Friday, December 28, 2007

Lincoln's Ford's Theater Clothing Moved To Storage


After my recent political comments about Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, and Barack Obama and how they are commenting on or comparing themselves to Lincoln, I want to step back and talk about just Abe himself.

My post from November 3, 2007 talks about the current renovation of Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. The theater is undergoing restoration plus expansion which will permit a larger permanent exhibit about Lincoln's assassination and life.

Part of the preparations for the renovation included moving the clothing and boots he wore on that fateful night to the theater into a National Park Service storage unit. This article from the September 7, 2007 edition of The Washington Post details how the items were moved from Ford's Theater to the storage facility under armed police protection. A curator showed the article writer Lincoln's size boots, which are equivalent to modern-day size 14. They are of excellent quality, but were worn at the heels.

Lincoln's overcoat he wore that night was actually made and worn for his second inauguration, held just 6 weeks before the assassination. The lining contains embroidery which reads: "One Country, One Destiny." Prophetic words indeed.

The curator also pointed out bloodstains on the knees of the pants and of course on the frock coat (suit coat) Lincoln wore that night. Museum officials didn't realize that there were bloodstains on the knees, but it would make sense considering that Lincoln probably pitched forward after being shot.

Finally, the article quotes a couple of the movers, who were quite awestruck at the items they were responsible for transporting.

Once the renovations to Ford's Theater are complete in 18 months or so, the clothing and boots will be moved back to the new larger museum.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How Lincoln Dealt With His Rivals

Today's assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto at an opposition rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan brings to mind dictat....er, President Pervez Musharraf's recent claims that his crackdowns on freedom and on opposition parties were just what Lincoln did.


Dictator.....er, President Musharraf should read Doris Kearns Goodwin's excellent "Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" to see exactly how Lincoln handled his rivals. He incorporated them into his cabinet in order to prevent their active opposition as well as to have the best political minds available in order to help the country.


There's a novel approach: let your rivals live so they can assist you in running your country instead of letting your supporters kill them. Dictato.....er, President Musharraf, you are still no Abraham Lincoln. Click here to see Musharraf's laughable claims to be just like Abe.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ron Paul's Bizarre Opinion On Lincoln And Civil War


Presidential candidate and Republican Congressman Ron Paul appeared on yesterday's "Meet The Press" for an interview held by Tim Russert. Congressman Paul has been running a somewhat dark horse campaign for president, but has recently been the recipient of millions of dollars from Internet contributions from his fans. Paul is running on "freedom," and back-to-basics tenets which appeal to some among the populace.

However, Congressman Paul uttered some shocking, if not downright bizarre, comments yesterday during his interview. He claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had everything to do with government taking over property rights and nothing to do with race relations. He claimed that Ronald Reagan was a "failure" because he didn't bring down the federal government to "constitutional levels," whatever that means.

Even more surprising and dismaying to me is Congressman Paul's complete lack of understanding about Abraham Lincoln and the reasons for the Civil War. Paul stated in the interview "Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war…. [President Abraham Lincoln] did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic," Paul said. "Every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn't sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach."

Let's dissect this. Paul claims that Lincoln started the Civil War. In a matter of weeks after Lincoln was elected president, southern states began seceding from the Union. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln told the south that in their hands, not his, lay the "momentous decision of Civil War." The South responded by attacking federal government property, culminating with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Dr. Paul either buys into neo-Confederate beliefs about the war or shows a complete lack of knowledge about it.

Additionally, anyone with even a basic knowledge of Lincoln and the Civil War understands that Lincoln's goal was to preserve the Union, not to end slavery, at least in the beginning of the war. Lincoln himself stated that if he could preserve the union by freeing all the slaves he would do so. Or if he could leave slavery intact and preserve the union, he would do that as well. And if he could save the union by freeing some slaves while leaving others alone, he would do that.

Paul also apparently buys into the commonly misheld belief that all the U.S. government had to do at the time was to buy all the slaves held in the south and that would've solved the problem. Again, he doesn't comprehend the issue. First of all, the southern states were such fervent believers in "states' rights" that they wanted NO interference from the federal government of any kind with their "peculiar institution." The southern states wanted the right to maintain, and even expand, slavery wherever they wished. Secondly, slavery was a critical part of the southern economy, which was after all mostly agricultural. Plantation owners and smaller-scale farmers strongly believed they could not afford to pay free labor for their operations.

Abraham Lincoln did not start the Civil War. Buying slaves and then freeing them wasn't possible in the charged political atmosphere of the times.

Congressman Paul displays a shocking lack of knowledge about the history of his own country and espouses extreme and inaccurate views about other events in our history as well. It's disturbing to me that such a candidate would be considered for the highest office in our land.

