Remembering Honest Abe, 150 years later
On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln sat alongside his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, in his state box at Ford’s Theater for an evening performance of “Our American Cousin.” His bodyguard, John Parker, left the theater during the intermission to drink at a saloon next door.
On that night, John Wilkes Booth’s bullet met its target—the 16th President of the United States of America. Booth, a Confederate spy from Maryland, had originally conspired with others to kidnap the president and use him as leverage to secure the release of Confederate prisoners.
The president died nine hours after the shooting, on the morning of April 15, 1865. His coffin traveled 1,500 miles by train, over three weeks from Washington, D.C., to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln was finally buried on May 4, after what a reporter called “the grandest procession ever seen on this continent,” parts of which freed slaves were ordered not to attend.
With Lincoln’s assassination taking place just days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox, the president was left with no time to see through the end of the Civil War and the national restoration that followed.
One hundred and fifty years later, some still wonder: how might Reconstruction have gone differently had Lincoln — who was for the enfranchisement of freedmen unlike his successor, Andrew Johnson — lived? What would the landscape of race relations in 2015 United States look like? Would the lines drawn across the country, those that Lincoln strived to eradicate with the end of the Civil War, be burning any differently today?