The Life of Abraham Lincoln
By Henry Ketcham

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Public Domain Books

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
16th President of the United States

Chapter XXXIX. A Nation’s Sorrow

The outburst of sorrow and indignation over the foul murder of the President was so great as to lead people to assume that Lincoln was at all times and universally a favorite. Those who know better have sometimes thought it discreet to preserve silence. But the greatness of his work cannot be appreciated at its full value unless one bears in mind that he had not the full measure of sympathy and a reasonable help from those on whom he had a right to depend. During the four years that he was in Washington he was indeed surrounded by a band of devoted followers. But these people were few in numbers. Those who sympathized with Fremont, or McClellan, or Greeley, plus those who were against Lincoln on general principles, constituted a large majority of the people who ought to have sustained him. All of these factions, or coteries, however much they differed among themselves, agreed in hampering Lincoln. For one person Lincoln was too radical, for another too conservative, but both joined hands to annoy him.

Much of this annoyance was thoughtless. The critics were conscientious, they sincerely believed that their plans were the best. They failed to grasp the fact that the end desired might possibly be better reached by other methods than their own. But on the other hand much of this annoyance was malicious.

When the shock of the murder came, there was a great revulsion of feeling. The thoughtless were made thoughtful, the malicious were brought to their senses. Neither class had realized into what diabolical hands they were playing by their opposition to the administration. It was the greatness of the sorrow of the people–the plain people whom he had always loved and who always loved him–that sobered the contentions. Even this was not fully accomplished at once. There is documentary evidence to show that the extreme radicals, represented by such men as George W. Julian, of Indiana, considered that the death of Lincoln removed an obstruction to the proper governing of the country. Julian’s words (in part) are as follows:

“I spent most of the afternoon [April 15, 1864, the day of Lincoln’s death] in a political caucus held for the purpose of considering the necessity for a new Cabinet and a line of policy less conciliating than that of Mr. Lincoln; and while everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was nearly universal that the accession of Johnson to the presidency would prove a godsend to the country.... On the following day, in pursuance of a previous engagement, the Committee on the Conduct of the War met the President at his quarters at the Treasury Department. He received us with decided cordiality, and Mr. Wade said to him: ’Johnson, we have faith in you. There will be no trouble now in running the government.’... While we were rejoiced that the leading conservatives of the country were not in Washington, we felt that the presence and influence of the committee, of which Johnson had been a member, would aid the Administration in getting on the right track.... The general feeling was ... that he would act on the advice of General Butler by inaugurating a policy of his own, instead of administering on the political estate of his predecessor.” (Julian, “Political Recollections,” p. 255, ff.).

The names of the patriots who attended this caucus on the day of Lincoln’s death, are not given. It is not necessary to know them. It is not probable that there were many exhibitions of this spirit after the death of the President. This one, which is here recorded in the words of the confession of one of the chief actors, is an exception. But before the death of Lincoln, this spirit of fault-finding, obstruction, hostility, was not uncommon and was painfully aggressive. After his death there was a revulsion of feeling. Many who had failed to give the cheer, sympathy, and encouragement which they might have given in life, shed bitter and unavailing tears over his death.

On the other, the Confederate, side, it is significant that during the ten days the murderer was in hiding, no southern sympathizer whom he met wished to arrest him or have him arrested, although a large reward had been offered for his apprehension. As to the head of the Confederacy, Jeff Davis, there is no reasonable doubt that he approved the act and motive of Booth, whether he had given him a definite commission or not. Davis tried to defend himself by saying that he had greater objection to Johnson than to Lincoln. But since the conspiracy included the murder of both Lincoln and Johnson, as well as others, this defense is very lame. It was certainly more than a coincidence that Booth–a poor man who had plenty of ready money–and Jacob Thompson, the Confederate agent in Canada, had dealings with the same bank in Montreal. Davis himself said, “For an enemy so relentless, in the war for our subjugation, I could not be expected to mourn.”

To put it in the mildest form, neither Jeff Davis in the South, nor the extreme radicals in the North, were sorry that Lincoln was out of the way. Extremes had met in the feeling of relief that the late President was now out of the way. This brings to mind a statement in an ancient book which records that “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day; for before they were at enmity between themselves.”

