Showing posts with label abraham lincoln. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abraham lincoln. Show all posts

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: Lincoln's Sanctuary

Matthew Pinsker
copyright 2003 (National Trust for Historic Preservation)
Oxford University Press

Another interesting book from a few years ago that finally found itself in my hands, Matthew's Pinsker's work is informative, interesting and very readable. It is a very good book that explores a different perspective on President Lincoln and his time in the country's highest elected office. 

I apologize for resorting to such a cliche, but since it is so true in this case I must do so - with as much as  has been written about Abraham Lincoln, his life, his career, his family and other aspects of his life, it is surprising to find something different or new. Pinsker accomplished this difficult task,  thoroughly researching this book about the small summer home that President Lincoln and his family used during Lincoln's time in office. 

On the outskirts of Washington D.C., this cottage was on the same land as a home for disabled soldiers who had no other place to stay. A few similar cottages were also located on this ground, a much more scenic area than the main areas of the city. During the summers of 1862, 1863 and 1864, Lincoln, his wife and their son Tad spent several months at this retreat, which had better ventilation and was much cooler than the more crowded areas around the White House.

Pinsker describes how Lincoln would ride into work every day on horseback, describing his most likely route. He also shows how the military eventually developed more plans for the President's security, including stationing troops around the cottage grounds and providing an escort for Lincoln, even though he did not always appreciate the need for such practices. Some of the men who helped guard or escort the President developed close relationships with him and these trips sometimes gave him the chance to discuss the issues of the day in a more relaxed manner. Some also wrote their observations down, providing some of the new sources Pinsker found in his research.

The author also demonstrates that Lincoln was frequently alone at the cottage, enabling him to use it to do work, as well as thinking about major decisions he had to make. Mary and Tad often took trips to the northeast during the times they had moved to the cottage, and their eldest son Robert did not frequent the cottage or spend much time with his father. Lincoln's family life and relationships are a nice secondary plot (for lack of a better term) of this story.

During these months at the cottage, Lincoln was considering major issues, such as emancipation and how to deal with General McClellan, and this sanctuary, as the title labels it, may have given him enough peace and quiet to reach the decisions he made.
Lincoln also conducted meetings at this cottage, and also hosted many different guests who found his somewhat hidden retreat. 

Besides the actual story that Pinsker tells, I also appreciate the way he did so. His writing flows very well, making the book readable, but what stood out to me was how he discussed some of the sources he uses. Frequently, he would mention a story or report, describe the source it was from and then describe how accurate that source may be. This practice, a sort of historiography, is one I've often seen in end notes or in books specializing on the study of history, but seldom within the text of a work like this. Pinsker blends this analysis into the flow of the narrative very well, and it adds a lot to the book. 

One example that I marked was on page 65 when the author discusses two sources that claimed that Lincoln wrote the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation while at the Soldier's Home, as his sanctuary was known. He reviews a story from painter Frances B. Carpenter as well as one by Rebecca Pommroy, who often worked with the Lincoln family, particularly with child care. The analysis he provides and the conclusions he reaches about these sources do add to the credibility of the book, showing that the author did not simply believe and repeat every story he was able to uncover. This is something I have not seen often in such a book, but I really appreciated it and felt it was one of the strong points of the book. It was nice to see that within the text, without having to flip to the back and try to find the proper end note to see if it provided such information.

Overall, I found this book to be a pleasant read, as well as an educational one. Matthew Pinsker provides a new perspective on President Lincoln and his daily life, including the President's professional and family duties and experiences. It is common for authors to describe Lincoln and his career in the White House, but Pinsker shows that the President spent nearly an entire year at the cottage on the grounds of the soldiers' home and that this sanctuary did give the President time to make decisions, meet important visitors and spend at least some time with his family, while avoiding the crowds surrounding the White House. It was also a more scenic and comfortable home during the heat of Washington summers.

This cottage truly did provide sanctuary for the President, and this is a part of Lincoln's Presidency that deserves more attention. He spent significant time there and pondered (or even made) significant decisions while away from the White House. I unhesitatingly recommend this book to students of Lincoln or the Civil War as a different perspective on Lincoln and his life as President. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: Lincoln Lessons

editors: Frank J. Williams and William D. Pederson
copyright 2009
Southern Illinois University Press

Here is another Abraham Lincoln book from the celebration of the centennial of his birth and another that I have just recently read. I actually finished it a few weeks ago but have not found the time to review it until now. Because of that delay, I am not sure this review will be as long as many of my other ones, but this is a fine book and I do wish to note at least a few thoughts on it. 

This book contains 17 brief essays by various scholars, discussing how studying Abraham Lincoln, his life, politics, family and/or career has influenced their lives and even careers. The essays selected provide a good diversity of viewpoints; on one hand, all do discuss Lincoln's influence in a positive way on their lives, but their careers and experiences are each unique and provide a different perspective than the others. 

While I was reading this book, a question occurred to me: "What would my Lincoln Lesson be?"  I did not come up with an answer and still have not, though it is something I would like to ponder a bit more. If I needed to write an essay for such a book, what would I say? As much as I enjoy studying Lincoln's life and career, I should be able to come up with some sort of insight into how my reading has affected or influenced me. Perhaps that's a new level of scholarship or study I need to reach, but it is an idea that has remained in my mind since I read this book. It may be the subject of a future blog entry (or entries.) Or maybe I can adjust the concept and question to be about "Civil War Lessons" or "Siege of Cincinnati Lessons" or other such concepts. Why do I study what I do and how does it benefit me? Surely (Hopefully?) it is for something more than enjoyment.

