Friday, August 31, 2007

"The Officially Sanctioned History is True"

Here’s the scenario: You are taking a carriage ride through historic Philadelphia when your tour-guide nonchalantly remarks that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln once had dinner together. What do you do?

How about when the tour-guide says Benjamin Franklin was a notorious womanizer who fathered 69 illegitimate children. What then?

You know both claims are wildly incorrect and downright laughable, but there are some people who aren’t as wise. They may nod their head in agreement and mumble to their partner, “That is so interesting, I never knew that.”

I assume the tour-guides at state-run or national historic sites are trained and periodically monitored. I have no-doubt that incompetent tour-guides who pass along such statements are reprimanded or fired. However, what can a city do to historical entrepreneurs who specialize in carriage rides or walking tours?

Ron Avery is a former high school history teacher and a retired reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Since retirement, he has been working as a part-time tour-guide. He is appalled by some of the inaccurate statements his fellow tour-guides have been passing along as “facts.”

Avery decided to go undercover. He has ridden along on countless carriage tours throughout Philadelphia and has compiled a list of 80 such inaccurate statements he has heard. He gave the list to the city council. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has recently introduced a bill to educate, test, and license guides who offer tours for money in Philadelphia.

According to the story I read, a “city commission would be established to ensure that the officially sanctioned history is true, referring to well-known books, expert historians, or even an original letter…”

Is creating a law really the answer here? I am skeptical of any “city commission” ensuring that “the officially sanctioned history is true.” Is government really capable of getting to historical truth? I think not.

I also worry about the term “officially sanctioned history.” Court historians produced that sort of history to please European Kings; wayward historians often lost their heads. Totalitarian regimes have done and still do the same; their prisons are inhabited by people who deviated from the script.

What would happen if a Philadelphia tour-guide strayed from the “officially sanctioned history?” Surely he wouldn’t lose his head, but would he be fined? What about repeat offenders, would they be sent to prison?

The irony here is that the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia; the Constitution, which protects the freedom of speech, was also written in the same city!

Instead of passing a new law to make these renegade tour-guides fall in line, Philadelphia should look to a much-earlier legal precedent. In 1817, Chief Justice John Marshall issued his decision in Laidlaw v. Organ. The ruling is famous because it marks the first time the United States Supreme Court adopted the rule of caveat emptor, more commonly known as “Let the buyer beware.” Tour-guides in horse-drawn carriages are not dispensing college credit. They offer an all-too rare combination of information and entertainment. Appreciate them for what they are.

The next time you hear one of them tell you Washington and Lincoln had dinner together, I suppose you’ll have a decision to make. Will you file a police report and hope the authorities revoke his touring license? Will you politely remind him that Washington was dead before Lincoln was born? Or will you simply smile to yourself and enjoy the ride?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Did Abraham Lincoln Own Slaves?"

Did Abraham Lincoln own slaves? The answer is no. Nevertheless, that is the title of an upcoming lecture.

Gerald J. Prokopowicz will be speaking at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois on Friday, September 7. The lecture begins at 4 pm and is free and open to the public. He will be talking about his upcoming book, Did Lincoln Own Slaves? And Other Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham Lincoln. The book hits stores in 2008.

Much to my surprise, I have been asked if Lincoln ever owned slaves. Twenty years ago, people would have never asked such a question, but times have certainly changed. Perhaps Lerone Bennett’s Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream deserves some of the blame. Though he did not argue that Lincoln owned slaves, he challenged the public to reassess Lincoln’s view of African Americans. Similarly, recent books by Thomas Dilorenzo may have also contributed to the confusion. Again, he doesn’t argue that Lincoln owned slaves, but he encourages his readers to discard most of what they thought they knew about Lincoln. The titles of his books outline his thesis: The Real Lincoln: A New look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War and Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know about Dishonest Abe.

I like the title of Prokopowicz’s lecture and book. It not only grabs my attention, but I think it speaks to some of the most troubling developments in Lincoln historiography.

If anyone attends the lecture or has seen an advance copy of the book, please send me an email and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The History Detectives"

Last June I reported on a firefighter named Joseph Skanks. Just after a 24-hour shift, he stopped by an estate sale and bought a pile of old photos, books, and letters for $8. When he sorted through the stack, he found a letter addressed to Henry Clay Whitney, signed A. Lincoln. Was it the real deal?

On Monday night, the PBS series “History Detectives” tried to solve the mystery. I like the series because I think it does a good job of explaining what historians do.

To solve this mystery, the history detectives contacted John Lupton, an Associate Director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield. I know John and he is first-rate. His team is traveling the country scanning Lincoln documents in preparation for a monumental reference work, featuring both incoming and outgoing Lincoln correspondence.

As you can imagine, Lincoln forgeries are quite common. Lupton has learned how to spot a fraud. I found his comments to be very interesting:

We see so many forgeries that sometimes you just develop a feeling when something is not quite right. Lincoln’s handwriting is extremely fluid. It is clear he was a very slow and deliberate writer. Lincoln generally wrote with a quill pen, either actual feather pen or later a steel nib pen. Lincoln mostly crossed his t’s backwards. Not 100 percent of the time, but certainly the majority of the time, maybe 75%.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"I Have a Dream"

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. served as the backdrop for one of the most well-known speeches in American history. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” 44 years ago today.

Initiated by A. Philip Randolph, “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” drew about 250,000 people to the nation’s capitol. Throughout the day, civil rights and labor leaders, as well as authors, actors, and musicians addressed the crowd. The momentum generated by the March on Washington helped secure the passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the final speaker and here is what he said:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hoped that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And hey have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for whites only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today my friends - so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification - one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi - from every mountainside.

Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring - when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children - black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics - will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Monday, August 27, 2007

Teaching Resources

Last semester I received a number of emails from teachers who used the Lincoln studies website as a teaching resource. I was very pleased and started to think about how I might expand certain sections.

I have started implementing some of those changes. Give the Primary Documents section a click. I have added quite a few documents and broke down the additions into sections. For instance, now there is an entire section devoted to the Confederacy, including the various "Declarations of Causes of Secession," as well as the "Ordinances of Secession." I have added the Confederate Constitution, a proclamation, and several speeches by the President and Vice President of the Confederacy.

There is also a new section for the Union. I plan to upload speeches by Union politicians and letters by Union soldiers, right now you can see the letter from Sullivan Ballou that Ken Burns made famous.

I also welcome suggestions for new documents. I want to keep adding resources to that page, so send me an email or post a message on the Discussion Board.

Friday, August 24, 2007

An Old Grudge

There was a sick man in Illinois who was told he probably didn't have long to live. The doctor told him he should put his affairs in order, and above all else, he should make peace with his enemies before he died.

He hated a man named Brown more than anybody else. They had been feuding for as long as he could remember, but since he was running out of time, he sent for him.

Brown came to the sick man's bedside and listened as his enemy began to speak in a voice "as meek as Moses." He said he wanted to die at peace with all his "fellow creatures" and he hoped Brown could put the past behind him and shake his hand as a friend one last time.

"The scene was becoming altogether too pathetic for Brown, who had to get out his handkerchief and wipe the gathering tears from his eyes. It wasn't long before he melted and gave his hand to his neighbor, and they had a regular lovefest," Lincoln said.

"After a parting that would have softned the heart of a grindstone, Brown had about reached the room door, when the sick man rose up on his elbow and said, "But, see here, Brown, if I should happen to get well, that old grudge still stands!"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Memorandum on Probable Failure"

“You think I don’t know I am going to be beaten,” Lincoln said, “but I do and unless some great change takes place badly beaten.”

Things were not going well. Ulysses S. Grant was labeled a “Butcher,” there was opposition to the draft, both radical and conservative elements of the Republican Party were warring with the president, and Democrats wanted peace. There was an election, a presidential election. And Lincoln did not think he was going to win.

Lincoln wrote the following note to himself:

Executive Mansion

Washington, Aug. 23, 1864.

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards. A. LINCOLN

The presdient folded the piece of paper and sealed it shut. Without revealing its contents, he asked each member of the cabinet to sign his name to the document.

Of course, things changed. William Tecumseh Sherman achieved a significant victory. “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won,” he announced on September 4. Lincoln was indeed reelected.

After the election, the president shared the contents of the note with his cabinet. Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay, made a note of the meeting in his diary:

“At the meeting of the Cabinet today, the President took out a paper from his desk and said, ‘Gentlemen, do you remember last summer when I asked you all to sign your names to the back of a paper of which I did not show you the inside? This is it. Now, Mr Hay, see if you can get this open without tearing it?' He had pasted it up in so singular style that it required some cutting to get it open. He then read [the memorandum on probable failure].

``The President said, `You will remember that this was written at a time (6 days before the Chicago nominating Convention) when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends. I then solemnly resolved on the course of action indicated above. I resolved, in case of the election of General McClellan, being certain that he would be the candidate, that I would see him and talk matters over with him. I would say, ``General, the election has demonstrated that you are stronger, have more influence with the American people than I. Now let us together, you with your influence and I with all the executive power of the Government, try to save the country. You raise as many troops as you possibly can for this final trial, and I will devote all my energies to assisting and finishing the war.''

``Seward said, `And the General would answer you ``Yes, Yes;'' and the next day when you saw him again and pressed these views upon him, he would say, ``Yes, Yes;'' & so on forever, and would have done nothing at all.’

`` `At least,' added Lincoln, `I should have done my duty and have stood clear before my own conscience.' . . . .''

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An Answer to the "Prayer of the Twenty Millions"

The president read the 2,200-word “Prayer of the Twenty Millions.” Horace Greeley had never been a particularly patient man, but now he was beside himself.

Greeley told the president that his strategy was a failure. Lincoln pledged to save the Union, but the rebellion had now been going on for a year and a half. Northerners were “sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels.” Greeley pleaded with the president to confront the cause of secession: “[T]he Rebellion, if crushed out tomorrow, would be renewed within a year if Slavery were left in full vigor.” The New York Tribune carried the public rebuke.

On this date, 145 years ago, Lincoln replied to Greeley’s letter.

“As to the policy I ‘seem to be pursuing’ as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt,” the president began.

Using just 245 words, the president reiterated his position:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I don't believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be error; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

As the president wrote his reply to Greeley, the Emancipation Proclamation was sitting in his desk drawer. He had not issued it yet; he was waiting for the right moment.

While Greeley claimed Northerners would embrace such a measure, Lincoln knew otherwise. Thousands had volunteered to “save the Union,” not to free slaves. By “radicalizing” the war-aims, Lincoln knew he risked alienating many loyal Union men.

The president’s reply to Greeley walked the country through his thought-process. “Saving the Union” was still the number one priority. “What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union,” Lincoln explained.

Emancipation was coming, but it would have to wait until Union forces achieved a victory.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Prophet

It was a slave owner’s worst nightmare: slaves and free blacks traveling house-to-house, freeing those held in bondage and murdering those who owned them. Sometimes nightmares come true.

“The Prophet” entered the world as a slave in 1800. He escaped from his master once before, but when God told him to return to his master, he obeyed. God started to talk to Nat Turner again in 1831.

Turner began having visions of an apocalyptic battle between white and black spirits. He saw Jesus crucified one night. The next morning, he saw Christ’s blood in a cornfield. He saw a solar eclipse that February. It was a sign. The battle was near.

