SAN JOSE, April 14, 2015 — Seven score and ten years have passed since Good Friday 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, just five days after the American Civil War had ended.
It is tragic that one of America’s most beloved leaders was assassinated only days after the culmination of the most devastating war in the nation’s history. It was also the most costly war in terms of the greatest number of lives lost, as over 620,000 men and boys lost their lives in this horrendous conflict.
After Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the old Appomattox courthouse in Virginia, there seemed to be a general relief that swept through Washington, D.C. It was forever shattered on that Good Friday in 1865.
The news of President Lincoln’s assassination spread rapidly across the country. People were shocked and many were in a state of disbelief. For Americans to grasp the extreme gravity of sorrow in the moment, it is comparable to the emotions and feelings of the people at the time President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. In either case, it was hard for the nation to recover from the experience of such tragedy. In either case, the acts of evil seemed senseless and unforgivable.
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With regard to President Lincoln’s assassination occurring on Good Friday, it seemed quite eerie, and people created a connection between Lincoln’s death and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, although today it might be viewed in different light. Yet, in 1865, there were those who mourned Lincoln’s death and made significant comparisons between Lincoln and Jesus, or Moses. Certainly there may be legitimate reasons for the sentiment, but Lincoln does not stand in history as a religious leader; he is remembered as a strong and great political leader – two different realities with different purposes. However, Lincoln was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of saving the United States of America.
In the time of mourning, a large number of American Christians, especially in the North, had some type of recognition to the Good Friday connection and to Jesus. Americans in general had a sincere love for Mr. Lincoln, and seemed to take his sudden death personally, like Americans dealt with the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, or as with John Kennedy’s death. Americans have taken such significant loss of leadership in ways that were personal, almost as if such loss was comparable to the loss of a beloved family member. It was a similar reaction among the American people, but this was the very first time an American president had been assassinated, so there was nothing with which to compare it.
Upon Lincoln’s death, it is reported that Americans created hand written banners with the famous words from Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” and mounted them, along with black-bordered stars and stripes as well as photographs of Mr. Lincoln, in windows of their shops and in their homes. The Christian mourners began venerating Lincoln’s words and comparing them to Jesus’ Gospel, and felt a connectedness to Lincoln related t0 their reverence for Jesus. Abraham Lincoln had fully invested himself in salvaging the divided United States, and as people realized this, he became increasingly sanctified in those days following his tragic death.
Since Abraham Lincoln lived upon the world stage, much has been written about him, but in his day, he was a controversial character, and was an incredibly complex individual. From the time he had delivered his first inaugural address in March of 1861, to times when he visited with wounded soldiers in the Washington area hospitals, to the time he walked through the streets of Richmond on April 4, 1865 after Lee’s retreat, President Lincoln involved himself personally in the central reality dominating his presidency: The Civil War. Minus Lincoln, the war may not have broken out when it did, but it would have come one day or another. Minus Lincoln however, the Union may not have been held together.
The American Civil War was as much a war of ideas or ideals as it was a clash between the military might of the two deadly factions. The most contentious idea was that people were entitled to own other human beings enabling the most contentious institution of all: that of slavery. The Southern leadership came out of the closet and denounced the fundamental ideals and beliefs of the Founding Fathers; they denounced the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Leaders of the Confederacy denounced Thomas Jefferson and the declaration that “all men are created equal.” On the contrary, Lincoln defended the ideals of the Founders and through the Emancipation Proclamation reasserted that “all men were created equal.”
Obviously, the war and the freedom of a race of people occupied Lincoln’s presidency, and these two incredible issues touched almost everything Honest Abe had to contend with during his presidency. Lincoln chose to deal with the issue of slavery that had been put on the proverbial shelf by the Founders, and the issue that the slave owners were willing to fight and die for, the issue that had divided the Union since inception, was eventually the issue that almost destroyed the Union.
While Lincoln the president with his massive array of support could eliminate the threat of the permanent dissolution of the Union, Lincoln the man became a victim of a small band of ruthless Confederates led by John Wilkes Booth.
Jesus once said that the greatest gift that one can give would be to offer one’s life for the sake of one’s fellow man. Despite the Good Friday connection, Lincoln should be viewed as one who lived according to such a principle. During the war, Lincoln told his cabinet that once he decided upon the Emancipation Proclamation, he promised God he would free the slaves. From that point, he did everything in his power to fulfill that promise.
It is fitting that Lincoln be remembered as a great historic example of a person’s persistent belief in honorable ideals and the willingness to make heroic sacrifices for the sake of others. Certainly, his personal example aligned closely with Christ’s ideals.