Sunday, June 29, 2008
I have decided to move the blog to LincolnStudies.com and will no longer be posting on Blogger, so please update you links to:
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I hope to see you all over at the new (and much improved) site!
Friday, June 27, 2008
This week's edition of Lincoln on Ebay comes to us in the form of a letter, written some eight months after the assassination.
D. M. Wharton, a citizen of Huntsville, Alabama, wrote his nephew a letter on November 4, 1865. He begins with the usual pleasantries by thanking his nephew for sending such a nice letter a couple of weeks back and shares his optimism that pre-war "prosperity was once more drawing upon you."
But then the cold reality of Reconstruction slaps him in the face. His letter takes an abrupt turn.
The "Black troops who were placed over the white citizens to mortify and spook us had been withdrawn," he announces, adding, "the prosperity of the African race, has caused much anxiety and loss to the honest part of our citizens."
After condemning black troops, as well as "the prosperity of the African race," Wharton turns to the new president, Andrew Johnson. He has heard that Johnson has been making enemies in Washington, refusing to work with the Republicans in humiliating the South. "I am glad to hear 'Johnson is now acting like a gentleman," he declares. If the rumors were true, Wharton had no doubt that "we shall soon hear of the liberation of Jeff Davis, who was cruelly kept in confinement for obeying the orders of his own sovereign state."
Now thoroughly warmed up, Wharton confronts the Lincoln assassination. Republicans tried to make the case that Davis "had some hand in killing Lincoln, but could not[.]" According Wharton, neither Davis nor the Confederacy had a hand in killing Lincoln; it was God Himself who did the deed.
"The god of justice had him promptly summoned," he concludes, "decree of the almighty god 'Sic Semper Tyrannis.'"
John Wilkes Booth could hardly have said it any better.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The United States Supreme Court is making headlines today. They have struck down the District of Columbia’s 32-year ban on handguns, claiming it is a clear violation of the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
The decision hinged on a critical point. Does the Second Amendment protect an individual’s right to own a gun no matter what, or does the amendment simply protect the rights of the state militias?
In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution does not permit, “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.”
I’m sure political commentators on radio and cable, as well as the internet and various print media outlets, will be discussing the decision for some time to come; however, I want to move in a different direction.
On this date in 1857, Abraham Lincoln spoke about a recent controversial Supreme Court decision.
He held no office; in fact, his lone term in Congress had ended almost a decade earlier. Though he had a burning desire to enter the national spotlight, in 1857 he was merely a lawyer from central Illinois.
The U. S. Supreme Court had recently handed down its controversial decision in the Dred Scott case. Though Lincoln had reverence for the law and was absolutely devoted to the American political process, he disagreed with the court’s decision. Moreover, he was appalled when Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas came out in support of the decision.
Lincoln began his speech by revealing Douglas’ motives:
There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races; and Judge Douglas evidently is basing his chief hope, upon the chances of being able to appropriate the benefit of this disgust to himself. If he can, by much drumming and repeating, fasten the odium of that idea upon his adversaries, he thinks he can struggle through the storm. He therefore clings to this hope, as a drowning man to the last plank.
Therefore, Douglas has used the Dred Scott decision to distort the Republican Party’s position on racial equality:
[Douglas] finds the Republicans insisting that the Declaration of Independence includes ALL men, black as well as white; and forth-with he boldly denies that it includes negroes at all, and proceeds to argue gravely that all who contend it does, do so only because they want to vote, and eat, and sleep, and marry with negroes!
Lincoln objected to Douglas’ caricature:
Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.
Lincoln told the crowd that the Dred Scott decision was absolutely revolutionary because the Supreme Court had reinterpreted the meaning of America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence:
Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family, but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once, actually place them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument comes to just nothing at all, by the other fact, that they did not at once, or ever afterwards, actually place all white people on an equality with one or another. And this is the staple argument of both the Chief Justice and the Senator, for doing this obvious violence to the plain unmistakable language of the Declaration.
Lincoln fundamentally disagreed with their interpretation. He revealed how he interpreted the document:
I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal---equal in ``certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that ``all men are created equal'' was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, nor for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should re-appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.
Again, Lincoln reverted back to Senator Douglas. This, Lincoln claims, is how Douglas interprets the same Declaration of Independence:
No man can vindicate the character, motives and conduct of the signers of the Declaration of Independence except upon the hypothesis that they referred to the white race alone, and not to the African, when they declared all men to have been created equal---that they were speaking of British subjects on this continent being equal to British subjects born and residing in Great Britain---that they were entitled to the same inalienable rights, and among them were enumerated life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration was adopted for the purpose of justifying the colonists in the eyes of the civilized world in withdrawing their allegiance from the British crown, and dissolving their connection with the mother country.''
Not only was Douglas’ interpretation wrong, but Lincoln claims it is ultimately dangerous to the American experiment in popular government.
My good friends, read that carefully over some leisure hour, and ponder well upon it---see what a mere wreck---mangled ruin---it makes of our once glorious Declaration.
Why, according to this, not only negroes but white people outside of Great Britain and America are not spoken of in that instrument. The English, Irish and Scotch, along with white Americans, were included to be sure, but the French, Germans and other white people of the world are all gone to pot along with the Judge's inferior races.
I had thought the Declaration promised something better than the condition of British subjects; but no, it only meant that we should be equal to them in their own oppressed and unequal condition. According to that, it gave no promise that having kicked off the King and Lords of Great Britain, we should not at once be saddled with a King and Lords of our own.
I had thought the Declaration contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere; but no, it merely ``was adopted for the purpose of justifying the colonists in the eyes of the civilized world in withdrawing their allegiance from the British crown, and dissolving their connection with the mother country.'' Why, that object having been effected some eighty years ago, the Declaration is of no practical use now---mere rubbish---old wadding left to rot on the battle-field after the victory is won.
Lincoln underscored what the Dred Scott decision had done by reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence:
I understand you are preparing to celebrate the ``Fourth,'' tomorrow week. What for? The doings of that day had no reference to the present; and quite half of you are not even descendants of those who were referred to at that day. But I suppose you will celebrate; and will even go so far as to read the Declaration. Suppose after you read it once in the old fashioned way, you read it once more with Judge Douglas' version. It will then run thus: ``We hold these truths to be self-evident that all British subjects who were on this continent eighty-one years ago, were created equal to all British subjects born and then residing in Great Britain.''
And now I appeal to all---to Democrats as well as others,---are you really willing that the Declaration shall be thus frittered away?---thus left no more at most, than an interesting memorial of the dead past? thus shorn of its vitality, and practical value; and left without the germ or even the suggestion of the individual rights of man in it?
With that being said, I cannot stress this point enough: throughout the speech, Lincoln clearly says America’s different races should remain separated. Indeed, he went on to develop that idea in the Lincoln-Douglas debates a year later (see the Charleston Debate, for instance).
It is incredibly important to acknowledge Lincoln’s views on racial equality. This is how Lincoln saw race in 1857:
But Judge Douglas is especially horrified at the thought of the mixing blood by the white and black races: agreed for once---a thousand times agreed. There are white men enough to marry all the white women, and black men enough to marry all the black women; and so let them be married. On this point we fully agree with the Judge; and when he shall show that his policy is better adapted to prevent amalgamation than ours we shall drop ours, and adopt his.
Lincoln argues that the Republican position to oppose the spread of slavery offers a practical solution to preventing the “amalgamation” of the races. Using statistics, Lincoln illustrates his case:
Let us see. In 1850 there were in the United States, 405,751, mulattoes. Very few of these are the offspring of whites and free blacks; nearly all have sprung from black slaves and white masters. A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation but as an immediate separation is impossible the next best thing is to keep them apart where they are not already together. If white and black people never get together in Kansas, they will never mix blood in Kansas. That is at least one self-evident truth. A few free colored persons may get into the free States, in any event; but their number is too insignificant to amount to much in the way of mixing blood. In 1850 there were in the free states, 56,649 mulattoes; but for the most part they were not born there---they came from the slave States, ready made up. In the same year the slave States had 348,874 mulattoes all of home production. The proportion of free mulattoes to free blacks---the only colored classes in the free states---is much greater in the slave than in the free states. It is worthy of note too, that among the free states those which make the colored man the nearest to equal the white, have, proportionably the fewest mulattoes the least of amalgamation. In New Hampshire, the State which goes farthest towards equality between the races, there are just 184 Mulattoes while there are in Virginia---how many do you think? 79,775, being 23,126 more than in all the free States together.
These statistics show that slavery is the greatest source of amalgamation; and next to it, not the elevation, but the degeneration of the free blacks. Yet Judge Douglas dreads the slightest restraints on the spread of slavery, and the slightest human recognition of the negro, as tending horribly to amalgamation.
I have said that the separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation. I have no right to say all the members of the Republican party are in favor of this, nor to say that as a party they are in favor of it. There is nothing in their platform directly on the subject. But I can say a very large proportion of its members are for it, and that the chief plank in their platform---opposition to the spread of slavery---is most favorable to that separation.
Such separation, if ever effected at all, must be effected by colonization; and no political party, as such, is now doing anything directly for colonization. Party operations at present only favor or retard colonization incidentally. The enterprise is a difficult one; but ``when there is a will there is a way;'' and what colonization needs most is a hearty will. Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest. Let us be brought to believe it is morally right, and, at the same time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task may be. The children of Israel, to such numbers as to include four hundred thousand fighting men, went out of Egyptian bondage in a body.
What do we make of all this?
First, these words often make people uncomfortable. Many of us don’t want to think the author of the Emancipation Proclamation ever said or believed such things. To the folks who say highlighting Lincoln’s rhetoric in 1857 is somehow sacrilegious, especially on a site like LincolnStudies.com, I sharply disagree. I don’t write hagiography; I write history. I would encourage my readers to hold themselves to the same standard. Lincoln was not semi-divine; he was thoroughly human.
Second, these words often make other people quite happy. Challenge a neo-Confederate to quote Lincoln’s 1837 protest statement on slavery in the Illinois State Legislature or his 1864 letter to Albert G. Hodges and you’ll get a blank stare, but if you mention the statements like the ones quoted throughout this post, you’ll see their eyes light up. Both the hagiographers and the neo-Confederates operate under a similar set of standards: both are interested in creating cartoon figures, not historical actors.
Third, these words tell us a great deal about the Nineteenth Century. The crowd in Springfield cheered when they heard Lincoln's words. There is a reason why books like Lerone Bennett's Forced into Glory are written, but in my view, such interpretations inevitably miss the mark. Was Lincoln a racist or was he the Great Emancipator? Well, it simply isn't that easy.
Lincoln wrestled with tough questions throughout his life. This speech from 1857 documents the answers he had found at that moment in time.
But Lincoln never stopped looking for answers. His ideas were not set in stone in 1857.
His ideas evolved over the next year when he met Douglas in debates throughout Illinois. As history presented different variables, Lincoln’s ideas evolved. The election of 1860 certainly transformed the political landscape, while the most horrific tragedy in American history forced him to rethink his position even further.
Modern political discourse has deceived us into thinking politicians are supposed to be marble statues long before they die. We seem to delight in confronting politicians with conflicting statements; we are very quick to brand someone a “flip-flopper.”
Of course, that is the problem with statues. They lock a person into a rigid pose; they deny a person the ability to grow.
But consider this. Though America is filled with statues of Abraham Lincoln, how many of them depict the way he looked in 1857?