I hesitate to single out any individual essay from this book as they all deserve attention and I cannot give each of them the time it deserves, but I must say I was a bit sad while reading A View from the Lincoln Museum by  Joan Flinspach about her experiences at the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Throughout the essay, as she discussed the museum's exhibits and future hopes and plans, I had a nagging, sad thought and this was confirmed by an editor's note at the end of the essay - the museum closed down in 2008. I did feel sad for her about that, especially as the museum had made some ambitous plans for the future, but I appreciate the editors leaving this essay in the book, providing the views of a museum professional. 

I did enjoy this book and each essay in it. Each has its own author, so that naturally leads to different writing styles, but the editors did a great job in putting together a good and thought-provoking book with different perspectives. Just look at the third paragraph of this review to see its effect on me. If a good book is one that leads to further questions, study and thought, then this book certainly qualifies as a good  book, at least from where I sit.

The Thinker, courtesy wikipedia

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Favorite Lincoln Response of Mine

Allen Gathman has been doing an excellent job of following the situation developing in Kentucky 150 years ago this month (while most attention - now, as well as then - focuses/focused on Maryland) at his very enjoyable Seven Score and Ten blog, including correspondence found in the Official Records. I highly recommend readers check it out, especially as Union officials try to figure out where Braxton Bragg and his Confederates were located and where Don Carlos Buell's Union troops found themselves. Was the threat to Louisville? Or to Cincinnati? Or both? It was not always an easy situation to read.

My personal favorite entry is this one from September 12 as it contains one of my favorite pieces of communication that President Lincoln ever sent. I will copy and paste this response below, but will not copy the whole correspondence between Lincoln and Union officials in Kentucky as you can see that on Allen's site. (I added the emphasis in bold.)

WASHINGTON, September 12, 1862.

 Major-General BOYLE, Louisville, KY:

Your dispatch of last evening received. Where is the enemy which you dread in Louisville? How near to you to? What is General Gilbert’s opinion? With all possible respect for you I must think General Wright’s military opinion is the better. He is as much responsible for Louisville as for Cincinnati. General Halleck telegraphed him on this very subject yesterday and I telegraph him now, but for us here to control him there on the ground would be a babel of confusion which would be utterly ruinous. Where do you understand Buell to be and what is he doing?

This response always fascinates me, especially when the President openly admits he respects General Horatio Wright's opinion more than General Jeremiah Boyle's. That's a pretty blunt and frank statement, especially from a man often considered to be very diplomatic and patient with many of his troops (especially this early in the war.) Perhaps this is a reflection of Lincoln's stress level, considering with the Confederates invasion of Maryland (being defended by General George McClellan, in whom Lincoln did much have much faith), this apparent invasion of Kentucky with such demands coming from Boyle and others, and Lincoln's waiting for an opportunity to introduce the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which he knew would be a huge announcement once he found the right time. The late summer and fall of 1862 was a very difficult time of the war for Lincoln and this response may be a sign of that.

Boyle's response is interesting too, beginning with the admission he did not expect the Confederates to be near Louisville soon and then stating he did not believe Bragg had a large force in the state.

All-in-all, this small exchange shows Lincoln taking charge of the situation, expressing his honest feelings in trying to determine if the situation was truly serious or was simply an over-reaction by Union leaders in the area. This was just one of the worries Lincoln had at the time, but if it was not truly as bad as he had been told, it was a waste of his time. Eventually, the situation did become quite serious with Bragg (and Kirby Smith) having troops in the state that Lincoln so badly wanted to keep in the Union, leading to the Battle of Perryville, one of the most severe fights in the western theater of the war.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Use of the term "Emancipation Proclamation" in March 1862

I realize that Abraham Lincoln sent a message to Congress on March 6, 1862, recommending compensated gradual emancipation of slaves in states that were willing to have slaves in their states gradually emancipated, but this is the first time I have seen the term "Emancipation Proclamation" used in reference to that message (or any message besides the preliminary and official proclamations Lincoln issued September 22, 1862 and January 1, 1863.

This is from the Covington Journal of March 15, 1862 and is a brief story entitled "Almost a Secessionist."

The Cincinnati Commercial's Washington correspondent says that on Thursday in the Senate Garrett Davis made "almost a secession speech" on the President's Emancipation Proclamation."

It seems like a year later that term would carry much more meaning to anybody reading it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Our Lincoln, edited by Eric Foner

Edited by Eric Foner
copyright 2008
W.W. Norton & Company

As the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth approached in 2009, many new books exploring his life, times and legacy came out and I purchased several of them.

Among them was Our Lincoln, a collection of essays edited by Eric Foner, yet somehow this book sat on my shelf until late in 2011, three years after it was published. 

This collection consists of four parts, which are the major topics of the book, and eleven essays, each by a distinguished Lincoln scholar. The sections are "The President," "The Emancipator,' "The Man," and "Politics and Memory." 

The book starts with four essays about Lincoln's role as president. James McPherson describes Lincoln's role as Commander-in-Chief of the Union military forces and how he as a non-professional military man, was able to exert his leadership and influence on the American army and navy during the war.

