Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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"Let us knock down all this edifice by a single blow."

April 28, 2015

Adams Family Civil War letters; US Minister to the UK and his sons.

Charles Francis Adams, U.S. Minister to the U.K., to his son, Charles.

London, April 28, 1865

Your letter from Richmond was sent by John, as you desired, over to us. I read it with the greatest interest, and sent it off to your mother at Rome. It was a singular circumstance that you, in the fourth generation of our family, under the Union and the constitution, should have been the first to put your foot in the capital of the Ancient Dominion, and that, too, at the head of a corps which prefigured the downfall of the policy which had ruled in that capital during the whole period now closely approaching a century. How full of significance is this history, which all of us are now helping to make! It is literally the third and fourth generation which is paying the bitter penalty for what must now be admitted were the shortcomings of the original founders of the Union. It was Jefferson who uttered the warning words, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Yet even he in his latest years recoiled in equal terror from the opportunity then presented of applying at least a corrective to the fatal tendency of that moment. We have had it all to do at a period when the dangerous evil had reached the plenitude of its power and threatened to expand its sway over all. Practically the task may be said to have been accomplished. But at what a penalty to the generations now alive, and perhaps to their posterity!

And now comes the crowning abomination of this unholy spirit. With its physical power finally crushed, it strives to wreak its last vengeance upon the heads of those whom circumstances have happened to put forward as the leading instruments to bring about this change. Stupidly and blindly these puny devils bring on themselves by their own acts the danger of aggravating the very chastisement under which they are writhing. The magnanimity of the victorious nation was but speaking in the persons of Abraham Lincoln

and William H. Seward words of conciliation and kindness to the fallen, when they came in to substitute another whose bitter sense of personal wrong naturally mingles an alloy of vindictiveness in all his feelings, and to supply fuel to the popular fire which might in its progress burn them all from the face of the earth. Verily, the ways of Providence are past finding out! It looks to me as if it was not its will that mercy should be extended to these miserable criminals.

Yet there was never a moment when the position of the nation was more sublime than on that very Good Friday, the 14th of April, when this most atrocious crime was committed. The war had gone to the extent of disarming all further effective resistance by the rebels, and the question left to decide was only how best to soften the bitterness of defeat. The public voice was unequivocally for Christian charity, and the exercise of it had been agreed upon as a policy in the Executive Mansion by the Chief Magistrate in conjunction with the Commander in Chief of the forces. Even the most prejudiced of the English are reluctantly constrained to admit that this was the grandest spectacle seen in a popular government ever since the world began. Just at that instant comes in a whisper prompted by the father of all evil, “Let us knock down all this edifice by a single blow.” And the blow was given.

But I doubt if it accomplished its object. It may however complete other purposes not contemplated by its author. It may fix the condition of immediate and total emancipation more firmly than before, and likewise call forth from all that is found worth saving in the doomed community a sentiment of reprobation which may be the forerunner of a higher morality hereafter. The murder of Abraham Lincoln sets a stigma which will not be effaced or expiated except by long years of thorough reformation.

The excitement in this country has been deep and wide, spreading through all classes of society. My table is piled with cards, letters and resolutions. . . .

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