Section VIII: Lincoln In the Eyes of the World


Lincoln’s horizons extended across the nineteenth-century world. Deeming the Union the “last, best hope of earth,” he defined the Civil War as more than an American crisis. The struggle presented “to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic . . . can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes.” Equally, the fight to end American slavery was part of a universal struggle between liberty and tyranny, social progress and lethargy.

Lincoln’s public and private words encouraged progressives abroad to cast him as the embodiment of democratic freedom and modernity. His cruel death prompted a worldwide outpouring of grief. In Europe, grown men wept in the streets. The U.S. State Department was overwhelmed by a blizzard of tributes from every continent.

Foreign biographies suggest the extent of Lincoln’s global reach. By 1900, he had become the subject of mostly admiring works published in German, French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Spanish, Danish, Welsh, Hebrew, Russian, Norwegian, Finnish, Turkish, Swedish, and Japanese. Over the next quarter century, the list grew to include titles in Polish, Chinese, Czech, Arabic, Hungarian, Persian, Slovak, Armenian, and Korean. Variously seen as emancipator, nation builder, defender of representative government, and self-made man, Lincoln was a worldwide hero.


Lincoln was one of the noblest, wisest and best men I ever knew.

— Frederick Douglass, 1880