Mark Neely Jr.  then explores civil liberties under Lincoln's administration. One idea I found fascinating was his description of the well-known controversy over Lincoln's suspension of Habeus Corpus and Judge Roger Taney's opinion that this suspension was unconstitutional. Neely mentions the possibility that Taney's ruling may not have been totally constitutional either, based on at least one reading of the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Sean Wilentz contributes a discussion of Lincoln's political beliefs if relation to his beloved Whig party, the hated Jacksonian Democracy and how these worked together for Lincoln the Republican. He claims Lincoln was not only just a Whig, but that he used theories and practices that Andrew Jackson had espoused as well, despite the Whigs' dislike of "King Andrew." He shows that just because a person like Lincoln accepted a political party as a home did not mean that this person could only understand or believe in one line of political thought, especially with so many issues being vital to American politics.

The next essay, by Harold Holzer, does a fine job of describing how Lincoln controlled his image through the use of the new medium of photography. This section also does a remarkable job of showing how photography worked with and for existing artistic media such as sculpture and painting to shape the President's image. Artists of each of these styles frequently used the others to help them accomplish their goals, such as using photographs to complete a painting or looking at a painting to complete a sculpture. This was an especially educational chapter for me. I had understood how Lincoln had used photography to establish his image, but the inter-relation of the different ways of creating his image was new to me.

In part two, Lincoln's role in emancipating the slaves and his beliefs in race relations are the topics. James Oakes begins it with a discussion of the various types of rights that people at the time, including Lincoln, belidved existed. He shows how Lincoln believed African-Americans deserved "natural rights" (such as described in the Declaration of Independence) and "citizenship rights" (being treated as a citizen of the country, or at least of a state) , but that the concept of "political rights" (such as voting, holding office and serving on juries) was a state's choice. In this case, he argues, Lincoln supported "states rights" and if a state decided not to enfranchise African Americans, that was the state's choice and Lincoln did not oppose it.  I admit I struggled with this concept as it struck me that by denying the so-called "political rights," states could in effect prevent African Americans from enjoying their natural or citizenship rights. Perhaps this is one essay I will need to read and study again.

Eric Foner then contributes his own essay to this section, discussing Lincoln's long-held support of colonization,but also describing how this idea had taken hold in the United States and had quite a few supporters for many years. It is a good overview of colonization, the support it enjoyed at times, and some of the opposition this idea encountered, especially from African-Americans as well as many abolitionists.

Following that discussion comes a view of Lincoln and his relationships with abolitionists, especially black abolitionists, by Manisha Sinha. This essay describes Lincoln's evolution into a supporter of emancipation during the war, and shows how abolitionists helped lead Lincoln to this conclusion. It tries to focus on black abolitionists but I found it to be most effective in describing the role of abolitionists as a whole, not the smaller segment of black abolitionists. Black abolitionists were smaller in numbers and that seems to come across in this essay. Despite that, it is a good review of how those people (white and black) who favored a more immediate abolition of slavery worked with and influenced the President as he moved towards a policy of emancipation.

Part three begins with Andrew Delbanco's review of Lincoln's writing and the language he used, and how it compared to American writing styles that came before him. This was certainly an interesting part of this book. He describes the question of whether Lincoln's words carry the same weight to modern readers as they did to people who heard and read those words in Lincoln's era.

Richard Carwardine's essay Lincoln's Religion describes not just the long argument over what Lincoln actually believed and how he should be listed ( as a Christian or as a member of a specific denomination) but also on Lincoln's ability to understand the importance of religion to a large number of Americans at the time and how he shaped his language to communicate with them and get their support. Carwardine argues that the main instrument that aided the North in its ultimate victory was not just the amount of resources it possessed had, but, rather, its ability to maintain a patriotic spirit and avoid a war weariness that may have lead to a willingness to give up the fight. Many evangelistic Northerners and organizations played a role in maintaining this patriotism.

This section of the book concludes with Catherin Clinton describing the families of Abraham Lincoln - not only that consisting of his wife and children, but also a description of Lincoln's family as  a child, including his father, mother, step-mother and sister. This also includes a discussion of Nancy Hank's ancestry and how it may have influenced Abraham's development and beliefs, a point I had not read or considered before. (His relationship with his father is mentioned too, but that is a bit more common in Lincoln studies than the talk of his mother's background.)

The book concludes with its fourth part, a single essay by David Blight about the theft of Lincoln and his image in politics and memory. This started out as what I thought was a very good look about Lincoln's image is used commercially so frequently (a trend that was noticed in the 1920s" and how some modern writers have used Lincoln and his image and decisions as a basis to further their political agendas. It then evolved into a discussion of how the modern Republican Party has made attempts to use Lincoln and his memory to show this party as being in favor of Civil Rights. "The Party of Lincoln" is a phrase that he shows they have used (or variations of) to try to garner votes from African-Americans. At times, it appeared to me that the author made his own political beliefs a part of this essay, such as his use of the phrase "disaster in Iraq" on page 272 (instead of simply "war in Iraq), but as I read this more and saw how he was tying in Lincoln's image and the concept of memory (a concept which I would like to study more), I found that to be a minor issue. Blight uses several examples to show how certain conservatives have tried o use Lincoln's memory in their favor even when what he believed in may not be the same as what they believe. It is a very interesting essay, one I should ponder again, and a good way to end this book. 

Overall, this was a very good book, covering many aspects of Lincoln, his life and image, and how these factors influence our views of him today.  Our Lincoln is a book I certainly feel that students interested in our 16th President should consider reading and studying. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lincoln and Chase for Peace - an early 1862 article

Here is an interesting article republished in the Covington Journal of January 4, 1862. I think the final paragraph, expressing the thoughts of the Journal's editor is rather appropriate, but I still found the article it published to be interesting. Maybe it was just a sort of wishful thinking on the correspondent's part.


