Now scrolling: The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Friday, November 28, 2008

As Abraham Lincoln said....

" a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

Nice to hear that Lincoln is alive and well in Presidential acceptance speeches. And this is just the beginning. Not only is Obama's Inauguration theme, "A New Birth of Freedom," taken from a line in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, but his entire leadership style seems to be informed by Lincoln's political wisdom.

It is no secret that Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about Lincoln, "A Team of Rivals," has inspired his method of choosing a cabinet, from retaining Robert Gates to considering Hillary Clinton. His preference for strong personalities with dissimilar views says as much about his own security among opposition as it does about his admiration of a man who made similar bold choices -- a man from his own home state of Illinois.

Goodwin, who met with Obama about her book, recently told NEWSWEEK, "I think he's got a temperamental set of qualities that have some resemblance to Lincoln's emotional intelligence."

If so, he is positioned for a time with as much conflict as the Civil War offered Lincoln. A rising star in his own right, he will need all the considerable gifts he has been given to navigate the economic and political minefields ahead.

But then, this is what great men are raised up to do.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lincoln and Douglas 150 years later

The 150th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates is still being celebrated in the seven Illinois cities where they originally took place. These debates, from August through October of 1858, targeted the expansion of slavery in the new territories and proved that you can win even when you lose. Though Lincoln lost the senatorial election, he gained so much public favor that he ultimately won the future presidential election.

A few interesting quotations came from these debates. Lincoln called a self-evident truth "the electric cord ... that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together."
But my favorite analogy of the expansion of slavery is still in his Hartford Connecticut speech of March 5, 1860, where he compared it to a "snake in the Union bed." Finding a snake on the road and killing it, he would be a hero. Finding a snake in his children's bed, he might not kill it for fear of inciting it to bite, but deliberatey tossing a snake into a perfectly safe bed (the new territories) would be foolish. That chilling image of tossing a snake into a place of safety always gets my attention. I wonder if he would have won that senate seat had he used this analogy in 1858. Then I wonder, if he had won that senate seat, might his career have taken a different path altogether less meaningful?
Not if Mary had anything to say about it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

She was up to her ears in it

Even into the 21st Century, advocates of Mary Surratt keep hoping that evidence will surface proving her final words on the gallows to be true: "I am innocent."

But those hoping for her exoneration will be disappointed by Kate Clifford Larson’s book, Assassin’s Accomplice. Larson, initially setting out to prove Surratt’s innocence, became more convinced of her complicity in the course of researching the book. Though wisely leaving the bigger questions unanswered, Larson’s overall pronouncement is – guilty as charged.

I guess it is hard to believe that you could host a series of meetings at your boardinghouse and never once wonder what your son and his handsome friend were up to.

Larson unearths some careful evidence to back up her claims, but never loses that curious respect that we all seem to acquire for Mary Surratt. She points out that Surratt was one of the 19th Century’s true feminists. She embraced Catholicism against her family’s wishes, survived an abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband, raised her children virtually alone, ran her own business, became totally sold out to the Confederate cause, took a man’s risk in a dangerous adventure and accepted a man’s punishment for it. Like Belle Starr, she captures our imagination.

Interesting how Lincoln seemed to have trouble with women named Mary. But if her boardinghouse really was the nest that hatched the egg of the assassination plot, as Johnson claimed it was when refusing her pardon, then surely her death provided the first opportunity for a divided nation to agree on anything. Most people wanted her life spared and were surprised when it wasn’t – right up to the hangman who thought the rope he made for her would never be used.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Lincoln's collar gets around

Happy 4th of July. I had a nice little blog planned about Gettysburg, but then one of my reliable sources informed me that the owner of Lincoln’s blood-stained collar recently died, leaving this strange item up for grabs.
John K. Lattimer, a 92-year-old urologist and ballistics expert (great combination) possessed a rare history collection which included Hermann Göring’s cyanide ampoule, Lincoln’s blood-stained collar, and some other oddities. Lattimer is also the professor who conducted an extensive series of ballistic tests on the Kennedy assassination and published a book about it which I have scrolling on Son of Bookzilla. More about John K. Lattimer.
The story of the blood-stained collar begins at Ford’s Theatre, when Charles Sabin Taft, first on the scene after the shooting, cut off Lincoln’s collar and opened his shirt to examine for wounds. But what became of the collar?

