Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2012

Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



Edwin M. Stanton gets only a footnote in John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but the phrase is one that many know by heart, words this normally irascible and overbearing powder-keg of a man uttered at Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed: “Now he belongs to the ages.” That, at least, was how John Hay recorded Stanton’s words. Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, who had been boosted awkwardly from the stage to the presidential box in Ford’s Theatre and who accompanied the dying Lincoln across Tenth Street to the Petersen House’s back bedroom, thought that Stanton had said, “He now belongs to the ages.” James Rowan O’Beirne, who as provost-marshal of the District of Columbia had volunteered himself as Andrew Johnson’s bodyguard, expressly denied Hay’s claim in 1905 and could only recall Stanton having said, “That’s the last of him.” The stenographer Stanton had drafted for service that night to take depositions from witnesses, Corporal James Tanner, didn’t remember Stanton saying anything: “The utmost silence pervaded, broken only by the sound of strong men’s tears,” until Phineas Gurley proposed to say a prayer. In later years, Tanner would remember more and more of what he heard that night (even though there is some evidence from the notes of Dr. Ezra Abbott, one of the physicians at Lincoln’s bedside, that Tanner might not have been in the Petersen House at the time of Lincoln’s death), and he is cited by Adam Gopnik as claiming that Stanton really said, “Now he belongs to the angels.” “Angels,” however, may only be a mistranscription from an article Tanner wrote before his own death in 1927 and included by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt in their Twenty Days: A Narrative in Text and Pictures of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. [excerpt]

Required Publisher's Statement

Original version is available from the publisher at:;view=fulltext