Lincoln Makes The Old Man's Heart Glad
( Originally Published 1902 )
CAPTAIN GREENE once related to me an incident illustrating Mr. Lincoln's greatness of heart. He said, " I was in the Provost Marshal's department in Washington, during the Civil War, and General Martindale sent me with some papers to President Lincoln for signature. He took them and said, ` I will look over them and give them to you soon; meanwhile, take the papers for me to General Fry, and tell me what he says about them.' General Fry read the papers. They contained the proceedings and verdict of a military trial, condemning a young man to death. Mr. Lincoln had endorsed the papers, but had added, ` The execution in this case will be delayed until further orders from the President.' The general was much provoked, and said he deeply regretted the President's clemency. He said there had already been too much executive interference in such cases, and that it was breeding demoralization in the army. That evening I was in the United States Marshal's office and the President's action was freely discussed. Mr. John Alley, of Massachusetts, said : ` This morning I saw a plainly dressed old man walking back and forth in the lobby of the White House. He looked as though something was weighing very heavily on his heart. I had seen him walking back and forth in the same manner yesterday and the day before, and I went up to him and said, ` I have seen you here now three days, I hope you will not count me rude if I ask you what is the object of your visit to the White House.' He said, ` To see the President.' ` Is it a matter of great importance ? ' I asked. ` Yes, it is ! ' he replied. ` It is a matter of life and death ! ' I said to him, ` Come along with me.'
We made our way past the guards to the President. The man told his story, and begged for a pardon for his boy. Mr. Lincoln said, ` That case is all settled. The sentence of the court-martial is the death penalty, but I have ordered the execution suspended till further orders from me.' The man said, ` Mr. President, that word brings very little relief to me. That is not a pardon. Won't you please pardon the boy? Won't you save a father from death by a broken heart, as well as his boy from the disgraceful end ? I will not plead extenuating circumstances, which naturally fill a father's heart. I will only beg for your mercy.' Mr. Lincoln said, ` Go away, old man ! I say, go away from me. Get out of here ! Go home ! If you wait till I order your boy shot you will live to be as old as Methuselah.' The father clapped his hands and wept, and said, ` Thank God ! I thank you, Mr. Lincoln, a million times. My boy will make a good soldier, and God will bless you for being so merciful to us.' The men in the office were much affected by Mr. Alley's recital of this pathetic incident, and no one dared to venture the opinion that such mercy would demoralize the army."
I said, " Captain, there is no measuring line long enough to sound the depths of Lincoln's heart. His love conquered his enemies in the North and many of his foes in the South, and if he had lived long enough he would have conquered the whole of the Southland. Your friend, Henry W. Grady, of Georgia, in his address at the New England dinner given in New York, December 22, 1886, shows what many of the ex-Confederates thought of him. Among other things the orator said, ` My friend, Dr. Talmage, has told you that the typical American has yet to come. Let me tell you he has already come. Great types, like valuable plants, are slow to flower and fruit. But from the union of these colonists, Puritans and Cavaliers, from the straightening of their purposes and the crossing of their blood, slow perfecting through a century, came he who stands as the first typical American, the first who comprehended within himself all the strength and gentleness, all the majesty and grace of this Republic—Abraham Lincoln. He was the son of a Puritan and Cavalier ; for in his ardent nature were fused the virtues of both, and in the depths of his great soul the faults of both were lost.' In the mixing of the clay and the blood, and in the creation of his spirit, it seems to me, Captain Greene, that Providence mingled in proper proportion in Grady's hero, your great friend, the majesty of might and the mastery of love."
The new commandment to love one another, which Christ came to enforce, is very strict, but loyal believers are expected to obey it. When we remember that our love for our fellow men is to be measured by Christ's love for us, and that that measure has been expressed in his death in our behalf, all human words seem cold and tame and imperfect in their attempts to convey its meaning. We do know, however, that Christ came down from the tree on which he hung for us, to conquer the world by his love, that Paul and his companions mastered Europe with their love and through it the rest of the world, and that we are to make our spiritual conquests by the same love.
The boy was pardoned, not because he was good, nor even because of the petitions and tears of the father, but on account of the great love of the President's heart. Souls condemned to death are pardoned and saved, not because they are worthy, but on account of the love of the Infinite Father, and the death and continual intercession of His only Son in their behalf.