The Washington correspondent of the Maryland News Sheet under date of 26th ult., writes as follows:

"Whatever may be the result of the Mason and Slidell difficulty, it can add but little to the complication of affairs here. Members of the Cabinet are exceedingly disappointed at the failure of the Port Royal expedition - for a failure it is - and also at the inability, frankly expressed by Gen. McClellan to open the route to Richmond. The increasing war expenses begin to weigh most heavily. It is the opinion of men who ought to know, that President Lincoln and Secretary Chase, at least, would be glad to give the South pen and paper, and let them dictate their own terms - to preserve the Union. With all of the Cabinet, the war fever is over. The desire is now for peace."

We know that the public have very justly learned to distrust the facts as well as the speculations of newspaper correspondents, and we give the foregoing, as we find it, for what it is worth.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Ridiculous Blunder

The Covington Journal of December 28, 1861 included this article about a recent action by the state legislature.

The Kentucky Legislature has committed an absurd blunder in requesting President Lincoln to remove Secretary Cameron from office. We don't often find in the Cincinnati Gazette an editorial we can commend to the approval of our readers, but in the following article from that paper there are points suggested which deserve consideration:

"KENTUCKY SOVEREIGNTY - The Kentucky Legislature has by resolution approved the President for modifying the Secretary of War, and called upon the President to dispense with Secretary Cameron's service. it is rather novel of a State Legislature to revise the private difference between the President and his Cabinet, which only became public by accident. It is a new feature also for States to interfere with the President's domestic arrangements, but the occasion is one to make precedents, and modesty is not a Kentucky failing. But certainly the Legislature has left its work very incomplete. There is just as much emancipation in the modified report and in the message, as in the report originally. So there is in Secretary Chase's report. The only difference is that Secretary Cameron thinks that if the negroes can be made to make daylight shine through the rebels in the regular way, according to military regulations, it would be both pleasing and fit to let them. 

Is it possible that the Kentucky Legislature has taken the unusual course of revising private Cabinet affairs, and calling upon the President to discharge a Cabinet officer on a question relating solely to the protection of the rebels from being hurt?

To be consistent, the Legislature should have demanded the resignation of the President, and that he should dispense with the services of the Secretary of the Treasury. 

What is the Kentucky Legislature going to do about it, if the President does not dispense with Mr. Cameron's services? Is that the ultimatum of Kentucky? Is there anybody else that Kentucky wants removed? Let her not lose anything for want of demanding; and since she has taken to revise the President's subordinates and recommendations, she will be held responsible if they are wrong." 

That the resolution was merely intended for Buncombe is evidenced by the fact that an officer of the Legislature who has heartily endorsed the infamous proclamation of Cameron, is allowed to retain his position undisturbed. This, however, only adds to the absurdity of the proceeding. 

The Gazette heads its article "State Sovereignty" - with a view, doubtless, to bring into contempt the good old doctrine that the State is supreme in everything pertaining to its domestic institutions. State Sovereignty, while resisting unwarranted interference, come from what quarter it may, claims no right to regulate or control the appointments of the Federal executive. The notion of the Kentucky Legislature in relation to Cameron, is nearer akin to that officious intermeddling inaugurated by politicians of the North, and which has had no small share in bringing on our present troubles.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

President Lincoln's "Conservatism"

The Covington Journal of December 28, 1861 published this commentary on President Lincoln  what they considered his view of the government and slavery to be.

Within a month or two past we have heard a good deal said about Mr. Lincoln's conservatism on the slavery question. That Mr. Lincoln doesn't favor all of the extreme measures proposed by such impractical radical as Lovejoy and Sumner may be true; but we have no shadow of evidence that he is in any other sense than this a conservative man. We may be pointed to his modification of Cameron's report. The Cincinnati Gazette is about right when it says "there is as much emancipation in the modified report, and in the message, as in the report originally." At any rate Mr. Cameron is retained in the cabinet. The recent appointment by Mr. Lincoln of the notorious Helper to a responsible post, is a stunner to those good people who are willing to vouch for the "conservatism" of the President. 

On this subject we invite attention to the following extract from the Washington correspondent of the Chicago Tribune:

"I am able to correct the painful impression here noticed with regard to the President of the United States, and I do so with the more satisfaction and gratitude that I was deeply grieved, in common with nine tenths of the loyal citizens of the country, by the countermanding of Freemont's proclamation, and by the application of the check-rein to Secretary Cameron's just and wise inclinations. Mr. Lincoln assures his friend, without reserve, in conversation, that he is in favor of measures which shall enable to deprive every rebel, from Virginia to Texas of his slaves, and every other species of property, and that the only disagreement which can arise between himself and Congress will relate to the details of the bill which may be adopted. If any such disagreement shall arise, it will, I presume, relate to the possible involving of loyal masters in the consequences of emancipation to the slaves of their disloyal neighbors."

 Hinton Rowan Helpler caused much controversy with the 1857 publishing of his book The Impending Crisis of the South,with its anti-slavery arguments.

Here is a very good summary of Cameron's report and Lincoln's reaction to it on the excellent Civil War Emancipation blog

Hinton R. Helper, courtesy

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brief article on emancipation

From the Covington Journal of December 14, 1861, comes this article reprinted from another newspaper. The comments here are similar to Lincoln's thoughts as to why emancipation was not a wise course at this point in the war. The comments about extermination of the black race are more harsh than anything Lincoln believed, far more extreme than his support of colonization. Of course, less than a year later, Lincoln would put less emphasis on the desires of border states like Kentucky and proceed with a plan for emancipation.

The Louisville Democrat is outspoken in opposition to the Cameron scheme of emancipation: 

We speak of it plainly: the scheme for general emancipation or arming the blacks will lose every State in the Union. It would take a standing army of 200,000 men to retain Kentucky in the Union, and then the soldiers would be compelled to aid in exterminating the black race. If they are emancipated, there is but one thing to be done with them: they must be wiped out - utterly obliterated. It must be a merciless, savage extermination of the whole tribe.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: Year of Metors

Douglas R. Egerton
copyright 2010
Bloomsbury Press

I had heard some very good reviews and comments about Douglas R. Egerton's recent book Year of Meteors, so it was with great anticipation that I finally grabbed this volume from my shelf and read it for myself. I was not disappointed.

In this work, Egerton discusses the 1860 Presidential election, discussing the many candidates, parties, platforms, hopes, wishes and goals involved in the long, controversial process.

This is a very readable and informative book. It describes this famous election as one expected to feature Stephen Douglas of the Democratic Party and William Henry Seward for the upstart Republicans. Things did not work out that way and Egerton shows how and why such changes occurred.

Discussing the motives of fire-eaters, particularly William Yancey of Alabama and Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, the author shows how the Democrats could not agree on one candidate, as the northern members of the party supported Douglas and his popular sovereignty and Freeport Doctrine beliefs,  while southern members believed those positions were too similar to abolitionist beliefs and fought for more stringent guarantees of and protection for slavery. Eventually, the party split and Vice-President John Breckenridge of Kentucky became the choice of the Southern Democrats, while Douglas ran under the banner of the Northern Democrats, both sides claiming to represent the national party's interests. For some party members like Yancey and Rhett, this was not a bad thing.

Such controversy did not affect the other parties in the race, at least not with the same intensity. Egerton discusses how Seward was viewed as too radical, even as he gave more conciliatory speeches as the year unfolded, and how the ability to win states like Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania convinced many Republicans that a different candidate was needed. Men like Salmon Chase and Simon Cameron had their names mentioned, but in the end some clever maneuvering by his campaign leaders led Abraham Lincoln to win the party's nomination and be the unexpected challenger to the Democratic party's choice.

Egerton also describes a new party that formed for this race. This was probably my favorite part of the book, and at least was the most informative to me, as he discussed how Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden tried to find a compromise between the positions of the Republican and Democratic parties. This eventually led to the formation of what was called the Constitutional Union party, with John Bell as its Presidential hoperful. Egerton's descriptions of how this party tried to run without a platform and to virtually ignore the issues surrounding slavery and the territories was eye-opening to me. I knew this was a conservative party,but never realized that they basically wrapped themselves in patriotic images and symbols,  while paying no attention to the major political issues of the day, fearing that such discussion would only inflame tempers. Maybe they were right about the issues causing anger, but the description of their virtual "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" approach really makes this party seem out of touch with reality and it is hard to comprehend how they could consider themselves a serious party. (Of course, I've since read other information that indicates the Whigs used a similar strategy in 1840 and even 1848, so maybe it was not as unusual as I thought.)

Egerton discusses other minor parties and candidates as well, such as Gerrit Smith and the Free Soil party, but focuses on the four main parties that captured most of the attention. He shows that the break-up of the Democratic party was no accident as several of the fire-eaters wanted to ensure a Republican victory as they thought that would lead their states to secede from the Union. Little did they realize the amount of pain and suffering that the split nation would suffer in the upcoming years.

One constant throughout this book is the importance of slavery and how the government related to and/or controlled it. Slavery is the dominant issue in this book, with men like Rhett and Yancey offering demands for its protection (the Alabama platform) and even men considered more moderate, like Jefferson Davis, insisting upon the rights of this institution to exist. Some mentions of southern hopes to acquire more territory for slavery pop up in this book, and virtually every discussion of political argument mentioned here is on this subject.

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be well-written, with a good flow to it. It describes the many different perspectives of the election, bases on records of the men who established said perspectives and does an excellent job of telling the story of how this election unfolded, from each party's selection of candidates to the election itself. It is a very fine book and I recommend it highly.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Let's Talk About it: Making Sense of the Civil War

I have been fortunate enough to participate in the Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the Civil War  series at the Boone County Public Library. It was one of only 65 libraries in the country (2 in Kentucky) to receive a grant to participate in this program offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.

We have had two sessions so far, with three more scheduled on the first Wednesday of every month. I hope winter weather will not be bad on those days as I would hate to miss any of the sessions.

The first session featured a theme of "Imagining War" and involved reading the novel March by Geraldine Brooks, as well as a brief reading from Louisa May Alcott.

For this past week, the topic morphed to "Choosing Sides" with several readings from America's War: Talking about the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Annversaries by University of Richmond President Edward Ayers.

I really found this month's readings to be quite fascinating. I previously mentioned Frederick Douglass' What to the Slaves is the 4th of July speech. It is very powerful and provides a terrific perspective of how Douglass interpreted American history as an African-American and former slave. The phrase "guilt trip" may be one possible way to describe it, as Douglass tried to make white Northerners see the separation of understanding of the country's history between his race and theirs.

