CRF Blog

What the Newspapers Said When Lincoln Was Killed

by Bill Hayes

In What the Newspapers Said When Lincoln Was Killed, Smithsonian magazine looks at the mixed reaction, even in the North.

Throughout his presidency — right up to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9 — Lincoln had attracted no shortage of bitter enemies, even in the North. Just six months earlier, he had been viewed as a partisan mortal: a much-pilloried politician running in a typically divisive national canvass for a second term as president. “The doom of Lincoln and black republicanism is sealed,” railed one of Lincoln’s own hometown newspapers after he had been renominated in June 1864. “Corruption and the bayonet are impotent to save them,” the Democratic Illinois State Register added. Not even the shock of his assassination could persuade some Northern Democrats that he didn’t deserve a tyrant’s death.

“They’ve shot Abe Lincoln,” one jubilant Massachusetts Copperhead shouted to his horrified Yankee neighbors when he heard the news. “He’s dead and I’m glad he’s dead.” On the other extreme of the political spectrum, George W. Julian, a Republican congressman from Indiana, acknowledged that his fellow Radicals’ “hostility towards Lincoln’s policy of conciliation and contempt for his weakness were undisguised; and the universal feeling among radical men here is that his death is a god-send.”

Perhaps nothing more vividly symbolized the seismic impact of the assassination than the scene of utter confusion that unfolded minutes after Booth fired his single shot. It did not go unrecorded. An artist named Carl Bersch happened to be sitting on a porch nearby, sketching a group of Union soldiers and musicians in an exuberant victory procession up Tenth Street in front of Ford’s Theatre. Suddenly Bersch noticed a commotion from the direction of the theater door. [more]