Our Martyr President: Theodore Cuyler on Abraham Lincoln’s death

Theodore Cuyler 's manuscript of his sermon on the death of Lincoln, 1863. Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church records, 2012 ; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Theodore Cuyler ‘s manuscript of his sermon on the death of Lincoln, 1865. Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church records, 2009.011; Brooklyn Historical Society.

For President’s Day, we are highlighting this manuscript of Theodore L. Cuyler’s sermon on the death of Abraham Lincoln, given April 23, 1865. This manuscript is part of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church records, which has been recently processed and made available to the public.

Dr. Cuyler graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1846, and had served in several churches in New Jersey and New York before becoming the pastor of the congregation of the Park Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn in 1860. The congregation moved with the opening of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene when it opened in 1862. In his autobiography Recollections of a Long Life: An Autobiography (1902) he described,with obvious admiration, meeting Lincoln several times.

The manuscript was created the day after the sermon was given and Cuyler noted on the envelope that enclosed the manuscript the text is “mainly recalled from memory.” Cuyler took as his text “And the Lord blessed Abraham in all things” (Genesis 24:1). What follows is an appreciation of the qualities Cuyler most admired in Lincoln: his humble origins, his intellect (not necessarily a great intellect, but the right intellect), and his compassionate heart. The sermon is almost celebratory as Cuyler extols the gifts that allowed Lincoln to bring his nation through the long, terrible war ended just days before.

He ends on a remarkable note: as tragic as his death is for those who remain behind, Lincoln

died at the right time; for his mighty work was done. He lived to see the rebellion in its last agonies; he lived to enter Richmond amid the acclamations of the liberated slave, and to sit down in the arch-traitor’s deserted seat; he lived until Sumpter’s flag rose again like a star of Bethlehem in the southern sky, and then, with the martyr’s crown upon his brow, and with four million fetters in his hand, he went up to meet his God. In a moment his life crystallizes into the pure white flame that belongs only to the martyr for truth and liberty!

When Lincoln was shot on April 14, Cuyler was attending the ceremony restoring the United States flag at Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina, where the Confederates had fired the opening shots of the Civil War against the Union garrison in 1861. By the time Cuyler delivered this sermon on April 23, Lincoln lay in Philadelphia. Lincoln was brought to New York’s City Hall on the 24th, where he lay through the next day. Thousands of people from the New York area came to view the president. Cuyler brought his family to City Hall between 3 and 4 AM on the 25th, joining the crowd and taking their place in a line that stretched to Park Row even at that time of night.

This sermon was published, along with 21 others, in Our Martyr President, Abraham Lincoln: Voices from the Pulpit of New York and Brooklyn (1865). This was just one of hundreds of sermons delivered and published throughout America after the death of Lincoln. The sheer volume of writing grappling with the meaning of that crime is staggering, and testimony to what an immense shock it was to the nation. This manuscript—neatly transcribed, carefully folded, and placed in an envelope labeled “to be preserved by my children”–and the pieces of the story that surround its creation provide a more intimate lens through which we can view these convulsive events. It also shows that Cuyler knew he was creating something that should be saved for posterity.

Envelope for Theodore Cuyler 's manuscript of his sermon on the death of Lincoln, 1863. Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church records, 2012 ; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Envelope for Theodore Cuyler ‘s manuscript of his sermon on the death of Lincoln, 1865. Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church records, 2009.011; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church records are available to any and all researchers by appointment. This collection spans over 150 years and documents the history of this historic church, including writings by its many prolific and important pastors, property and financial records, music programs, missionary programs, and much more. A guide to the collection is available online at http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/bhs/arms_2009_011_lapc/index.html.

Our library is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 1pm-5pm. If you would like to make an appointment to view this collection, please contact us at library@brooklynhistory.org.

Both Recollections of a Long Life and Our Martyr President are available without an appointment any time the Othmer Library is open. The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church book collection is currently being cataloged, with new titles added to the catalog every week. Watch this blog for highlights as new items are added to the collection.

About Lisa Miller

Lisa Miller has been cataloging maps at Brooklyn Historical Society since August 2013.
This entry was posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Library & Archives and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *