“History will record in detail the greatest tragedy of our National existence” – Syracuse Learns of Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

Abraham Lincoln - Election 1864

Today in 1865, the world learned of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Ansel Judd Northrup (photo below), who moved to Syracuse in 1859 after finishing Law School at Columbia University, consistently wrote in a diary, each entry giving insight and individual perspective on events occurring in and out of Syracuse. However, as we find ourselves looking back at Lincoln’s assassination more than a century and a half later, OHA’s staff wondered if the well spoken Northrup recorded his thoughts on this historic event. Lucky for us, he did. In one of Northrup’s longest diary entries he explains his thoughts on the assassination of the nation’s President.

“Abraham Lincoln is dead!  Last night at about 10 o’clock-just as we were leaving Wieting Hall. I suppose-he was shot by an Assassin, in the head, at Ford’s Theater, in Washington, and this morning, at 7 o’clock 22 minutes, he breathed his last!  I write this day after the event, but the great grief is not over. The overwhelming sorrow, as for the death of a Father, is yet pushing its fearful weight upon my heart. I tried, a few hours after he, the beloved of the nation, yielded up his life on the altar of His country, to write something of my feelings in my book of “Chance thoughts”, but they were feebleness itself compared with my emotions. I cannot attempt here and now to express what I could not then.  Alas!  A great and good man has fallen!  A man whom God chose to do a great work has been taken when he seemed to be indispensable.  But God loves this land, I am sure, and He will do for us what seems best in his sight. We mourning with a grief which almost refused to bow and utter the chosen words of resignation. “Thy will be done!”  And yet we by Wm H Seward, on his death bed of pain, just trembling at the verge of the otherworld, was assailed, at the same hour, and fearfully wounded, but we yet hope, not fatally.  God save the Nation!  A formable conspiracy seems to have been formed to destroy by one fell stroke the whole government at Washington. God averted all harm from all but the dear President, and the Wise Secretary, the heart and the Head of the Nation. – History will record in detail the greatest tragedy of our National existence, and I need not, men in outline, attempt to do it here.

Mrs. Fitch and Willie came to my door at 6 o’clock this morning, rapped, and upon my responding, said, “There is news!” “What I asked. “Here is your paper read it”.  I arose, took the paper at the door, turned to the telegraphic column, and read aloud, “Abraham Lincoln Assassinated!”   I sank down in a chair overwhelmed, and could only utter “God have mercy on the nation!” The stroke was as if I had read the news of the death of my whole family. At length I was able to read the remainder. Was it some horrible dream? I asked myself. Can it be true- is it possible- is the Man of the Nation gone!  And all through the long, sad day I involuntarily repeated to myself these questions. Yet, there were the evidence, the details in startling clearness.   It was true. No mourning ……….Yet the President was not dead the Secretary was not dead. Is there hope!  None for the President- almost none for the Secretary after breakfast as I stepped upon the street to go down town, said a stranger to me, “sad news- the President is dead!’ And that was true. At 7:22 am the good and great man breathed his last. –Oh the long, long weary day!  The bells were told, the cannon boomed (not in rejoicing now!) places of business were closed, the whole city was draped in mourning and there was mourning, mourning everywhere.  But the longest the weariest, the saddest day at last comes to an end, and we went to our houses made desolate by this great sorrow. With all our grief was mingled horror at the terrible deed which cast us in mourning, and fear for the National Welfare; for a new and united board held the helm of State.”