Sample research paper on Abraham Lincoln assassination

Abraham Lincoln Assassination

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, who served the country through some tough times during the Civil War, was assassinated on April 14, 1865. His death has been marked as one the major events of American history and also of the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was attending the performance of Our American Cousin at the Ford’s Theater with his wife and two guests and when John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, shot him. Booth, along with Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt, planned to kill the President, the Secretary of State (William H. Seward), and the Vice President (Andrew Johnson) in order to bring about chaos and to overthrow the Federal government. Even though Lincoln was killed in this plot, the rest of the attempts failed, as Seward was only wounded and Atzerodt fled the city (Boardman, 1865).

After a lot of investigation, it was found that Booth’s original plot was to kidnap the President and hold him hostage in order to continue the exchange of prisoners-of-war, as Ulysses S. Grant had suspended this policy earlier that year. However, these plans changed to murder as based on opportunity and the losing status of the Confederacy. This made the men desperate and Booth and his co-conspirators decided to kill the President and his posse in an attempt to create confusion and overthrow the government, thereby giving the Confederacy a chance towards revenge. When booth found out that the President as well as General Grant would be attending the theater on April 14, he decided to make his move. Since Booth has been an actor himself, he knew the theater well as he has performed there several times before.

On the afternoon of April 14, Booth went to his boarding house, which was managed by one Mary Surratt, and asked her to deliver a package to her other inn in Surrattsville, Maryland. Booth also told Mary to have the innkeeper at the tavern in Maryland prepare the guns and ammunition that had been stored in that inn previously by Booth himself. This later came out in the investigation and Mary Surratt was executed three months after the assassination of President Lincoln. That night, Booth met with Powell and Atzerodt and they all went over the plan of killing the top three men in the Union government. They planned to kill the three men at the same time, with Booth taking the responsibility of shooting Lincoln with his gun and then stabbing Grant with his knife.

That night, while the play was being enacted on stage, Booth entered the theater, and made this way towards where President Lincoln was sitting. He came up from behind him and shot him in the back of his head. Booth then fled from the scene, leaving the President unconscious. Several doctors were on the scene and they tried to revive Lincoln but of no avail. They shifted the unconscious President to a nearby house, where he lived out his last moments without ever recovering from the bullet wound. President Lincoln passed away the next morning of April 15 at around 7 in the morning.

Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be assassinated and his death caused a lot of stir throughout the country. His assassination is looked upon not only as a significant event in the history of the United States, but also as completely changing the perspective of how the country, and the world, viewed, and would continue to view, Abraham Lincoln as a person and as a President (Hall, 1865). It is a fact that assassination changed the status of Abraham Lincoln into a sacred symbol of his society, changed from what he had been known as a controversial president. His assassination was only the first chapter of this transformation, as the amount of work and the attention that he received after his death on his funeral and the events that followed made him into even more of a hero than ever before. Many Americans had condemned Lincoln at the time and most of them had criticized his wartime policies and reconstruction plans. This is why it was so much more interesting to see that many people acted so differently upon his death even though they felt completely different about the man and his presidency. This is why it is important to take a look at this aspect: how death and the ensuing funeral arrangements completely changed the way the nation viewed the man and how Lincoln’s image was forever changed in the eyes of the Americans then and beyond (Schwartz 1991, 343).

Up until the day that Lincoln died, there was almost no one in America who did not find anything wrong with Lincoln. Almost everyone had a problem with the way he had dealt with the Civil War and many people had been criticizing his various policies. Even though Lincoln had been reelected to the presidency some six months before, it was only by a small margin and only because many of the people had changed their minds about him. The Union had been losing terribly in the war and it was only because Lincoln was able to have many crucial victories that the people had been convinced into voting for him. Even then, many people were of the opinion that Lincoln did not win the election because people liked him, but it was mostly because the Americans disliked his opponent, George McClellan (Oates 1977, 461). The war ended in the winter of 1864 but people continued to dislike Lincoln for what he had done to the country and how his policies had affected the economy and the like.

It is interesting to note how everyone found something or the other to be wrong with Lincoln. Those who supported the war thought that Lincoln was an indecisive man and that he had been too lenient in making up his policies after the war. Those who were against the war continued their support for the South and they believed that the war Lincoln waged was detrimental to the country and that it had put the nation into a setback from which it was potentially very difficult to recover. At that time of the Civil, America was divided in these two broad groups: the opponents and the proponents of the war, and both these groups disliked Lincoln for their own reasons. This made up for a large percentage of the Americans who held such negative attitudes towards Abraham Lincoln.

