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

By David B. Chesebrough | Go to book overview

3
Responsibility for the Assassination

Whence came this blow? -- SAMUEL T. SPEAR

ON SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 1865, nine days after Lincoln's assassination, Samuel Thayer Spear, a Presbyterian cleric from Brooklyn, asked from his pulpit, "Whence came this blow?" It was a question that preachers all over the North were posing. Who was responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? Of course, John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. Sidney Dean referred to Booth as a "second Judas" who, "worse than his namesake, went out from the presence of the chief priests and counsellors of treason and himself committed the murder."1

As Dean implied, however, the preachers viewed Booth as only a small cog in the mechanism of the assassination. It is somewhat surprising how few of the preachers even mentioned Booth's name. Leonard Swain emphasized that "the individual perpetrator is nothing. The nation scarcely cares who he is, or what he is. He is the mere instrument, the hand which held the pistol." Wilbur F. Paddock, rector of St. Andrew's Church in Philadelphia, stressed that Booth was only "the tool.... he was not the inspirer...not the soul of this murder. There were others much more guilty than he." E. J. Goodspeed announced who those other guilty people were: "I believe the wretch who foully slew our magnanimous, incorruptible and idolized Chief Magistrate was spurred and prompted to his plot, and aided in its execution by the Confederacy...baffled in its attempt to take a nation's life, fiendishly sought to take its constituted head."2

In their assigning of blame for the assassination, most of the preachers in the North agreed with Goodspeed. It was the Confederacy, the South, slavery that was ultimately responsible for the murder of Abraham Lincoln. Chester Forrester Dunham has written,

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - A Nation Grieves 1
  • 2 - The Character of Abraham Lincoln 16
  • 3 - Responsibility for the Assassination 41
  • 4 - The Demand for Justice 53
  • 5 - The Assassination As an Act of Providence 66
  • 6 - Sermon Conclusions 79
  • Conclusion 90
  • Appendix 112
  • Notes 139
  • Bibliography 149
  • Index 196
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