Thursday, November 29, 2007

Twisting Lincoln Facts For Political Opinion


Bombardment of Fort Sumter by Currier and Ives

From the November 29th, 2007 issue of The Buchtelite, the college newspaper for the University of Akron (Ohio), comes a somewhat amazing political opinion piece. The author, one Branden Szabo, twists historical facts about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era to make a point about the low approval ratings for George W. Bush.

Mr. Szabo "explains" to his readers how Lincoln "started his own unpopular war" in an attempt to equate Bush and Lincoln. As any fifth-grader can tell us, Lincoln did not start the Civil War. Young Mr. Szabo seems to forget a little something called "Fort Sumter," whose bombardment by Confederate forces was the first military action of the war. To claim that Lincoln began that war is historically inaccurate, no matter one's particular opinion of Lincoln himself.

Next, the writer of the piece goes on to quote Clement Vallandigham, the Ohio congressman who was deported to the Confederacy. Mr. Szabo states that Vallandigham was a "governor of Ohio." Well, no. Vallandigham was a Democrat candidate for governor of Ohio, but was defeated in a landslide in 1863 by War Democrat John Brough . He did indeed oppose the war and Lincoln in very strong speeches, which is why he was deported to the South, but he was not governor.

Mr. Szabo's opinion is that history will judge President Bush kindly for his actions regarding Iraq , just as it has Abraham Lincoln, who was hated by many during his life. That may or may not be true and only time will tell. Szabo has a right to his opinion, but he also has a responsibility to present historical facts accurately in stating that opinion.

As a graduate of the University of Akron, I am disappointed in The Buchtelite and its editorial staff for not insisting on stricter standards for what is usually a fine collegiate newspaper.

4 comments:

klkatz said...

Lincoln was put into a tight spot when the confederates surrounded sumter.

his dilemma:
A. reinforce sumter by charging into charleston

B. evacuate the fort

the first would make it seem like he started the war...and the second would, in a sense, be recognizing the seceded states as their own country able to evict "foreigners" from their soil.

Lincoln chose neither, and decided only to give his hungry men food.

It was the south who started the war.

Brian Tubbs said...

Southern patriots (then and now) have maintained that Lincoln started the war at Ft Sumter. But, if I'm not mistaken, the US government notified South Carolina that they were only sending food and other such provisions to the fort. There was no act of aggression on the North's part at Ft Sumter.

Glad I came across this blog!

Fact Twister said...

Wow, can’t believe it took me this long to find out how popular I was. Well what the hell, I’ve got nothing to lose.

I had just stared college when I wrote this, it was my first piece. Man, I certainly wasn’t the sharpest writer back then, there was a lot I needed to re-word. Still, reading this I am reminded of the best part of college: those aging, elitist man children known as professors.

My last name is Szabo, I’m not a neo-confederate. I’ve lived in Western Virginia and I know what a real neo-confederate sounds like. The Civil War was unavoidable and the changes it brought about saved the country from decades of hardship. Lincoln was unfortunate enough to be at the helm when the South began to succeed, his job complicated even more by her predecessor’s negligence. And if that wasn’t bad enough, many in the North protested a war and even went so far as to attack abolitionists and suggest secession themselves. I was merely comparing the dissent in the North during Lincoln’s term to the dissent during Bush’s term. Was it a perfect article? Far from it, and it should have been ignored .

But you didn’t ignore it, did you?

Professors. Mr. Elliot, are you really so vain you have to smite anyone who doesn’t share your exact interpretation of history? Well I can’t blame you; you’ve spent 40 years researching the man and like many other professors you think that entitles you look down your nose at everyone else. And you know what? 40 years doesn’t make you any closer to Lincoln. It’s one thing to be an informed citizen, it’s quite another to wrap your entire being around a part of history that you, unless you were there, can never hope to fully understand.

Good post, you scored some points off a 17 year old freshman. You’re a big man.

Geoffrey M. Elliott said...

Hello Mr. Szabo. Thank you for your comments about this post which was written a long time ago.

Let's address some facts, since the post obviously has upset you.

First, I was not finding fault with your general point of view, which was that George W. Bush will be more kindly treated by "history" than he was treated when he was President. He may or may not be and of course only time will tell. As I wrote, Lincoln himself was widely detested when he was President, and he is now revered by many, though not all.

My problem with your article was that you erroneously stated that Lincoln started the Civil War. He most assuredly did not. The South had already military forts and other Federal property before it began the bombardment of Fort Sumter, S.C. on April 12, 1861. The above statements are not my "interpretation" or "understanding" of the actual events. They are historical FACT.

This contrasts with the fact that George W. Bush DID begin an unpopular war by invading Iraq. Again, though, Lincoln did not begin the Civil War.

You were right to include a discussion of Lincoln's political enemy, Clement Vallandigham, in your original article. But to state that he was a Governor of Ohio is factually incorrect. It is, however, a FACT that Mr. Vallandigham was a Congressman from Ohio. Once again, it is not my "interpretation".

Whether an author is 17 or 117, it is important to get facts correct when writing about historical events. It is especially important when one refers to the past in order to make a point as you did about the then-present day political situation in our country.

I've seen enough writings from historical revisionists to be "on guard," if you will, against them. Especially when those writings claim something about Lincoln which simply are not factual. As the author of this Abraham Lincoln Blog, it is my role to present facts about his life, and to correct non-factual statements whenever I see them. I did that in my original post and I would do so again.

Let me reiterate that I am not a professional historian, professor, or teacher. I am simply an enthusiast about Lincoln who chose to begin this blog nearly 5 years ago as a hobby. It's still a hobby. I earn no money from it, save for an occasional lecture.

I do NOT "look down my nose" at you or anyone else when it comes to understanding history or any other subject for that matter. There are numerous people who have forgotten more about Abraham Lincoln than I can ever hope to learn. I refer to people such as eminent scholars Harold Holzer, Gabor Borritt, and of course James McPherson. Those men are professional authors and historians, while I'm simply a blogger. Huge difference.

I also never referred to you as a Neo-Confederate, nor did I assume you were or are one. I would not do such a thing without personally knowing you.

I did not feel like a "big man" for writing about your editorial in The Buchtelite and pointing out your statements which were not historically accurate. As for your statement that your article "should have been ignored," it was published on the Internet for the world to see. The inaccuracies in your article might lead others to believe that Lincoln began the war. I could not ignore that. I will not apologize for it, either.

Even as an amateur historian and writer, I owe it to my readers to be as accurate as possible in my blog posts. In fact, any writer on any subject owes that basic accuracy to his or her readers. For without such accuracy, how will our readers be able to take us seriously?

 
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