Paul isn't the only current candidate for president to either compare himself to Lincoln or be compared to Lincoln by others. Here's my post about Obama and here is one on Giuliani.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The History Channel To Depict Hunt For John Wilkes Booth


According to today's Denver Post, The History Channel is presenting a two-hour documentary about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth. The film is based on Michael W. Kauffman's 2004 biography of Booth, titled "American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth And The Lincoln Conspiracies."

The general public may not know that originally Booth and his fellow conspirators intended on simply kidnapping Lincoln in order to obtain leverage for the Confederacy. It was only after Booth listened to Lincoln give his last public speech in which he advocated citizenship for former slaves that Booth changed the plot to include murdering Lincoln, Secretary of State Seward, and Vice President Johnson. Seward narrowly escaped death at the hands of Lewis Payne (or Powell) in a savage stabbing, and the attack on Johnson was never carried out.

Kauffman's book is an excellent resource into the mind of John Wilkes Booth and what possessed him to commit perhaps the most cowardly act in American history. Instead of avenging the South as he hoped, Booth, by murdering Lincoln, actually ended up giving free rein to the Radical Republicans in Congress to have a far harsher period of Reconstruction than Lincoln would have permitted.

Another major source for reading about the hunt and eventual killing of John Wilkes Booth is "Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase For Lincoln's Killer" by James Swanson. It reads more like a thrilling novel as opposed to a sterile history book.

The History Channel's presentation of "The Hunt For John Wilkes Booth" premieres on Sunday December 23, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Montage of Lincoln Pushed To Represent Indiana Lincoln Celebration


A montage depicting Abraham Lincoln's life and accomplishments has been issued by Indiana artist Thomas Kennedy. The montage is officially being unveiled in Indianapolis today by Sueellen Reed, the state superintendent of schools. This is part of her push for a literacy campaign in Indiana featuring books about the nation's 16th president. My post of December 11, 2007 discusses the annual recommended book list from Ms. Reed and how it includes numerous books about Lincoln.

Ms. Reed would like to see this montage be released in cheaper editions and placed in every public school in Indiana in order to remember the Hoosier heritage of Lincoln, who lived there for 14 years.

Additionally, the Land of Lincoln Indiana organization is going to push for this montage to be the official painting of the Indiana and national bicentennial celebrations of Lincoln's birth, coming up in 2009.

The montage depicts Lincoln's childhood in Kentucky, his residency in Indiana, his adulthood in Illinois, his ascendency to the presidency, the Civil War, and the ending of slavery. The painting is impressive.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is Obama The New Abraham Lincoln?


The latest modern-day politician to be compared to Abraham Lincoln is presidential candidate Barack Obama. And the person comparing him to Lincoln is none other than master film maker Ken Burns, of "Civil War" fame.

In "The Trail" blog from the Washington Post, Burns is quoted as endorsing Obama, praising him for his "moral courage" and "unironic posture." He goes on to compare him to Lincoln, restating how Lincoln was basically unknown and had limited experience in national politics, just as Lincoln did prior to winning the presidency.

The point that most people miss when comparing modern-day politicians to Abraham Lincoln is that Lincoln was a brilliant politician with exceedingly rare leadership skills. Comparing Obama or any other of the major candidates to Abraham Lincoln is pointless, because we don't really know how a person can or cannot lead if elected to the highest office in the land. And it especially makes no sense to say that someone is equal to Lincoln because that person has limited experience just as Lincoln did.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Abraham Lincoln A Psychic?


Was Abraham Lincoln a psychic? Yes, claims a recent book titled "The Psychic Life Of Abraham Lincoln", written by Susan Martinez, who is a self-professed "spiritualist." Today's Chicago Sun-Times contains a brief article about this book and the author's claims. It appears that she makes the claim simply because Lincoln attended a handful of seances with his wife Mary after the death of their son, Willie. Most historians claim that he attended them simply to pacify Mary, who was desperately trying to reach her dead son in any way possible.

I'd think a better claim for any latent psychic ability Lincoln may have had would be based on his dreams, which are well-documented in numerous sources. For example, Lincoln had a very vivid dream just a couple of weeks before he died that he found himself amongst mourners in the White House. When he asked "Who died?" in his dream, he was told that the president had been killed by an assassin. He also had the same recurring dream of being on a ship or boat, rapidly nearing a shore, before momentous occasions in his life. He had this dream before major Civil War battles, and had it again shortly before his death.

The book might be a fun read, but it doesn't strike me as being essential for one's Lincoln library. Seems like it's another one of these books which are speculative at best, along those which claim Lincoln was gay, or that he had some terrible disease of some kind or another.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Upcoming Books About Lincoln

There has never been a shortage of books about Abraham Lincoln. There are one-volume and multi-volume biographies, books on his marriage, books about his physical and mental health, books questioning his sexuality, and books about his humor. More books have been written about Lincoln than any other U.S. President, with the possible exception of Washington.


And still the books come. From the Library Journal comes a list of new and upcoming books about Lincoln. The more intriguing ones to me, at least, will be "Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America" by Allen Guelzo (April 2008) and "Lincoln and the Court" by Brian McGinty (February 2008).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Abe In Living Color


The five dollar bill is the latest U.S. currency note to undergo a makeover. According to this article from the Associated Press, the new 5$ bill will feature a larger portrait of Lincoln, some color (check out the snazzy purple 5 on the reverse), and some other high tech changes.

The goal, of course, by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is to help thwart counterfeiting. That's all well and good, but I can' t help but think of "Monopoly" money when I see this and the other new bills. Somehow, our currency no longer looks dignified. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Next up for a redesign is Ben Franklin and the $100 bill.

Followup: New Lincoln Photo At Gettysburg


Today's Washington Post contains a followup article about the recent discovery of a potentially "new" photo of Abraham Lincoln taken at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. As I posted in this blog on November 16 of this year, John Richter, a longtime collector of Civil War photos, was examining various photos on the Library of Congress website when he thought he noticed something "suspicious" in the background of a crowd scene taken at Gettysburg on the day of the dedication of the cemetery. After enlarging the photo 60 times, the new image of "Lincoln" popped out.

The new photograph (actually a series of two or three of them) was presented at last month's Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, an annual gathering of Lincoln historians. The prominent Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer firmly believes that this new image is indeed that of Lincoln, but states that he would love to shout "turn around!" to be sure. However, not everyone in the audience was as convinced. The only other known photo of Lincoln taken that day at Gettysburg shows another man wearing a full beard and stovepipe hat standing next to Lincoln on the presenters' stand. Some people have suggested the figure in that photo is the same gentleman in the "new" photo. My personal opinion (and hope) is that this new photo does indeed show Lincoln. To my eyes, at least, the man's slender build is proof enough for me. The gentleman in the known photo appears to be much bulkier than the one in the "new" one.

We will probably never know for sure. If this photo is indeed a new one of Lincoln, it would be one of only about 125 known photos of the 16th president.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rudy Giuliani's Own "Team Of Rivals"?


At a recent town hall meeting in Chicago, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani was asked if he'd consider adding Republican rivals to his cabinet, as did Abraham Lincoln. Giuliani thought it would be a "great idea," because after all, he's read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln."

Yet another modern candidate is apparently trying to emulate Lincoln. The operative words in Goodwin's book in my opinion are "Political" and "Genius." Are any of the current crop of Republican (or Democrat) candidates "political geniuses"? That remains to be seen, of course, and only time will tell. But if past performance is any indication, I would have to think not.

Then, of course, if Giuliani wins election to the presidency, he would have to be wise enough to select his "team of rivals" for their intelligence and abilities. Do any of those other candidates measure up to a Secretary of State like William Seward? Would any of the potential Department of Defense chiefs match up well to Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War? Any folks with the ability of Salmon B. Chase to head up Treasury?

Finally, the President has to be a strong enough leader to be able to hold a cabinet of strong-willed and ambitious people together. Our nation desperately needs a leader, a true leader, who can show the courage to assemble a cabinet of high ability with the propensity for action when necessary, and restraint when warranted. A leader who can unite this country and begin solving the many problems which face us now and in the future. I fear that none of this current crop of candidates have this ability.

Indiana State Superintendent Recommends Lincoln Books

From today's Indianapolis Star comes the annual list of recommended books from the Indiana Superintendent of Public Education which people might want to consider when purchasing gifts. Dr. Suellen Reed this year has included a separate list of books about Abraham Lincoln since she wants Indiana students to learn as much as possible about him prior to the Lincoln Bicentennial in 2009.


Her list of recommended books may be found here. You'll need Adobe Acrobat to read the pdf file. The list seems to be fairly inclusive and is broken down by grades. I'd suggest that she add David Donald's superb "Lincoln" biography. Another book would be "Twenty Days," the wonderful book by Philip Kundhart and Dorothy Meserve Kundhart which details the Lincoln assassination and each of the funerals. This would seem to be especially important for Indiana students since one of Lincoln's funerals was held in Indianapolis.


Indiana is planning major activities and ceremonies for the Lincoln Bicentennial. Here is a link for the website.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Abe Lincoln Missing!


