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Journal Article

Mourning and the Making of a Sacred Symbol: Durkheim and the Lincoln Assassination

Barry Schwartz
Social Forces
Vol. 70, No. 2 (Dec., 1991), pp. 343-364
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.2307/2580243
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2580243
Page Count: 22
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Mourning and the Making of a Sacred Symbol: Durkheim and the Lincoln Assassination
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Abstract

Assassination transformed Abraham Lincoln from a controversial president into a sacred emblem of his society. To identify the mechanism of this remarkable change is to solve a Durkheimian puzzle. This article shows how extraordinary funeral rites elevated Lincoln's political status even as many Americans continued to condemn his wartime policies and reconstruction plans. The contrast between what people actually believed about Lincoln and how they felt and acted in response to his death makes problematic the ultimate meaning of his mourning rites. It also requires new ways of conceptualizing the relations between belief and ritual, consensus and solidarity. These new conceptions build on Durkheim's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life ([1912] 1965) and are generalized to the assassinations of James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy.

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