In Memory of Abraham Lincoln: The Reward of the Just

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In Memory of Abraham Lincoln: The Reward of the Just
1865
D. T. Wiest
30 x 24 in.
Chicago History Museum
ICHi-52561

What could possibly be happening here? Lincoln is shown emerging from his earthly tomb, and being carried to heaven by Father Time (the bearded figure just behind Lincoln—notice his scythe and hourglass), while an angel helps. To the left of the tomb are items from the Seal of the United States: an eagle (the national bird) holding a shield and the national motto, “E Pluribus Unum”—“Out of Many, One.” Seated in front of the tomb is a despairing Columbia, a female symbol of the United States. She holds a lance topped with a liberty cap, a symbol of democratic revolution. Around her are objects related to battle. Behind her are American women and children in mourning. On the right, you see an Indian man also grieving the slain President.

The Civil War era was a time of great religious feeling, and the “reward of the just” refers to Lincoln earning a place in heaven, beyond time, beloved by his country. In similar prints from this time, Lincoln is shown being greeted in heaven by George Washington, a national hero to whom he was often compared. Here, Lincoln is meant to recall Jesus—his outstretched arms recall the crucifixion—who, according to the Bible, rose from the dead. But people of the time understood this picture to be an allegory, not something they could have actually seen happening. Ideas about courage and honor, loss, sacrifice, and even womanhood and manhood were all expressed in religious terms. 

Questions: 
1. Have you ever seen a picture like this before? Where? 

2. This picture is filled with symbolic objects, especially in the foreground. What things do you see? Can you imagine what they might mean?

3. If you knew absolutely nothing about American history, and didn’t know who Lincoln was, what would you think this picture meant?

Further reading:
Holzer, Harold. The Lincoln Image: Abraham Lincoln and the Popular Press. University of Illinois Press, 2005. 

Philadelphia Print Shop.  “Prints of Abraham Lincoln.” Philadelphia Print Shop. http://www.philaprintshop.com/lincoln.html. Accessed July 22, 2011. 


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