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Believe me, not all blogs are created equal, but his blog was one of those that seemed to raise the bar in terms of quality posts. I hope the blog will remain available online; there really is a lot there that is worth reading.
Posts like "Five books on Lincoln's Assassination You Should Have" come to mind, as do his posts on
Everton J. Conger (later life), one of the folks responsible for capturing Lincoln's assassin.
And another thing. Now that the One Man's Rebellion Record is no more, what corner of the blogosphere will serve up Civil War historiography quite the same?
We gladly extend the same invitation to Rob Wick. If he should ever feel the need to sound off in blog format, he is welcome to do so in a guest post at LincolnStudies.com!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I have been making my way through Joseph T. Glatthaar's new book, General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse and wanted to pass along some initial thoughts.
To put it simply, Glatthaar has produced one of the most detailed portraits of the Confederate army I have ever seen.
The research is meticulous. Based on primary documents, manuscripts, published letters, and diaries of about 4,000 soldiers, Glatthaar has constructed a representative sample of some 600 Confederate soldiers. His database allows him to:
...address some of the most important questions, many of them answered unsatisfactorily by previous scholars, about who these soldiers and their families were and what their wartime experiences were like, including background, slave ownership, occupation, wealth, family, desertion, conscription, illnesses, casualties, and many more. (xiv).
Glatthaar confronts these findings early in his narrative.
For example, one of the most loaded questions regarding the Confederate Army goes something like this: "How many Confederate soldiers were slave owners?"
Though it is a common question, historians have never been able to arrive at a simple answer.
For example, in For Cause and Comrades, James M. McPherson tried to explain why men fought in the Civil War. He constructed a database of 1,076 soldiers, 647 Union and 429 Confederate. When he turned to Confederate motivations, he was surprised to find "only 20 percent of the sample of 429 Southern soldiers explicitly voiced proslavery convictions in their letters or diaries" (p. 110). However, McPherson acknowledged that none at all dissented from that view.
But what did that mean? If one in five Confederate soldiers expressed proslavery convictions, did that mean 20 percent of Confederate soldiers were slave owners? No. Only about one-third of Confederate soldiers who expressed pro-slavery convictions came from a slaveholding family. While McPherson provided anecdotal evidence, his methodology prevented him from arriving at a simple answer.
Glatthaar is able to do what previous historians have failed to do, but be warned, his answer is not a simple one.
He finds that 10.27 percent of enlistees in the Confederate army in 1861 personally owned slaves (p. 19). While just 4.95 percent of whites owned slaves in the Confederacy, one might conclude the average Confederate enlistee was more than twice as likely to be a slave owner as a common citizen in the Confederacy. However, the conclusion fails to tell the whole story.
Glatthaar finds that more than one in every four (25.62 percent) enlistees lived with a parent who was a slave owner.
If we combine those enlistees who owned slaves (10.27 percent) with the number who lived with parents who owned slaves (25.62), we find that 35.89 percent of enlistees either owned slaves or lived with parents who did.
While 24.9 percent of Confederate households owned slaves, we might conclude that volunteers in 1861 were 42 percent more likely than the general population to own slaves themselves or to live with family members who did. Yet again, Glatthaar cautions against forming that conclusion just yet.
He finds that one in every ten volunteers did not own slaves themselves, but lived in households headed by non-family members who did.
If we combine the 10 percent of enlistees who lived with non-family members who owned slaves, with the 35.89 percent figure we arrived at earlier (volunteers who were slave owners or who lived with parents who owned slaves), we find that nearly half of all Confederate enlistees in 1861 either lived with slaveholders or were slave owners themselves.
Glatthaar concludes his point:
Nor did the direct exposure stop there. Untold numbers of enlistees rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders. In the final tabulation, the vast majority of the volunteers of 1861 had a direct connection to slavery. For slaveholder and nonslaveholder alike, slavery lay at the heart of the Confederate nation. The fact that their paper notes frequently depicted scenes of slaves demonstrated the institution's central role and symbolic value to the Confederacy. (p.20)
Of course, slavery is merely one of the many issues that Glatthaar deals with.
Is Glatthaar's book worth reading? Yes. It is an important book; it is a complex, yet highly readable, analysis of General Lee's Army. I know I'll be using it for quite some time.
Monday, June 23, 2008
A few weeks ago I mentioned that the statue controversy in Richmond was back in the news.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have unveiled their proposed statue design, featuring Jefferson Davis (pictured above).
Their design is breathtaking.
Compare it to the current statue of Lincoln and his son, Tad:
Notice: Lincoln is sitting, while Davis is standing; Lincoln is looking down, but Davis is staring defiantly. But that's not all.
Who are the children in these statues?
Lincoln is with his son Tad, but Davis appears with two little boys. One of them is his son Joe, while the other one is not related to him. His name is Jim Limber, a mixed-race child who allegedly stayed with the Davis family. Little is known about him, but that hasn't stopped partisans from using him to reconstruct Davis' complicated record regarding race.
Now that the SCV has officially enlisted Jim Limber in their ongoing public relations war to rewrite America's Civil War narrative, I suppose we might add his name to the growing list of "black Confederates" who are soldiers in the same struggle.
Though a final decision on whether to include the Davis, et al. statue is expected in August, we must recognize that the verdict doesn't mean much. The SCV will not accept their cause is lost.
Friday, June 20, 2008
The Lincolniana on Auction beat is overflowing with examples today; however, I thought it might be fun to explore a couple potentially dubious items.
First up, let's start with a seemingly innocuous textbook, circa 1835 (pictured above). Though the owner provides very few
details about the book, I did a quick Google Book search of one of the pages and found a match. The textbook is probably Adams's New Arithmetic, by Daniel Adams (Keene, New Hampshire: J. & J. W. Prentiss).
Why is this book part of our Lincolniana
on Auction series? Well, take a look at this picture:
Look closely at the signature at the bottom of the photo. The owner offers this explanation:
Signed on the bottom of the first page is the signature of our beloved president--Abraham Lincoln--the book has many anatations and inscriptions that we cannot make out but the history letter that comes with the auction states--"Given to my friend 1844--read this so you can outfigure them in Washington."
That's all the owner says; however, before you dismiss this item, consider this:
The item description mentions a number of intriguing dates. First, the year 1844 was an important one if we're talking about a textbook containing Lincoln's signature. Lincoln made a trip back to southern Indiana in 1844 to campaign for Henry Clay and the Whig ticket. This is pure speculation, but would it be out of the question for one of his old Indiana neighbors to give him a textbook he might have used as a boy in southern Indiana?
Second, the owner lists two possible publication dates for this book. First, the item description claims the book was published, circa 1835. This, of course, would have been too late for Lincoln to have used this book in southern Indiana. He was living in New Salem in 1835. However, later in the description, the owner claims to see the date 1827. This date falls well within the time frame of Lincoln's time in southern Indiana.
Third, if Lincoln did indeed sign this book and give it to someone heading to Washington in 1844, who might it be? Perhaps it was Representative John J. Hardin?
Again, notice how much speculation is involved with each of these points. Let me stress that point. The owner provides scant information and we have added in historical evidence to create a plausible scenario. Is it worth $775 to see if this Davinci Code-like scenario has any validity?
Let's take a look at another one.
The owner claims this torn piece of paper features the signature of Abraham Lincoln, 1865.
Here is the provenance, directly from the owner:
My daughter was bequeathed a box of family heirlooms from her God Mother which consisted of a book signed by Lincoln and sold to help pay for college expenses. In the same box there were old documents, a deed to land in California from 1910, a signature on a document signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, an old reel of film with footage of President Eisenhower and the lincoln signature on this tattered piece of paper.
When we know absolutely nothing about the original document, I would suggest we have no option but to be skeptical.
Without commenting on the handwriting, I wonder about the mere placement of the signature. For instance, notice the signature is on either the upper right or left corner of a sheet of paper. How ofen did Lincoln sign his name in this place? Moreover, when Lincoln took the time to affix the date below his signature, he usually wrote the month, as well as the day of the month. Simply writing the year seems out of character.
Shakespeare reminds us "all that glisters is not gold." I'd like to add that everything that says A. Lincoln is not a Lincoln.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
No need to adjust your monitor, we covered this Ebay auction a few weeks ago. However, this hand-written note, measuring approximately 4.25 x 3.5," failed to attract a winning bid. The asking price was reduced from $6,000 this time around. I notice that someone has indeed placed a bid this time.
The document reads as follows:
If the service needs such an appointment, let Mr. Taylor be appointed unless some valid objection to him be known at the Department.
March 18 1865
The owner claims the note has been in the possession of the family since it was written, which suggests they might be able to shed some light on Mr. Taylor's identity.
Last time I pointed out that the timing of the note was interesting. Four days earlier, on Tuesday, March 14, Lincoln had been so ill he condducted a Cabinet meeting in his bedroom (Gideon Welles, Diary). The following day, he resumed his usual schedule, but reporters commented on his "feeble" condition for the rest of the week. I pointed out that Lincoln's handwriting doesn't look as strong as it does in other documents. If this note is indeed genuine, perhaps we might conclude he was still feeling rather week from his illness earlier in the week.However, there is another explanation.
Perhaps Lincoln was simply rushed. Though March 18th was a Saturday, Lincoln was hard at work. According to the Collected Works, Lincoln authorized General Edward R. S. Canby to assist in raising funds for an orphanage, he discharged Charles T. Dorsett from the draft, annulled the sentence of the Smith brothers of Boston for fraud, revoked the order dismissing Dr. George Burr, and issued a pass to Rev. Thomas C. Teasdale through military lines. Though this note does not appear in the Collected Works, it is one of the many documents Lincoln wrote that Saturday in March, less than a month before the assassination.
Tomorow we'll do a new auction, but I wanted to pass along this repeat. It will be interesting to see if the bidding crosses the $6,000 mark.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A Lincoln-Douglas Breakfast and Statue Dedication will take place on July 4th, just north of the Jonesboro Square, from 7:30-9:30. The event begins with an old-fashioned country breakfast.
Following breakfast, you are invited to "Walk Where Lincoln Walked" to the Debate Site, about a half-mile away in Lincoln Memorial Park. If you don't want to walk, no problem. You might enjoy a buggy ride, as Douglas did in 1858.
A dedication ceremony will take place at 10:00 with a cannon salute, while children's games and bluegrass music will round out the celebration.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Though we aren't really sure when he wrote it, Abraham Lincoln penned a 500-word meditation on Niagara Falls. It was discovered after the assassination by Lincoln's secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. They estimated that Lincoln wrote it about July 1, 1850, though no one has really offered a sufficient explanation for the date.
The editors of the Collected Works assign a far more probable date to this piece. They say Lincoln probably wrote it sometime between September 25 and 30, 1848. They cite two reasons. First, Lincoln visited Niagara Falls during his return trip from Boston to Chicago (September 23 and October 5, 1848). Second, the piece of paper Lincoln used looks like the paper he used for speeches and letters throughout 1848 in Washington.
Though I make something of this awkwardly poetic fragment in my dissertation, I thought I might share Lincoln's text with you this morning:
Niagara-Falls! By what mysterious power is it that millions and millions, are drawn from all parts of the world, to gaze upon Niagara Falls? There is no mystery about the thing itself. Every effect is just such as any inteligent man knowing the causes, would anticipate, without [seeing] it. If the water moving onward in a great river, reaches a point where there is a perpendicular jog, of a hundred feet in descent, in the bottom of the river,---it is plain the water will have a violent and continuous plunge at that point. It is also plain the water, thus plunging, will foam, and roar, and send up a mist, continuously, in which last, during sunshine, there will be perpetual rain-bows. The mere physical of Niagara Falls is only this. Yet this is really a very small part of that world's wonder. It's power to excite reflection, and emotion, is it's great charm. The geologist will demonstrate that the plunge, or fall, was once at Lake Ontario, and has worn it's way back to it's present position; he will ascertain how fast it is wearing now, and so get a basis for determining how long it has been wearing back from Lake Ontario, and finally demonstrate by it that this world is at least fourteen thousand years old. A philosopher of a slightly different turn will say Niagara Falls is only the lip of the basin out of which pours all the surplus water which rains down on two or three hundred thousand square miles of the earth's surface. He will estim[ate with] approximate accuracy, that five hundred thousand [to]ns of water, falls with it's full weight, a distance of a hundred feet each minute---thus exerting a force equal to the lifting of the same weight, through the same space, in the same time. And then the further reflection comes that this vast amount of water, constantly pouring down, is supplied by an equal amount constantly lifted up, by the sun; and still he says, ``If this much is lifted up, for this one space of two or three hundred thousand square miles, an equal amount must be lifted for every other equal space, and he is overwhelmed in the contemplation of the vast power the sun is constantly exerting in quiet, noiseless opperation of lifting water up to be rained down again.
But still there is more. It calls up the indefinite past. When Columbus first sought this continent---when Christ suffered on the cross---when Moses led Israel through the Red-Sea---nay, even, when Adam first came from the hand of his Maker---then as now, Niagara was roaring here. The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now. Co[n]temporary with the whole race of men, and older than the first man, Niagara is strong, and fresh to-day as ten thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastadon---now so long dead, that fragments of their monstrous bones, alone testify, that they ever lived, have gazed on Niagara. In that long---long time, never still for a single moment. Never dried, never froze, never slept, never rested,
Monday, June 16, 2008
Today marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's "House Divided Speech." Springfield continues its celebration today with a number of events scheduled:
All Day: Traveling exhibit, Confronting Democracy's Boundaries: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates Traveling Exhibit, Old State Capitol.
10-11 am: "Researching Lincoln & Douglas at the Presidential Library." Outreach program for the general public highlighting the Library's research materials for Stephen A. Douglas & Lincoln-Douglas Debates, featuring Glenna Schroeder-Lein from the Manuscripts Division, Mary Michals from the A/V Division, and Lincoln Curator James Cornelius, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. CPDUs offered.
11-2:30 pm: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Education Department. Half-day Teachers' Workshop on Lincoln & Douglas and related topics: Lunch & Workshop in Presidential Library Classroom with Allen Guelzo. Teachers who come early can also attend the Research program at 10 am. CPDUs offered. Cost: $10.00.
1-3 pm: Lincoln and Douglas performers George Buss and Tim Connors mingle with visitors, Old State Capitol.
2 pm: Lincoln and Douglas Debate Performance, Old State Capitol's Representative Hall.
5:30 pm: Special Performance—"House Divided Speech" Sesquicentennial Commemoration featuring historical readings by Lincoln-Douglas performers George Buss and Tim Connors with running historical commentary by award-winning historian Allen Guelzo; Representative Hall. Cost: $8.00.
I thought we might spend a moment this morning placing the speech into context.
Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas was up for re-election in 1858. He had a national reputation, dating back more than a decade. Whoever the upstart Republican Party decided to nominate would certainly face an uphill struggle.
Nontheless, Republicans met in the state capitol in Springfield on June 16, 1858 to announce their nominee, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's "House Divided Speech" was his formal acceptance speech. The speech not only set the tone for the campaign, but it captured headlines in both Republican and Democrat papers across the state, as well as the nation.
The real highlight of the speech, at least to me, is the elaborate "conspiracy theory" Lincoln unravels. Not only was Senator Douglas complicit in a scheme to nationalize slavery, but Lincoln also implicated the current and former president of the United States, as well as the Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court!
For the next several months, whether on the stump or in the seven debates against Douglas across the state, Lincoln elaborated on his conspiracy theory.
In the end, Lincoln did not capture a seat in the Senate, but I think he captured the imaginations of citizens across the state, as well as the nation. Some became passionate Lincoln supporters, while others became staunch Lincoln opponents.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Get ready for a tour de force of LincolnStudies.com stories for this "Friday the 13th!"
- Special thanks to Laurie Chambliss at Civil War Interactive for all of her hard work during the past year. Yesterday, she announced that her very popular weekly column, "This Week in Blogs," was coming to an end. LincolnStudies.com was one of the many Civil War blogs featured in her columns. I will miss her fine sense of humor, attention to detail, and dedication. Perhaps another blogger out there will pick up where she left off.
- I hear that Indiana officials have put together a "compelling proposal" to keep the Lincoln Museum's estimated $20 million collection in state. Back in March, we announced that the museum in Fort Wayne would be closing its doors at the end of June. I encouraged the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield to submit a bid for the impressive collection. Apparently, they indeed made an offer, as did the Smithsonian Institute. Now, an Indiana group has joined the bidding. If they succeed, the Indiana group plans to share the collection with the Indiana State Museum, as well as the Allen County Public Library. We'll see how it plays out, but I suspect the collection would be better off in Springfield or Washington.
- Tomorrow (Saturday, June 14) marks the official opening of a new exhibit, Something So Horrible: The Springfield Race Riot of 1908. We covered this horrific chapter in Springfield's history, as well as the creation of this fine exhibit. If you are going to be in Springfield soon, I suggest checking it out.
- On this date in 1786, a mere 222 years ago, Winfield Scott (pictured above) entered the world! "Old Fuss and Feathers" had a truly remarkable career, which spanned a half century. He was a veteran of a number of wars, from the War of 1812, through the American Civil War. Not simply a military man, Scott was also the Whig nominee for president in 1852.