On Friday evening there had been general rejoicing throughout the loyal North. On Saturday morning there rose to heaven a great cry of distress,–such a cry as has hardly been paralleled since the destruction of the first-born in Egypt. For the telegraph–invented since Lincoln had come into manhood–had carried the heavy news to every city and commercial center in the North. The shock plunged the whole community, in the twinkling of an eye, from the heights of exultation into the abyss of grief.

There was no business transacted that day. The whole nation was given up to grief. Offices, stores, exchanges were deserted. Men gathered in knots and conversed in low tones. By twelve o’clock noon there was scarcely a public building, store, or residence in any northern city that was not draped in mourning. The poor also procured bits of black crepe, or some substitute for it, and tied them to their door-knobs. The plain people were orphaned. “Father Abraham” was dead.

Here and there some southern sympathizer ventured to express exultation,–a very rash thing to do. Forbearance had ceased to be a virtue, and in nearly every such case the crowd organized a lynching bee in the fraction of a minute, and the offender was thankful to escape alive.

Though this wave of sorrow swept over the land from ocean to ocean, it was necessarily more manifest in Washington than elsewhere. There the crime had been committed. There the President’s figure was a familiar sight and his voice was a familiar sound. There the tragedy was nearer at hand and more vivid. In the middle of the morning a squad of soldiers bore the lifeless body to the White House. It lay there in state until the day of the funeral, Wednesday. It is safe to say that on the intervening Sunday there was hardly a pulpit in the North, from which, by sermon and prayer, were not expressed the love of the chief. On Wednesday, the day of the funeral in Washington, all the churches in the land were invited to join in solemnizing the occasion.

The funeral service was held in the East room of the White House, conducted by the President’s pastor Dr. Gurley, and his eloquent friend, Bishop Simpson of the Methodist Episcopal church. Mrs. Lincoln, prostrated by the shock, was unable to be present, and little Tad would not come. Only Robert, a recent graduate of Harvard and at the time a member of Grant’s staff, was there to represent the family.

After the service, which was brief and simple, the body was borne with suitable pomp and magnificence, the procession fittingly headed by negro troops, to the Capitol, where it was placed in the rotunda until the evening of the next day. There, as at the White House, innumerable crowds passed to look upon that grave, sad, kindly face. The negroes came in great numbers, sobbing out their grief over the death of their Emancipator. The soldiers, too, who remembered so well his oft repeated “God bless you, boys!” were not ashamed of their grief. There were also neighbors, friends, and the general public.

It was arranged that the cortege should return to Springfield over as nearly as possible the same route as that taken by the President in 1861,–Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Chicago. In the party there were three of those who had escorted him to Washington,–David Davis, W. H. Lamon, and General Hunter.

At eight o’clock on Friday, April 21st, the funeral train left Washington. It is hardly too much to say that it was a funeral procession two thousand miles in length. All along the route people turned out, not daunted by darkness and rain–for it rained much of the time–and stood with streaming eyes to watch the train go by. At the larger cities named, the procession paused and the body lay for some hours in state while the people came in crowds so great that it seemed as if the whole community had turned out. At Columbus and Indianapolis those in charge said that it seemed as if the entire population of the state came to do him honor. The present writer has never witnessed another sight so imposing.

Naturally the ceremonies were most elaborate in New York City. But at Chicago the grief was most unrestrained and touching. He was there among his neighbors and friends. It was the state of Illinois that had given him to the nation and the world. They had the claim of fellow- citizenship, he was one of them. As a citizen of the state of which Chicago was the leading city, he had passed all his public life. The neighboring states sent thousands of citizens, for he was a western man like themselves, and for the forty-eight hours that he lay in state a continuous stream of all sorts and conditions of men passed by sorrowing.

In all these cities not a few mottoes were displayed. Most of these were from his own writings, such as, “With malice toward none, with charity for all;” and, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Two others are firmly fixed in the mind of the writer which are here given as a sample of all. The first is from the Bible: “He being dead yet speaketh.” The second is from Shakespeare:

  “His life was gentle, and the elements
  So mix’d in him, that Nature might stand up
  And say to all the world, This was a man!”

