RECTOR OF ST. PETER'S, ALBANY.
PUBLISHED BY AARON HILL
78 STATE STREET.
REV. DR. POTTER,
REV. AND DEAR SIR:
The subscribers, who heard your discourse on Sunday last, upon the death, life and character of GEN. TAYLOR, late President of the United States, would be much gratified by seeing it in print, and preserving it for future reference. They believe that its publication would be eminently useful to all classes of our citizens, but particularly to the young; and they think that it portrayed so truly and faithfully the characteristics of the great and good man who was its subject, that it should be placed among the archives of our country. We would therefore respectfully solicit the use of the manuscript for publication.
Your friends and parishioners,
J. C. SPENCER
MARCUS T. REYNOLDS
JOHN V. L. PRUYN
J. B. PLUMB
R. E. TEMPLE
GILBERT L. WILSON
G. W. PORTER
D. D. BARNARD
S. F. PHELPS
V. TEN EYCK
W. E. BLEECKER
GEO. R PERKINS
Albany, July 16, 1850
ST. PETER'S, ALBANY,
July 22, 1850.
If the very brief and imperfect Discourse which you so kindly characterize and ask for, can be thought to further in the slightest degree that great NATIONAL TRIBUTE which an admiring and grateful country is now paying to the memory of its lamented Chief Magistrate--or if it can be supposed to contain one word, which may have the effect of directing youthful minds to the contemplation of a character, which will be revered the more, the more it is examined--which, in very many respects, is preeminently the character to be suited to all conditions of life, and to make a Nation's well-being, I will not allow any little private scruple to prevent me from yielding it up with all my heart to your wishes.
What was hastily but conscientiously set down in the first hour of a Nation's grief, I do not like now to attempt to expand or embellish; and therefore I send it to you precisely as it was delivered.
With great respect and regard,
I remain your friend and pastor,
To HAMILTON FISH,
J. C. SPENCER,
D. D. BARNARD, and others.
"HE BEING DEAD YET SPEAKETH."--HEBREWS, 11c. 4v.
ON the third day of July, in the year 1849, there went forth from the mansion of the Chief Magistrate of these States, a communication, addressed to all the people of the land, setting forth, that "at a season, when the Providence of God was manifesting itself in the visitation of a fearful pestilence, which was spreading itself throughout the land, it was fitting that a people, whose reliance had ever been upon His protection, should humble themselves before His throne, and while acknowledging past transgressions, ask a continuance of divine mercy, and earnestly recommending that an early ensuing day, which was specified, should be observed throughout the United States, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer--when all public and private business should be, as far as possible, suspended, and when persons of all religious denominations should assemble in their respective places of [5/6] public worship, to acknowledge the infinite goodness which had watched over our existence as a nation, and so long crowned us with manifold blessings; and to implore the Almighty, in His own good time, to stay the destroying hand which was then lifted up against us." Late on the ninth day of July, 1850, there went forth from that same mansion, intelligence, which flew with the speed of thought to every part of this great country, that the venerated man, who had so lately called a nation to humiliation and prayer, who had so lately lifted up his hand between the living and the dead that the plague might be stayed, was now himself rapidly sinking into the arms of death; and to-day, my brethren, we, who, less than one short year ago, were assembled in this sacred place, in conformity to the pious recommendation of that honored public servant and chief ruler, to testify our unfeigned submission to the divine will, and to intercede for ourselves and for our country, that we might be spared, are convened here with the solemn symbols of mourning before our eyes, to testify our sense of the great loss which we and the country have sustained, to humble ourselves, again under the chastening hand of the Almighty, and to set ourselves to consider what momentous lessons they are which we have to learn from this most impressive and affecting dispensation.
 The first citizen of the nation--the chosen and revered Ruler of the People, is no more! He who had so remarkably won the admiration and sympathy of the country, not by any dazzling and transcendant qualities of the mere intellect--but by attributes more dependent upon the purity and elevation of the moral nature, by unceasing and inflexible devotion to duty, by singular modesty and disinterestedness, by heroic firmness and constancy, by a calm and unerring judgment, by a native gentleness and kindness of heart, which made him a stranger to all bitterness of spirit, full of simple and touching courtesies, as conspicuous for his moderation and humanity in the hour of triumph, as he was for his judgment and resolution in the hour of conflict--he who was a model of simplicity and integrity and discretion and devotion to duty in the superior station, as he had long before been in all inferior stations, and whom the nation admired and loved, even more for the purity and truthfulness of his nature, than for his great achievements--he has been suddenly taken away from us; and of his temporal existence, which but yesterday filled so large a space in the world, and was the centre around which so many interests and so many affections revolved, nothing now remains to us but the fruits of his great and arduous services, and the memory of his toils and of his virtues.
