Thursday, December 20, 2007

2008 Lincoln Symposium, Feb. 11-12, Springfield, IL

Lincoln, 1863

The Abraham Lincoln Association has announced the lineup for the 2008 Lincoln Symposium and, I must say, it is quite impressive!

This year, the event has been expanded to two days. As always, however, the program remains free of charge and is open to the public. Here is the lineup:

Monday, February 11, 2008, 1-4 pm, Old State Capitol in Springfield:

Jean H. Baker

Jean H. Baker, "Finding Abe: The Elusive Mr. Lincoln"

Jean H. Baker is Elizabeth Todd Professor of History at Goucher College. A specialist in nineteenth century political and cultural history, Baker is best known for her innovative look at cultural politics, Affairs of Party, and her definitive biography, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. She wrote the introduction to C. A. Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Her current interest in in exploring the suffragist movement resulting in Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists.

Mark E. Neely, Jr.

Mark E. Neely, Jr., "A Life in Politics: Lincoln and the American Party Systems"

Mark E. Neely, Jr., is McCabe-Greer Professor of Civil War History at Pennsylvania State University. A prolific writer on Lincoln and the Civil War era, Neely is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. His recent research has explored party organization and behavior in the Civil War, as reflected in The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North and The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era.

Douglas L. Wilson

Douglas L. Wilson, "Lincoln's Rhetoric"

Douglas L. Wilson taught English and American Literature for 33 years at Knox College, where he is now co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center. His work on Abraham Lincoln has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, American Heritage, Time, and The American Scholar. He has written or edited six books on Lincoln, including three in which he collaborated with Rodney O. Davis—Herndon’s Informants: Letters and Interviews about Abraham Lincoln, Herndon’s Lincoln, and The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (forthcoming). Two of his books, Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words, won both the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize and the Lincoln Prize.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008, 1-4 pm, Old State Capitol in Springfield:

Brian R. Dirck

Brian R. Dirck, "Abraham Lincoln's Ethic of Distance"

Brian R. Dirck is an Associate Professor of History at Anderson University. His special areas of interest are Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War era, and American political and legal history. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Lincoln and Davis: Imagining America, 1809-1865, and Lincoln the Lawyer. He is currently working on a study of Lincoln and American race relations, which will be published sometime in 2009. Dirk is the publisher of the informative A. Lincoln Blog ( containing commentary on Lincoln appearances in contemporary media as well as historical controversies.

Brooks D. Simpson

Brooks D. Simpson, "Abraham Lincoln: Commander-in-Chief"

Brooks D. Simpson is Professor of History and Humanities at Arizona State University. He is author of several books on the Civil War and Reconstruction era including Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868, The Political Education of Henry Adams, America’s Civil War, The Reconstruction Presidents, and Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865. Simpson has edited a volume of Abraham Lincoln’s letters and speeches, a volume of letters of advice to Andrew Johnson, and a volume of William T. Sherman’s letters. He is currently working on the second and final volume of his biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

Michael Vorenberg

Michael Vorenberg, "Lincoln the Citizen--Or Lincoln the Anti-Citizen?"

Michael Vorenberg is an Associate Professor of History at Brown University. His interests are in the intersection of three topics: Civil War and Reconstruction; Legal and Constitutional History; and Slavery, Emancipation, and Race. His first book, Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment, was widely acclaimed. His current book project is Reconstructing the People: The Invention of Citizenship During the American Civil War.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Psychic Lincoln?

The Chicago Sun Times ran an article this morning about a curious new book called, The Psychic Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Surprisingly, the author claims that Lincoln “was a pretty psychic guy.” I’ve not read the book, nor do I know how to quantify one’s psychic ability; nonetheless, I want to take issue with one of the author's statements.

According to the author of the book, Lincoln scholars discredit Lincoln’s interest in spiritualism “because they believe it’s goofy.”

I disagree. If spiritualism has been downplayed or even ridiculed by some Lincoln scholars, I don’t think that is evidence of their bias. I think they are merely reflecting Lincoln’s bias.

Lincoln was not a spiritualist. Like thousands of nineteenth century Americans, his wife was intrigued by spiritualism. Upon her invitation, several séances were held in the White House. On at least one occasion, the president attended one of these sessions, but he left before it was even finished. He was confident that the medium was a fraud.

The article contains a nice quote from a very fine author, Sarah Vowell, who summarizes the problem with many Lincoln theories:

Lincoln is like one of those novelty mirrors with a beard painted on the glass. Americans tend to see themselves in him. If you’re a gay Republican, you think he’s a gay Republican. If you’re mopey, you get relatively excited that he was depressed, too.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Countdown to Sumter--Part 2

Taken at Fort Moultrie with Fort Sumter in the Distance

Just after the War of 1812, the American military began building a series of forts on the Southern coast of the United States. The plans for Charleston, South Carolina were ambitious. Beginning in 1829, engineers imported 70,000 tons of New England granite to build up a sandbar in the middle of the harbor. They built a five-sided fort, about 190 feet long, with walls five feet thick and 50 feet high. The plans called for the fort to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers. By 1860, the structure was not only unmanned, but it was also incomplete. However, it still worried Major Robert Anderson.

Major Anderson continued to send dispatches from his vulnerable position in Fort Moultrie. He told Washington he needed reinforcements and more supplies, but the administration made it clear than no help was on the way. Secretary of State Lewis Cass reportedly resigned because he was disgusted with the way President James Buchanan was handling (or not handling) the secession crisis.

On this date in 1860, Major Anderson sent a dispatch to the Buchanan administration. He outlined his fears about Fort Sumter once more. He suspected that it was only a matter of time before the secessionists captured the fort and began shelling his position at Fort Moultrie. “I shall, of course, prepare here for the worst,” he wrote.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mary Todd Lincoln's Birthday

Mary Todd Lincoln, 1846

Today is Mary Todd Lincoln’s birthday.

This is the earliest daguerreotype of Mary. It was taken sometime in 1846 when Lincoln was running for Congress. Though she looks a bit anxious, her eyes are full of life. There is something in her expression that says she is interested in what the future holds. As the years wore on and the tragedies piled up, her expression changed dramatically.

If you are interested in learning more about Mary, there are a number of very fine books out there, including the biography by Jean Baker. I also recommend these titles:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

News on Burlingame's Multi-volume Lincoln Bio

Special thanks to Andrew Wagenhoffer, who runs a fine blog called Civil War Books and Authors, for calling my attention to a new story in The Biographer’s Craft on Michael Burlingame.

For those of you unfamiliar with Burlingame’s work…get familiar with it! His 1997 offering The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln is magnificent, as are his many edited volumes. But for almost a decade now, we have heard rumors about a multi-volume Lincoln biography. It appears as if it will hit shelves next year!

The Johns Hopkins University Press plans to publish Abraham Lincoln: A Life as a two-volume set totaling a whopping 2,000 pages. The price is surprisingly reasonable at $75.

But this won’t be your standard biography:

In a nod to the age of cyberspace, Burlingame also obtained permission to create an unusual internet version of his book. Like a director's cut DVD, this version of the biography will include all the material left on the cutting floor. Especially valuable to researchers will be the longer version of the footnotes. And, like Wikipedia, the on-line version of the biography will be continuously updated and corrected.

To put it mildly, this is going to be an important book. I'll pass along more news when it becomes available.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Countdown to Sumter--Part 1

RObert Anderson After the War

There were a number of very vocal Americans who were dissatisfied with the result of the Election of 1860. There were many threats, but nothing catastrophic had happened. No state had left the Union yet, but the Buchanan administration was worried. Early in November they sent an inspector to the center of secessionism, Charleston, South Carolina, both to gauge public opinion and take note of the harbor defenses.

On November 13, 1860, the inspector’s report reached Washington. The harbor was defended by three forts: Fort Sumter, which was still unfinished, Castle Pinckney, and Fort Moultrie. At that time, five company officers, 64 artillerymen, nine musicians, and a hospital steward garrisoned Fort Moultrie, while the aged Lieutenant Colonel John L. Gardner commanded the force. Most disturbingly, reported the inspector, Fort Moultrie was especially vulnerable. It had been designed to ward off a seaward attack; if the people of Charleston attacked the Moultrie, they might be successful.

Two days after receiving the report, the administration ordered Major Robert Anderson to replace Col. Gardner.

Anderson had impressive credentials. He was a graduate of West Point (class of ’25), he had served in the Black Hawk War (where he mustered Abraham Lincoln in and out of army service), and he was a veteran of the Mexican War. More importantly, however, Anderson was a Southerner by birth and marriage. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky and married into a prominent slaveholding family from Georgia. Furthermore, he was unquestionably loyal to the United States. If anyone could calm the secessionists in Charleston Harbor, the Buchanan administration believed Anderson was the one.

After arriving in Charleston, Anderson sent word to Washington. He feared that secessionists would soon turn violent. Like the inspector, he felt vulnerable in Fort Moultrie. He suspected that the secessionists would make a move to capture Fort Sumter and use it to bombard his men at Moultrie. He wanted reinforcements, both for Fort Moultrie and more men to garrison in Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney.

But the administration would not send reinforcements. Instead, on this date in 1860, Secretary of War John Floyd sent General Don Carlos Buell to speak with Anderson in Charleston. Here is a memorandum of Buell’s instructions:

Memorandum of verbal instructions to Major Anderson, 1st Artillery, commanding at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina:

You are aware of the great anxiety of the Secretary of War that a collision of the troops with the people of this State shall be avoided, and of his studied determination to pursue a course with reference to the military force and forts in this harbor which shall guard against such a collision. He has, therefore, carefully abstained from increasing the force at this point, or taking any measures which might add to the present excited state of the public mind, or which would throw any doubt on the confidence he feels that South Carolina will not attempt by violence to obtain possession of the public works or interfere with their occupancy. But as the counsel and acts of rash and impulsive persons may possibly disappoint these expectations of the Government, he deems it proper that you shall be prepared with instructions to meet so unhappy a contingency. He has, therefore, directed me verbally to give you such instructions.

You are carefully to avoid every act which would needlessly tend to provoke aggression, and for that reason you are not, without evident and imminent necessity, to take up any position which could be construed into the assumption of a hostile attitude. But you are to hold possession of the forts in this harbor, and if attacked you are to defend yourself to the last extremity. The smallness of your force will not permit you, perhaps, to occupy more than one of the three forts, but an attack on or attempt to take possession of either one of them will be regarded as an act of hostility, and you may then put your command into either of them which you may deem most proper, to increase its power of resistance. You are also authorized to take similar defensive steps whenever you have tangible evidence of a design to proceed to a hostile act.

D. C. Buell, Assistant Adjutant-General.

December 11, 1860.

This is in conformity to my instructions to Major Buell.
John B. Floyd, Secretary of War.

Monday, December 10, 2007

John Brown Fetches $97,750

Auctioneer Wes Cowan holds the daguerreotype

I have always been fascinated by John Brown. No doubt about it, he is one of the most controversial figures in American history.

To call him an abolitionist is an understatement. He was a religious zealot who genuinely believed he was doing God’s work. To some Northerners, he was Moses; to many others, he was Judas or worse.

More on that debate later.

But this story from the Columbus Dispatch got me thinking about John Brown this morning.

There are only about a half dozen original daguerreotypes of John Brown. The one pictured above had been in Brown’s family for five generations, but they recently put it up for auction to pay for medical bills. Well, it sold for a whopping $97,750 on Friday!

I have never seen this particular daguerreotype. I am more familiar with this one:

John Brown

In this pose, Brown is posing with a flag in his left hand, while raising his right hand, apparently taking an oath of some sort. This daguerreotype sold for $115,000 in 1997 and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Apparently both of these daguerreotypes were taken during the same sitting at Washington’s Hartford studio in 1846 or 1847.

No word on what the winning bidder plans to do with his recent purchase.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"The Mystic Chords of Memory"

Pearl Harbor

It is hard to look at today’s date and not think of 1941.

Historians often highlight decisive moments in history. We talk about watershed events that transformed societies, countries, and the world. But, I fear that traditional history often fails us. We can read about moments in time, but can we ever really recover the feeling that accompanied such events?

I often use the example of 9-11 when talking about such events. It was the most significant moment in American history during my lifetime. My students remember where they were when they heard the news. The images are forever burned in our minds. Few of us can claim that the event did not change us, either on a personal or a national level. Perhaps feeling by proxy is as close as we can get to capturing a moment in time.

Earlier generations have had their version of 9-11. The Revolutionary generation called the opening volley of the war for independence “the shot heard ‘round the world.” The phrase connotes some of the shock and fear they felt when they realized they were now at war with the most powerful empire in the world.

A few generations later, news of the fall of Fort Sumter rocked the nation, both North and South. Some were overjoyed, others were horrified; yet somehow, everyone knew that life would never be the same.