The exact extent of how many people disliked Lincoln is unknown and it would be very difficult to assess the quantity, however, a lot can be surmised by looking at what the various newspapers and publications were saying at that time. Most of the American newspapers of that time can be found filled with anti Lincoln columns and attitudes, and they continued to open express themselves until the war was in its last month. The bulk of the criticism came from democratic newspapers. Even though many of Lincoln’s supporters (which were very few in numbers) regarded his inaugural address of March 4, 1865 as his most beautiful and fitting speech, a newspaper, the Chicago Times (March 6, 1865) wrote that it was “slipshod,” “loose jointed” and “puerile.” This same speech was condemned by another newspaper the Buffalo Courier (March 11, 1865) by saying it was Lincoln’s “exhortation to finish a war the limits and nature of which are not even hinted at” that surmised what kind of a president he was.

Many people also found it disgraceful and condemned Lincoln as a radical for his concerns about the black people of America. People believed that by showing his sympathies towards the blacks, Lincoln was mocking his own nation, and that too at such a crucial and sensitive time. Just four days before he dies, Lincoln made a speech that had to do with the reentry of Louisiana into the Union and how the blacks would have limited suffrage. It has been reported that even Lincoln was very worried about this speech and was anxious as to how it would be received by the nation (Oates 1977: 461). This showed his own insecurities at the time and that he was not sure as to his position as a well-liked and respected president (Schwartz 1991, 344-5).

But his assassination changed everything. The attitude of people towards Lincoln changed radically after his murder. It was an occasion when the whole nation was perhaps for the first time facing such a calamity where everyone had been forced to think about the changing political situation of the country. At the same time, Lincoln’s funeral rites and processions were done on such a large and grand scale that people starting to look at him in a different light. It was because of the symbolism that these funeral rites projected that the people started to raise Lincoln to a higher level. Even though people did not like him and his policies, there was an element of sympathy and people automatically started to show their affection for their President who was murdered so brutally and so publically. Plus, when Lincoln was killed, the nation was already in a state of heightened emotions, and this allowed for an even increased impact of his death upon the people.

The South had just recently surrendered and many people took to the streets as a celebration. The businesses were interrupted, and there were many speeches, fireworks, and demonstrations in many parts of the country. The war had lasted for four years and now it was over and the North was ecstatic. At the same time, it was Easter time and holidays were coming up in a few days. And it was on the peak of this happiness and anticipation, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, that Lincoln was shot. And this news just put a halt on all the festivities and the celebration. People started gathering again all over the country, but this time it was not to celebrate but to mourn and to find out exactly what had happened in Washington (Schwartz 1991, 347).

These feelings of confusion and sadness changed the attitudes of many of the Americans at the time. Many people became sympathetic towards the President over his sudden death and because of the manner in which he met his end. His grand funeral rites and processions also added to the grandness of his personality and America saw him change from being a much criticized president to one of the most influential and powerful of all the US Presidents. People began to talk of his vigorous methods in the field during his time as the commander in chief during the Civil Way. Even the opponents who believed that his policies were unconstitutional and unconventional started to think of him as a great leader to did his country well.

During his life, Lincoln had a very hard time balancing the war and politics, but he was most successful in his measures and policies after his assassination. Lincoln was criticized as a President and his policies were condemned, and many of the Democrats labeled him as a tyrant for his flagrant ways. Yet, after his assassination, he was honored for his proscribed civil liberties. He came to be known as a very tolerant president with his critics and did the best to run his country in the most honorable manner.

Looking at all of his policies today, we find that Lincoln’s assassination was actually a great blow to the Americans, even though it brought him the respect and acknowledgement that he never received when he was alive. He was greatly criticized when he was alive but America started to love, respect, and to be grateful to only after his death (Schwartz 1991, 361).

Work Cited

Boardman, George. 1865 . The Death of President Lincoln. Binghampton, N.Y.: F.N. Chase.

Hall, Gordon. 1865. President Lincoln's Death: Its Voice to the People. Northampton, Mass.: Trumbull & Gere.

Oates, Stephen B. 1977. With Malice Toward None. Harper & Row.

Schwartz, Barry. 1991. “Mourning and the Making of a Sacred Symbol: Durkheim and the Lincoln Assassination,” Social Forces, 70, (2): 361.


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