 And they, you will agree with me in thinking, are of no mean worth. In departing he has left something of himself with us. He could not die altogether, as to his presence and influence, any more than he could die altogether as to his existence and consciousness. His great and benignant example survives; and by it, "he, being dead, yet speaketh" to us, and emphatically to the whole country. A virtuous man is a great gift to the world; an instrument of inestimable blessings; and happily it is not in the power of death, in removing such an individual from among the living, to remove from the earth all the good which, as a living fountain, he has opened and caused to flow over it. The living may depart, and the light of a benignant and gracious presence may seem to be altogether put out; but when the grave, bedewed with tears, has closed over the mortal remains of the faithful and good man, and the places which once knew him, mourn as for something utterly and entirely lost, this world is not the same world that it would have been had that individual never lived. Independently of all that he has actually achieved in the world for good, by his own immediate exertions, he leaves a name, an example, an influence, already at work in multitudes of hearts, which he had impressed and quickened when living, and which will go on [8/9] unseen, moving and quickening other hearts, now that he is departed. And the more certainly will that name, that example, that influence, tell widely when they are of a nature to stand out conspicuously before the eyes of men, and to inscribe themselves upon the history of the world. Sometimes faithful and able men, who are capable of far higher things, are called away in the earlier stages of their career, before anything has occurred to distinguish them from the multitude, or to lift them up above the obscurity of ordinary life. Even in such cases, we may be sure that there is in all human excellence a secret efficacy which will have made it impossible for any individual, however humble, if possessed of such excellence, to have lived, even for a few brief years, in obscurity in vain: truthfulness of nature, devotion to duty, all those nameless graces of character which come from simplicity and zeal, are of a nature to diffuse themselves silently and insensibly, like odours through the surrounding air; they are borne forth by the winds, like unseen particles from plants, which go to touch and impregnate far distant things. There may be no high-sounding eulogy pronounced over the grave of such an one; his name may be mentioned but by few; but many a spirit will be the better for his having lived; and perhaps some of those who survive to attain to high eminence and distinguished [9/10] excellence, will have derived unconsciously from him a portion of that fire which kindled in their bosoms into a blaze of glory. But when a life of singular self-denial and devotion to duty is prolonged, and at length crowned with a visible and distinguished success, Divine Providence seems to set its seal upon it and to hold it up conspicuously before all the world, that it may teach by example, and kindle in the hearts of those who have eyes to see such things, a sympathetic emotion of virtue.
Such is the history of the illustrious life which has just been so suddenly and so mournfully terminated--mournfully, I mean, for us who survive; for the admiring and grateful feelings which placed him where he was, seemed to crave for him a longer enjoyment of his high honors, and the country seemed to need his mingled firmness and moderation; but for himself, there was nothing mournful in his sudden call to depart: He had done enough! He had tried in every relation, to do his duty. If he had known something of the bitterness and injustice which are apt to assail all public men, he had also enjoyed as large a share of the love and esteem of his contemporaries, as often falls to the lot of any single individual, however eminent. He had most unexpectedly received the highest honors of his country, without having run after them. [10/11] On the great and agitating questions of the day, he had delivered his opinion with the candor and good sense which ever characterized him. And his work might well be considered to be so far done, that any services which he might hereafter be able to render to his country, would be more than outweighed by the trouble and painfulness which would attend his high station and his advanced age. Great cares, and responsibilities, and hardships, and dangers had been things familiar to him, and little regarded when they came in the strict line of duty--and when, under Divine Providence, success depended only upon his own great spirit and upon the zeal of those whose hearts he knew how to sway. But political intrigue and animosity--injustice from those whom he had been accustomed to honor and esteem--continual misconstruction of feelings and sentiments as pure and elevated as ever stirred in the bosom of a christian patriot: these things depressed and discouraged him; and the magnanimous and heroic spirit, which had stood unmoved amid the crash of arms in the darkest hour, was bowed down, and willingly let go its hold of life, when it found itself beset by passion, by selfishness, by unkindness. Upon such a death, a great and generous people, whatever their political differences, will not look without some tears of sympathy and affectionate admiration [11/12] and regret. The few signs of mourning, which our Holy Place exhibits today--and which will probably be found in almost every house of God in the land, are no empty ceremony no ostentatious affectation of a grief not really felt: they are true and expressive tokens of a sorrow that pervades the entire country, and only feeble and inadequate as all outward tokens are in such cases, to convey an idea of the profound feeling which is moving all hearts. Scarcely perhaps since the days of Washington, has a public man descended to the grave, carrying with him a more loved and venerated name--or surrounded by a more universal feeling of confidence in his perfect integrity and truthfulness of character--in his great disinterestedness and singleness of purpose--in the calmness, and candor, and penetration of his judgment, or more esteemed for whatever is kind and generous, humane and noble in human character.