He started sharing his visions with other slaves. He recruited his soldiers. He waited for another sign.

The sun turned a bluish-green color on August 13, 1831. It was the final sign. He waited seven days and then it began.

Nat Turner led his apocalyptic soldiers into battle 176 years ago today.

More than 70 slaves and free blacks traveled from house to house throughout Southampton County, Virginia, freeing slaves and brutally murdering any white person within sight. They used knives, hatchets, and axes. They killed 57 white men, women and children.

It took two days before the slave rebellion was finally quashed, but "The Prophet" remained on the run for more than two months. They eventually found him in a swamp.

Turner stood trial on November 5, 1831. He was hanged six days later.

Another 18 blacks were convicted and executed for their role in the “Southampton Insurrection.”

It was a slave owner’s worst nightmare.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"The Prayer of the Twenty Millions"

The newspaper editor had been writing Lincoln for almost two years. Just after the election, he warned him of the possibility of assassination, “Even your life is not safe, and it is your simple duty to be very careful of exposing it.” Seven months later, just after the disastrous Union defeat at the Battle of Bull Run, he bluntly told the president, “You are not considered a great man.”

Horace Greeley had never been shy about sharing his opinions. A New England reformer at heart, he came to New York City at age twenty. Within a decade, he started the New York Tribune and became a celebrity. Using his columns like a preacher uses the pulpit, Greeley preached an ever-evolving anti-slavery gospel. Ralph Waldo Emerson called him “the right spiritual father of this region,” who “does [everyone’s] thinking & theory for them, for two dollars a year.” By 1862, more than 200,000 Americans subscribed to the New York Tribune.

On August 20, 1862, Horace Greeley published a 2,200 word open-letter to President Lincoln titled, “The Prayer of the Twenty Millions.” Claiming he spoke for the American people, Greeley told the president they did not approve of the way he was conducting the war. Particularly, the people were “sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels.”

On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one disinterested, determined, intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel that all attempts to put down the Rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause are preposterous and futile--that the Rebellion, if crushed out tomorrow, would be renewed within a year if Slavery were left in full vigor--that Army officers who remain to this day devoted to Slavery can at best be but half-way loyal to the Union--and that every hour of deference to Slavery is an hour of added and deepened peril to the Union, I appeal to the testimony of your Ambassadors in Europe. It is freely at your service, not at mine. Ask them to tell you candidly whether the seeming subserviency of your policy to the slaveholding, slavery-upholding interest, is not the perplexity, the despair of statesmen of all parties, and be admonished by the general answer.

Greeley called on the president to listen to the prayers of twenty million Northerners who wanted to see both the rebellion and slavery crushed. The president needed to begin by executing the laws of the land, particularly the Confiscation Act. “That Act gives freedom to the slaves of Rebels coming within our lines,” Greeley wrote.

We cannot conquer Ten Millions of People united in solid phalanx against us, powerfully aided by the Northern sympathizers and European allies. We must have scouts, guides, spies, cooks, teamsters, diggers and choppers from the Blacks of the South, whether we allow them to fight for us or not, or we shall be baffled and repelled. As one of the millions who would gladly have avoided this struggle at any sacrifice but that Principle and Honor, but who now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well being of mankind, I entreat you to render a hearty and unequivocal obedience to the law of the land.

The president read the letter in the morning’s New York Tribune. He knew Greeley and the American people expected a reply.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"Hold on with a Bull-Dog Gripe"

Ulysses S. Grant came to the East in 1864. The president hoped he would bring an end to this war. Lincoln had entertained high hopes for other generals, but there was something different about Grant. “This man fights,” Lincoln said.

Grant worked out a plan for Union victory. His two main armies in Virginia and Georgia would advance against the two most prominent Confederate armies, while smaller Union forces would block Rebel detachments from reinforcing their main armies.

Lincoln was pleased with the plan. It was precisely the sort of offensive he had been calling for throughout the past few years. Finally, he found a general that understood the “awful arithmetic” of superior Union numbers. This war might come to a close.

When Grant told Lincoln how he planned to use small forces to pin down Confederate detachments, Lincoln exclaimed, “Those not skinning can hold a leg!” Grant later used the metaphor in his own dispatches.

As William Sherman marched through Georgia and South Carolina, Grant pinned Lee’s army down in Petersburg. “Grant has the bear by the hind leg while Sherman takes off the hide,” Lincoln explained.

On August 15, 1864, Grant telegraphed Washington. He understood there was significant opposition to the draft throughout the North, but he was not willing to send his troops away from the front lines to maintain order in the North. “My withdrawal now from the James River would insure the defeat of Sherman,” Grant reasoned. Instead, Grant hoped Lincoln would call on governors throughout the North to preserve peace.

Today marks the anniversary of Lincoln’s colorful response. On this date in 1864, Lincoln telegraphed Grant outside of Petersburg:

I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible.

“In the end,” writes historian James McPherson, “it was Grant’s chewing and choking while Sherman took off the hide that won the war.”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

“Nothing Would Make Me More Miserable than to Believe You Miserable”

She first visited New Salem in 1833. She seemed “intelligent and agreeable,” but she left the village before Lincoln had a chance to become acquainted with her. He knew he liked her family. Her cousin, Mentor Graham, was his teacher and friend, while her sister was one of Lincoln’s favorite neighbors.

Three years later, she returned. She stayed longer this time. Lincoln began a relationship with Mary Owens.

She came from a well-to-do family in Kentucky, her father was “a leading and wealthy citizen,” and she had received a fine education. Lincoln was impressed with her, but he doubted whether he could make her happy.

In 1837 Lincoln moved to Springfield and entered into a law partnership with John Todd Stuart. The budding lawyer-politician proposed to Mary Owens sometime early that fall.

