthvens, and that he accomplished his purpose. We confess that we are strongly inclined to go with those who say that the Ruthvens were victims, and not baffled assassins; and we have always admired the reply of the clergyman to whom the King condescended to tell his story, in the hope of convincing him of its truth. "Doubtless," said that skeptical, but pious personage, "I must believe it, since your Majesty says you saw it; but I would not have believed it, had I seen it with my own eyes." Was ever a king more cleverly told that he was a liar? The Earl of Murray, Mary Stuart's bastard brother, and the first of many regents who ruled Scotland during her son's minority, was the victim of the most pardonable act of assassination that we know of,--if such a crime be ever pardonable. Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh was one of those Scotchmen who joined Mary Stuart after her escape from Loch Leven, and was condemned to death after her failure, but had his life spared, while his estate was confiscated. He might have borne this loss of property, but he became enraged when he heard that his wife had been so treated, when ejected from what had been her own property before her marriage, as to go mad and die. The person who misused her had received the estate from the Earl of Murray; and upon the latter Hamilton resolved to take vengeance. He carried out his plans, which were very cleverly formed, with great skill and coolness, and consequently was successful, taking off his great enemy, and getting off himself. He shot Murray as he was passing through the town of Linlithgow, stationing himself in a house that belonged to the Archbishop of St. Andrews, in and around which everything had been prepared for the killing of one man and the escape of another. It is beyond all doubt that the Archbishop was a party to the crime, or Bothwellhaugh could not have had the facilities which were his for obtaining revenge and striking a great blow for the Queen's party. The princely House of Hamilton generally approved of the deed. Let not those, however, who see in the Archbishop's conduct the natural effect of Catholicism, be in too great hurry to attribute his conduct to his religious belief; for there were Protestant assassins in Scotland in those days, and later. Only a few years before, a very eminent Catholic, Cardinal Beaton, who was Archbishop of St. Andrews, was murdered by Norman Lesley; and John Knox associated himself with Lesley, and those by whom he was aided, to hold the castle of St. Andrews against the Government's forces. The murderers of Rizzio were not Catholics, and their victim belonged to the old church. Some of Darnley's murderers were Protestants. In the next century some remarkable cases of Scotch assassination took place. Montrose stands charged with having attempted to take the lives of Argyle and Hamilton; but we hesitate to believe the story, so great is our admiration of that wonderful man. After the Restoration, (1660,) the ultra Protestants, perverting various passages of Scripture, assumed to execute judgment on those whom they held to be enemies of God and the true Kirk. The man for whom they felt most hatred was James Sharpe, Archbishop of St. Andrews,--a title that seems to have had peculiar attractions for assassins. Sharpe was accused, not untruthfully, of having sold his cause to Government; and he became a marked man with those whom he had betrayed. A preacher named Mitchell fired a pistol into Sharpe's carriage, and wounded the Bishop of the Orkneys so severely that that prelate ultimately died of the injury. Years later Mitchell was about to make a second attempt on the Archbishop, when he was arrested, tried, imprisoned for some time, condemned, and executed, at the Archbishop's earnest request. The next year Sharpe was slain by a number of Protestants, who were looking for a minor persecutor, and who thought that Heaven had specially delivered the Archbishop into their hands when they encountered his carriage, from which they made him descend, and murdered him in presence of his daughter, using swords and pistols. Among the many stories told of Claverhouse (then Viscount of Dundee) is one to the effect that he was shot on the battlefield of Killiecrankie by one of his servants, who used a silver button from his livery-coat, the great Grahame being impervious to lead.[C] About the same time, Sir George Lockhart, President of the Court of Session, and head of the Scotch tribunals, was assassinated by Chiesly of Dalry, who was angry because the President had assigned to Mrs. Chiesly, with whom her husband had quarrelled, a larger alimony than that husband thought she should have. The business of divorcing, and discriminating as to the amount of ladies' allowances, is a safer one in these times, and fortunate for the judges that it is, considering how much of such business they have to perform. If every hundred divorce cases produced one assassination, lawyers would be rapidly promoted--and shot.
