Lincoln's Assassination: (Some Of) A Nation Mourned

Apr 27, 2015

We've all heard how the United States was sent into a period of shock and grief when word of Abraham Lincoln's murder spread.  Newspapers reported it that way.  But what about the average American, North or South, white or black?

Martha Hodes set out to learn more from their letters and personal notations.  The NYU Professor wrote a book on the subject.  "Mourning Lincoln" brings their intimate thoughts to light in the months after Lincoln died.

"By reading through those sources, we get a different vision," she said. "We get a vision of a nation that is not united in mourning. We get a vision of a nation quite divided."

Logically, many in the South were less stirred by Lincoln's demise than the immediate problems they faced.  The war ended the Confederacy and the southern economy was in shambles. 

"At times, they will make a notation of the assassination, but spend most of their time lamenting their defeat."

She added many white southerners thought Lincoln would have been fair to them during Reconstruction.  His loss added to their fear. 

African Americans, recently emancipated, worried what a change of leadership would mean for their plight.

Even in the North, still reveling in victory, Lincoln had detractors.  Some celebrated the news of his death.

One man even made the comment 'He has as much of a brain now as he ever had', a reference to Lincoln being shot in the head. 

"And what's so interesting is that Lincoln's mourners will say in one sentence, the whole world in mourning.  And then in the next sentence, in a diary or letter, will describe some of the people in their town who are not mourning Lincoln, but are reacting with glee. So they know it's not true but it's a kind of comforting trope that the whole world is mourning Lincoln," she said.