- Finally, I'd like to thank the folks who sent me emails about the Thomas DiLorenzo piece I posted yesterday. I ended up watching the rest of his interview last night, but I must say, I was hardly surprised by much of what I heard. However, there was one part of the interview that was particularly revealing. Check back around the 22 minute mark when DiLorenzo begins his attack on "court historian" Doris Kearns Goodwin. At about 26:00, he condemns Goodwin for using "psycho-history:"
I've read a good bit of this psycho-history, and it seems to me that they take actions by a lot of these politicians and just dream up excuses that are, sort of arm-chair psychology that they use, and they dream up excuses or rationales for things that they did and the whole enterprise sounds very dubious to me, a psycho-history.
Of course, I might point out that "psycho-historians" do not simply "dream up excuses" for historical actors. No, on occasion, "psycho-historians" do the exact opposite. Sometimes they go out of their way to attach sinister motives to nearly every action their subjects make. Sounds familiar, does it not?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I'm not a Thomas DiLorenzo fan, but I thought I'd pass this along to you anyway.
He recently appeared on CSPAN's Q & A with Brian Lamb.
If you are able to hang with DiLorenzo for the full hour, you will have lasted about 45 minutes longer than I did!
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I was hardly surprised when the national media ignored Jefferson Davis' 200th birthday last week. I understand it can be difficult to differentiate between commemorating and celebrating such an event. Perhaps the media was wise to sidestep the entire issue.
However, not everyone seems willing to let it slide.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have been lashing out as of late, with a series of rather embarrassing displays.
Take, for example, the massive Confederate flag now greeting travelers along Interstate 75 in Tampa, Florida. That’s right, a 50 x 30 foot Rebel flag now flies atop a 139-foot flagpole.
Remember when Florida used to give you a glass of orange juice when you crossed into the state? You probably can still get the juice, but now you get to drink it while you stare at the most divisive symbol in American history.
When did this happen? The SCV unveiled the flag on Davis’ 200th birthday.
Now that they’ve got the Rebel flag planted in the ground, the SCV has set their sights on a statue controversy in Richmond, Virginia.
If you thought the controversy over the statue of Lincoln and his son Tad (pictured above) was settled a few years ago, you’re mistaken. Though defeated in that battle, the SCV has refused to concede the point.
To mark the Davis bicentennial, the SCV is now calling for a life-sized statue of Jefferson Davis to counter the one of Lincoln. But this won’t be just any old Davis statue. The proposed design depicts Davis, along with his son Joe, and a mixed-race child, Jim Limber, who allegedly lived with the Davis family.
SCV representatives are scheduled to present their design to site officials next week.
Though these are just two stories, I think they represent the first wave of a prolonged "bicentennial backlash."
Disappointed by the resounding silence surrounding Davis' 200th birthday, the calls for “historical balance” by groups like the SCV will no doubt grow increasingly louder as we approach the Lincoln bicentennial in February.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I thought we might try something a bit different today as we continue our series: Lincolniana on Auction.
In the past, we’ve examined various Lincoln documents, but today, I thought we might look at sculpture; in particular, life masks.
After studying in Rome, sculptor Leonard Volk opened a studio in Chicago in 1857. He learned about a rising politician who was making national headlines with a series of debates against U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Volk seized his opportunity. He asked Lincoln if he would serve as his subject; Lincoln gave his consent.
Toward the end of March 1860, Lincoln visited Volk’s studio. To keep future sittings to a minimum, the sculptor made a plaster cast of Lincoln’s face. Recalling the process of letting wet plaster dry on his face, Lincoln said it was “anything but agreeable.”
Not only did the plaster cast turn out well enough for Volk to produce a fine bust of the future president, but the “life mask” preserved Lincoln’s appearance in 3D.
“Virtually every sculptor and artist uses the Volk mask for Lincoln,” said sculptor Avard Fairbanks, “it is the most reliable document of the Lincoln face, and far more valuable than photographs, for it is the actual form.”
Today, you can actually buy a replica of the 1860 life mask (as pictured above).
Shortly after Lincoln captured the Republican nomination for president, Volk paid a visit to him in Springfield. “I went straight to Mr. Lincoln’s unpretentious little two-story house,” recalled Volk. He gave Mary a smaller version of this finished bust:
Volk told Lincoln he wanted to make a full-length statue of the next president of the United States. Again, Lincoln consented.
This time, Volk began by making plaster casts of Lincoln’s hands.
He told Lincoln to hold something in his right hand. Lincoln seized a broom handle and the casting took place in the dining room. “The right hand appeared swollen as compared with the left, on account of excessive hand-shaking the eveing before,” Volk later said, “this difference is distinctly shown in the cast.”
You can even buy replica castings of Lincoln's hands. I searched Ebay for an example, but I could only find Lincoln's left hand:
But the life mask business does not stop there. Lincoln sat for yet another life mask about three months before he was killed. This time, on February 11, 1865, sculptor Clark Mills captured the president's likeness. He covered Lincoln's face with oil, applied a coat of wet plaster, waited 15 minutes, and then removed it.
Though less than five years had passed between life masks, the results varied greatly. The toll of the war had visibly worn the president down. In fact, most people assume this final life mask was not taken during Lincoln’s lifetime at all. Oftentimes, people assume this was a “death mask.”
Again, this life mask has been reproduced and is available for purchase. I could only find one example of this one:
In addition to sculptors and painters, I suppose people buy these life masks for display in their office or library. At the very least, they are certainly conversation pieces. But remember, don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you the second likeness is a “death mask.”
Monday, June 9, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008
For the past few weeks, I've been re-examining Lincoln's Congressional career. His opposition to the Mexican War is a well-known story, often defined by his "Spot Resolutions," as well as his extended speech in Congress on January 12, 1848.
