Along with many others – and a nation – I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon the life and honor our 16th President – Abraham Lincoln. We all (should) know the story of the child born into poverty in Kentucky and who lost his mother at a young age; that his family moved to Indiana and then to Illinois where the young man, who didn’t have much of an education, went on to become a successful lawyer and a Senator.
My “Lincoln” path began when I was in adolescence and first read a book called “The Death of Lincoln” by Leroy Hayman, first published in 1968, which I purchased through the school’s Scholastic Book Fair after 1972. In my 7th grade History class, the students were required to teach a subject for one week culminating in a test given to the class. My friend and I chose this particular area of history as our subject. We took pictures of the photos in the book and wrote our “curriculum” for the week. The instructor returned a slide carousel filled with the pictures we had taken to be used as illustrations. Our report received an “A” and the teacher sent a note to my mother praising our report.
I would watch anything on television that had anything even remotely assosciated with Lincoln, his presidency, the Civil War, or his assassination. I read articles about his life and studied some of his speeches. In another History class in high school, I had to memorize and then give the Gettysburg Address.
And I wondered – what would history have said about Abraham Lincoln had he not been killed soon after his second term began? Would he still be remembered as the Great Emancipator? The President who had saved the Union? One of the greatest presidents our nation ever had? What would his life had been like? Would Mary Todd Lincoln had been able to maintain her sanity? What would the reconstruction of our torn Union have been like had Lincoln been around to oversee it? How would history have been changed?
Answers are speculatory and self-serving. I would hope that everything would have been better had President Lincoln continued his service to our country. Would he have remained as melancholy as the States formed one complete Union again as he had been through most of his life? Would there have been another crisis he would have had to face immediately had he lived? Would he have remained great in the eyes of a grateful nation?
It has been reported that my great-grandfather, James Emory House, shook hands with President Lincoln; however, I’ve yet to find any documentation that places my great-grandfather’s regiment and Lincoln in the same place. I’ve also heard that one of my great-grandfather’s (or perhaps a 2nd great-grandfather) watched his train go by. I’m unsure if this was the train he took to Washington D.C. to be inaugurated as the 16th President or if it was his funeral train. My maternal great-grandfather, John Lafayette Johnson, who lived in rural Rush County, Indiana near Knightstown, would have been a little over 4 years old as the funeral procession came through. He would have been with his parents. His father, James Wilson Johnson, who was an adult at the time Lincoln was elected President, could have seen the inaugural train carrying the President-Elect toward Washington in February 1861 as it made its way through Indiana.
This past summer as our family was on our annual vacation to Missouri and then Ohio, we stopped in Springfield, Illinois to visit the Lincoln home. As I mentioned in this post we weren’t able to take the tour but I did get photos of the exterior.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President! And may you eternally rest in peace.