On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The news hit the country liked a punch in the stomach. The pro-Union forces were still celebrating the end of the war. For weeks, Northerners gathered in the streets to drink, parade, and sing songs glorifying their victory.
What a victory it was! Not only had the Union had been preserved, but an entire race had been liberated. Americans could now proclaim themselves the “land of the free” without hypocrisy.
Furthermore, democracy itself had been vindicated. The principle of self-rule was still controversial and regarded as impractical by many. The persistence of the American republic was a stunning rebuke to those who mocked the government of the people. A Union defeat would have set back the cause of liberty for the entire world.
Union victory was also, it can be argued, the beginning of the American era. The Union army had been the largest in the world. The Confederate army had been the second largest.
The American armies were the most technologically advanced of their time. Telegraphs, iron-clad, railroads, and even hot-air balloons were used extensively in the Civil War.
The old, aristocratic, empires might sneer at the provincial Americans, but they could no longer dismiss them as insignificant. We were clearly a force to be reckoned with, and we knew it.
All these feelings – moral righteousness, martial pride, soaring patriotism, and triumphalism – were quashed with an assassin’s bullet. Everyone was shocked that the horrors of war were not over.
Lincoln was killed on Good Friday. Christians went to Easter services the following Sunday and meditated on themes of martyrdom and sacrifice. Jews observed Passover that Friday night and hailed Lincoln as the new Moses who had freed an entire people.
This month marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln assassination. As we observe the spring religious holidays, it would be wise to remember what our ancestors and so many of our veterans have painfully learned. We do not decide what war’s ultimate price will be or when we will stop paying it. The sacrifices of war do not end with the last battle.
Remember our veterans
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