Reaction in his hometown was characteristically mixed. The friendly Illinois State Journal called his anti-war speech "an able one," while the hostile Illinois State Register dismissed it as "politically motivated" and predicted he would not only be "repudiated by the great mass of people who voted for him," but when veterans of the Mexican War returned home, they warned him he would also "have a fearful account to settle."
Democrats outside of Springfield were just as outraged. The editor of the Illinois Globe in Charleston thought the speech demonstrated "the littleness of the pettifogging lawyer" and, despite his best efforts, Lincoln had "not merged into the greatness of the statesman."
Perhaps the most thoroughly devastating criticism came from the citizens of Morgan County, where the martyred John J. Hardin had lived before dying at Buena Vista. They expressed "deep mortification" at Lincoln's actions in Congress, calling his speech a "base, dastardly, and treasonable assault upon President Polk..." From then on, they promised "this Benedict Arnold of our district be known here only as the Ranchero Spotty of one term."
Lincoln's peers in the United States Congress also reacted to his anti-war stance. On January 18th, a mere six days after Lincoln's critical speech, Missouri Representative John Jameson took the opportunity not only to criticize his colleague from Illinois, but the entire Whig Party:
The gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Lincoln] has surprised me nearly as much, coming, as he does, from that State whose sons have so distinguished themselves—acting with promptness in every call—furnishing more than their quota, and offering twice as many more—and when in the field, in many hard-fought battles, not one of them ever turning his back upon the enemy; and coming, as he does, from a district which again furnished its quota in the State, and as brave a set of boys as ever lived—a district that furnished two colonels in the war, Hardin and Baker, and the immediate predecessors of the gentleman. They were Whigs, but not Federal Whigs; they were for their country. The gallant Hardin fell while leading his men at Buena Vista, and Baker gallantly led the brigade at Cerro Gordo, after the noble and gallant Shields fell from a grape passing through his lungs. And how the gentleman can get up here and declare that this war is unconstitutional and unjust, and thereby put so many of his brave constituents in the wrong, having them fighting in such a war as he has described, killing innocent Mexicans, and thus committing moral if not legal murder, is not for me to determine. I leave that between him and his constituents. And here is the inconsistency with which gentlemen act. I suppose it is because the party screw is turned on them. There is but one thing, in a word, that Federal Whigs are consistent in, and that is, in inconsistency.
Mr. Chairman, what is the motive, and how does it happen, that the Federalists have always gone against their country in time of war? It is no excuse that they think the country in the wrong, for patriots feel themselves bound to go for their country, right or wrong, in time of war.
Lincoln was accused of several things by the opposing party in 1848. Exploiting the war for political purposes was perhaps the most gentle way of putting it, but others were more direct: Lincoln was simply unpatriotic. Perhaps they might have even charged him with rooting for American defeat. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I am a big fan of the American Experience DVDs by PBS.
I've used a handful of these American Experience DVDs in the classroom. Whether I play a brief clip at the beginning of a lecture to capture the mood or later in a lecture to punctuate a point I'm trying to make, the combination of audio, visual, and scholarly analysis makes quite an impression on students.
That brings me to the Walt Whitman DVD. PBS just released this one. I'm not ashamed to say I even preordered it. When the box came from Amazon, I could hardly wait to watch it.
So was it any good?
It was excellent! Do yourself a favor and watch this one. If you don't know much about Whitman, this is a good place to start. If you already know a lot about him, you'll probably appreciate the program even more.
The real highlight of this DVD, and of course the point that makes it such a valuable resource in a Civil War course, is the lengthy section on the war itself and Whitman's unique role in it. The gruesome pictures of the wounded, combined with their words home from the hospitals, are haunting. Moreover, the program does an excellent job of analyzing the effect these scences had on not only the poet, but American society at large. The next time I lecture in a Civil War course, I will use this section to drive this crucial point home.
The program also does a fantastic job of describing life in New York in the mid-1850s. Before the sanitation committees emerged, the city streets were maintained by scores of roaming pigs, gobbling up whatever they could find. The filth on the streets, the sound of horses, the conversation of street car operators, job seekers, and newly-arrived immigrants come through clearly. Simply put, the program offers one of the finest descriptions of antebellum city life I have ever seen.
One last note, the Whitman program has a website that might be useful for teachers. They usually have maps, images, and articles, as well as lesson plans and assingments for use in the classroom.
Here is one of my favorite prose passages from Whitman's Specimen Days:
August 12, 1863
Washington, D. C.
I see the President almost every day, as I happen to live where he passes to or from his lodgings out of town...I see very plainly ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression. We have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones...[Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln] pass'd me once very close, and I saw the President in the face fully, as they were moving slowly, and his look, though abstracted, happen'd to be directed steadily in my eye. He bow'd and smiled, but far beneath his smile I noticed well the expression I have alluded to. None of the artists or pictures has caught the deep, though subtle and indirect expression of this man's face. There is something else there. One of the great portrait painters of two or three centuries ago is needed.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
So now it would appear as if we have two candidates for president: John McCain and Barack Obama. Notice I hesitate to say anything is settled just yet. Like many of you, I watched Hillary Clinton’s speech last night. I was waiting for her to congratulate her opponent for capturing the nomination, but it never happened. In fact, as the speech went on, I wondered if she was going to ask Obama to be her vice president.
I want to take a moment this morning to talk about the role religion plays in the political process. During the past few months, the major news networks, as well as the political pundits on cable television and radio, have told us all about Obama’s former preacher, Jeremiah Wright. Democrats have countered by reminding us that conservative televangelist John Hagee, a man who praised Adolf Hitler, has endorsed McCain. Both Obama and McCain have distanced themselves from these polarizing figures.
