Monday, February 25, 2008

Should Jefferson Davis Be Honored?

200 years ago this year, a child was born on the frontier in Kentucky. He grew to become a tall, bearded man who became president of his country. Committed to principles he held dear, he led his nation into the Civil War, causing hundreds of thousands of his countrymen's deaths. He's a major figure in American history, so by all means, our nation should honor him, should it not?

For once, I'm not writing about Abraham Lincoln, but that other Kentuckian who rose to lead his nation, none other than Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. This year marks the bicentennial of his birth, just as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. But should we as a nation celebrate officially the memory of Jefferson Davis?

There can be no doubt that Davis was an impressive and accomplished man. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and West Point, served honorably in the Army in the Mexican War, was a U.S. Senator and also served as a U.S. Secretary of War. Unfortunately, of course, he also chose to lead a rebellion against the very government which educated him at it's expense and sent troops into the field against the very army in which he served.

Today's Arizona Republic newspaper carries an interesting article detailing how descendants of Davis are trying to push for official recognition of his birth anniversary. The family has contacted the Defense Department (the successor to the War Department which he led) to see if it would at least commemorate Davis. No response has been forthcoming. The article also quotes the esteemed historian James McPherson who gives various reasons why that no official celebrations should occur.

Even after the Civil War and hundreds of thousands of deaths, Jefferson Davis was basically an unreconstructed rebel and remained so until his death. In his own words, Davis stated that he believed in State's Rights to very end. From his 2-volume "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Davis wrote:

"...it has not been my wish to incite to its exercise: I recognize the fact that the war showed it to be impracticable, but this did not prove it to be wrong; and, now that it may not be again attempted, and that the Union may promote the general welfare, it is needful that the truth, the whole truth, should be known, so that crimination and recrimination may for ever cease, and then, on the basis of fraternity and faithful regard for the rights of the States, there may be written on the arch of the Union, Esto perpetua." The meaning of the last two words? "May It Persevere". In other words, may the struggle continue.

Therefore, no matter the desire on the behalf of his descendants to honor their famous (or infamous) ancestor, I believe that no official government recognition of the bicentennial of the birth of Jefferson Davis should occur, lest it become a celebration for neo-Confederates and revisionist historians. Why should the Federal Government honor a man who sought to destroy it?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Final Ax Used By Lincoln Discovered At Lincoln Museum

Today's issue of the Springfield, Illinois Journal-Register newspaper contains a fascinating article about a very old ax which has been tentatively identified as the final ax that Lincoln used, just one week before his assassination.


The ax is in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Prior to the opening of the museum, the ax was owned by the state of Illinois, which acquired in it 1955 from the family which owned it. The state and museum curators figured it was one of the many axes identified, but not proven, as a Lincoln ax. What makes this ax different is accompanying affidavits and other letters dating to as long ago as 1914, stating that this ax is the one which Lincoln used at a Union Army field hospital in Virginia. It was there on April 8, 1865 that Lincoln spotted the ax and showed off a little, holding the 7-pound tool by the end with it parallel to the ground. Even at the age of 56, Lincoln was able to hold the ax motionless for a full minute, something even the much-younger workers at the camp could not do. Makes one wonder about the supposed illnesses Lincoln had (Marfan's and cancer) if he was still so strong at that age.


Other axes supposed to have been used by Lincoln haven't come with such documentation, making historians feel that this might be indeed authentic. Of course, one never knows. If it's real, it might be worth as much as $15,000 according to the owner of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop (a must-visit for the serious Lincoln collector or fan) in Chicago, Illinois.


Lincoln artifacts hold just as much, if not more, interest for me as does Lincoln's life itself. Let's hope that this ax is truly the real deal.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More Delusions About Bush And Lincoln

I began this blog a little over four months ago as a repository of information for those people who are seeking more knowledge about Abraham Lincoln, our nation's 16th president. Mostly I publish serious entries, but sometimes I publish funny (at least to me) photos, articles, or stories about Abe. I try to stay away as much as possible from commenting about current day politics because the last thing the Web needs is another ranting and raving political blogger. But this time, I simply cannot resist.

Alberto Gonzales, the former Attorney General forced to resign in disgrace, has become the latest current or former official in the Bush presidency to try to turn George W. Bush into the next coming of Abraham Lincoln. This campaign is eerily similar to those rabid fans of Ronald Reagan who push to have that president's image carved on Mt. Rushmore and declare him the equal of Lincoln. I digress.

According to Think Progress, Gonzales gave a speech yesterday at Washington University (St. Louis) in which he compared Bush to Lincoln, making the point that Lincoln was also highly criticized during his presidency but that history now reveres him. The inference of course being that eventually history will revere George W. Bush.

Gonzales joins a growing list of Bushies trying to turn their hero into Lincoln. Karl Rove thinks Bush can get to the "nub of things," just like Lincoln. And Bush himself in a recent interview with Fox News (who else??) pointed out that Lincoln was "hated" when he left office (wrong!).

Just a quick comparison seems to be in order. Lincoln went to war to preserve our nation and to prevent it from becoming "Balkanized." Bush went to war first with a nation which did indeed harbor terrorists bent on killing us, but then expanded that war into Iraq, which even Bush admits had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Lincoln had humility when dealing with his rivals, even incorporating them into his cabinet. Bush doesn't know the meaning of the word. Lincoln did suspend the writ of habeas corpus as did Bush, but Lincoln never advocated the use of torture as do Bush and his cabinet officials such as Gonzales.

The list could go on. I do not worship Abraham Lincoln, but I do personally believe he was one of the greatest presidents our nation has ever seen. It should offend any thinking American, those who don't worship Rush Limbaugh at least, that Bushies and Bush himself try to make him equivalent to Abe. Done with my rant now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nice Try But Abe Isn't On $100 Bill

You have to wonder about the intelligence of some people, or rather the lack of it. Interesting article about a crook who tried to pass counterfeit $100 bills in Mesa, Arizona while attempting to buy a watch. The shopkeeper tried to be gentle about it, telling the prospective "customer" that Abe isn't on the $100 bill. The customer then became irate and finally the owner tasered him. Police called, bad guy arrested, and the rest is history. I suppose if the thief was really intelligent, he wouldn't be trying to do criminal deeds in the first place.


The image I've included here is a true $100 bill which featured Abraham Lincoln, but it's a federal bank note from the year 1880. Now don't try cppying this at home, because I'm sure the note is no longer legal tender.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Bad Lincoln Lookalike


Now I've seen some bad Lincoln lookalikes in my time, but this guy really wins the prize. In his defense, the gentleman in question, one Dave Van Hattum, is a lobbyist in Minnesota and does not claim to be a Lincoln impersonator. He was testifying at the time in the state house there about the tragic bridge collapse of last summer. Why he chose to dress up like Abe on Lincoln's birthday for something so serious is a little beyond me. I could find nothing about why he did so.

Honestly, he looks like a cross between The Cat In The Hat, the hillbilly moonshiners from a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, with a tie more appropriate to The Men In Black.
"Katie" added a comment recently to this post stating that Mr. Van Hattum was testifying in support of improvement of the state's infrastructure. He was appearing as Lincoln to remind legislators how Lincoln supported improvements in that area as well, especially the transcontinental railroad. Katie claims the lobbyist was not meaning to be disrespectful, which is why I've updated this posting.

Lincoln Cent Redesign For Bicentennial

The United States Mint will be redesigning the Lincoln cent or penny in honor of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth next year. The image I've provided are the four finalists from over 35 designs which had been proposed.

The reverse (i.e. the back) of the penny will depict Lincoln's humble beginnings as opposed to his presidency. That's an unusual approach, but one which is highly appropriate, considering that Lincoln had the humblest of beginnings in life. The image on the upper left depicts Lincoln as a student in either a classroom or studying on his own. The image on the upper right shows Abe as an Illinois state legislator. Finally, the two images on the bottom show different variations of the log cabin in which he was born.

For my money (no pun intended), I like the legislator design and either of the log cabin designs. the obverse (i.e. the front) of the penny will not be changed. I'm not sure if this redesign of the reverse will be permanent or not.

Here's a link to Numismater.com (a coin collector website) which discusses the images in more detail, plus also shows 35+ other designs which had been considered.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lincoln Celebration Rained Out

The official kickoff to the Lincoln birth bicentennial was rained out yesterday in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Mrs. Laura Bush didn't show, the National Park Service (NPS) cancelled the ceremonies at the National Historic Site, and numerous spectators were extremely disappointed. The rain turned to ice upon impact and it was deemed too dangerous to drivers for the ceremonies to go on.

