On this, the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (and Charles Darwin’s), we’ll take a moment to look back at the nation’s (and Providence’s) response to his death.
As noted in the previous post, mourning over Lincoln’s assassination took place across the nation, and Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, declared 1 June 1865 a national day of “humiliation and mourning,” describing the country in the proclamation as “one great house of mourning.” (Text of the proclamation and a description of the activities in New York available through the New York Times website.)
It was a distinctly religious undertaking: Johnson declared the purpose of the event to be “humbling ourselves before Almighty God” and called for the nation to “assemble in their respective places of worship.” The service in Providence was held at the Beneficent Congregational Church, and the program (image of cover to the left—click to view enlargement) reprints the chorus of “Columbia Mourns,” which was sung during the service:
“Columbia, mourn! His course is o’er; the brave, the mighty is no more! Mourn Columbia! let all you streams of sorrow flow. We have sinned; we fell; we scorned our God! He died beneath the assassin’s rod. O day of bitterness! O day of woe! Mourn, Columbia! Mourn!”
In addition to displaying a marked fondness for the exclamation point, the author captures the biblical and apocalyptic element of the national response to Lincoln’s assassination.
The high point of the service was William Binney’s oration on Lincoln. The June 3rd issue of the Providence Journal provided the following assessment: “No higher praise can be awarded it than to say that it rises to the height of the great occasion and the great theme.” The text was printed in a limited edition of 25 copies (ours is no. 1) by Knowles and Anthony for George Taylor Paine, who would later become secretary of the Rhode Island Historical Society.