Rest in Peace Willie Lincoln

Posted: 2/20/2012
Author: Laura June Davis
Willie Lincoln shortly before his death


"My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die"
 
 - Abraham Lincoln to Elizabeth Kechley - 
 

150 years ago today, on February 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln's third son William Wallace "Willie" Lincoln died. Only 11 years of age, Willie most likely died of typhoid fever caused by putrid Potomac water that had been pumped into the White House through its plumbing system. 
 

Four days later, Dr. Phineas Gurley gave the following eulogy at Willie's funeral:
 

Sad and solemn is the occasion that brings us here to-day. A dark shadow of affliction has suddenly fallen upon this habitation, and upon the hearts of its inmates. The news thereof has already gone forth to the extremities of the country.

The Nation has heard it with deep and tender emotions. The eye of the Nation is moistened with tears, as it turns to-day to the Presidential Mansion; the heart of the Nation sympathizes with its Chief Magistrate, while to the unprecedented weight of civil care which presses upon him is added the burden of this great domestic sorrow; and the prayer of the Nation ascends to Heaven on his behalf, and on the behalf of his weeping family, that God's grace may be sufficient for them, and that in this hour of sore bereavement and trial, they may have the presence and succor of Him, who has said, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." 

Oh, that they may all be enabled to lay their heads upon His infinite bosom, and find, as many other smitten ones have found, that He is their truest refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.

The beloved youth, whose death we now and here lament, was a child of bright intelligence and of peculiar promise. He possessed many excellent qualities of mind and heart, which greatly endeared him, not only to the family circle of which he was a member, but to his youthful companions, and to all his acquaintances and friends. His mind was active, inquisitive, and conscientious; his disposition was amiable and affectionate; his impulses were kind and generous; and his words and manners were gentle and attractive. It is easy to see how a child, thus endowed, would, in the course of eleven years, entwine himself around the hearts of those who knew him best; nor can we wonder that the grief of his affectionate mother to-day is like that of Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they were not.

His sickness was an attack of fever, threatening from the beginning, and painfully productive of mental wandering and delirium. All that the tenderest parental care and watching, and the most assiduous and skilful medical treatment could do, was done; and though at times, even in the latest stages of the disease, his symptoms were regarded as favorable, and inspired a faint and wavering hope that he was not beyond recovery, still the insidious malady, day after day, pursued its course unchecked, and on Thursday last, at the hour of five in the afternoon, the silver cord was loosed, the golden bowl was broken, and the emancipated spirit returned to God, who gave it.

That departure was a sore bereavement to parents and brothers; but while they weep, they also rejoice in the confidence that their loss is the unspeakable and eternal gain of the departed; for they believe, as well they may, that he has gone to Him who said: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven;" and that now, with kindred spirits, and with a departed brother, whom he never saw on earth, he beholds the glory and sings the praises of the Redeemer. Blessed be God. 

"There is a world above
Where sorrow is unknown;
A long eternity of love,
Formed for the good alone;
And faith beholds the dying here
Translated to that glorious sphere."

It is well for us, and very comforting, on such an occasion as this, to get a clear and a scriptural view of the providence of God.

His kingdom ruleth over all. All those events which in anywise affect our condition and happiness are in his hands, and at his disposal. Disease and death are his messengers; they go forth at his bidding, and their fearful work is limited or extended, according to the good pleasure of His will.

Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His direction; much less any one of the human family, for we are of more value than many sparrows.

We may be sure, -- therefore, bereaved parents, and all the children of sorrow may be sure, -- that their affliction has not come forth of the dust, nor has their trouble sprung out of the ground.

It is the well-ordered procedure of their Father and their God.

A mysterious dealing they may consider it, but still it is His dealing; and while they mourn He is saying to them, as the Lord Jesus once said to his Disciples when they were perplexed by his conduct, "What I do ye know not now, but ye shall know hereafter." What we need in the hour of trial, and what we shoud seek by earnest prayer, is confidence in Him who sees the end from the beginning and doeth all things well.

Only let us bow in His presence with an humble and teachable spirit; only let us be still and know that He is God; only let us acknowledge His hand, and hear His voice, and inquire after His will, and seek His holy spirit as our counsellor and guide, and all, in the end, will be well. In His light shall we see light; by His grace our sorrows will be sanctified -- they will be made a blessing to our souls -- and by and by we shall have occasion to say, with blended gratitude and rejoicing, "It is good for us that we have been afflicted." 

"Heaven but tries our virtues by affliction;
And oft the cloud which wraps the present hour
Serves but to brighten all our future days."

 

Source: Motier, Donald, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Lost Journal of William Wallace Lincoln (Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2009), 135-7.

Image Credit: Library of Congress.
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