This article from the Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) describes the disappointment of everyone from the NPS officials, to the local merchants who had stocked up on extra souvenirs. One shop owner spent $10,000 in anticipation of the additional business from visitors. The NPS was concerned that people would fall in the parking lots or memorial steps. Thousands of dollars spent by the NPS on books and programs will now go to waste, apparently.

Unfortunately, there was no backup plan put into place. That's sort of amazing to me. It's not like Kentucky is Arizona, blessed with great weather in the winter months. One would think that event organizers would have had alternate plans in the event of inclement weather.

What a shame. I'm glad I didn't drive the 7 hours from Ohio to attend the event, like some of my fellow Ohioans did, according to the article.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln

A baby was born at Sinking Spring Farm, Kentucky, near present-day Hodgenville, one hundred ninety nine years ago today, February 12, 1809. That young child, named Abraham by his family, of course grew up to become our nation's greatest president and one of the greatest Americans who has ever lived.

Abraham Lincoln had no special advantages growing up, unlike many other of our nation's leaders who were born into wealth or were given the opportunity of formal education throughout their youth. Instead, Lincoln was born of humble parentage, farmers on what was then the Western frontier of the United States. There is some debate just how poverty-stricken his parents were, but they were certainly not well-to-do by any means. As for formal education, Lincoln himself stated that his actual school learning did not total more than 18 months for his entire life.

Lincoln's journey to greatness was an unusual one. He worked at various jobs such as a deckhand on two flatboat trips to New Orleans, as a store clerk, a postmaster, and even as a captain of volunteers in the Blackhawk War in Illinois. All along the way, Lincoln's ambition never waned and he always strove to improve himself and his lot in life.

Finally, he became a lawyer, entered politics, and sprung onto the national stage during the brilliant series of debates between him and Stephen A. Douglas during their senatorial campaign of 1858. Even though Lincoln lost that election, he became the improbable Republican candidate for the 1860 presidential election and won. His life was tragically cut short on April 14, 1865 when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died the next morning at 7:22 a.m.

Sometimes it's difficult for the average person to sort through the facts, as well as the myths, which envelop Abraham Lincoln to this day. For example, an enduring myth is that Lincoln encountered mostly failure before he came out of nowhere and magically became president. This site shows that although he did experience failures along the way, Lincoln also achieved successes which led to even greater achivements.

Nearly 15,000 books have been written about Mr. Lincoln with more coming out every month. It's difficult to recommend any one book for learning more about him, but I would start with David H. Donald's Lincoln. It quite simply is the best single-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln ever written.

The photo I've included in this post is from the February 12, 1944 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I've never seen this image before tonight, but I find it very moving.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln. The nation remembers your leadership and cries out for it still today.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Earliest Lincoln "Image" Discovered?

Is this miniature painting the earliest depiction of Abraham Lincoln? While surfing for my daily dose of Lincoln, I stumbled upon a news release from the Verona, New Jersey Historical Society telling of the discovery of this miniature.

The discovery of this 2" by 2.5" miniature occurred in a house in New Jersey owned once upon a time by a Mildred Downing, whose great aunt was married to Mary Todd Lincoln's brother. This small painting was found among a cache of items which may have some strong ties to Mrs. Lincoln. Present were a Mary Todd Lincoln china doll head and some trunks with potential association with her.

Experts contacted have determined that this miniature dates to the early 1840's, probably around 1842. If this is truly an image of Abraham Lincoln, it predates the earliest known photograph of him taken in 1848.

There is far more information about this miniature at this website put together by the family who found it. I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but to my eyes, it doesn't look much like Lincoln. Of course, I've seen other prints and paintings of Lincoln which don't look like him at all, either. I admit, the provenance of this miniature is intriguing, being found in a house with connections to Mary Todd. But I'd personally feel much better about the authenticity if the discovery family didn't cite their experience with a mentalist, i.e. a "mind reader" who stunned them with his pronouncement that they had found a Lincoln image.