While we pay to him, as we desire to do, in these days of mourning, our tribute of affectionate regard and gratitude--and while we turn our thoughts to his bereaved family, imploring earnestly for them the consolations of Divine Goodness; let us also think of our common country, and of ourselves, and ask ourselves what lessons we have to learn from this great and heavy bereavement.
 As I intimated just now, the honors with which the life of the departed was crowned, and the impressive circumstances under which it has been terminated, have withdrawn a long term of service from the comparative obscurity in which otherwise it might have remained, and have had the effect of holding it up conspicuously before the eyes of the world, as if to instruct it, and move it by the power of a bright and significant example. I have already hinted at the remarkable qualities which characterized the honored dead. They are qualities of inestimable worth--qualities most needful to promote and secure the well-being of Society--especially of a great nation like ours--and which cannot be too earnestly commended to the notice of the young, and to the imitation of all public men.
I can only glance at them in the briefest way. Consider in the first place the singular integrity of his character and his inflexible and self-denying devotion to duty--and that under circumstances which forbade the thought of anything more than a very humble and undistinguished recompence. What makes the view of his life so beautiful and so refreshing is, that he seems to have toiled all the day, through all its burden and heat into the very evening of life, encountering hardships and perils almost unexampled with firmness, with never-ceasing diligence and zeal, [13/14] without ever suspecting that he was doing anything remarkable, displaying any extraordinary qualities--or that his long life of unobtrusive service could lead to any thing more than a moderate degree of distinction in his own profession--and to that which is indeed the best of all rewards, the consciousness of having endeavored to do his duty. Extensive as is a general acquaintance with the life now under consideration, I think it would require much of a kind of detail which would be unsuited to this place, to bring fully into view the whole extent of the field, the variety and difficulty of the circumstances through which this ever-stedfast devotion to duty was displayed. We may think that the brilliant exterior success of such a life was owing to a kind of accident, to a fortunate conjuncture of circumstances; and no doubt great opportunities did much to bring great qualities into general notice; but whoever looks carefully through the life, will see that those eminent qualities were displayed at every step--that they commanded success where others would have failed--and that they, insensibly extending their influence, gained powerfully upon the feelings of the nation, where a few brilliant victories, unsupported by such qualities of head and heart, would have done comparatively little to win the suffrages of a great people. We admire the splendor [14/15] of the ultimate success; but in such cases we are apt to overlook the means by which it was attained: we see something great and admirable in the character, and we do not sufficiently consider that the charm is one, which comes not from a few fortunate triumphs, not wholly from some engaging but cheap endowments of nature, but from the impression which a long life of toil and trial, of conscientious and generous devotion to duty, has made upon the very substance of the soul--and which imparts to the slightest movements of feeling, to every sentiment and impulse, an irresistible grace and power. Transparent sincerity--inflexible integrity--unflinching and painstaking devotion to duty; these are the great and beneficent qualities which gave such lustre and such weight of influence to the character of our lamented Chief Magistrate: these are qualities without which no character, however imposing, is worthy of any the least honor, and they are qualities which, of all others, are most indispensible to him who would serve his country, and make himself a blessing to his day and generation. Let us lay these things to heart, and let us testify our affectionate veneration for the memory of the departed--our love for our country--by imitating the virtues which made his life so true and useful, and his death so illustrious.
 I might speak again of his unaffected kindness and humanity. All who served near his person, were touched and unconsciously won over to a most devoted attachment, by the thousand unstudied and delicate tokens of kindness and consideration which shed light along their often checkered and dreary path. I never heard that he cherished any great admiration for the war in which his duty compelled him to engage; but all the world has heard, that while his career was marked by an inflexible determination to do his duty, it was equally signalized by the clemency and considerate kindness with which he treated the vanquished enemy, and ministered to the relief of his necessities. The same patient, and gentle, and kindly bearing has characterized all his conduct in the elevated station from which he has just been called away. How much better and happier would all men be--how much more peaceful the life we are leading, were this the universal temper of mankind. Let us, for our part, do what we can to make it so.
But I must hasten to a conclusion. I can only point to his singular modesty, to his manifest disinterestedness, to his steady respect for authority, when that authority was exposing him to imminent peril and mortification--to his remarkable freedom from all high party prejudices and animosities--to the spirit of equity and [16/17] moderation, which pervaded all his doings; and finally, to the serenity, and resignation, and hope which shed a Halo around his hurried bed of death. Not without prayer--not without faith in God--not without the light and joy of a good conscience, did he take his leave of us--and go, as we humbly trust, to enter into that Rest, which remaineth for the good man--for the tried and faithful servant. Soon each one of us will be summoned to follow. May we all be able to say as he did, in humble reliance upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus: "I am prepared: I have endeavored to do my duty: I commit myself into His hands, who is merciful to them that fear Him, and who, where He sees deep sincerity and humility, will not be extreme to mark what in error of judgment is done amiss."