“Words were powerless”: A Minnesota newspaper’s response to the Lincoln assassination

On April 15, 1865, lying in a boarding house across the street from Ford's Theater, President Abraham Lincoln died, the victim of an assassin's bullet. What was a week celebrating an end to four years of bloodshed was capstoned by one last tragedy. Though not everyone felt the same way, tens of millions mourned their fallen hero, and in Minnesota as well as elsewhere, this sorrow turned into disbelief, into anger.

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The Funeral of President Lincoln

This month marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination. Given the historical distance, though, it's hard for us to really appreciate how traumatic this event was -- especially when, in the days preceding it, there was so much to celebrate. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the Civil War. But ten days later, the colors of victory faded black as the president's hearse moved solemnly through the streets of Washington. The St. Cloud Democrat (Minnesota: April 27, 1865) ran an account of the three-mile-long procession, which I've reprinted below. As you read it, imagine for a moment what it must have been like watching the carriages move past. Though the war was over, tremulous times lied ahead. The reconstruction of a nation began with a tomb for its moral compass.

This is why I don’t take arguments about “moral and cultural decay” seriously.

There's a common trope among conservatives that we're living in an era of moral and cultural decay, which is reflected in art and performance -- Elvis Presley! Marilyn Manson! Miley Cyrus! With a nervous sweat on their brow, these moral crusaders call for censorship, suggesting it's the American thing to do. (And, I suppose in some ways it is). But, alas, this kind of outrage is nothing new -- the following comic was printed in Illinois' Rock Island Argus in 1915. Replace the statue with Beyonce and the old white aristocrat with ... the old, white, aristocratic Gov. Mike Huckabee and it's just as relevant a century later. ...

A Column in a Newspaper that Doesn’t Exist

My First Column: We're Living in a Russian Novel ... From where I write, Elmer Springs is a pale glow through winter fog, and as the long arms of night stretch across the road, I feel as though I could be anywhere. In fact, as my little wood stove crackles and growls against the cold, I feel like I'm living in a Russian novel. Having grown up here, I know all about Elmer Springs' generational conflict. I know its class tensions (though in a city whose per capita income is less than the state and national averages, antagonisms exist only between the have-nots and have-lesses). Instead of St. Petersburg and Moscow, we have Minneapolis and St. Paul, cities our little state representative decries for its excesses but insists having the right to visit every two years. Whether any of us are Utopians or Anarchists is as much dependent on the number of ducks in the pond as any coherent political philosophy. Perhaps there's a story here, but I have no ambition to be my generation's Tolstoy. ...