On this day-15th Apr 1865: Abraham Lincoln died

150 years ago today Abraham Lincoln, frequently heralded as one of the greatest American Presidents of all time, died from the assassination attack of the previous evening. The attack, by John Wilkes Booth, took place in the Presidential Box of Fords Theatre whilst Lincoln was watching Our American Cousin with his wife. Coming right at the end of the American Civil War, it was organised by a group of pro-confederates who were attempting to de-stabilise the government and restore the Confederate cause. In reality only one of their planned assassinations came off and both Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William. H. Seward survived to lead  the (re-)United States of America into the next phase of its history. However, in one almost fictional attack, America lost its icon. Abraham Lincoln was mourned nationwide, in the South as well as the North. He was grieved particularly by African-Americans who felt they had lost their champion. Lincoln’s lifelong campaign to abolish slavery changed America for good. His mantra that all men are equals never failed to rouse the hearts of those who heard it and whilst it divided a nation to the point of a long and bloody civil war, it was a saying that ultimately won true. Slavery was abolished throughout all of the states of America when the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was passed on 6th Dec 1865 - months after Lincoln’s death but a legacy he could be proud of. 

Abraham Lincoln standing portrait 1863

Abraham Lincoln
Artist: Thomas Le Mere on April 17, 1863 - National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated, although, as we all know, he wasn’t the last. Three other Presidents have subsequently been assassinated and the cumulative effect of their deaths has had a remarkable effect on the mentality of the White House. It is hard to imagine presidential body guards today leaving the President unguarded for a single second, let alone to go across the road to a bar as Lincoln’s did the night he was shot. Now, as demonstrated in the West Wing, House of Cards and, in the real world, Obama’s inauguration behind bulletproof glass, security is paramount. 

Abraham Lincoln head on shoulders photo portrait

Abraham Lincoln
Alexander Gardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An extensive funeral procession was arranged for Lincoln, covering 7 states and a total of 444 communities. The burial itself was subject to a great deal of arguments with various officials attempting to sway Mrs Lincoln over the location of his final resting place. Mrs Lincoln, however, held firm and Abraham Lincoln was finally laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery which she remembered Lincoln requesting several years previously. After an attempt to rob the grave, Lincoln’s body was hidden deeper inside the basement of the vault, a secret known only to a few including Lincoln’s only surviving child, Robert. When Mrs Lincoln died in 1882, Robert requested that his mother be laid to rest wherever the custodians, known as the Lincoln Guard of Honour, had hidden his father. 


Lincoln at peace
 By John B. Bachelder (died 22 December, 1894) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

150 years may have passed but tributes and monuments to Lincoln never cease. Perhaps the biggest and grandest of these is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Dedicated in 1922, it has become a focus for on-going race relations in the United States and famously becoming the setting for Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963. Lincoln’s message that all are equal and free lives on in many today and whilst it is to be celebrated that so many still carry his message, it is horrifying that 150 years on we still have to fight for it. Inequality, whether in terms of race or gender, age or sexual preference, disability or wealth, is still rampant throughout the world. To quote George Orwell, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”. A theoretical ideal may be all very well but it is only as good as those who practice it. Every single individual must raise themselves to a platform of equality for it to truly come into being. It sounds impossible but please do not ever give up. We must never stop trying to strive towards the perfect world of equality, fairness and freedom for if we dismiss it as impossible now then it will never be achieved. 

© Isla Robertson 2017