Yesterday's News

Even pro-Confederacy newspaper mourned loss of President Lincoln

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
April 17, 2005

Henderson was draped in mourning 140 years ago, as was the rest of a divided nation that was reuniting in its horror and shock at the assassination of a president.

There is little question nowadays that Abraham Lincoln was one of our greatest men, but he was not universally loved during his time in the White House. In pro-slavery areas such as Henderson County, where 40 percent of the population lived in slavery in 1860, he was downright unpopular.

In the 1860 election only five Henderson County voters cast ballots for Lincoln, according to E.L. Starling's "History of Henderson County." One was in the city of Henderson, three were in Corydon, and one was in what was then called Woodruff precinct.

Throughout the Civil War the Henderson Reporter was often critical of Lincoln, leveling early accusations of tyranny for his attempts to keep the Union together. As the war progressed, that criticism had to be tempered in order to avoid the wrath of military authorities. Consequently, the Reporter's displeasure was often expressed in a veiled fashion by sarcastically referring to him as "Father Abraham."

But the events of April 14, 1865, in Ford's Theater changed all that. Even the Reporter, which in 1861 had openly supported the Confederacy, condemned the actions of assassin John Wilkes Booth. The newspaper even went so far as to "turn the rule," which was an old newspaper custom in which thick black lines were used to divide the columns of type instead of the usual blank white gutters. It was an expression of deep sorrow.

"The news, flashed over the country on lightning's wings, has put the nation in mourning, and a universal feeling of sadness and sorrow prevails among the people," the Reporter said. "Notwithstanding the fact that thousands of men differed from Mr. Lincoln in reference to measures of public policy, nearly all seemed to feel that, in his untimely death, a great calamity had befallen the nation.

"The head of government, in whom the governing party had unbounded confidence, and to whom men of all parties were looking for the accomplishment of an early peace, has been stricken down by the hand of the villainous assassin at a time when his great influence was most needed in the settlement of our national troubles. The magnanimous manner in which General Lee and his officers and men (who had surrendered the previous week) had been treated by the government authorities, the pacific policy indicated by Mr. Lincoln ... had caused men of all party predilections to hope that a substantial peace was close at hand."

On this date in 1865 both Mayor David Banks and Gov. Thomas E. Bramlette issued proclamations ordering a period of mourning. The mayor ordered all businesses to close at 10 a.m. for the rest of the day and "as a mark of respect for the deceased president, will drape their doors in mourning."

The governor ordered that on April 19 at noon "let every church bell be tolled throughout the Commonwealth, and on that day let all business be suspended and ... the public offices closed and draped in mourning."

"Business was suspended at noon yesterday and church bells tolled in accordance with the governor's proclamation," the Reporter noted.

"On account of the dark deed which has been committed, people express sorrowful forebodings that the prospect of peace, a few days ago so flattering, has been destroyed. We sincerely hope that all such evil forebodings are unfounded and that the work of pacification and peace may go on.

"Let us hope that the untimely death of the president was intended by the Almighty to subserve some wise and good purpose, and that our country may soon emerge from the clouds of misfortune that hover over it."


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS