The Nation Worth Fighting For
Six days after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, the President and Mrs. Lincoln are invited to see a comedy at Ford's Theatre, a popular Washington playhouse . Suddenly, the drama shifts to the presidential box. An out-of-work actor named John Wilkes Booth steps into the box, right up behind the nation's leader. Then there is a sound like a muffled boom of thunder as Booth fires his gun at the President's head . As he leaps out of the box and onto the stage below, Booth shouts out in Latin, "Sic semper tyrannis" (which means, "Thus be it ever to tyrants"). He lands badly, breaking his leg, and then he is gone . A woman screams. Voices cry out. Helen Truman was in the audience. She recalled, "there will never be anything like it on earth. The shouts, groans, curses, smashing of seats, screams of women, shuffling of feet, and cries of terror created a pandemonium that through all the ages will stand out in my memory as the hell of hells."
The next day Abraham Lincoln dies in a small house across the street from the theater . It is April 15, 1865 .
Southerners didn't want Lincoln assassinated. He was their president too. In Norfolk, Virginia, on the day of Lincoln's funeral, a long procession marches through the streets while a military band plays sad music. Perhaps they understand that though the war is over, peace is yet to be won .
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and those three civil rights amendments that will soon be passed are all part of a continuing questa quest for a just society. This terrible war has taken the lives of more than 600,000 Americansmostly young men, some as young as fifteen. In dying they have expanded the national vision. America's goal has now become: liberty for all.