I hope I'm wrong and I hope that the family has indeed discovered the earliest known image of Lincoln. It just reminds me in an uncomfortable way of the so-called Kaplan image of a young Abraham Lincoln. That is an actual daguerreotype, not a painting, of a young man whom some claim is the earliest known photo of Lincoln. I don't buy that one, either, and most historians don't, to my knowledge. And the Kaplan image looks more like Lincoln than this miniature does.

Still, it's intriguing. What do you think?

Bush Honors Lincoln In White House Ceremony


Since my previous post criticized President George W. Bush for not being able to make the official kickoff of the Lincoln birth bicentennial celebrations, I thought it only fair to include this story about the ceremony Bush held last night in the White House.

It seems that every year, Ford's Theater honors Americans who most exemplify Lincoln's life and ideals, at least in the opinion of the theater's organizational directors. This year's recipients were retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Dr. Ben Carson, head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The link I've provided in the first paragraph contains the president's remarks verbatim, at least according to the news service Christian Newswire. Laura Bush also made a speech, perhaps in preparation for her address tomorrow at the Lincoln birthplace site in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

I was struck by the dignity of Mrs. Bush's remarks but found the president's comments to be crass. He claims that when people ask him whether he's seen Lincoln's ghost in the White House (reported by many guests, including Winston Churchill), that he (Bush) replies that he gave up drinking 22 years ago, causing some laughter from the audience. It's commendable and well-known that Bush gave up imbibing, but to mention it during a solemn ceremony honoring Abraham Lincoln and two other outstanding Americans was undignified, to say the least.

Perhaps it's best after all that Mrs. Bush, with her dignity and grace, will honor President Lincoln, a man who also had those qualities, so unlike our current president.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Laura Bush To Speak At Lincoln Ceremony


News today from the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky that Laura Bush is going to speak at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site on Tuesday February 12 during the kickoff ceremonies for the Lincoln Bicentennial celebration. President Bush had been invited to speak, but apparently has some schedule conflicts in Washington, D.C. that day.

A pity, really, since the president and his supporters are trying all sorts of contortions in order to somehow equate his legacy to that of Lincoln's. What a golden opportunity he's missing.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Abe Lincoln In Yarns


Most people know that Abe Lincoln used humor to make subtle points to people, even as president. He loved to tell jokes, puns, and enjoyed spinning yarns throughout his life.

Now we can see Mr. Lincoln literally in yarn, string, and wool. From the Chronogram Magazine in the Hudson area of New York, comes an article titled "The Wooly Emancipator." According to the article, artist Oscar Strodl has created four different portraits of Abraham Lincoln done entirely in yarn, wool, and thread. Unfortunately, the other portraits are not shown in the article, but the one I've posted here is amazingly realistic. Indeed, it looks more accurate than many paintings of Lincoln that I've seen.

The artist will begin displaying these portraits on February 18th, 2008 at Incident Report Gallery in Hudson, New York. They will also be available for viewing beginning that date on www.incidentreport.info. Can't wait to see them all!

Why Does Lincoln Continue To Fascinate Us?


While reading this article from Time, I began to reflect upon and wonder why Abraham Lincoln continues to fascinate so many people both here in the United States and around the world. We see this fascination when books such as Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team Of Rivals" and David Herbert Donald's masterpiece "Lincoln" become best sellers. In our current presidential election cycle, candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties fall over themselves trying to make themselves into Lincoln's political image. One Republican candidate, Ron Paul, even excoriates Lincoln in a stunning revision of history. President Bush and his supporters try to align the Bush legacy with Lincoln's. Movies such as the latest "National Treasure" and Steven Spielberg's upcoming flick deal with Lincoln or the myths surrounding him. Dictators such as Pakistan's leader Pervez Musharraf try to justify their suppression of freedom by comparing their own actions with that of Lincoln's.

So why does Lincoln have a hold on the nation's collective conciousness to this day? Is it because he was assassinated just as he was seeing the end of the greatest tragedgy to strike our nation, the Civil War? Is it because he came from poverty with almost no formal education to rise to become what many historians consider to be our greatest president, thus giving the impetus for the belief that anyone can grow up to become president? Is it because of his humility and humanity for the ways in which he dealt with his enemies? Perhaps we as a nation are longing so much for a true leader who can help us to "bind up our nation's wounds" and overcome the petty political bickering which divides us while solving nothing.

I would be interested in any comments and replies to my questions.

 
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