A life-sized bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln is missing from Riverside Park in Hartford, Connecticut. The statue shows Lincoln reading and inviting people to sit with him. Lincoln would often "hold forth" with friends and associates during "down time" and read aloud important topics of the day.

I hope the statue is recovered. I'm sure it was expensive and it's obviously a good one. Hopefully, it's not been melted down for scrap.

Illinois County To Highlight Lincoln's Law Circuit


I came across an article from the Lincoln Courier in Lincoln, Illinois (Logan County) detailing how several people in that county are trying to obtain grant money in order to commemorate Abraham Lincoln's law circuit days. The Lincoln Legacy Trail Committee has been formed and is currently trying to determine the best ways to mark various sites throughout the county which were associated with Lincoln. This group is part of the larger Eighth Judicial Circuit Project, which is trying to thoroughly research, commemorate, and memorialize the circuit which Lincoln rode for many years.

As of now, the group is planning various signs in the different communities in the county. It's also actively seeking volunteers, stories, and ideas from members in the communities. It will be interesting to see what the group decides upon. I hope this paper will show the final signs, etc.

Lincoln rode the old 8th Judicial Circuit twice annually for anywhere from two to three months. He and fellow lawyers and judges would try and hear cases in small communities along the route which could not support full-time lawyers or judges. It was while he was on these extended trips that he developed his keen insight into people and the political subjects of the time.

My post of November 12, 2007 describes a little more about this subject.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Man Finds Old Newspapers About Lincoln Assassination

Here's a cool little story about a guy from the Boston, Massachusetts area who discovered a bunch of old newspapers stuck in the walls of his old house he's been renovating. At first, no one realized what the papers were, until someone noticed the date and headline. Dated April 15, 1865, the one paper contained the shocking headline that Abraham Lincoln had been shot and was not expected to survive. The other papers were from the days following the assassination.

A leading national dealer in antique and historic newspapers estimates that the paper from April 15 would be valued at approximately $700.00. Newsprint from that era was far more durable than that of today thanks to high rag print content. It's not uncommon for newspapers from the mid-1800's or even much earlier to appear nearly pristine. The papers in the photo appear to mostly intact, meaning that the finder might be able to sell them for a tidy amount of money in order to continue his home improvements.

Not only do I love American History, but I also love antiques. These stories are what motivates me to continue hunting for my treasures. I own a broadside (poster) from my hometown of Canton, Ohio, which announced the tragic news of the death of Lincoln. It's one of my more prized possessions.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Abraham Lincoln's Own Religion Litmus Test


The Founding Fathers of the United States valued the freedom of one's religious beliefs so highly that they listed it first among all the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even ahead of freedom of the press.

Yesterday's speech by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in which he vowed to "serve no one religion" brought to mind that Abraham Lincoln faced his own religion litmus test while running for Congress in 1846.

Abraham Lincoln's faith, or lack thereof, has been debated by historians since his death and was a point of contention during his life. Countless books have been written about his religious beliefs, some stating that he was deeply spiritual, while others claim he was a non-believer, nearly an atheist. At the very least, it is true that he never became an official member of any church. However, he did attend services both prior to and after becoming president.

During the Congressional campaign of 1846, Lincoln's opponent was a popular evangelical Methodist preacher of the day, Peter Cartwright. Lincoln decided to attend one of Cartwright's revival meetings after having been accused as being an atheist or "infidel." The following text is taken from Carl Sandberg's "Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years":



In due time Cartwright said, "All who desire to lead a new life, to give their hearts to God, and go to heaven, will stand," and a sprinkling of men, women, and children stood up. Then the preacher exhorted, "All who do not wish to go to hell will stand." All stood up—except Lincoln. Then said Cartwright in his gravest voice, "I observe that many responded to the first invitation to give their hearts to God and go to heaven. And I further observe that all of you save one indicated that you did not desire to go to hell. The sole exception is Mr. Lincoln, who did not respond to either invitation. May I inquire of you, Mr. Lincoln, where are you going?"


And Lincoln slowly rose and slowly spoke. "I came here as a respectful listener. I did not know that I was to be singled out by Brother Cartwright. I believe in treating religious matters with due solemnity. I admit that the questions propounded by Brother Cartwright are of great importance. I did not feel called upon to answer as the rest did. Brother Cartwright asks me directly where I am going. I desire to reply with equal directness: I am going to Congress."


The point Lincoln was trying to make to Cartwright was that one's personal beliefs or non-beliefs are just that: personal.