England has contributed a large number of assassinations to the pages of that Newgate serial which is known by the grave name of history. One of her kings, Edward II., is known to have been murdered after his deposition; and it is supposed that he perished by a peculiarly horrible form of death. William Rufus is believed to have been assassinated in the New Forest, though the popular notion is, that he was accidentally killed by an arrow from the bow of Walter Tirrel, which must have been a long-bow. Richard II. was probably killed in prison, after deposition. Henry VI. is believed to have been killed in 1471, he being then a prisoner in the hands of the triumphant Yorkists,--but there is no proof that he was killed. Edward V., a boy-monarch, is one of the princes whom Richard III.'s enemies said he had smothered in the Tower,--a story to be maintained only by smothering all evidence. Many English sovereigns were attacked by assassins, but escaped. Edward I. was stabbed by a Mussulman when he was crusading in the East,--and we had almost said that he was rightly served; for what business had he in that remote part of the world? Henry V. was to have been assassinated, according to the statement of himself and his friends; but he had the satisfaction of killing the conspirators judicially. Elizabeth, as became her superiority to most sovereigns, was a favorite with persons with a taste for assassination strongly developed. She was under the Papal ban, and was an object of the indelicate attentions of that prince of assassins, Philip II.; and his underlings, who were all great people, made her life so uncertain that there never lived the actuary who was capable of estimating the probabilities of its duration. That she escaped is as wonderful as anything in her history, for she does not appear to have been very heedful of her personal safety; yet she could punish detected ruffians sharply enough. James I. was once in no slight danger. No conspiracy ever came so near making a great noise in the world, of a kind very different from that which it did make, as the Gunpowder Plot; and the silence which marked its course is quite as astonishing as the excitement that followed its disclosure. That so many persons should have kept so deadly a secret so long and so faithfully is as great a mystery as ever was invented by a writer of the sensation school; and when Catholics declare that there never was a plot, except that which was formed against their religion by artful men for the worst purposes, they do not talk so unreasonably as at the first blush it should seem. This plot was emphatically a gentlemanly transaction. There was hardly a person who had part in it who was not a gentleman by birth or education, or both. Catesby, Percy, Rookwood, Digby, the Winters, Grant, Tresham, Keyes, and the Littletons were all members of good families, and some of them of very high families,--as Percy, Digby, Rookwood, and Catesby. Some of them had been Protestants,--as Catesby and Percy; and Digby had been brought up in a Protestant house. Fawkes was of respectable parentage and of good education. Father Garnet, on his trial, was spoken of by Sir Edward Coke as having "many excellent gifts and endowments of nature: by birth a gentleman, by education a scholar, by art learned, and a good linguist." He was brought up a Protestant. That Catholics of such standing, and with such training as should have taught them better, should have engaged in so wicked a conspiracy, was one of the chief reasons why adherents of the ancient religion were treated so cruelly in England for more than two centuries. Titus Oates's invention, the Popish Plot, never would have found believers, had not men remembered the Gunpowder Plot. In Cromwell's time, and during the civil war that preceded it, assassination plots were common, and some succeeded. The Cavaliers had very loose notions on the subject. They killed an English envoy in Holland and another in Spain. Cromwell was almost as much a target as Louis Philippe became after he was converted, for his sins, into a Citizen King. It is even asserted that he feared assassination, and he was not in the habit of fearing many things. The court of the exiled Stuarts teemed with assassins; and projects for murdering the Protector were there formed, as well as in England. Nothing but the good intelligence which Cromwell purchased saved his life. Charles II., in his turn, became the object of assassins' attentions. Some of those who meant to kill him were superior men,--as Richard Rumbold, who was able, brave, honest, and pious. True, Rumbold in dying expressed his abhorrence of assassination, and denied that he ever had countenanced it; but the distinction which he made, and on which his dying expressions were founded, can deceive no one, and we find it difficult to believe that they deceived Rumbold himself. To have killed the King and the Duke of York after the manner spoken of by the Rye-House plotters would have been to assassinate them, and no amount of sophistry could have given to the conspiracy any other character than that of an assassination plot. William III. lived in almost as great danger of dying by the hand of an assassin as his immortal ancestor whom Gérard shot. It shows how common was assassination in those times, and how loose was public morality, that Louis XIV. was a party to at least two of the plots that were formed for taking William's life,--that of Grandval and that of Barclay, the latter known in English history as the Assassination Plot par excellence, and which would have succeeded, had two or three of the parties to it been left out. James II., William's father-in-law, was also concerned in both these plots; and his illegitimate son, the Duke of Berwick, a man of the highest personal integrity, was aware of what Barclay was about. Since William's time English sovereigns have had but little trouble from assassins, and that little has proceeded from insane creatures. George III. was struck at by a crazy woman, one Peg Nicholson, and fired at, in a theatre, by a crazy man named Hadfield. We can recollect three persons firing at Queen Victoria, none of whom were executed, though they all richly deserved hanging.
