Monday, October 20, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The Lincoln Journey of Remembrance has come to an end. The final stop of the replica flatboat used to re-enact Lincoln's trip down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers took place on Saturday October 4, 2008 in New Orleans. Most of the trip was fortunately uneventful, but the crew did encounter 7-foot waves in the remnants of Hurricane Ike which necessitated repairs to the boat.
The trip was re-created by a team from Spencer County, Indiana in order to both commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, as well as to publicize his youth in Indiana. Now that the journey is finished, the replica flatboat will be trucked back to Indiana. The intentions are to put it on display in Rockport, Indiana at Lincoln Pioneer Village.
I've previously posted about this journey both here and here. The official site for the Journey of Remembrance may be found at this location.
The Journey of Remembrance was an officially sanctioned event by the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Today's USA Today contains an informative and entertaining article, asking what lessons, if any, we can learn from Abraham Lincoln's leadership as our nation is experiencing economic turmoil, war, social and political divisiveness, and fear that we are on the wrong track. The paper consulted a few historians, primarily James M. McPherson, for help in realizing how Lincoln's example(s) might mean for us today.
Mr. McPherson is of course an historian and author of many books relating to both Lincoln and the Civil War. Retired from Princeton University, McPherson won the Pulitzer Prize for history for his Battle Cry Of Freedom, considered by many to be a definitive narrative of the Civil War. His new book, Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln As Commander In Chief, comes at a time when our country must decide who will lead us in time of both financial crisis as well as in two wars.
McPherson details in the book how Lincoln was the most "hands on" commander in chief in our history. Lincoln spent amazingly long hours in the War Department, reading telegrams detailing the outcome of battles, most of them Union losses in the first year of the war. He was so involved primarily due to the lack of good generals, such as George McClellan, who was always so to engage the enemy, or George Mead who failed to destroy Lee's army after Gettysburg.
In McPherson's opinion, Lincoln was so effective as a leader because he "never made a snap decision. He would mull over every aspect of a situation, examine all sides of a controversy, before he came to a decision." At the same time, McPherson suggests it is a mistake for us today to forget that Lincoln was not "above politics" and was in fact a brilliant politician.
The article also has a couple of brief quotes from Harold Holzer, the nation's eminent Lincoln scholar. Holzer states that America has often turned to Lincoln and his legacy in times of trouble, including World War II. We look to his leadership as an example of what represents the best of America. Holzer astutely points out that not only did Lincoln preside over the bloodiest conflict in our nation's history, but he also led the country through a time of great financial upheaval (the Union had a very difficult time financing the war effort), similar to what we face today.
So what do the historians think Lincoln would advise to the next president? In McPherson's opinion, it would be "Don't panic, don't make snap decisions, and keep your cool." Wise advice to our leaders. Indeed, wise advice to us all.
History can often be a confusing jumble of dates, places, and events. We learn the "facts" of history, but rarely understand the personal side of historical figures, especially people like Abraham Lincoln, who take on almost mythical status through the years. We forget that these people experienced the same raw emotions that we do: contentment and longing; joy and sorrow; anger and happiness.
Lincoln was no different from anyone else. Though he appears to us through the lens of history as a kind and understanding man, he could show flashes of anger with political opponents and the occasional personal enemy. A newly discovered letter written by Lincoln reveals his darker side. This letter, written on February 13, 1864, to a "Mrs. Neagle" came to light recently as part of an auction of presidential manuscripts to be held by Sotheby's.
Some of the letter reads: "As I understand it your husband … knowingly and willingly helped a rebel to get out of our lines to the enemy to join in fighting and killing our people … You protest, nevertheless, that you and he are loyal, and you may really think so, but this is a view of loyalty which it is difficult to conceive that any sane person could take, and on which the government cannot tolerate and hope to live …"
Although more research is necessary, it is suspected that "Mrs. Neagle's" husband must have been imprisoned for treason, a subject which Lincoln took very seriously. The letter must have been written in reply to a request for her husband's parole.
On the other side of this letter, however, Lincoln wrote another few lines stating that Senator Harlan of Iowa knew the Neagle family and that they were "diligent friends." Following Lincoln's handwriting, the note was signed by General Edward Canby. So Mrs. Neagle may very well have ended up obtaining her husband's release.
The letter is estimated to be worth a cool $250,000 to $350,000. Given the abundant interest in Abraham Lincoln these days thanks to the upcoming bicentennial of his birth, I wouldn't be surprised if the letter fetches far more than the estimate.
This article from MSNBC contains more information about the letter and the story behind it.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 10:05 AM
Monday, October 6, 2008
The Easter Seals organization of Central Illinois has issued two Christmas ornaments this year depicting Abraham Lincoln. Part of the Ornament of Hope series, the sale of these ornaments will be used to fund programs that Easter Seals sponsors for helping families who have loved ones with special needs and disabilities.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 12:37 PM
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
To write that Abraham Lincoln had a way with words would be the mother of all understatements. His speeches speak to us today, especially his First and Second Inaugural Addresses and of course, the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln employed no speechwriter; he wrote his own. His writing had a simple, rhythmic style which conveyed majesty and righteousness in some of America's darkest days. Writers of his time and since have considered him to be one of the greatest wordsmiths in the English language.
The October 2008 issue of Smithsonian contains an insightful article about what made Lincoln's speeches so memorable. The article was written by Ted Sorenson, who was the main speech writer for President John F. Kennedy. He was the author of Kennedy's inaugural address, which contained the famous words "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
In the article, Sorenson makes the claim that Lincoln was also the greatest presidential speechwriter. He examines what made Lincoln's words so special, such as alliteration, repetition, rhythm, and timeless ideas. He also states that Lincoln was a much better speechwriter than orator, making comparisons to other presidents such as Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. In Sorenson's opinion, it was the power and majesty of Lincoln's words which have made his speeches immortal. He closes his article by stating that "The presidents greatest in speechcraft are almost all the greatest in statecraft also—because speeches are not just words. They present ideas, directions and values, and the best speeches are those that get those right. As Lincoln did."
Coming from such an outstanding speechwriter in his own right, the praise from Sorenson is meaningful. Take some time to read the article. You won't be sorry you did.