Tag Archives: abraham lincoln

“Just retribution! but how awful!”

“Horrible!” wrote Sallie Knott on April 15, 1865.  The previous evening in Washington, D.C, President Abraham Lincoln had been shot at Ford’s Theater and Secretary of State William H. Seward stabbed by unknown assailants.  At home in Lebanon, Kentucky, Sallie sat down to record her reactions in her journal.  But it wasn’t easy to sort out her thoughts, for at the outbreak of the Civil War she had made one thing clear to that same journal: “I glory in the name of Rebel.”

As a young schoolteacher in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Sallie had developed a disdain for Northern attacks on her state’s way of life.  Her anti-Yankee sentiments grew after she married her cousin James Proctor Knott in 1858 and moved to Missouri, where he was a lawyer and state legislator.  In 1861 Knott, now Attorney General of Missouri, was stripped of his office for declining to take an oath not to “aid the Southern cause,” and the couple was forced to return to Kentucky. 

Sallie Knott

For the next four years, Sallie remained largely true to her promise to confine her journal entries to personal affairs, but the news from Washington demanded comment.  Sallie could not restrain her sense of triumph.  “Just retribution!  but how awful!” she declared.  Lincoln had proclaimed the previous day “a universal Thanksgiving day,” but “while his partisans were feasting & making merry, by his own order, over the misfortunes of a brave & oppressed people, he & his chief director & adviser in all his fiendish schemes, are dying!  Lord, thou art just & holy; & thy judgements infinitely surpass our desires or comprehension.”

Her thoughts then turned to the identity of the perpetrators.  Of course, fingers pointed to Southerners as “the prime movers in the plot,” but Sallie put her money on General Ulysses S. Grant who, “with the army at his back, is going to try to make himself sovereign & absolute!”  Grant had accepted Lincoln’s invitation to attend the play at Ford’s Theater, she noted, but then backed out and left town.  And like Americans who, after President Kennedy’s assassination, rejected the “lone gunman” theory, she saw conspiracies in the shadows.  “Why,” she asked, “was there no attempt to arrest either assassin by guards, servants, police, nor a theatre full of people?” 

Would “a terrible struggle for absolute power & the rights of the people” now ensue, with the army on the side of despotism”? Sallie wondered. “ Let us be still & see!”  In the meantime, she had to hold her tongue around grieving family and friends and at her church’s memorial for the martryed president.  “No heathen Juggernaut ever received so much devotion as we have been obliged to offer at the shrine of Abe Linkhorn’s dead, ugly old phiz!” she sputtered.  “Bah!  ‘tis perfectly sickening!”

Sallie McElroy’s journal is part of the holdings of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  Search all our collections through TopSCHOLAR or KenCat.

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“Our Day of Affliction”

Lincoln assassination proclamation

Lincoln assassination proclamation

Late in April 1865, the nation was still reeling from the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14.  Twelve days after the tragedy in Ford’s Theater, Union soldiers had tracked fugitive killer John Wilkes Booth to a Virginia farmhouse, set it on fire, then apprehended Booth after he was shot in the neck.  Booth died a few hours later.

On April 21, as the funeral train departed Washington D.C. for interment of Lincoln’s remains in Springfield, Illinois, Kentucky Governor Thomas E. Bramlette issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, May 4 as a “day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” for the citizens of his state.  The “sad calamity which has fallen upon our country,” read the proclamation, called upon “us as a people to humble ourselves before a Merciful God, and pray Him that the sin of our people, which has culminated in such great crime, be forgiven.”  He asked Kentuckians on that day to “suspend all secular business, and, at the usual hour for service, attend their respective places of worship, and engage in the solemn and earnest observance of the day. . . in this our day of affliction.”

A facsimile of Governor Bramlette’s proclamation is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections relating to Lincoln and the assassination, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Stormy Inauguration

Lyrics sung to the tune "Yankee Doodle" alluded to the pre-inauguration plot against Lincoln (SC 2264)

Lyrics sung to the tune “Yankee Doodle” alluded to the pre-inauguration plot against Lincoln (SC 2264)

Prior to 1937, Inauguration Day for U.S. presidents was March 4.  On that day in 1861, there was great excitement, but also grave uncertainty.  Abraham Lincoln took office at a time of national crisis, with the South in the midst of secession and Lincoln himself the recent subject of a rumored assassination plot.  Soon after his swearing-in, tensions only escalated with the attack on Fort Sumter and the secession of Virginia in April.

Collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections afford a glimpse at the mixed emotions the new president elicited from Americans.  In August, a letter to Barren County, Kentucky merchant Wade Veluzat from a Lincoln voter denied that either he or his candidate were abolitionists.  “But,” he wrote, “if the people of the South will make war on us because we vote for whom we please for President, then let it come.”  In September, a defiant secessionist in Russellville, Kentucky took up the challenge in a letter sent to Ohio.  “We are not afraid of the Lincoln Negro Party, we say whip us if you can.”

Four years later, Lincoln’s first-term record drew a similarly wide range of comment.  As we have previously seen, Bevie Cain of Breckinridge County had nothing but scorn for supporters of the President’s “wicked unwise rule.”  She dared a Unionist friend to “just tell me one item of good that his reign has accomplished or will accomplish.”  An Indiana man was on the other side of the fence, finding Lincoln to be, in fact, insufficiently radical.  He expected, nevertheless, to vote for the reelection of “old Abe,” observing presciently that he “is a good honest man, and has already said and done enough to make his name famous among the friends of universal Liberty everywhere and for all time.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more on Lincoln, presidents and presidential inaugurations, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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