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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter II: The Obsequies In Washington

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What think the foreign ambassadors of such men, in the light of their own overloaded bodies, where meaningless orders, crosses, and ribbons shine dimly in the funeral light? These legations number, perhaps, a hundred men, of all civilized races,--the Sardinian envoy, jetty-eyed, towering above the rest. But they are still and respectful, gathered thus by a slain ruler, to see how worthy is the republic he has preserved. Whatever sympathy these have for our institutions, I think that in such audience they must have been impressed with the futility of any thought that either one citizen right or one territorial inch can ever be torn from the United States. Not to speak disparagingly of these noble guests, I was struck with the superior facial energy of our own public servants, who were generally larger, and brighter-faced, born of that aristocracy which took its patent from Tubal Cain, and Abel the goatherd, and graduated in Abraham Lincoln. The Haytien minister, swarthy and fiery-faced, is conspicuous among these.

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But nearer down, and just opposite the catafalque so that it is perpendicular to the direction of vision, stand the central powers of our government, its President and counsellors. President Johnson is facing the middle of the coffin upon the lowest step; his hands are crossed upon his breast, his dark clothing just revealing his plaited shirt, and upon his full, plethoric, shaven face, broad and severely compact, two telling gray eyes rest under a thoughtful brow, whose turning hair is straight and smooth. Beside him are Vice-President Hamlin, whom he succeeded, and ex-Governor King, his most intimate friend, who lends to the ruling severity of the place a half Falstaffian episode. The cabinet are behind, as if arranged for a daguerreotypist, Stanton, short and quicksilvery, in long goatee and glasses, in stunted contrast to the tall and snow-tipped shape of Mr. Welles with the rest, practical and attentive, and at their side is Secretary Chase, high, dignified, and handsome, with folded arms, listening, but undemonstrative, a half-foot higher than any spectator, and dividing with Charles Sumner, who is near by, the preference for manly beauty in age. With Mr. Chase are other justices of the Supreme Court and to their left, near the feet of the corpse, are the reverend senators, representing the oldest and the newest states--splendid faces, a little worn with early and later toils, backed up by the high, classical features of Colonel Forney, their secretary. Beyond are the representatives and leading officials of the various departments, with a few odd folks like George Francis Train, exquisite as ever, and, for this time only, with nothing to say.

Close by the corpse sit the relatives of the deceased, plain, honest, hardy people, typical as much of the simplicity of our institutions as of Mr. Lincoln's self-made eminence. No blood relatives of Mr. Lincoln were to be found. It is a singular evidence of the poverty of his origin, and therefore of his exceeding good report, that, excepting his immediate family, none answering to his name could be discovered. Mrs. Lincoln's relatives were present, however, in some force. Dr. Lyman Beecher Todd, General John B. S. Todd, C. M. Smith, Esq., and Mr. N. W. Edwards, the late President's brother-in-law, plain, self-made people were here and were sincerely affected. Captain Robert Lincoln sat during the services with his face in his handkerchief weeping quietly, and little Tad his face red and heated, cried as if his heart would break. Mrs. Lincoln, weak, worn, and nervous, did not enter the East room nor follow the remains. She was the chief magistrate's lady yesterday; to-day a widow bearing only an immortal name. Among the neighbors of the late President, who came from afar to pay respect to his remains, was one old gentleman who left Richmond on Sunday. I had been upon the boat with him and heard him in hot wrangle with some officers who advised the summary execution of all rebel leaders. This the old man opposed, when the feeling against him became so intense that he was compelled to retire. He counselled mercy, good faith, and forgiveness. To-day, the men who had called him a traitor, saw him among the family mourners, bent with grief. All these are waiting in solemn lines, standing erect, with a space of several feet between them and the coffin, and there is no bustle nor unseemly curiosity, not a whisper, not a footfall--only the collected nation looking with awed hearts upon eminent death.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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