I also found Henry David Thoreau's A Pleas for Captain John Brown to be quite fascinating. This was another new essay to me and Thoreau's unequivocal support for Brown impressed me. He did not hesitate to support Brown, though many Northerners, including the new Republican Party and it's supposed anti-slavery ideals, quickly criticized Brown's methods. (Thoreau had appeared in March in the previous session.) The question of Brown being either a hero or villain, martyr or terrorist still stirs debate more than 150 years later, but Thoreau strongly voiced his opinion even during the time when he knew Brown would soon be hanged.

Among the other readings were Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, Alexander Stephens' Cornerstone Address, pieces of a speech by Robert Montague supporting Virginia's secession and a speech by his colleague Stuart Chapman opposing secession. The last two did an excellent job of showing both sides of the argument. Both men supported slavery, but disagreed on how best to protect that institution.

The final three readings featured an excerpt from Elizabeth Brown Pryor's excellent Reading the Man, discussing Robert E. Lee's process of deciding to join the Confederacy, The Private History of a Campaign that Failed by Mark Twain and excerpts from the diary of a young Louisiana woman, Sarah Morgan, available as Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman. Re-reading the section on Lee and Pryor's additional thoughts she put together for this book provided a great view on how Lee approached his decision.

All of these readings were very valuable. At the meeting, the participants (about 35-40, same as the first meeting) broke into three discussion groups. The group in which I was involved talked mostly about Lee's decision and various aspects of it, but did touch on each of the readings, with several interesting points made and questions asked.

I am really enjoying this series and look forward to the next one in early January. Once this is through in March, though, I'm not sure what I will do. Hopefully I can find something at least similar to this in terms of discussion and participation and who knows, I may even make some friends and contacts in these sessions. I have enjoyed the people I have met so far.

If any readers have the chance to participate in this, please consider it strongly. It is fun and gives you the chance to hear other people's perspectives as well as questions that you may not think up on your own.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Editorial Cartoon: Lincoln and the Negro Question

I found this editorial cartoon in Albert Shaw's Abraham Lincoln: The Year of His Election (The Review of Reviews Corporation, 1929).

This appears on page 163 and provides a German perspective (presumably translated into English for this book) about the South's attempt to secede from the Union and what motivated it. This drawing and the caption leave no doubt as to what this paper thought motivated the South. 

Here is some information on the cartoonist Wilhelm Scholz, including a link to more details on Kladderadatsch.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Abe Lincoln's Old Kentucky Home, part deux

In the early months of this blog, I posted an entry describing how I thought some of the words of My Old Kentucky Home might apply to the life of Abraham Lincoln and his family. I thought it was kind of an original thought as I had never seen his life connected to that 1853 song.

Recently, I acquired a couple of old postcards, including the one pictured here. (Note how awful the image of Lincoln is on it. The red lips, especially, give it a rather feminine look, though the smooth wrinkle-free forehead adds to the strangeness.)

The handwriting that is visible on the front of this card (dated on Lincoln's birthday in 1915, as the bottom right corner shows)  says "A little song of Lincoln on other side. It is very easy. Perhaps you will enjoy it."

The other side is filled up with more writing, i.e. the lyrics that the front referred to. These lyrics are about Lincoln and set to the tune of "My Old Kentucky Home," showing that what I believed were my "original" thoughts about this song and Lincoln had been conceived 94 years earlier.

Unfortunately there is no identification as to the writer of these words or to whom this card was being sent, but I'll go ahead and transcribe the lyrics below.The writer clearly was a Lincoln admirer, 50 years after the President's death

(For those unfamiliar with the melody of this song - have you not watched the Kentucky Derby? - here's a youtube version of it that I like, though this one is quite long, trying to show all the pictures. The song usually has two verses and a chorus sung, though like The Star Spangled Banner it does have other, less familiar lines as well.)

'twas a cabin rude in the wilderness afar
Where Lincoln, the hero was born
The stars shone bright, o'er the little home at night
And the wild birds caroled in the morn.

Though hard times came there was courage in the home
And Lincoln the boy, like the man
In all thins said though the tasks of life were hard
I might do the very best I can

Ring the bells of honor
Oh ring them loud to-day
We will sing one song for the boy who did his best
In the old Kentucky home, far away

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Here is another article from the June 1, 1861 Covington Journal.


No matter how pure may be the intentions of the Administration - no matter that Mr. Seward or President Lincoln may honestly desire simply and solely to sustain the Constitution  and perpetuate the Union - such a Constitution and such a Union as our fathers framed -- will be utterly destroyed. The indications afforded even by the telegraphic dispatches show that a spirit has been aroused which so difficult it may be to lay it, may subvert those republican liberties which the Constitution was to guard -- A military character will be impressed on our people; and hereafter it is to be feared there will be constantly in our midst hundreds of thousands of men who will be content with no peaceful occupation. They will be the ready instruments of any man popular enough to reach eminent station, and daring enough to abuse that station to his personal advancement, regardless of the checks of laws and Constitutions. 

We the other day commented with painful interest upon an article in the Springfield (Ill) Journal, which claimed dictatorial powers for the President. We were astonished at the appearance of so elaborate a defense of Despotism in any American paper. But it may soon be that such championship of autocracy will be found so profitable and so common as no longer to excite surprise. The danger to all the reserved rights of the States seems well nigh overwhelming, and equally so the incoming of a consolidated power, which is substantially the equivalent of an imperial despotism

The subjugation of certain of the States is familiar talk. But that subjugation may be universal. Not only the sufferer will be the State which is carried by fire and sword; but all will finally share a common doom.