She turned him down.

“I thought Mr. Lincoln was deficient in those little links which make up the great chain of womans happiness,” Mary wrote years later. It wasn’t that Lincoln was a cold person. They were just too different. “His training had been different from mine, hence there was not that congeniality which would have otherwise existed,” she explained.

Lincoln saw her again on August 16, 1837. Later that day, he returned to Springfield and wrote her a letter:

Friend Mary

You will, no doubt, think it rather strange, that I should write you a letter on the same day on which we parted; and I can only account for it by supposing, that seeing you lately makes me think of you more than usual, while at our late meeting we had but few expressions of thoughts. You must know that I can not see you, or think of you, with entire indifference; and yet it may be, that you, are mistaken in regard to what my real feelings towards you are. If I knew you were not, I should not trouble you with this letter. Perhaps any other man would know enough without further information; but I consider it my peculiar right to plead ignorance, and your bounden duty to allow the plea. I want in all cases to do right, and most particularly so, in all cases with women. I want, at this particular time, more than any thing else, to do right with you, and if I knew it would be doing right, as I rather suspect it would, to let you alone, I would do it. And for the purpose of making the matter as plain as possible, I now say, that you can now drop the subject, dismiss your thoughts (if you ever had any) from me forever, and leave this letter unanswered, without calling forth one accusing murmer from me. And I will even go further, and say, that if it will add any thing to your comfort, or peace of mind, to do so, it is my sincere wish that you should. Do not understand by this, that I wish to cut your acquaintance. I mean no such thing. What I do wish is, that our further acquaintance shall depend upon yourself. If such further acquaintance would contribute nothing to your happiness, I am sure it would not to mine. If you feel yourself in any degree bound to me, I am now willing to release you, provided you wish it; while, on the other hand, I am willing, and even anxious to bind you faster, if I can be convinced that it will, in any considerable degree, add to your happiness. This, indeed, is the whole question with me. Nothing would make me more miserable than to believe you miserable---nothing more happy, than to know you were so.

In what I have now said, I think I can not be misunderstood; and to make myself understood, is the only object of this letter.

If it suits you best to not answer this---farewell---a long life and merry one attend you. But if you conclude to write back, speak as plainly as I do. There can be neither harm nor danger, in saying, to me, any thing you think, just in the manner you think it.

My respects to your sister. Your friend LINCOLN.

Mary Owens rejected Lincoln’s proposal a second time, but now she told him she was moving back to Kentucky to live with her father. There is no evidence that the two ever spoke again.

Most historians dismiss the relationship. They cite Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Orville H. Browning, written on April 1, 1838. Throughout the letter, Lincoln disparages Owens, calling her “over-size” and “a fair match for Falstaff,” “[H]er skin was too full of fat,” Lincoln wrote, she was missing teeth, and generally had a “weather-beaten appearance.” When the relationship ended, Lincoln claimed he was relieved to finally be “out of the ‘scrape.’” Historians have taken him at his word. They say he never cared for Mary Owens.

But the interpretation misses the mark. Primary documents can be misinterpreted when they are not placed into context. Lincoln’s marriage proposal had been turned down—not once, but twice. The relationship was now over and Owens had moved back to Kentucky. She was gone and she wasn't coming back. He had been dumped and he felt awful, so he picked up a pen and picked apart the one who had hurt him.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"He was not a Pretty Man"

Abraham Lincoln was on the stump spouting standard Whig doctrine when a heckler interrupted him.

“You’re two-faced!” the man shouted.

Lincoln had a decision to make. He could ignore the charge, argue with the heckler, or make a joke. He chose the latter.

“If I were two-faced,” Lincoln replied, “would I be wearing this one?”

It makes little difference whether or not the story is true, the sentiment is the thing that counts. Lincoln had a good sense of humor and, of course, he knew he wasn’t a particularly handsome fellow.

Lincoln’s friends agreed. “He was not a pretty man by any means,” wrote William Herndon. “Mr. Lincoln’s head was long and tall his forehead was narrow but high. His ears were extremely large and ran out at almost right angles from his head. His hair was dark—almost black and lay floating where fingers or the winds left it, piled up at random. His check bones were high—sharp and prominent. His nose was larg, long and blunt and a little awry toward the right eye. His eye brows, heavy and jutting out, cropped out like a huge rock on the brow of a hill. His face was long- sallow, cadaverous, shrunk, shriveled, wrinkled and dry. His cheeks were leathery and flabby, falling in loose folds at places, looking sorrowful and sad.”

The British didn’t think he was any more attractive. “To say that he is ugly is nothing,” a reporter wrote in 1862, “to add that his figure is grotesque, is to convey no adequate impression. Fancy a man 6 feet high and thin out of proportion.....with a long scraggy neck, and a chest too narrow for the great arms at his side. Add to this figure a head, coconut shaped and somewhat too small for such a stature, covered with rough uncombed and uncomable hair, that stands out in every direction at once: a face furrowed, wrinkled and indented as though it had been scarred by vitriol: a high narrow forehead, and sunk deep beneath bushy eyebrows; two bright, somewhat dreamy eyes that seem to gaze through you without looking at you; a few irregular blotches of black, bristly hair in the place where beard and whiskers out to grow; a close-set, thin lipped, stern mouth, with two rows of large, white teeth and a nose and ears which have been taken by mistake from a head of twice the size.”

As if first impressions weren’t bad enough, now we have scientific proof that Lincoln looked a little odd. Scientists have scanned two life masks, both made from plaster casts of Lincoln’s face during his lifetime. They have determined that Lincoln suffered from an unusual degree of facial asymmetry.

The right side of Lincoln’s face was much larger than his left side. I was surprised to learn that this ailment has a name—it is called “cranial facial microsomia.”

Not even poet Walt Whitman had the right terminology for Lincoln’s physical abnormality. After viewing several pictures of the sixteenth president, Whitman concluded that “none of the artists or pictures have caught the subtle and indirect expression of this man’s face.” Years later, Whitman again reflected on Lincoln’s appearance. “Though hundreds of portraits have been made,” he wrote, “I have never seen one yet that in my opinion deserved to be called a perfectly good likeness: nor do I believe there is really such a one in existence.”

Congressman Henry L. Dawes could not do any better. “There is something in the face which I cannot understand,” he wrote.

My favorite description of Lincoln’s appearance comes from Lincoln’s Illinois friend Gustave Koerner. “Something about the man, the face is unfathomable. In his looks there were hints of mysteries within,” he wrote.

All good descriptions, but each of them pale in comparison to the precision of modern science. "Cranial facial microsomia" they call it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lincoln and Colonization

August 14, 1862. Washington, D. C.

Five African Americans were escorted into the White House, past the swarm of visitors, and into the president’s office. Abraham Lincoln wanted to speak with them.

Lincoln wanted to gauge their views on colonization. A reporter was present and recorded his opening remarks.

He told them Congress had recently appropriated a sum of money to colonize freed slaves. Lincoln understood that African Americans might resist colonization. “Why should they leave this country?” he asked. The president did not expect an answer from the delegation. Instead, he provided them with an answer:

You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.

Lincoln went on to deliver a bizarre, rambling, and bigoted 1,600-word monologue on why African Americans should support colonization.

We look to our condition, owing to the existence of the two races on this continent. I need not recount to you the effects upon white men, growing out of the institution of Slavery. I believe in its general evil effects on the white race. See our present condition---the country engaged in war!---our white men cutting one another's throats, none knowing how far it will extend; and then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.

It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated. I know that there are free men among you, who even if they could better their condition are not as much inclined to go out of the country as those, who being slaves could obtain their freedom on this condition. I suppose one of the principal difficulties in the way of colonization is that the free colored man cannot see that his comfort would be advanced by it. You may believe you can live in Washington or elsewhere in the United States the remainder of your life [as easily], perhaps more so than you can in any foreign country, and hence you may come to the conclusion that you have nothing to do with the idea of going to a foreign country. This is (I speak in no unkind sense) an extremely selfish view of the case.

Lincoln told them about the successes in the colony of Liberia, where some 12,000 American slaves had settled upon being freed. But, Lincoln continued, he understood that African Americans might not want to settle across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa, so the president had an alternative:

The place I am thinking about having for a colony is in Central America. It is nearer to us than Liberia---not much more than one-fourth as far as Liberia, and within seven days' run by steamers. Unlike Liberia it is on a great line of travel---it is a highway. The country is a very excellent one for any people, and with great natural resources and advantages, and especially because of the similarity of climate with your native land---thus being suited to your physical condition.

The particular place I have in view is to be a great highway from the Atlantic or Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, and this particular place has all the advantages for a colony. On both sides there are harbors among the finest in the world. Again, there is evidence of very rich coal mines. A certain amount of coal is valuable in any country, and there may be more than enough for the wants of the country. Why I attach so much importance to coal is, it will afford an opportunity to the inhabitants for immediate employment till they get ready to settle permanently in their homes.

Lincoln told the delegation to discuss the idea. He wanted them to see if they could get “a hundred tolerably intelligent men, with their wives and children, to ‘cut their own fodder,’” and join the government’s colonization efforts. He would even settle for “twenty-five able-bodied men, with a mixture of women and children…”

The president's remarks were printed in the newspaper the next day. The New York Tribune criticized Lincoln’s logic. If colonization was his plan, how could the government raise enough money to colonize some four million freed slaves? It was simply impractical.

Frederick Douglass was among the first to attack Lincoln’s sentiments. The president’s remarks were “characteristically foggy, remarkably illogical and untimely.” He took offense to Lincoln’s assertion that African Americans were somehow responsible for bringing on the Civil War. It was like “a horse thief pleading that the existence of the horse is the apology for his theft,” Douglass charged.

Still worse, Lincoln’s published words supported arguments made by the “ignorant and base” Americans who committed “all kinds of violence and outrage upon the colored people of the country.” Anyone with “an ounce of brain in his head” knew that white and black Americans were capable of living side-by-side in peace. Scores of communities throughout the country already provided evidence, Douglass concluded.

Historians have been bitterly divided over how to interpret Lincoln’s speech. In recent times, no one has been more outspoken than Lerone Bennett. In Bennett’s view, Lincoln was a racist with a “White dream” for America. His support of colonization was nothing more than an "ethnic cleansing plan.” (Bennett, Forced into Glory, 465).

On the other extreme, a multitude of historians have tried to sanitize Lincoln’s comments by proclaiming they represent the clearest evidence that Lincoln was a “political genius.” They say Lincoln orchestrated the entire performance for public consumption. He arranged for a reporter to record his remarks, he edited them, and made sure they were placed in the morning newspaper. He was preparing the public for his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln was playing to public sentiment, trying desperately to make emancipation “more palatable to white racists.”

The truth often resides somewhere near the middle of two extremes. To be certain, Lincoln was a lifelong supporter of colonization. Read his eulogy on Henry Clay or any of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and you can judge for yourself whether or not he believed in colonization. That being said, I do not believe he thought it was at all possible to colonize four million freed slaves, but did he think it would be desirable? I think he did.

At the same time, I do believe Lincoln was concerned about what was coming. The Emancipation Proclamation was already written and sitting in his desk drawer. He knew it would be met with stiff opposition, not just in the Confederacy, but among Northerners as well. He had to try to “sell” the controversial proclamation. Perhaps his remarks to the delegation of African Americans are an example of Lincoln pandering to the least progressive segment of the Northern population. Perhaps these remarks on colonization should be considered a companion piece to other prep-work he did on the eve of emancipation—namely the letter he would write Horace Greeley just eight days later.

What do you think?

Monday, August 13, 2007

A New Book

I had just presented a paper at the Illinois History Conference in Springfield and decided to settle into the audience to listen to the next group of presentations. An independent historian named Jason Emerson began to speak about Mary Todd Lincoln. I was floored by what I heard.

Nonchalantly…like it was no big deal…he mentioned he had recently found several undiscovered Mary Todd Lincoln letters.

“Where did you find them?” I asked.

“Up in an attack in a trunk,” he replied.

I was skeptical. Long-lost letters in a trunk in an attack? The story sounded too good to be true.

It turns out Emerson was telling me the truth.

Southern Illinois University Press is publishing his book on September 10, 2007. Here is the write up from the publishers:

In 2005, historian Jason Emerson discovered a steamer trunk formerly owned by Robert Todd Lincoln's lawyer and stowed in an attic for forty years. The trunk contained a rare find: twenty-five letters pertaining to Mary Todd Lincoln's life and insanity case, letters assumed long destroyed by the Lincoln family. Mary wrote twenty of the letters herself, more than half from the insane asylum to which her son Robert had her committed, and many in the months and years after.

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the first examination of Mary Lincoln’s mental illness based on the lost letters, and the first new interpretation of the insanity case in twenty years. This compelling story of the purported insanity of one of America’s most tragic first ladies provides new and previously unpublished materials, including the psychiatric diagnosis of Mary’s mental illness and her lost will.

Emerson charts Mary Lincoln’s mental illness throughout her life and describes how a predisposition to psychiatric illness and a life of mental and emotional trauma led to her commitment to the asylum. The first to state unequivocally that Mary Lincoln suffered from bipolar disorder, Emerson offers a psychiatric perspective on the insanity case based on consultations with psychiatrist experts.

This book reveals Abraham Lincoln’s understanding of his wife’s mental illness and the degree to which he helped keep her stable. It also traces Mary’s life after her husband’s assassination, including her severe depression and physical ailments, the harsh public criticism she endured, the Old Clothes Scandal, and the death of her son Tad.

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the story not only of Mary, but also of Robert. It details how he dealt with his mother’s increasing irrationality and why it embarrassed his Victorian sensibilities; it explains the reasons he had his mother committed, his response to her suicide attempt, and her plot to murder him. It also shows why and how he ultimately agreed to her release from the asylum eight months early, and what their relationship was like until Mary’s death.

This historical page-turner provides readers for the first time with the lost letters that historians had been in search of for eighty years.

I am extremely excited to read this book. Several Lincoln scholars have read advance copies and they are unanimous in their praise:

“Jason Emerson has written the definitive work on Mary Todd Lincoln’s mental health in general and her insanity problems in particular. Written with verve and complete understanding of the subject, The Madness of Mary Lincoln is a masterpiece.”
Wayne C. Temple, author of Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet

“The Madness of Mary Lincoln is precise, documented, and detailed. . . . Every word counts and every word adds up to a riveting and until-now neglected chronicle begging to be told.”
Carl Sferrazza Anthony, author of First Ladies

“A judicious, convincing analysis. . . . Emerson's new evidence demonstrates that Mary Todd Lincoln deserves to be pitied more than censured, but also that she behaved very badly indeed.”
Michael Burlingame, author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln

“Jason Emerson's heroic efforts to uncover new material on Robert Lincoln have paid off handsomely with this engaging interpretation of Mary Lincoln’s later years.”
Catherine Clinton, author of Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars

“Jason Emerson is a very, very good writer and a superior historical detective. This is a most original book, taking new evidence to new heights of sophisticated analysis.”
Harold Holzer, author of The Lincoln Family Album

When I get more information, I will gladly pass it along. I suspect I’ll work up a book review as well, just as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of the book!

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Battle of Wilson's Creek

Though most history textbooks claim the American Civil War lasted four years, folks in Missouri might object. In many respects, the war began along the Missouri-Kansas border in 1854 when border ruffians crossed into Kansas and launched a battle for the expansion of slavery, a full seven years before the Civil War began.

When the textbook-war erupted, Missouri’s citizens were bitterly divided between pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions. Government officials desperately searched for a compromise measure, something along the lines of the negotiated Kentucky-style neutrality that might spare its citizens from taking arms against one another. But talks broke off. Union and Confederate forces moved into position.

Today marks the 146th anniversary of a significant battle in Missouri.

Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon commanded 6,200 men at Springfield in southwest Missouri. His men were undersupplied, far from their supply lines, and anxious for their 90-day enlistment time to expire.

A Confederate force, with nearly twice as many men, opposed them. Lyon weighed his options. Instead of retreating in the face of superior forces, Lyon did the unthinkable—he divided his forces and launched a surprise attack on the Confederate camp at Wilson’s Creek, about ten miles south of Springfield.

Lyon sent 1,200 men under Gen. Franz Sigel to attack the Confederate rear, while he and the remaining 4,200 men assaulted the Rebel front. Though the assault certainly took the Rebels by surprise, a critical error turned the tide. Gen. Sigel mistook an approaching Louisiana regiment for Union forces. The Louisianans opened fire, effectively routing Sigel’s men.

Now, with Sigel’s men out of the picture, the Rebels were able to concentrate their fire on Lyon’s men in the front. The Confederate response was devastating. Not only was Lyon killed, but his Union forces were forced to retreat. Each side suffered about 1,200 casualties.

Though the Battle of Wilson’s Creek is not a well-known military engagement, the battle represents a significant victory for the Confederacy. Union forces withdrew some 100 miles northward to Rolla. In the wake of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, southern and western Missouri were now open to Confederate invasion.

Missouri proved to be a contentious battle-ground throughout the war. “Although peripheral to the principal military campaigns of the war, Missouri suffered more than any other state from raids, skirmishes, and guerilla actions, leaving a postwar legacy of violence and outlawry in which ‘the terrible grudges of neighbor against neighbor created in the guerilla conflict’ persisted for decades,” writes a historian.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

"The Belle of Springfield"

The folks at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum have put together a fantastic program called, “The Belle of Springfield: An Intimate Look at Mary Lincoln.”

You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about Mary Todd Lincoln on September 15, 2007.

A “tell-all” tour of Mary’s Springfield will include the Lincoln Home, First Presbyterian Church, the Lincoln Tomb, and the special exhibit “Mary Todd Lincoln: First Lady of Controversy” at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

But that is just the beginning!

Biographer Jean H. Baker, who has written a fine book on Mary Todd Lincoln, will be the luncheon speaker. Autographed copies of her book will be available for $13.00

Ticket Options for this Event Include:

Tour and Luncheon $35.00
Luncheon Only $25.00

Tickets will go quick, so reserve your spot soon:

Phone: 217.558.8934

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Robert E. Lee's Resignation

Robert E. Lee had been thinking about the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg for over a month now. True enough, he had driven the Army of the Potomac from Virginia and inflicted 28,000 casualties, but the cost was terrible. He lost one-third of his army at Gettysburg.

On this date in 1863, Lee wrote a lengthy letter to President Jefferson Davis. He spoke about high expectations, failure, and responsibility:

CAMP ORANGE, August 8, 1863.

President of the Confederate States:


Your letters of July 28 and August 2 have been received, and I have waited for a leisure hour to reply, but I fear that will never come. I am extremely obliged to you for the attention given to the wants of this army, and the efforts made to supply them. Our absentees are returning, and I hope the earnest and beautiful appeal made to the country in your proclamation may stir up the virtue of the whole people, and that they may see their duty and perform it. Nothing is wanted but that their fortitude should equal their bravery to insure the success of our cause. We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true and united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war, and all will come right in the end.

I know how prone we are to censure and how ready to blame others for the non-fulfillment of our expectations. This is unbecoming in a generous people, and I grieve to see its expression. The general remedy for the want of success in a military commander is his removal. This is natural, and, in many instances, proper. For, no matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops disaster must sooner or later ensue. I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army. My brother officers have been too kind to report it, and so far the troops have been too generous to exhibit it. It is fair, however, to suppose that it does exist, and success is so necessary to us that nothing should be risked to secure it. I therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place. I do this with the more earnestness because no one is more aware than myself of my inability for the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others? In addition I sensibly feel the growing failure of my bodily strength. I have not yet removed from the attack I experienced the past spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making the personal examinations and giving the personal supervision to the operations in the field which I feel to be necessary. I am so dull that in making use of the eyes of others I am frequently misled. Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained. I know that he will have as gallant and brave an army as ever existed to second his efforts, and it would be the happiest day of my life to see at its head a worthy leader - one that would accomplish more than I could perform and all that I have wished. I hope Your Excellency will attribute my request to the true reason, the desire to serve my country, and to do all in my power to insure the success of her righteous cause.

I have no complaints to make of any one but myself. I have received nothing but kindness from those above me, and the most considerate attention from my comrades and companions in arms. To Your Excellency I am specially indebted for uniform kindness and consideration. You have done everything in your power to aid me in the work committed to my charge, without omitting anything to promote the general welfare. I pray that your efforts may at length be crowned with success, and that you may long live to enjoy the thanks of a grateful people.

With sentiments of great esteem, I am, very respectfully and truly, yours,

R. E. Lee,

Davis did not accept Lee’s resignation. “To ask me to substitute you by someone…more fit to command, or who would possess more of the confidence of the army…is to demand an impossibility,” he concluded.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Purple Heart

The Purple Heart turns 225 years old today.

Created by General George Washington during the American Revolution, the award for “military merit” consisted of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk, edged with silver, featuring the word “merit” stitched across the face.

A soldier who performed “any singularly meritorious action” was eligible to receive the Purple Heart. Soldiers wearing a Purple Heart were allowed to pass guards and sentinels without challenge and they had their names inscribed in a “Book of Merit.” Gen. Washington awarded the Purple Heart to just three soldiers during the American Revolution: Elijah Churchill, William Brown, and Daniel Bissell, Jr.

The Purple Heart was forgotten until 1927, when a movement began to revive the decoration. With Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s support, the Purple Heart was reinstated in 1932, on Gen. Washington’s 200th birthday.

Today, the Purple Heart holds true to Washington’s original design, but it also features a bust of Washington and his coat of arms. The Purple Heart is America’s oldest military decoration for military merit. It is awarded to members of the U. S. military who have been killed and wounded by the enemy. Soldiers who have suffered maltreatment as prisoners of war are also eligible to receive the Purple Heart.

Monday, August 6, 2007

"Too Familiar with Disappointments to be very much Chagrined"

The twenty-three year old declared himself a candidate for the Illinois state legislature. The Sangamo Journal published his campaign platform. He was all for internal improvements—roads, canals, and railroads—and he declared that education was “the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” The candidate concluded his platform with a special plea:

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed. I am young and unknown to many of you. I was born and have ever remained in the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relations to recommend me. My case is thrown exclusively upon the independent voters of this county, and if elected they will have conferred a favor upon me, for which I shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate. But if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.

