Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Death of Lincoln

Today is the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  

We all know the story.  A bitter actor sprang from the stage as Lincoln and his wife were watching a performance and fired the shot that killed the president several hours later.

Less than a week earlier, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at  Appomattox Courthouse, ending America's Civil War.

The war had aged Lincoln.  Below are two photos:  the first taken after his first election in 1860 and the second from February 1865.

More, the Civil War had ravaged the country.  Total deaths are believed to have been at least 750,000, about 2.25 percent of the population.  (A proportionally deadly conflict today would see 7.5 million Americans killed.)

(Four or five decades ago, my grandmother traced her roots and learned that her family had lost a son in one of the Iowa regiments fighting for the Union.  More than 17 percent of Iowa soldiers died in battle or of disease in the Civil War.  She never had heard her family speak of him.  I think of one family's loss multiplied 750,000 times.  That was the Civil War.)

It had to be fought, of course.  As Lincoln wrote, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."

From a speech he made in 1858:

               As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses 
               my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the 
               difference, is no democracy.

Lincoln was re-elected to a second term in November 1864. By the time of his swearing-in, the end of the war was near.  In his second inaugural, he vowed to heal the country.  These are his famous words:

                 With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as 
                 God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; 
                 to bind up the nation's wounds; to care 
                 for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan...
                                                                                                                  --March 4, 1865 

Millions of Americans lined the tracks as a train bore Lincoln's casket home to Illinois.  

His vision of a revived America was not to be.  Lincoln was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who was less capable or less interested in bringing the nation together.  It took another 100 years for the Voting Rights Act to guarantee African Americans in the American South the right to participate in their own government.

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