From the Collection: Lincoln Assassination Mourning Ribbons

From the Collection: Lincoln Assassination Mourning Ribbons

Jessie Cortesi & Jane Gastineau


Upon President Abraham’s Lincoln death on April 15, 1865, the nation turned from celebrations for Union victory to mourning for their fallen chief. Immediately, the nation’s manufacturers turned to supplying the public’s demand for mourning accessories, including silk mourning ribbons that could be pinned to a lapel, hat, or bonnet, or displayed in the home. Paper ribbons could be included in albums or scrapbooks or framed. The elaborate and precise mourning customs of the day preserved Lincoln’s memory long after his death.



Wreaths, flags, eagles, angels, and a grieving Columbia with a portrait of Lincoln were common imagery in mourning ribbons, grieving him as a patriot and emancipator. Some included more elaborate illustrations incorporating the imagery of Victorian mourning and American patriotism.


President Andrew Johnson announced a national day of mourning for Lincoln on June 1, 1865, calling for “a day of humiliation and mourning, and I recommend my fellow-citizens then to assemble in their respective places of worship, there to unite in solemn service to Almighty God in memory of the good man who has been removed, so that all shall be occupied at the same time in contemplation of his virtues and in sorrow for his sudden and violent end.” Black mourning borders were featured on most ribbons.



The celebration of Union victory under Lincoln’s leadership was muted by the sorrow over Lincoln’s death on a ribbon that read “In Victory We Mourn.” The “With Charity for All” ribbon added color, placing the weeping Columbia atop a red, white, and blue shield surrounded by greenery. Rather than an expression of mourning, the text focused on Lincoln’s legacy: “1776—Union Forever—1865” and invoked his Second Inaugural Address.


Lincoln’s martyrdom for the cause of freedom was often memorialized in mourning ribbons. The San Francisco Daily Dramatic Chronicle published a ribbon featuring heavy mourning borders proclaiming Lincoln to be “Freedom’s Martyr.” Another ribbon praised Lincoln for emancipation: “He Set the Millions Free.” Some ribbons added Lincoln’s birth and death dates.



Others included short poems referencing the assassination and Lincoln as the nation’s chief as well as father. The poem on “We Mourn Our Nation’s Chief!” read, “He fell not in the Battle’s strife, / He gave not to Disease his breath; / ’Twas by the foul Assassin’s act / Our noble Chief receiv’d his death!” The “Our Martyred Father” ribbon also referred to Lincoln’s role as the country’s leader, but it portrayed him as a Father of the nation, putting him in the company of George Washington and the other Founding Fathers.


Lincoln’s enduring, larger-than-life legacy was embodied in the simple text, “He Still Lives,” and laments for “The Mighty Dead.” Lincoln’s leadership through the nation’s greatest crisis would not be forgotten.



Jessie Cortesi is a Senior Lincoln Librarian for the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection with the Rolland Center for Lincoln Research at the Allen County Public Library.


Jane Gastineau is a former Lincoln Librarian with the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection at the Allen County Public Library.