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. American casualties were staggering: 2,333 killed and another 1,139 wounded. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history. He told the American people that December 7 was “a date which will live in infamy” and he asked Congress to declare war on the Japanese empire. The event brought the United States into the most destructive war in human history.

But December 7 is not simply a “watershed event in American history,” nor does it simply evoke black-and-white memories of burning battleships in Pearl Harbor. December 7 is even more powerful.

When Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans that they were forever united by a common history, which he called “the mystic chords of memory,” he was not simply talking about people, places, and events outlined in standard history textbooks. He was talking about shared experience that connected not only the North and South, but also the present with the past.

While we were not alive in 1775, 1861, or 1941, we lived through 9-11. We certainly know what it is like to be shocked as a nation, just as we know what it is like to grieve as one.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Dozen Reasons Why Google Books is Good

Lincoln and Tad

I've known about Google Books for quite sometime, but I have never searched it as thoroughly as I should have.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Google has collected thousands of books and made the scanned images available for you on the internet. I’m not just talking about a book cover and an index here, I’m talking about full scans of every page. Most importantly, at least in my eyes, these books are fully searchable. Oftentimes, I remember a quote, but can’t recall which book I found it in. When I type part of the quote into the search engine, Google tells me where it came from.

A few caveats are in order. Google Books is most helpful with books that are now out of print. Books that are in print will often be available on a very limited basis. Perhaps only the table of contents or the index is available for those books.

Nonetheless, as a historian, I am often most interested in those books that have long been out of print and are especially difficult to track down via inter-library loan.

A few days ago, I went to Google Books and typed in “Abraham Lincoln.” In less than a second I received 11,000 hits. No real surprise there, but of course, the challenge is to sort through those hits and identify the real gems.

Only about one-fourth of those titles were available in their entirety; however, it takes quite a while to examine all 3,068 Lincoln-related books.

I spent a bit of time with it yesterday and wanted to call your attention to a dozen titles that have a great deal of value. Remember these texts are fully available and searchable via Google Books:

Isaac Newton Arnold, The History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery

George Bancroft, Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Abraham Lincoln

William E. Barton, Abraham Lincoln and his Books

Francis Fisher Browne, The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln

Lord Charnwood, Abraham Lincoln

William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life

Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847 – 1865

Alexander Kelly McClure, “Abe” Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Henry Rankin, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln

Ida M. Tarbell, The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln

Allan Thorndike Rice, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of his Time

Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

National Archives: The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth

Book of Secrets

Back in April I reported on the new Nicholas Cage film, National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets. Though the film is a work of fiction set in modern-day America, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln does play a part in the plot. The film is set to be released on December 21, 2007.

Today, I am happy to report that the National Archives is doing a bit of cross-promotion, no doubt hoping to attract some movie-goers. They have launched a new exhibit called The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth, which presents a selection of original documents from the 12-day manhunt for Lincoln's assassin. The exhibit is in the East Rotunda Gallery from December 3 to January 1, 2008.

Monday, December 3, 2007

"Delay is Dangerous"

Although the Election of 1860 was now over a month old, the voices of secession were still sounding off. The editor of the Charleston Mercury in South Carolina was just as impatient as ever to initiate the Revolution of 1860.

On this day in 1860, he published an editorial titled, “Delay,” which outlined the reasons why secession needed to occur immediately. Not only is the editor angry with the “Abolition Administration to be installed the 4th of March next,” but he also blames the state of Virginia and the “daring submissionist” Crittenden for prolonging South Carolina’s time in the Union.

I have added today’s editorial to the Primary Documents section. Here it is in full:


The Charleston Mercury, December 3, 1860

One of the ablest and most influential men in Mississippi, has been kind enough to send to a friend in this city, the proceedings of the people of Lowndes county, held at Columbus, on the 19th November. After various details, to show the encouraging state of things in Mississippi, he concludes his letter as follows: The developments since I wrote you some days since, confirm me in the opinion that it is wisest for South Carolina to act—that co-operation will surely follow; and in a little while all the States of the South will be under a new government. Delay is dangerous. It is the only policy our enemies have yet been able to suggest; and if they secure its adoption, their ultimate purpose will be accomplished. This, believing in the imminency of the danger to the South, is the opinion of our people here; and while they feel great hesitation in suggesting any policy to South Carolina, they feel confident that this is the wisest course.

In our issue of Saturday our readers will see from our correspondent in Washington that this policy of delay is in full development in Washington, and, we doubt not, has been sent all over the Southern States by the agent of the Administration. We are to delay “until Virginia can be heard,” according to the modest proposal of the Hon. Mr. GARNETT, at the late Essex meeting. We are to delay, until we shall see whether their Personal Liberty Acts will not be repealed by the Legislatures of Northern States. We are to delay, until all the Southern States shall meet in Convention for conference. We are to delay, until Mr. LINCOLN’S Administration shall show, by “overt acts,” its hostility to the South. We propose briefly to take up these several causes for delay:

1. We are to delay, “that Virginia may be heard.” Why should the Southern States delay any action of theirs, “that Virginia may be heard?” Did not Mississippi and South Carolina speak to Virginia last winter, through their Commissioners formally sent to her, and did Virginia heed their counsels? No. She rejected their proposal, simply, to hold a conference with them and the other Southern States. Virginia declined counselling with us, because her views of her interests differed from ours. She set up an alienation and separation from us, against our most earnest remonstrances and efforts; and if she now seeks to be heard by us, what is her object? Is it to aid us in our views of policy—to preserve our rights or save our institutions? Not at all. It is to defeat our policy by a Southern Convention, and to drag us along in subserviency to her views of her border interests. If we respectfully decline to delay in our course, that she “may be heard,” we only treat her, as she has previously treated us. We will be very glad to hear her at all times; but to pause in the vindication of our rights, when, not nine months ago, she refused even to counsel with us for their preservation, would be the sheerest weakness and folly.

2. But what does Virginia propose that we should do? Why, that the Southern States should make another begging appeal to the Northern States, “to preserve the guaranties of the Constitution.” Suppose one man should deliberately violate a compact with another man, every year, for thirty years, and then should give him notice that he intended to kill him—what would be thought of the manhood or the wisdom of the poor oppressed devil, should he go to his oppressor, and beg him “once more” to observe “the guaranties of the Constitution” with him? Would not any unbiased observer, believe him to be an idiot? If such a “method of redress” was proposed by Virginia, after the Southern States had seceded from the Union, there might be some little reason in it, although the Northern States have shown that they are utterly incapable of observing any compact with any people. They would then, however, have a motive to recede from their aggressive and insulting course towards the South. But the South is to delay—she is to do nothing she is not to secede—only beg. What does “delay” mean, under such circumstances, but submission, and the perpetuation of that “blessed Union” which Virginia would not venture even to disturb last winter, by the poor expedient of conference amongst the Southern States ?

3. But we are to delay action further, to see if the Northern Legislatures will not repeal their Personal Liberty Laws. So far as the Cotton States are concerned, these laws, excepting in the insult they convey to the South, and the faithlessness they indicate in the North, are not of the slightest consequence. Few or none of our slaves are lost, by being carried away and protected from recapture in the Northern States. Nor to the frontier States, are they of much consequence. Their slaves are stolen and carried off—not by the agency of these Personal Liberty Laws—but by the combination of individuals in the Northern States. What are these acts as indications of the hostility and faithlessness of the Northern people towards the South (and they are nothing more), when compared with the mighty sectional despotism they have set up over the South in the election of Messrs. LINCOLN and HAMLIN to the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of the United States? Repeal that, and there would be something to invite delay. The real causes of dissatisfaction in the South with the North, are in the unjust taxation and expenditure of the taxes by the Government of the United States, and in the revolution the North has effected in this government, from a confederated republic, to a national sectional despotism. To prevent these evils, the South has already delayed thirty-five years. She is to “delay” longer, upon the mere speculation that the Northern States, without any inducement created by our action, may, in some eighteen months or two years, repeal their Personal Liberty Laws. What does such a policy mean, but submission?

4. The last motive for delay goes beyond the 4th of March next. It is that the Abolition Administration to be installed the 4th of March next, in Washington, has not yet made an “overt act” in the way of Abolitionism against the Southern States. Although you see your enemy load his rifle with the declared purpose of taking your life, you are to wait, as a wise expedient of defense, until he makes the “overt act” [and] shoots you. This is one of those glaring absurdities, which only such daring submissionists as BOTTS and CRITTENDEN are capable of proposing. No ordinary man, can hope to comprehend its mysterious sublimities.