To prevent a fate like this, what appeal can be made? The question is one of terrible moment, and how it will be answered we confess our inability now to see. Perhaps a reaction may set in and a sense of the perils in store for us as a people, will be awakened in time to avert them. - But the present hour looks dark and gloomy enough. The Journal of Commerce, with its usual consideration and sound judgment, briefly presents the case thus: 

"If any good result could come out of using force against the seceded States, there might be a plausible reason for its exercise. As it is, the most cogent argument we have heard is, that we shall thus determine "whether we have a government." With all respect for those who feel solicitude on that point, we suggest that one thing is likely to be demonstrated, viz: that we have not, and in the event of the subjugation of the Southern States, are not likely to have such a government as the Constitution contemplates or such as our fathers understood to be instituted when the Union was formed. The government, when established, was a government of equals ,in which all the States would perform willing parts. The one which our warlike friends (it seems) by the Lincoln Administration would prove to exist, is a government of force, where a majority of States or of the Representatives as the case may be, shall hold the minority in subjection to their will. If it is to demonstrate this fact, that war is to be precipitated upon the country, then we doubt whether the motive is one of humanity - much less of right."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The United and Patriotic North

I continue to present items from the Covington Journal describing its editors feelings and observations as events quickly unfolded in early spring of 1861.

Here are two other articles from April 20, 1861, in which Samuel Davis (the paper's editor) again seems surprised by the the North's unity, desire and motivation to keep the nation whole. Civil War studies often mention that Lincoln underrated how strong secession sentiment in the South was (or overestimated support for the Union in that region), but Southerners, like in this article, seem to have underestimated their opponent as well.  (Of course, this is just after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, when patriotic fervor was at its highest levels in both sections.)

The start of the second paragraph of this first story did prove true, but also note that this article again refers to "weakness" in the government at Washington, which was not the first time this paper used that description about the new administration.It clearly misread the federal government's determination (and ability) to oppose secession.

The United North
Unaccountable as it is, and deplorable as we may regard it, the fact is nevertheless undeniable that the North is at this moment united in support of Lincoln's war policy. - The solemn resolutions of Democratic conventions and the high-sounding declarations of Democratic editors against coercion have alike been scattered as chaff before the wind. - Party lines have been broken down; old questions have been ignored, and the universal sentiment is that Lincoln must be sustained. In the midst of this excitement the reign of terror has been inaugurated and no man dare put in a plea for the South.

The excitement is so intense that it cannot last. There must be re-action; but alas! we see no ground to hope that it will be in time, or strong enough, to arrest the bloody purposes of that combination of subtlety, weakness and fanaticism which controls the government at Washington. 

Northern Patriotism
The inauguration of Civil War by the Lincoln Administration has fired the Northern heart to a degree never before known since the foundation of the Government. The invitation to make ready to shoot down their brethren of the South is joyously and heartily responded to everywhere in the North. - 

Neither the war of '12 against Great Britain, nor the war against Mexico aroused anything like the amount of enthusiasm that now prevails, or called out any such  prompt and liberal offers of men and money as are now made in the free States

Of course, the editors mentions "inauguration of Civil War by the Lincoln Administration" with no mention of any Southern responsibility for it, but I found it interesting that his last remark described the Union members as "free" states instead of "Northern" states. Maybe that means nothing, but it stood out to me when I read it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Book Review: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

Eric Foner
copyright 2010
W.W. Norton & Company

Eric Foner's most recent book, a look at the development of Abraham Lincoln's views, attitudes and actions about slavery during his lifetime was the winner of the 2011 Lincoln Prize, awarded by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Gettysburg College.

After having read this book, I can understand why it received such an award. It is a very good and thorough review of how Abraham Lincoln viewed slavery and slaves during his life, and how his attitude and beliefs developed and changed over time. It also at times discusses his views of race and African-Americans, and how these beliefs compared to his attitude towards slavery.

I enjoyed how the book stayed true to its title, focusing on Lincoln's dealings with slavery; at times other issues were mentioned when necessary, such as the actual Civil War, but Forner managed to keep Lincoln and slavery at the forefront of the story, with those other issues adding perspective at times.

This was not merely another book to praise all things Lincoln. Dr. Foner does provide criticism of some of Lincoln's ideas, decisions or indecision and his racial attitudes at times.

He also points out, though, how Lincoln's attitudes were not static and did change over time as Lincoln dealt with new problems and had new experiences, such as meeting prominent African-Americans like Frederick Douglass. Dr. Foner pointed out that meeting such people was something the pre-Presidential Lincoln had not done.

The Fiery Trial is a very good book that I am happy to recommend to others interested in Lincoln, slavery and/or the Civil War. Dr. Foner's work provides a wonderful perspective of how Lincoln's understanding of and thoughts on slavery developed over time and how this development affected the way the Federal government conducted the Civil War.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

2 different accounts of Lincoln's inaugural journey

The Covington Journal, this time from February 16, 2011, published this pair of very different reports from a couple of Cincinnati newspapers that covered President-elect Lincoln's trip to Washington D.C.

Not the Man for the Times
The Columbus correspondent of the Cincinnati Enquirer , speaking of Lincoln's reception at that place says: 
Mr. Kirk, President of the Senate, welcomed him in a short but pretty speech, though the delivery was a little too much on class-meeting order.  The reply of Mr. Lincoln was an exceedingly commonplace concern. Many Lincoln men muttered, "We are sold; he is not the man for the times."

The other article was untitled.

