Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Friday, April 03, 2009

April 1865 through Tad Lincoln's eyes

One of the last photos ever taken of Abraham Lincoln. The president with his son Tad, taken April 10th, 1865.

What a bittersweet month this was for the Lincolns. The seemingly endless, brutal war was finally drawing to a victorious close -- everyone was so happy right before Lincoln was shot.

Even now, nearly 150 years later, it seems so unfair. I've dreaded even writing about this month.

I keep thinking about what it must have been like... how the world and April of 1865 must have looked through the eyes of young Tad Lincoln.

His family - his parents - never really recovered from the death of his older brother Willie. I doubt that Tad did either, but hardly anyone ever talks about that. Living as he did in the White House, he probably didn't have many other young boys his age to play with. From all of the stories told about the two boys, he and Willie were inseparable.

Willie, by all accounts, was an exceptional child. He is often described as his parents' favorite. A parent's grief can be a heavy load for a surviving child... and Tad had been ill with the same disease that struck his brother down. Tad lived; the 'perfect child' Willie died. I often wonder how Tad felt when he saw his parents grieve and heard them talking endlessly about his dead brother as though he were a saint. I wonder if Tad experienced survivor guilt.

But before, and especially after Willie's death, Tad and his father were very close. Lincoln allowed Tad the run of the White House, and refused to discipline him or force him to study (most of his tutors quit in frustration, and Tad didn't learn to read until after Lincoln's death.)

Imagine if you were Tad Lincoln... and your father took you to the front lines to see the soldiers, to recently conquered Southern cities where citizens - African Americans at least - were hailing your father as a savior. Imagine that you, like young Tad, were right there surrounded by all of this history and sharing it with your doting father... who just happened to be the president of the United States. At the close of the war, Tad's father was hailed as a hero. He was 'Honest Abe,' and 'Father Abraham' to a nation of relieved survivors. Tad had a little Union uniform, and a much older brother who was a captain in the Army.

The beginning of April must have been a terrific time to be Tad Lincoln. Midway through the month it became a nightmare. When his parents were at Ford's Theater watching "Our American Cousin" the night of April 14th, Tad was at the Grover Theater watching "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp." In the chaos after the president was shot, someone apparently leaped onto the stage of Grover Theater and announced that Lincoln had been shot and killed by an assassin -- apparently without realizing that Tad was even in the audience. Tad arrived at his father's bedside just as he died.

Tad lost both of his parents the night Lincoln was assassinated. His mother, Mary Todd, never recovered. She didn't attend any of the public viewings, locked herself away and refused to ride with the president's body on the long train ride back to Springfield. I doubt she was able to be much of a mother to the grieving child who watched both his father and his brother carried away on a flag-draped train.

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