Englishmen of note have been assassinated from time to time. Becket's death was an act of assassination. Two Dukes of Gloucester, of the blood royal, were assassinated in prison,--one in the reign of Richard II., and the other in that of Henry VI. Not a few eminent persons in England were "done to death" by the abuse of judicial proceedings, which were in fact acts of assassination. Most of Henry VIII.'s great victims perished by means fouler than any of those to which Richard III. is accused of having had resort; and the manner in which his father, Henry VII., murdered the Earl of Warwick, last of the male Plantagenets, and only because he was a Plantagenet, was a deed worthy of a devil. Elizabeth, unless she is much libelled, would have avoided the execution of Mary Stuart by resort to assassination, only that her instruments were found scrupulous. The first Duke of Buckingham of the Villiers family was assassinated by John Felton, in Charles I.'s reign. Harley, afterward Earl of Oxford, was stabbed by a Frenchman, named Guiscard, Harley being then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in Anne's reign. Mr. Perceval, First Lord of-the Treasury, was shot by a lunatic named John Bellingham, in 1812, the scene being the lobby of the House of Commons. In 1819 the Cato-Street Conspiracy was formed by Arthur Thistlewood and others. It was meant to kill the British Ministers, and the mode in which it was finally resolved to proceed was to attack them when they should be assembled at a Cabinet dinner, to be given by the Earl of Harrowby, Lord President of the Council. Government knew all about the conspiracy, and allowed it to ripen, and then "bagged" the conspirators. This was in February, 1820; and on the first of May five of the assassins were hanged and five others transported. When Sir Robert Peel was last Prime-Minister, a fellow named M'Naughten sought his life, and killed his private secretary, Mr. Drummond. Sir Robert was so indiscreet as to charge Mr. Cobden with inciting persons to take his life!
Russia has lost several of her sovereigns through assassination, accompanied or preceded by deposition. Ivan VI. was assassinated in prison, almost a quarter of a century after the crown had been taken from him. Peter III. survived his downfall but a week, when he was poisoned, beaten, and strangled. The Czar Paul was so unreasonable as to resist those who were deposing him, and they were under the disagreeable necessity of squeezing his throat so long and so tightly, that breathing became difficult, and at last stopped altogether. The murderers of both Peter and Paul became great personages, held high offices, did important deeds, and were received in the very best society, as well abroad as at home. Macaulay, in his article on Madame D'Arblay, (Fanny Burney,) mentions the number, the variety, and the greatness of the company which her father, Dr. Burney, assembled frequently at his house. "On one evening, of which we happen to have a full account," he says, "there was present Lord Mulgrave, Lord Bruce, Lord and Lady Edgecumbe, Lord Barrington from the War Office, Lord Sandwich from the Admiralty, Lord Ashburnham, with his gold key dangling from his pocket, and the French Ambassador, M. de Guignes, renowned for his fine person and for his success in gallantry. But the great show of the night was the Russian Ambassador, Count Orloff, whose gigantic figure was all in a blaze of jewels, and in whose demeanor the untamed ferocity of the Scythian might be discerned through a thin varnish of French politeness. As he stalked about the small parlor, brushing the ceiling with his toupee, the girls whispered to each other, with mingled admiration and horror, that he was the favored lover of his august mistress [Catharine II.]; that he had borne the chief part in the revolution to which she owed her throne; and that his huge hands, now glittering with diamond rings, had given the last squeeze to the windpipe of her unfortunate husband." He must have been a nice man for a small party, and a peculiarly edifying spectacle for young ladies. And then how fit to be ambassador at a court the first woman of which was good Queen Charlotte! Many words have been wasted on the question, whether Catharine II. and Alexander I. consented to the murder, the one of her husband and the other of his father; but the question is absurdly framed. They consented to the act of deposition in each case, and that was the same as to sign the death-warrant. The old saying, that short is the passage of a dethroned monarch from a prison to a grave, applies with peculiar force to Russia: Catharine II. well knew that there was no hope for her husband; and Alexander I. could not have been deceived on such a point. While she was at the height of her power, Catharine herself was in danger of being assassinated. Some of the nobles suggested to her son, the Grand Duke Paul, that she should be deposed and murdered, and offered to do the job, quite as a matter of course, and with no more of shame than so many English Parliament-men might have felt for proposing to vote a minister out of office. It was their mode of effecting a change of ministry, and they regarded the proposition as showing that they were members of the constitutional opposition. As Talleyrand told Bonaparte, when news of Paul's murder reached Paris, "'Tis a way they have there!" Paul rejected the offer to rid him of his mother with horror. His own son was not so moral, in after days. Alexander was a haunted man, and remorse made him the crazy wreck that he was in his last years, and shortened his life. He was threatened with assassination by the Russian constitutional opposition, when it was thought that he was giving up too much to Napoleon I.; and the eventful war of 1812 was the result of his fears of that opposition. When he was at Vienna, attending the memorable Congress, he frankly said that he durst not go back to Russia without having added all of Poland that he claimed to his dominions,--that it was as much as his life was worth to comply with the demands of Austria, France, and England with regard to the Poles. This was the real reason why the Polish question was so clumsily disposed of, and left to make trouble for the future. Alexander preferred quarrelling with his allies rather than with his nobles, exactly as he had done when Napoleon I. was his foreign antagonist. There have been persons enough to argue that Alexander I. was assassinated, after all, and also that Nicholas was disposed of in the same constitutional way; but we can see no evidence on which to found any such argument. When, in the days of the Polish War, (1831,) the Grand Duke Constantine and Marshal Diebitsch died rather suddenly, it was generally believed that they had been assassinated by order of Nicholas, but without any foundation for the belief.
One of the last of the Swedish kings of the line of Vasa, Gustavus III., was assassinated in 1792, being shot by Count Anckarstroem, at a masked ball, March 16th. This murder was the result of an aristocratical conspiracy, the King having done much to lessen the power of the nobility. He was engaged at the time he was shot in getting up a crusade against revolutionary France, of which he purposed being the head. He survived his wound thirteen days.
An attempt to assassinate Joseph I., King of Portugal, was made in 1758, when the celebrated Marquis of Pombal was the real ruler of that country. Many executions took place, including several of the highest nobles. The Jesuits, who were then very unpopular, and against whom most European governments were directing their power, were charged with this crime, and some of them were put to death, and the rest banished from Portugal.
In the year 1831, Count Capo d'Istria, then President of Greece, was assassinated at Nauplia, by the brothers Mauromichalis. He was supposed to be a mere tool of Russia, in whose service much of his life had passed. He was by birth a Greek of the Ionian Islands; and after they had become a portion of Napoleon I.'s empire, he took office in Russia, rising very high. Employed to look after Russia's interests in Greece, he was ultimately chosen President of the latter country in 1827. Popular at first, he soon became odious, and was nothing but a Russian agent. His death probably cut short plans which, had they succeeded, would have had much effect on the course of European events. In the old land, where it was considered a sacred duty to kill tyrants, he was suddenly slain as he was entering a church. His death caused little regret, though the deed of the Mauromichalis was warmly condemned; many persons being ready to profit from crimes the perpetration of which they are swift to condemn, and as ready to execute the perpetrators.
[B] The word assassin, according to that eminent Orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy, is derived from hashish, being the liquid preparation on which the Old Man of the Mountain used to intoxicate his operators, and which appears to have been an uncommonly powerful tipple. The men whom he thus drugged, or hocused, when they were to commit murder, "were called, in Arabic, Hashishin in the plural, and Hashishi in the singular." The Crusaders brought the word from the East. The ancients had not the word, but they had the thing, as the English suffer from ennui, but have no name for it. A temperance lecturer might turn this connection between blind drunkenness and reckless murder to some good purpose.
[C] Mr. De Quincey's immortal Connoisseur, who delivered the Williams Lecture on Murder, speaking of the supposed assassination of Gustavus Adolphus, at the Battle of Lutzen, says,--"The King of Sweden's assassination, by-the-by, is doubted by many writers,--Harte amongst others; but they are wrong. He was murdered; and I consider his murder unique in its excellence; for he was murdered at noonday, and on the field of battle,--a feature of original conception, which occurs in no other work of art that I remember." His memory was bad. He must have heard the story that Desaix was murdered on the field of Marengo, after coming up to save Bonaparte from destruction; and he must also have heard the story that Dundee was murdered at Killiecrankie. Mr. Hawthorne mentions that he saw, in an old volume of Colonial newspapers, "a report that General Wolfe was slain, not by the enemy, but by a shot from his own soldiers." All these reports are just as well founded as that which represents Gustavus Adolphus as having been assassinated. Harte's doubts are, as the reader can see by referring to his work, well sustained, and leave the impression that the King was killed in fair fight. We have heard a very ingenious argument in support of the proposition that Stonewall Jackson was assassinated by some of his own men,--and there is some mystery about the cause or occasion of his death.
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