APRIL 11, 1865
Two days after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, a joyous crowd gathered outside the White House, calling for President Abraham Lincoln.
“Outside was a vast sea of faces, illuminated by the lights that burned in the festal array of the White House, and stretching far out into the misty darkness,” reporter Noah Brooks wrote.
Lincoln obliged the crowd, stepping out into the darkness. Someone held a light so that Lincoln could read his speech.
“We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart,” he said. “The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression cannot be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow must not be forgotten. … A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. … No part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skillful officers, and brave men, all belongs.”
He expressed his vision for the future: a united land free of slavery, public schools for Black and White that were truly equal, and support for Black voting. In the audience stood white supremacist John Wilkes Booth, who vowed this would be Lincoln’s last speech. He carried out his threat three days later, assassinating the President.