151 years ago tonight, President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth. This singular event changed the course of American history forever. While this website provides research and insight regarding Lincoln’s assassination every day of the year, the anniversary of April 14th gives the knowledge contained here greater perspective. The reality of the event and its aftermath take on a renewed life when the clock marks the exact moment of the fatal gunshot or the final breath of the Great Emancipator. For those fleeting minutes and seconds, history is no longer this abstract idea. Rather, on exact anniversaries such as tonight, history is very much in the present. The events of the past travel through time and connect us all together, but, like an eclipse, the connection only lasts for the briefest of moments before the alignment is gone.
I teach and learn about Lincoln’s assassination as a way to honor Lincoln, and though my methods often involved delving deeply into the lives of those who plotted his death, I do so with the hope that learning more about the men and women who caused this great national calamity might help me better appreciate and comprehend the complex nature of Lincoln’s life.
So, on this night, at this moment, while I do see John Wilkes Booth readying his derringer and waiting to strike, I also see the crowd at Ford’s Theatre. I see the happy faces stealing glances at their revered President as he sits in his box. Most of all, though, I see Abraham Lincoln in his last moments of consciousness. I see him holding Mary Todd’s hand and enjoying the play. I hear the line, “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal. You sockdologizing old man-trap.”
In that moment though, I don’t see John Wilkes Booth in the shadows firing his gun. I don’t see an assassin releasing all of his hate and anger at an unarmed man. Instead, I see the joy and happiness in Abraham Lincoln’s eyes as reacts to the play with a deep and full laugh.
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is an event filled with horror and tragedy but for the briefest of seconds on its anniversary, I always see our 16th President, in his last moments, engaging in a well deserved laugh.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Lincoln.