Postcards showing Abraham Lincoln ascending to heaven to meet George Washington.
Courtesy Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum of Lincoln Memorial University.

Lincoln’s Legacy

How Have People Remembered Lincoln?

Today, many Americans see Abraham Lincoln as one of the country’s national heroes. But over the decades since his death, people have debated the meaning of his legacy. Explore these debates, past and present, below.

“We are able to create a Lincoln for all seasons.”

Catherine Clinton, University of Texas, San Antonio

Lincoln’s assassination left a lasting impact on this country and it is still felt today. How is his legacy represented?

Each generation since his death has found new aspects of the man and myth to emphasize. Lincoln’s deeds and words shaped one of the most crucial periods in U.S. history. People around the globe, both past, and present, take heart in Lincoln’s leadership and thought. Still, others see Lincoln as representing the worst of presidential leadership.

His impact on American society and culture can be seen all around us in symbols and memorials, currency, and advertising.

Conduct Your Own Investigation

As you see how different people around the globe remember President Lincoln, consider…

  • How have different generations chosen to portray Lincoln?
  • What aspects of Lincoln do people most often remember? Why?
  • How did Lincoln’s legacy and its controversial nature evolve over time?
  • Why would people want to attach Lincoln’s name to their own project?
  • How does each image or quotation represent Lincoln’s Legacy?

Memorials to Lincoln

Metal archway with gothic lettering saying “Lincoln University,” with a stone and mortar column on each side.

The Ashman Institute, founded in Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1854, was renamed Lincoln University in 1866. It is the oldest Historically Black College or University in the United States. Other colleges and universities are named for Lincoln, as are at least 621 K-12 schools. Lincoln University.

Daytime view of a statue of President Abraham Lincoln, standing and looking to the viewer’s right. Lincoln rests his hands on a bundle of sticks, bound together. A rectangular pedestal below the standing figure says “Lincoln.” Behind the statue is a light brown stone building with columns and a pediment.

The Lincoln National Monument Association dedicated the country’s first statue of Lincoln in 1868. Sculptor Lot Flannery’s statue, emphasizing Lincoln as Savior of the Union, still stands in front of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington. Photo by Matthew G. Bisanz via Wikimedia Commons.

White T-shirt with an unrolled scroll. On the scroll is a picture of President Abraham Lincoln, a white man with a beard. Below Lincoln’s face are the words “sic semper tyrannis.”

When police arrested Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 1995, he was wearing a T-shirt with Lincoln’s face and the phrase “Sic semper tyrannis”—thus always to tyrants—that Booth yelled after shooting Lincoln. Courtesy Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum.

Four faces carved into the rocky cliffside of a mountain, depicting Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln.

Completed in 1941, Mt. Rushmore’s massive stone carvings sit on a cliff high above the Black Hills of South Dakota, on unceded Lakota land. Image Via Wikimedia Commons.

Yellow movie poster for “Darryl F. Zanuck’s Production of Young Mr. Lincoln.” Poster includes a prominent young white man with bow tie in forefront, two white men and young white woman in background, plus a photo of a young white man and young white woman together, along with a crowd scene.

Henry Fonda, who starred in Young Mr. Lincoln in 1939, was among the many actors who have portrayed Lincoln on film since the first movie about the 16th president appeared in 1911. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Aerial view of a marble, arched bridge over a river.

Opened in 1932, the Arlington Memorial Bridge is a major artery over the Potomac River, a physical and symbolic divider of the “North” and the “South.” Library of Congress, LC-DIG-hec-38178.

Daytime view of an enormous, temple-like marble structure lined with white columns.

In 1922, those who planned the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall thought of it as a spot to showcase post-Civil War reconciliation. The memorial has since been the site of protests on issues like war and peace and racial justice. Photo by TJH2018 via Wikimedia Commons.

A concrete pole marked with a large letter L and text reading “Western Terminus of the Lincoln Highway.”

In the early 1900s, private groups built highways across the United States. Automobile entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher planned the Lincoln Highway, running from New York to San Francisco, as a living memorial to his personal hero. Photo by David Monack via Wikimedia Commons.

Round coin with the head of a man.

Before 1909, most people were against using portraits on coins in the United States, but public sentiment at the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth upended the long-standing tradition. Image by Lost Dutchman Rare Coins via Wikimedia Commons.

Etching of an elaborate stone monument. A square pedestal with four steps across it includes four standing African American male figures, one at each corner. The next level contains another square platform, with a standing figure of a woman at each corner. The top of the monument features a standing figure of President Abraham Lincoln, holding a broken chain in his hand. Lincoln is under a rounded roof with columns around him.

After Lincoln’s assassination, a group of formerly enslaved people raised funds to erect a statue of Lincoln. The Western Sanitary Commission, a mostly white group that took charge of the funds, rejected this design by Harriet Hosmer in 1868. Image from Art Journal, 1868, courtesy Getty Rsch Inst.

Etching of an elaborate stone monument. A square pedestal with four steps across it includes four standing African American male figures, one at each corner. The next level contains another square platform, with a standing figure of a woman at each corner. The top of the monument features a standing figure of President Abraham Lincoln, holding a broken chain in his hand. Lincoln is under a rounded roof with columns around him.

Etching of an elaborate stone monument. A square pedestal with four steps across it includes four standing African American male figures, one at each corner. The next level contains another square platform, with a standing figure of a woman at each corner.

An open field with a city skyline of several multi-story buildings in the background.

In 1869, Nebraska Territorial Senator J.N.H. Patrick tried to foil the new state’s plan for a new, custom-built capital city by naming it after Lincoln in an area where many had been sympathetic to the Confederate cause. His plan failed. Hanyou23 via Wikimedia Commons.

Bronze statue of man and boy sitting on a bench. Behind them is a quotation, “To bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Until 2003, Richmond, Virginia had no statues of Lincoln; statues of Confederate leaders predominated. This statue of Abraham and Tad Lincoln, commemorating their visit after the U.S. Army captured the city in April 1865, sits near the Tredegar Iron Works. Photo by David McKenzie.

A large white house with gabled roof, a porch, brown trim, and green shutters.

After years of restoration, President Lincoln’s Cottage—where he and his family spent summer months—opened as a historic site in Washington, D.C., in 2008. The site joined many other places preserved because of their associations with Lincoln. Photo by Carol Highsmith; Library of Congress.

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Black and white photograph of Abraham Lincoln. Written on top of him is "When one man died because he believed in"