Your friend and fellow-citizen,
A. Lincoln

Today marks the 175th anniversary of that election.

Though Lincoln was not elected to the state legislature in 1832, he had reason to feel satisfied with his performance. He had received 277 of the 300 votes cast in the New Salem precinct, where he was well-known.

More than a quarter-century later, as he prepared to run for the presidency, Lincoln looked back on his unsuccessful bid for the legislature. It had been “the only time I ever have been beaten by the people,” he proudly concluded.

Lincoln would run for the state legislature two years later, was successfully elected, and reelected three more times.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Phillip Shaw Paludan

This is tough. I just found out that Phillip Shaw Paludan has passed away.

He was one of the foremost Lincoln scholars in the country. A People’s Contest is an absolutely masterful study of the war’s impact on the North and his book on Lincoln’s Presidency is considered a standard text. Paludan was a winner of the most prestigious award in the field, the Lincoln Prize.

Professor Paludan meant a lot to me. He was my mentor. I was one of his graduate students at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

What can I say? If it weren’t for Professor Paludan, I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing today.

He was so smart! Read one of his books or articles and you’ll see what I mean. He was like that in class, at conferences, and in conversation. He had the most analytical mind of anyone I’ve ever met. He had statistics and anecdotes at his command. It was like he thought about things on an entirely different level. He pushed himself and always encouraged his students to get to that next level.

I can’t tell you how many times I went into his office and just talked with him. He always made me feel welcome, which is a rarity among academics. But more than that, he seemed like he cared about my plans for the future. I talked with him about entering a Ph.D. program and he encouraged me to do it.

I emailed him a copy of the first seminar paper I wrote in Carbondale. When I went home for Christmas break, I met him on campus. He read the paper, gave me such insightful comments, and then we spent the next hour or so just talking about things. I never will forget how that conversation ended.

“I’m a fan of your work,” he said.

That blew me away! A fan of my work?

He was the best. I will miss him, but I won’t forget him.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sarah Lincoln Grigsby

Most people don’t know that Abraham Lincoln had a sister. Two years and two days older than her famous brother, Sarah Lincoln remains the most elusive member of the Lincoln family.

Most historians spend little time describing Sarah because the evidence is so contradictory. We don’t really know what she looked like. A childhood friend described her as “heavy built,” but added that she looked like her brother. A cousin couldn’t do much better, calling her a “short built woman,” but he too contradicted himself by claiming she was 5’10”.

Her personality is a little easier to get to. Classmates, a brother-in-law, and a cousin agree—she was a “smart woman.” Sources echo the assessment of an employer, who called her a “good, kind, amiable girl.”

Sarah was just eleven when she lost her mother. The death of a parent often represents the death of a way of life and this case is no exception. The domestic duties fell onto Sarah’s shoulders. She cooked, cleaned, mended clothes, and became a surrogate mother to her nine year old brother. The daily tasks might soon become routine, but the emotional toll was immense. “She’d git so lonesome, missin’ her mother, she’d set by the fire an’ cry,” remembered a cousin.

But Sarah, her brother, and father were survivors. Thomas Lincoln eventually remarried and the cabin was soon filled with new stepsisters and a stepbrother.

On this date, 181 years ago, Sarah Lincoln married Aaron Grigsby in southern Indiana.

The Lincolns knew the Grigsby family well. Their cabins were only three miles apart, they belonged to the same church, and their children attended the same schools; however, they were considered more prominent than the Lincolns. Reuben Grigsby had fathered 16 children and built the only two-story cabin in the neighborhood, causing one historian to dub them the “aristocracy of the backwoods.” Sarah Lincoln’s new husband was the oldest Grigsby, he had received a substantial education, and may have even studied law.

Less than a year after the marriage, Sarah became pregnant, but like so many stories from the period, there was no happy ending.

Something went terribly wrong on January 20, 1828. Though it is impossible to know how far along she was in her pregnancy, neighbors said Sarah Lincoln Grigsby went into labor. A young neighbor remembered that her mother went to Sarah’s bedside, but quickly recognized she was in trouble. She yelled for her husband to get a doctor, but it was too late. “They let her lay too long,” she concluded.

Lincoln broke down when they told him his sister had died. “I never will forget that scene,” said Redmond Grigsby, “He sat down in the door to the smokehouse and buried his face in his hands. The tears slowly trickled from between his bony fingers and his gaunt frame shook with sobs.” He was so distraught, the Grigsbys simply “left him to his grief.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Don't Challenge the Record!

The state of Illinois is officially operating without a budget. Governor Rob Blagojevich has reached out to state employees, pleading with them to continue reporting to work, even though the state no longer has the authority to pay them.

“Despite this prospect, I hope you will continue to perform your duties until a full year’s budget is in place. With your cooperation, the people who count on state government will experience no inconveniences,” Blagojevich wrote.

I have to believe that state officials will compromise and reach a budget soon, but in the meantime, I fear the state’s historic sites will be among the first to suffer.

For instance, yesterday’s Illinois State Journal-Register reported that the looming state government shutdown has already put the shooting of a promotional film in jeopardy.

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site was footing the $200,000 bill for the 20-minute, high definition film. Normally, a national historic site would not feel the effects of a state government shutdown, but this is a unique case.

Producers had planned on shooting several scenes at state historic sites throughout central Illinois, including the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, and Lincoln’s New Salem. Those are all state-run sites.

Without a budget, how much longer can these sites remain open?

Governor Blagojevich has already tapped the state’s contingency plans to keep essential state service operating. No word on whether state historic sites are considered “essential state services.”

This isn’t the first time the state has been operating without a budget. Illinois went 19 days without a budget in 1991 and a record 55 days in 2004.

Let me be among the first to say: "Don't Challenge the Record!"