No Sorrow like Our Sorrow: Northern Protestant Ministers and the Assassination of Lincoln

By David B. Chesebrough | Go to book overview

1
A Nation Grieves

When was there ever a sorrow so universal or a lamentation so profound?

-- JOHN C. THOMPSON

TO READ THE post-assassination sermons from Northern preachers is to understand something of the overwhelming, painful, and pervasive grief that hung over the Northern populace when Abraham Lincoln was killed. More than any other theme, it was grief that dominated sermons emanating from Northern pulpits. On April 16, only two days after the tragedy at Ford's Theater, Edwin B. Webb, pastor of the Shawmut Congregational Church in Boston, described the nation's sorrow in haunting and poetic terms.

Words express nothing.... An eclipse seems to have come upon the brilliancy of the flag, -- a smile seems irrelevant and sacreligious. Even the fresh, green grass, just coming forth to meet the return of spring and the singing of the birds, seems to wear the shadows of twilight at noonday. The sun is less bright than before, and the very atmosphere seems to hold in it for the tearful eye a strange ethereal element of gloom.... It is manly to weep to-day.1

On that same day, Henry H. Northrop, a Baptist minister from Carthage, Illinois, noted that history had recorded many sad moments, "many mournful tragedies; but none can surpass that which in a moment has plunged a great people from fervent rejoicing into the deepest grief." Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian from Boston, contrasted the glad Easter day with the nation's gloom. "The day of a nation's grief," he said, "is the day of the church's rejoicing." Nevertheless, it was the Easter message that made the present grief more bearable. Hale continued, "But for this resurrection, this immortality of which to-day is token and symbol, such grief were

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