It is disturbing that in the 21st Century, in a country founded on the guiding principle of freedom of religion, that a major presidential candidate has to give a speech defending his religious beliefs in order to cater to a group of people who are intolerant of beliefs which differ from theirs. It is time that candidates for the presidential office remind those citizens that Freedom of Religion means that we Americans are free to choose how we worship, when we worship, or even whether we worship at all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

George Armstrong Custer Anniversary


Today marks the 168th anniversary of the birth of George Armstrong Custer, the legendary army officer best known for his final battle and death at Little Bighorn.

I realize, of course, that the ties between Custer and Abraham Lincoln are tenuous at best. It is known that Lincoln met Custer's wife, Elizabeth (or Libby), at a reception and exclaimed "So this is the young woman whose husband goes into a charge with a whoop and a shout!" Therefore, Lincoln was obviously aware of the meteoric rise in rank (a temporary Major General at only 23) that Custer experienced in the Civil War. The only other link to Lincoln I can find is that Custer was stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln as his last post prior to his death. I have my reasons for writing today about Custer, if you will indulge me.

Custer was born on December 5, 1839 in the small village of New Rumley, Ohio. The village is in Harrison County, which was also the home of three men who were highly influential in Lincoln's life. My post of November 13, 2007 tells the story of Matthew Simpson, Edwin Stanton, and John Bingham. What's amazing to me is how four important Civil War era figures could hail from the same rural county.

Custer spent his entire youth living in Harrison County and attended college in the nearby village of Hopedale, Ohio. After a stint as a teacher, he enrolled at West Point, where he finished last in his class.

His career is well-known and his final battle and death are legendary. This link is a good place to read much more about the man. He remains a highly controversial figure of American history to this day.

I mentioned earlier why I wanted to write about Custer today. My departed father was born exactly 100 years later to the day on December 5, 1939 just four miles away from where Custer was born. And he is buried just a couple of miles from the Custer birthplace. My dad was forever fascinated by George Armstrong Custer and was proud to have shared a birthday with him, especially having been born in the same area.

Happy Birthday, Colonel Custer. Happy Birthday, dad. I miss you.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Abraham Lincoln's Father's and Stepmother's Gravesite


From a small town Illinois newspaper website comes this interesting story about the cemetery where Abraham Lincoln's father, Thomas, and his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, lie in eternal rest. The Thomas Lincoln Cemetery is located in Coles County, Illinois in the village of Janesville.

The article quotes a gentleman who claims that his ancestor showed President-elect Lincoln the location of his father's grave just before Lincoln departed for Washington, D.C. to take the oath of office. While this story is probably a family legend with no basis in fact, it is indeed known that Lincoln did not attend the funeral of his father Thomas.

Although Abraham Lincoln absolutely treasured his step-mother Sarah, his relationship with his father was never good to begin with and the two grew far apart as Abraham attained adulthood. David Herbert Donald in his masterpiece biography "Lincoln" details the estrangement between father and son, which seemed primarily to stem from the younger Lincoln's ambition and drive for learning, concepts which were alien to Thomas. Additionally, Thomas was a member of a Baptist church and seemed to fault Abe for never joining. It's also known that Lincoln did visit his father and stepmother from time to time while riding the law circuit, but he had very little contact with Thomas most of the time.

The article in question is of interest but it does contain some inaccuracies. It claims that Sarah Bush Lincoln was deceased by the time Lincoln left for Washington, but she of course outlived him, stating "I know'd they'd kill him" when she received news of his assassination. The article also quotes a gentleman who claims that Lincoln and Thomas got on a lot better than historians claim. This contradicts what the facts seem to support.

Nonetheless, I found the article to be informative and it further added to my Lincoln knowledge. I hope it added to yours as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

New Book Debunks Lincoln Myths and Legends


With the possible exception of George Washington, no other American president has so many popular legends and myths associated with him than Abraham Lincoln. In his latest book on Lincoln, Edward Steers Jr. aims to debunk some of the most lingering Lincoln legends. Titled "Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated With Our Greatest President," Steers addresses fourteen stubborn myths about Lincoln and sets out to prove them incorrect once and for all. Beginning with the so-called Lincoln Birth Cabin , the book continues investigating myths about Lincoln throughout his life, including whether or not he had a love affair with Ann Rutledge, if Mary Todd Lincoln was a confederate spy, if Dr. Mudd was or was not guilty, etc.

The noted Lincoln scholar, Harold Holzer, wrote the introduction for this book and touches briefly on how the myth of "Lincoln The Railsplitter" first started.

Steers, of course, is the author of the best-selling "Blood On The Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln". Here is a book review describing his latest book more fully. Looks like Steers might have another winner on his hands.

 
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