Other assassination couture is more easily accounted for. The Brooks Brothers suit Lincoln wore that night was given to Charles Forbes, Lincoln’s footman, who gave it to Thomas Pendel, who sold it to collector Frank Logan. A second frock coat associated with the assassination was auctioned at Philadelphia to Alphonse Donn, who loaned it to artist Matthew Wilson, who loaned it to Vinnie Ream. Donn was later offered $20,000 for the suit by P.T. Barnum but refused to sell. It was eventually donated to the Chicago Historical Society in 1924. See Brooks Brothers trail.

Which still leaves us with the question, what became of the collar? The standard answer is that souvenir hunters took off with it somewhere between Ford’s and Forbes. More importantly, what will happen to the collar now that Lattimer is gone?

If I had $20,000 to spend on memorabilia, I might consider buying it myself, but then, I’d much rather have the letters he wrote to Joshua Speed.

Mary had a clothing sale of her own not long after she became a widow, but apparently nothing with her husband’s blood on it. That surprises me, considering how savvy she was about making money.

So this 4th of July, as you’re watching the fireworks displays, remember that bad clothing, like bad news, gets around.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Day Inseparable from Its Founder

In his letter to Mrs. Bixby, Lincoln wrote the most consoling words he could find to a mother who had lost her sons in the war. Today, when that letter is read at Memorial Day services, it stirs emotions in those who have suffered loss as if it were written personally for them.

Could Lincoln have seen down the ages at how many mothers would claim that letter as their own?

Not many people realize that Memorial Day started as a day to honor the Civil War dead.
After Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg battlefield, separate traditions to honor the Union and Confederate dead eventually became what we now call Memorial Day.

Robert C. Wilburn, President of the Gettysburg Foundation, acknowledged that Lincoln really set the precedent for this special day when he gave his speech dedicating the grounds.

If you are interested in spending the day where Lincoln gave his most famous speech (and what better way to spend it?), a new Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park offers a number of galleries and exhibits on the war and its aftermath at Gettysburg. Get me to Gettysburg.

During his term in office, Lincoln established several holidays, including Thanksgiving, but even after a century and a half, it is impossible to separate him from the day he never knew he founded – Memorial Day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Usual Suspects?

April 15th is coming up and we all know what day that is -- the day Lincoln died. It is also tax day and the day the Titanic sank.

Anyway, I was looking around, wondering if there were any new assassination theories out there and I came across this one – Mary shot Abe. Now maybe that’s not new, but it’s new to me. I laughed at first, but you know how it is, you start thinking about it and the next thing you know – well, here’s a link to the whole story.

It is intriguing that the weapon used was a woman’s pistol, that the bullet wound was on the side where Mary was sitting, and that she was the only first lady to be refused a widow’s pension. But then, Mary had that kind of luck. And while I don’t believe Lincoln had twins by a Hapsburg, I do know that Mary had plenty of anger toward her husband, enough to threaten him with an axe on one occasion. But who did Mary blame for the assassination? Johnson. Johnson Did It.

But wait, there’s more! Consider these spin-off theories: Lincoln was slated to be kidnaped and turned into an opium addict; Lincoln was really Booth’s spurned lover; Boston Corbett killed Booth to cover up his own complicity; McClellan was seen dining with Booth in Canada; Booth had an understudy and a double.....

If you have a pet conspiracy theory of who really killed Lincoln, see if it isn’t one of these: We All Did It. Don’t worry about how strange your idea might be. After all, there’s a theory that Edgar Allan Poe was killed by his cat. The Cat Did It.

All this may not mean anything but it certainly proves one thing: you can get right up behind somebody, blow him away, trip over a flag, break your leg, get identified by dozens of people and still have to share the spotlight with a bunch of contenders. Poor Booth. From the very beginning, he resented that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lincoln Has Entered the Building

Who says Lincoln is dead? This year he will be more alive than Elvis as a great new traveling exhibit makes its way across the country to coincide with the 200th anniversary celebration of his birth.

"Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation'' will be on display at 63 public, community college and university libraries across the United States through 2010.

Organized in part by the Huntington Library, the panel exhibit features five themes: Young Lincoln's America; The House Dividing; War for the Union; War for Union and Freedom and Legacies.

Musical and educational programs are included, as are photographs of Lincoln's funeral train and historical documents from his presidency. But there is much, much more than this.

Libraries selected for the tour will host the exhibit for a six-week period. For more information on how you can catch Lincoln, see: Lincoln Lives

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Son of the Republic, Look and Learn"

Today is Washington’s birthday.

Most people know that Lincoln had dreams predicting the future, including his own assassination. But not many people realize that Washington had premonitions as well, and one very strange vision at Valley Forge about three great wars that would overtake America.

Washington did not find this vision disturbing, but was happy to know that the Republic would have a future at all. At Valley Forge, he was certain that the new country was finished.

Three times an angel appeared to Washington, heralding "Son of the Republic, look and learn," and presented him with highly symbolic pictures of battles. Washington recognized the first war as the Revolutionary War. The second war can be recognized by us as the Civil War, and the third seems to be a future, unnamed war involving an assault by Europe, Asia and Africa.

Did the vision really happen? Though the text is in the Library of Congress, some doubt it. But LincolnFreak never doubts a good story. Check out one of the many websites presenting George Washington’s Vision.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tours Start Tuesday

Happy Presidents’ Day from LincolnFreak.

Thanks to my excellent Sources, I’ve learned that President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington opens to the public for tours on Tuesday, February 19th.

In 2000, this 34-room Gothic Revival cottage was designated a National Monument. Under the guidance of Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, more than $15 million was raised to renovate the house and turn a nearby building into a visitors’ center.
The cottage was built by businessman George W. Riggs, who sold it in 1851 along with more than 250 acres to the United States government.

It became part of a federal home for retired and disabled veterans, but in 1857, also offered a quiet retreat for presidents.

For more information, check out this great article from the New York Times. Where Lincoln Sought Refuge

Also, if you’ve ever wondered what Lexington, Kentucky looked like in 1847 (Mary’s birthplace, after all) read this article from the Lexington Herald-Leader, forwarded to me from another truly reliable Source. Lexington As Abe Saw It

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Lincoln's Birthday

Happy birthday from LincolnFreak! February 12th truly is Lincoln’s birthday. It comes between Ground Hog Day and Valentine’s Day.

And this is the big 199! That’s right. Next year Abraham Lincoln will be two hundred years old and looking better than ever.

Notice how many books have come out on Lincoln this year? I’ve tried to add as many as I could to Son of Bookzilla, but new ones keep coming out all the time.

On the day before his 52nd birthday in1861, Lincoln gave one of his saddest and most beautiful speeches – his Farewell Address – before boarding a train from Springfield to Washington, D.C.
Now here’s something to ponder. If you could give Lincoln a birthday present today, what would you give him? Somebody suggested the best gift I could give him would be to dismantle this blog.
Also, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so start thinking about "Why I love Lincoln." It could be any number of reasons: I love Lincoln because he represents freedom. I love Lincoln because he struggled to keep the country together. I love Lincoln because I get a day off in the middle of Winter.

You get the idea. So during this month of February which celebrates so many different people and causes – Presidents, Black history, Valentines, the forecasting of Spring – take some time to think about where we would be if Lincoln had never been president. Alternative histories are fun to imagine, but the absence of one key person at one crucial juncture in time could create awful consequences for generations to come.

So happy birthday from LincolnFreak. Enjoy the legacy of a great man.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Douglass and King: What if they had traded places?

On this weekend celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, one wonders what things would have been like if King and Frederick Douglass had traded places. What if King had lived during the Civil War and been the one to advise Lincoln on matters of equal rights and emancipation? Would his thinking have been any different from Douglass’s?

Both men were African Americans in tune with their times and impatient for social change. Both were strong orators. Both had the ear of politically powerful people and became powerful in their own right. Both were anxious to have racial justice backed by law. There’s no question that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been the Frederick Douglass of the 1860's.

But what about Douglass? Suppose he had been thrown into the politics of the Sixties? Would he have been the Martin Luther King, Jr. of that day? Even in his time, Douglass was concerned not just with racial equality, but with the emancipation of women – another radical idea. The Sixties would have suited him well with its air of new freedoms and he would have been right in step with the issues.

Which brings up the next thought. While Douglass escaped assassination in his day, would he have done so in the Sixties, or shared the same fate as the man who so resembled him? Hmm. There’s a choose-your-own-ending adventure here.

Interesting that these two powerful men rose up at crucial times when their talents and strengths were most needed to push forward racial justice causes. No one has quite illustrated the similarities between them the way they have with Kennedy and Lincoln, yet Douglass and King bear curious resemblances that tie in with the whole 100-year picture of repeated history.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Portents on the First Month of the Year

It has been said that if you know how to spend January, you know how to spend the rest of your life.
Lincoln knew how to make the most out of January. Not only did he issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, he also welcomed the first African American to a White House New Year’s Day reception in 1864, and broke his engagement to Mary Todd on January 1st, 1841 -- probably the wisest decision he ever made.

On January 8th, 1863, he appointed John Usher Secretary of the Interior, and on January 8th, 1864, he posed for this stunning photograph for Matthew Brady.

On January 17th, 1851, his father, Thomas Lincoln, passed away from a kidney ailment. Lincoln did not attend the funeral.