His final resting-place was Springfield. Here, and in all the neighboring country, he was known to every one. He had always a kind word for every one, and now all this came back in memory. His goodness had not been forgotten. Those whom he had befriended had delighted to tell of it. They therefore came to do honor not merely to the great statesman, but to the beloved friend, the warm-hearted neighbor. Many could remember his grave face as he stood on the platform of the car that rainy morning in February, 1861, and said, “I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I shall return.” Between the two days, what a large and noble life had been lived.

The city had made elaborate preparations for the final services. The funeral in Springfield was on May 4th. The order of service included a dirge, a prayer, the reading of his second inaugural address, and an oration. The latter was by Bishop Simpson and was worthy of the noble and eloquent orator. It was a beautiful day, the rain which had been falling during the long journey was over, and May sunshine filled earth and sky. Near the close of the day the body of the President, together with that of his little son Willie, which also had been brought from Washington, was laid in a vault in Oak Ridge cemetery.

A movement was at once set on foot to erect a suitable monument. For this purpose a few large sums of money were subscribed, but most of it came in small sums from the plain people. The negro troops contributed $8,000. The sum of $180,000 in all was raised and a noble structure was erected. It was dedicated in 1874. The orator of the day was his old- time friend, Governor, afterwards General, Oglesby. Warm words of appreciation were added by Generals Grant and Sherman. The former, who served under him as general and for two terms succeeded him in office, among other things said, “To know him personally was to love and respect him for his great qualities of heart and head, and for his patience and patriotism.”

Lincoln was never a resident of Chicago, but he was always a favorite in that city, even though it was the home of his great rival, Judge Douglas. It was there he was nominated in 1860, and the city always felt as if it had a personal claim on him. It has done itself honor by the construction of Lincoln Park. The chief ornament is a bronze statue of heroic size, by the sculptor St. Gaudens. The statue represents Lincoln in the attitude of speaking, and the legend, which is lettered at the base, is the sublime paragraph that concludes the second inaugural. The beauty of the park–lawn, flowers, shrubbery, trees– and the majesty of the statue, constitute a noble memorial of the man whose name they perpetuate.


Dedication  •  Preface  •  Chapter I. The Wild West  •  Chapter II. The Lincoln Family  •  Chapter III. Early Years  •  Chapter IV. In Indiana  •  Chapter V. Second Journey to New Orleans  •  Chapter VI. Desultory Employments  •  Chapter VII. Entering Politics  •  Chapter VIII. Entering the Law  •  Chapter IX. On the Circuit  •  Chapter X. Social Life and Marriage  •  Chapter XI. The Encroachments of Slavery  •  Chapter XII. The Awakening of the Lion  •  Chapter XIII. Two Things That Lincoln Missed  •  Chapter XIV. The Birth of the Republican Party  •  Chapter XV. The Battle of the Giants  •  Chapter XVI. Growing Audacity of the Slave Power  •  Chapter XVII. The Backwoodsman at the Center of Eastern Culture  •  Chapter XVIII. The Nomination of 1860  •  Chapter XIX. The Election  •  Chapter XX. Four Long Months  •  Chapter XXI. Journey to Washington  •  Chapter XXII. The Inauguration  •  Chapter XXIII. Lincoln His Own President  •  Chapter XXIV. Fort Sumter  •  Chapter XXV. The Outburst of Patriotism  •  Chapter XXVI. The War Here to Stay  •  Chapter XXVII. The Darkest Hour of the War  •  Chapter XXVIII. Lincoln and Fremont  •  Chapter XXIX. Lincoln and McClellan  •  Chapter XXX. Lincoln and Greeley  •  Chapter XXXI. Emancipation  •  Chapter XXXII. Discouragements  •  Chapter XXXIII. New Hopes  •  Chapter XXXIV. Lincoln and Grant  •  Chapter XXXV. Literary Characteristics  •  Chapter XXXVI. Second Election  •  Chapter XXXVII. Close of the War  •  Chapter XXXVIII. Assassination  •  Chapter XXXIX. A Nation’s Sorrow  •  Chapter XL. The Measure of a Man  •  Chapter XLI. Testimonies