In years past, I have written about the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death.
Wednesday was the 150th anniversary of that sad occasion. Sunday was the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death. In May, I am doing a display at the Green Hills Library in Palos Hills to honor these two fine presidents.
Let’s start with Lincoln. The first thing to tell you is that Mr. Lincoln did not like to be called Abe, so I won’t do that again. Most people who knew him in Illinois just called him Lincoln or Mr. Lincoln. His wife always called him Mr. Lincoln. While at the White House his secretaries called him the “Tycoon.”
Most of us know about Lincoln’s early years in Kentucky and Indiana.
He and his family moved to Illinois just as he reached his majority age of 21. His education was limited to a total of one year spread out over a few years. By the age of 28, he had already been elected to his second term in the Illinois State legislature. The year of 1837 would also see him be licensed to practice law in Illinois. By this time he had lived one half of his life.
Fast forward to 1860, and we find Mr. Lincoln traveling to New York in February to give a speech at the Cooper Union. Many historians have said this was the most important speech of his life so far. And I would agree. By November of 1860, he would be elected our 16th president and reelected in November 1864.
After his second inauguration, he took a trip to visit General Grant at his headquarters in City Point, Virginia. He needed a break and his oldest son, Robert, was a member of Grant’s staff so he would be able to see him. The president was there to witness the evacuation of Petersburg and then he visited Richmond a few days after President Davis and his cabinet had skedaddled from the capital.
Lincoln returned to Washington a few days later where on April 12, he gave a speech from a window of the White House to a crowd of well-wishers.
John Wilkes Booth was there and he vowed it would be Lincoln’s last speech.
And it was.
On April 14, a cabinet meeting was held with General Grant in attendance. All present were awaiting word on Sherman’s status. The president had extended an invitation to Grant and his wife to attend the theater with the Lincolns. General Grant declined the invitation, as did all others.
The only people to go with the Lincolns were Clara Harris, daughter of Senator Harris, and her fiancé, Major Henry Rathbone. The theatre was packed and everyone was enjoying the play.
At about 10:15 p.m. a shot rang out and the President fell forward in his chair.
John Wilkes Booth had carried out his promise to kill the president.
The next morning at 7:22 a.m. the president breathed his last. On April 18, an estimated
25,000 people viewed the President in the East Room of the White House and then on April 19, the formal funeral services were held at the White House.
One hundred and fifty years ago on April 21, the seven-car “Lincoln Funeral Train” left the depot carrying the caskets of the President and his son Willie home to Springfield, Illinois. It traveled almost the same route in reverse that it had taken four years earlier on the trip to Washington.
Following are just a few remarks to compare and contrast Lincoln and Roosevelt. Their early years have little to compare – they both were home schooled, (in Lincoln’s case – self- taught) they both loved to read, they both preferred learning to physical labor. Although, Lincoln did far more physical labor than Roosevelt. They were both tall; Lincoln at 6-foot-4 (our tallest president) and Roosevelt was 6-2. Lincoln was born in a log cabin in the wilderness of Kentucky, while Roosevelt was born into the lap of luxury. They both worked hard to overcome hardships in life that would have stopped most men in their tracks.
Next week: A look at Roosevelt
Don C. White is a historian from Palos Hills who has written a book on the Civil War.