Susan Jacoby wrote a thought-provoking piece this morning in the Washington Post. Her premise? She says she wants to hear less about each candidate’s religious beliefs. She longs for the good old days when “whatever a candidate did or did not believe was considered personal—as long as the candidate avowed his support for the separation of church and state.”
Jacoby even brings Lincoln into the discussion by recounting how he declined to join a church in 1860 and seemed content to live with the potentially negative political repercussions. In the wake of Obama’s decision to resign from his former church, Jacoby seems to be encouraging him to take a Lincolnian view toward church affiliation in the future.
Jacoby’s editorial coincides with a fine piece written by Anthony Stevens-Arroyo for the Washington Post yesterday. Stevens-Arroyo, a Catholic, weighed the importance of religion and spirituality in the political process. I found this passage particularly interesting:
In one sense, I think spirituality is more desirable in a president than religion alone, although I hasten to add that both of them together would be the best of all possible worlds. The virtue produced by this match is defined with the Latin word, “pius.” This term ought not to be translated as “pious”—a better sense of its meaning is “loyal.” I would not claim that such a person is a saint: only that they are trying to be a saint.
Do we really expect our presidents to be saint-like?
Unfortunately, this passage reminded me of an etching (pictured above, color added) found in the Library of Congress. “Abraham Lincoln the Martyr-Victorious” by John Sartain hangs above a case that displays the contents of Lincoln’s pockets on the night of the assassination.
I want to choose my words carefully here. Sartain’s etching is…uhm…breathtaking.
Look at it closely. From the bottom up:
A Union soldier on guard is asleep outside either Ford’s Theater (where Lincoln was shot) or, more likely, the Peterson House (where Lincoln died).
Lincoln’s most identifiable earthly possession, his stove-pipe hat, rests on the ground. He won’t need his hat where he’s going as he ascends into Paradise.
There are angels on clouds with wings, but notice, the angels are slaves. However, why are the slave/angels still wearing chains? I’m not sure about that one. I thought the Great Emancipator had freed them by the time he was assassinated, right?
Now here comes the good part.
Look at Lincoln. Not only is he riding a cloud, ascending into Heaven, but what position is he in? His arms are outstretched, his feet are close together. It looks to me as if he is being crucified! Lincoln has been transformed in this painting. Forget saint-like, Lincoln has become Jesus; he has died for his country’s sins. Oh my!
And who is greeting him as he enters the Kingdom of Heaven? None other than George Washington. But notice, Washington is not an angel. He doesn’t have wings like the slave/angels below him. Washington is God. Yes, Washington/God is greeting his son Lincoln/Jesus.
The etching mimics the scene inside the state capitol in Springfield while Lincoln lay in state in 1865. A large banner on one side of the hall read, "Washington the Father," while another banner read, "Lincoln the Savior."
While Washington might well be the Father of the nation and Lincoln the Savior of the Union, I am sorry to say I have no idea what the flying log cabin is supposed to signify.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
He was born 200 years ago today, but most Americans will not be celebrating the Jefferson Davis bicentennial.
I have no desire to beat up on the president of the Confederacy today. In many respects, he was a talented individual. He graduated from West Point, served in both the Black Hawk War and Mexican War, served terms in both the United States House of Representatives and Senate, as well as a term as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.
And, of course, despite opposing secession, Davis served as president of the Confederacy.
When the war began, just one thing was certain: Jefferson Davis was far more accomplished than his counterpart, Abraham Lincoln.
But we know how things turned out. The unpredicatability of war turned such appraisals upside down.
A full century after Fort Sumter, historian David M. Potter wrote that the Confederacy might have succeeded if only the two sides had switched presidents. Historians have not wavered far from Potter's assessment. Perhaps the latest evidence of such scholarly consensus appears in the form of bicentennial celebrations.
We are still nine months away from the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, yet hardly a week goes by without a special event.
Conversely, the Jefferson Davis bicentennial is a much more quiet. local affair.
For example, the Davis Family Association held a reunion at Rosemont Plantation, near Woodville, Mississippi, over the weekend. Descendents who could trace their lineage from Samuel and Jane Cook Davis, Jefferson Davis' parents, were invited to attend. Not surprisingly, the descendants of the Davis family slaves were not invited. But also notice, the general public was not invited. However, for $10, adults can tour the plantation throughout the week.
In recognition of the big day, the state of Alabama gave its employees the day off yesterday.
They have more events planned for June 14th, which include a parade in Montgomery, as well as a "Jefferson Davis Bicentennial Ball in the Old Archives Room of the Capitol." The ball will, of course, feature music performed by, "The Un-Reconstructed Band."
If that isn't enough, how about some irony for the occasion? The Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans announced they have completed the restoration of Beauvoir, the last home Davis and his wife lived in. A dedication ceremony for the home is scheduled for tomorrow.
But where did the funds come from to restore the home? To be sure, generous individuals donated to the effort, as did the state of Mississippi, but funding also came from FEMA. Yes, the federal government, the government Davis tried to overthrow, helped fund the restoration because the home had been badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
And finally, the state of Kentucky, the state where both Davis and Lincoln were born, will host a symposium later this month. Instead of celebrating Davis' contribution to American history, panels such as "Jefferson Davis and Lost Cause Memory" will examine his "Contested Legacy."
Since most readers of LincolnStudies.com will not be able to go to Mississippi, Alabama, or Kentucky for the festivities, I encourage you to read one of the many fine books about Jefferson Davis. Here are a few of my favorites:
Monday, June 2, 2008
Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis. I suspect the day will come and go without much mention of the Davis bicentennial; however, I'll have more on that tomorrow.
In the meantime, allow me to wish state employees in Alabama a happy day off from work! Yes, the state of Alabama has declared the first Monday in June an official state holiday, in recognition of Jefferson Davis' 200th birthday. The Sons of Confederate Veterans held a ceremony at the capitol in Montgomery this afternoon.