Lincoln Danced with Death
...and Continued on with Life.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about John Wilkes Booth and how he adversely affected America. While doing research on Booth, I came across the actual dream of Lincoln a couple weeks prior to being assassinated. I had known about the dream that he told Ward Hill Lamon but never actually read it.

Ward Hill Lamon Ward Hill Lamon
Ward Hill Lamon was a law partner with Lincoln in Danville, Illinois. When Lincoln was elected president, he asked Lamon to go with him to Washington, which they did in February of 1861. Lamon became a US Marshall soon after Lincoln's inauguration and unofficially kept an eye upon Lincoln due to the social unrest related to the Civil War and Southern supporters in Washington. He left Washington several days prior to the assassination of Lincoln. However, Lincoln confided in him regarding his dream that he recently had a week and a half before Lamon left Washington. The following is what he remembered Lincoln saying.

About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream.

There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break?

I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully.

"Who is dead in the White House?" I demanded of one of the soldiers, "The President," was his answer; "he was killed by an assassin."

Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.

Lincoln's Funeral in the East Room, April 19, 1865.  Mrs. Lincoln, though shown in the artist's depiction, did not attend.

This is the scene about which Lincoln dreamed two weeks before he was assassinated.

Aside from the interest of reading the text of Lincoln's dream, what interested me was that in spite of dancing with death in his dream, he continued living his life. Lincoln realized that he was not immortal and accepted that truth. Therein lies a critical lesson for us.


Lincoln had always been aware of the tension between life and death. He said, "And in the end it is not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." While I agree with him, I wonder what event in his life motivated him to make that statement, which was years prior to his assassination.

Another thing that Lincoln said about life was, "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be." He was able to decide how happy he would be regardless of the problems facing him. Lincoln was able to wrestle with family issues, political issues, the Civil War, and the list goes on, but he was able to continue to live in spite of the problems.

Booth's assassination of Lincoln probably had the most profound negative affect upon America's long history. We are still dealing with racism today, 150-years after Booth killed Lincoln. Lincoln and the Civil War ended slavery, but the South went from slavery to segregation. I graduated from college 100-years after the ending of the Civil War. Still the major issue in America then was racism in the form of segregation. These signs were the manifestation of segregation in the South.

Water fountain restrictions Whites only
Water fountain restrictions Whites only

It has been a half century since I graduated from college. Look where we still are with the birthers, photo IDs needed to vote especially in the South, and police officers killing black males. The most recent example was in Baltimore and the killing of Freddie Gray. Gray's death is a long list of police killing black males. Here is just a handful over the last year or so: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and Amadou Diallo. These and other deaths are all a part of Booth's legacy.

Nonetheless, Lincoln left us a legacy also. While we are alive here in America, the land of freedom and equality, we need to remember and work at fulfilling Lincoln's legacy. Someday, we will all dance with death and die. The haunting question is how will we be remembered? What will be our legacy? The choice is simple. We can be remembered being like Booth or Lincoln.

Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

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