The following from the Cincinnati Gazette, the leading Republican organ of the West, is suggestive: 
 "THE NATIONAL OVATION - The progress of Mr. Lincoln from Springfield to this point has been a continued ovation. The demonstrations of the people have been enthusiastic beyond description. The concourse of the masses, wherever he goes, has been altogether unparalleled. Words and numbers avail little in the way of describing such scenes. Tens of thousands came out to greet him at Indianapolis, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands have thronged about him. If it were ever doubtful that the hopes of the country repose upon him - that he is looked to with confidence as the chosen instrument for resuscitating the Government, and saving the Union, no many can any longer doubt the fact. The people believe that the man who is to be a second "savior of his country" is now on his way to the national capitol. It is a time of general jubilation and rejoicing, such as was never before witnessed."

I read a few sports message boards and sometimes see posters complaining about "biased" media coverage; this often leads to someone making comments like "What has happened to journalism, when real reporters just reported the facts and did not add their opinions to it?"

Whenever I see that, I have to chuckle and wonder what they would think of journalism of 150 years ago. With the two very different reports from Lincoln's journey (though, of course, both could be true - masses could be happy while a few men may have made disparaging remarks), it appears that maybe the "good old days" of press coverage were not always so good.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

150th Anniversary of Lincoln Inaugural Journey

I was lucky enough to attend the Cincinnati stop of this event and found it to be very enjoyable. It was crowded and a bit warm inside the ampitheater, but the event was well organized and enjoyable.

Lincoln presenter Fritz Klein did a fantastic job of portraying Lincoln and the speech he gave in Cincinnati, and the recreations of local events of the time - a welcome from the mayor, songs from a local German group and a brief speech by a local leader of German ancestry - added to the festivities. It was very enjoyable and an interactive event, with the crowd offering cheers and applause as often happened in speeches at the time.

Anyone near one of the stops remaining on this tour (see the link above for more information) should try to attend. I do not know all the details of the local events, but I arrived at this one 30 minutes before it started and was lucky to get a seat, so if it is as popular in other cities as it was here (2 shows with the 300 seat ampitheater packed full), you may want to arrive early.

Below are a couple pictures I took tonight. Most of the pictures I took turned out blurry, but these two were pretty good.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mr. Lincoln returns to Cincinnati

I had heard about this event a couple of weeks ago and have planned to attend (depending on Mother Nature's cooperation - she has not been in a good mood in this region so far this winter) and here's a nice description of it from the Ohio Civil War 150 blog.

Abraham Lincoln is coming (back) to Cincinnati

It takes place on February 12 at 7:00 pm (that information is buried  a bit in the article.) 

It should be pretty neat and for anyone who has not been to the Cincinnati Museum Center, Union Terminal - the home of the museum - is a really neat old building. This would be a good excuse to see it. The article includes links to get more information on it.


The event on February 12 is to honor Lincoln's 1861 journey to Washington D.C., but this illustration is a lithograph of Lincoln's earlier speech in Cincinnati from 1859 (see the balcony on the right side of the image) and is courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center's site,

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lincoln Speaks: The Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural

On this anniversary of perhaps the most famous and most often memorized speech in American history, I was thinking about the Gettysburg Address and originally started wondering why and how it became more famous and popular than Lincoln's Second Inaugural , a speech some historians argue was truly Lincoln's greatest speech. That is a view I can understand and even accept, as that address is simply a beautiful and powerful expression of the humility and kindness with which he looked at God's role in the war and a future relationship with those Southerners who had opposed the Union.

To try to answer my question, I pulled up a copy of each speech and read them both again. While doing so, an epiphany of sort struck me, and my understanding and appreciation of each speech, and of Lincoln himself, suddenly grew as I read and re-read the two great messages.

Both addresses are rather short, especially by the standards of Lincoln's era. The Second Inaugural contains several Biblical allusions and quotes, but overall strikes me as being more "concrete" in nature than the Gettysburg speech, with its more poetical and abstract language and structure.  As I was looking over the words of both addresses, I suddenly realized  that  the fundamental messages of  both are remarkably similar in  the way Lincoln focuses on the relationships between the American past, present and future. Both speeches weave their way through the past (near or far) until arriving in the present, before finishing strongly by looking ahead at the future this past and present were creating.  I had not noticed this pattern before.

Whether it's "four score and seven years ago," and "occasion corresponding to this four years ago,"  or "now we are engaged in a great civil war" and "at this second appearing to take the oath" or "it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us" and "let us strive on to finish the work we are in," the balance between past accomplishments, present realities and future responsibilities ties each era together beautifully in both speeches.

What I now appreciate most about these speeches is how Lincoln did not simply praise the men of the revolution or the soldiers who had fought and died in the Civil War and stop there, as it would have been so easy to do on both occasions. Instead, he pointed out this link between past, present and future and turned it into a personal and national duty to continue the works of those men, to ensure that this nation those Founding Fathers had created and  for which those soldiers had fought and bled would not "perish from the face of the earth" but that its citizens would, rather, help "achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." These were not mere empty words or hollow promises; both speeches served as a call to arms to his audience to make a commitment to preserve the United States as one nation and to prove that democracy was a legitimate form of government even in the modern world.

As to my original query about why the "few appropriate remarks" at Gettysburg remain so much more well-known than the remarkable Second Inaugural, that remains a question for future study, but this effort began quite strongly, bringing me a new understanding and appreciation for each of these speeches, their structures and their words. 

Below is the text of the Gettysburg Address, along with a couple of sketches of the scene in Pennsylvania that day 147 years ago. 


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.

Courtesy Library of Congress