From now until January 4, 2009 people fortunate enough to visit the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. have the opportunity to visit a rarely displayed copy of The Gettysburg Address written in Abraham Lincoln's hand.
This is the so-called "Bliss Copy" of the Address, which is the fifth and final copy known to exist in Lincoln's own writing. This copy was written by Lincoln at the request of Mr. Alexander Bliss, who along with Mr. John Pendleton Kennedy organized and published a book called "Autograph Leaves Of Our Country's Authors." The book was created to raise money for the U.S. Sanitary and U.S. Christian Commissions, which were the two major women's relief organizations in the North during the Civil War. It contained facsimile reproductions of writings and autographs of the most famous authors of the era, and included a facsimile of this copy of the Address. The two commissions were begun in 1861 in order to help promote clean and healthy conditions in Union army camps, set up field hospitals, and provide services and comfort to the soldiers.
The "Bliss Copy" is the source for most modern facsimile reproductions of the Address, primarily because it is the only copy which contains Lincoln's signature. The text is also slightly different from the earlier copies; for example, Lincoln removed the word "here" from the clause "for which they (here) gave their lives......" in this version.
This copy of the Address remained in the hands of the Bliss family until 1949, when it was purchased at auction by Mr. Oscar Cintas (a wealthy former Ambassador from Cuba to the United States) for the then-record sum of $54,000. Mr. Cintas willed the document to the people of the United States, but with the stipulation that it be displayed in the Lincoln Bedroom in The White House. It remains in The White House collection to this day, which is why it is seldom seen in public. Mrs. Laura Bush generously permitted the document to be displayed at the current exhibit at the museum.
The document is on display in the Albert H. Small documents gallery in the museum. Unfortunately, photography of the Bliss Copy is not permitted to the public, nor is photography permitted in the gallery. The image I've included showing the Bliss Copy and the gallery is from the Associated Press, which had the approval to take this photo.
I had the good fortune to visit the National Museum of American History on the opening weekend and made sure I saw the Address. While the exhibit itself is small, it is highly informative and very well done. There are various signs to read which helps place this copy of the Address into context. A copy of the book "Autograph Leaves" is only display along with a brief history of the Sanitary Fair and commissions. There are two beautiful images of Lincoln in the gallery, including a painting of Lincoln which was donated to the museum by Lincoln's grandson (there are no living direct descendants of Lincoln). Finally, there is a recording of the actor Liam Neeson reciting the Address. Neeson is to portray Lincoln in Daniel Spielberg's biopic of Lincoln. I have to say, I've heard the actor Sam Waterston's recital of the Address, and found his recitation to be more moving and warmer than Neeson's.
If you have the opportunity to be in Washington, D.C. before January 4, 2009, don't miss the chance to see this copy of the Gettysburg Address. And by all means, also see the original Star-Spangled Banner once more on exhibit after a 10-year restoration. It's literally just a few feet away from the Address.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 10:12 AM
Monday, November 24, 2008
My previous post was titled "Chillin' With Abe," informing my readers that I was heading to the beach for some much-needed relaxation and fun with my friends and their family. I certainly didn't mean "chillin'" as in "freezing."
The five of us ventured to Cape Hatteras, N.C., which is one of the best places on the Eastern seaboard for fishing, serenity, and beauty. Average temperature this time of the year is in the middle 60's. Unfortunately, we were met with chilly temps in the low to mid 40's and gale force winds (from 25-35 mph) nearly every day. It ruined fishing for the most part and the frigid conditions meant that we never needed any sunscreen.
But all was not lost. Even on the beach, I was never far from Lincoln history. We visited a small museum about shipwrecks along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. One of the most famous shipwrecks is the U.S.S. Monitor, the Union ironclad ship which sank on December 31, 1862 about 17 miles off the North Carolina coast. It was rediscovered in 1973 and is now preserved as a federal Marine Sanctuary. The U.S. Navy approved construction of the ship in 1861.
The museum also has an exhibit about the hunt for the Alligator, which was the first U.S. Navy submarine. I had never heard of this submarine, which was never commissioned. It also was lost at sea off the coast of North Carolina. The Alligator was observed by Lincoln during a test of its capabilities on March 18, 1863. The hunt continues for the Alligator.
Our journey home took a couple of unexpected stops, one in Washington, D.C. We were fortunate enough to be able to visit the original Star-Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History. This flag was the one which flew over Ft. McHenry in Baltimore during the British bombardment of Baltimore during the war of 1812. It has undergone a decade-long restoration and was put on display just last week at the remodeled museum.
We were also very fortunate in being able to see an original copy of The Gettysburg Address, which is on display through January 4, 2009. This is the "Bliss" copy of the Address and is rarely displayed to the public. It's current permanent home is the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House.
Finally, my travelling companions and I stopped in Sharpsburg, Maryland for a tour of the Antietam National Battlefield. It was, of course, the scene of the single bloodiest day of The Civil War, with nearly 20,000 deaths and other casualties on September 17, 1862. I'd never before visited Antietam and I found it just as moving as a visit to Gettysburg. It was at Antietam that Lincoln visited General George McClellan in an effort to prod him into action. Of course McClellan was eventually fired due to his continuous inaction and failure to destroy Lee's army.
I'll be posting more in-depth about the Alligator, the Gettysburg Address, and Antietam in coming days. I didn't expect that my vacation would be so heavily "Abe oriented" but I'm of course happy it was.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 12:29 PM
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Mr. Lincoln looks like he's "chillin'" a bit in this drawing, almost as if he's thinking about a week or so at the beach, catching some rays, doing a little fishing, maybe and try to unwind a little from all the pressure he's under as president.
Can't say as though I blame him. It's been an intense campaign season, corporate America is axing jobs faster than we count, the economy is weak, and life is stressful for almost all of us.
That's why I'm heading to the beautiful seashore of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina for a week of some (hopefully) relaxation and fun with some long-time friends who make me part of their family.
I'm a systems analyst in my "real life" and a fairly active blogger in my spare time. I interact with computers way too much. Therefore, the Abraham Lincoln Blog is going on a 10-day or so hiatus. I'm taking along a couple of history magazines, a couple of books, and hopefully will find some peace and quiet far from the stresses of daily life.
Thanks for reading this blog. I'm an unabashed history geek and I hope you enjoy my posts.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 8:23 PM
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
In my previous post, I shared with my readers my review of an exhibit about Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Constitution. This temporary exhibit examines how Lincoln took extraordinary powers during the U.S. Civil War and exceeded some Constitutional protections along the way.
The exhibit is housed for now within the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. After I visited the Lincoln exhibit, I stayed a couple of hours longer in order to visit the Freedom Center. I'm gratified I did. I experienced powerful emotions during my visit, from overwhelming sadness to inspiration and many others in between.
Cincinnati was selected as the home of the Freedom Center primarily because of its importance to the slaves who valiantly struggled to escape to freedom. Ohio was always a "free" state, divided from the "slave" states of Kentucky and Virginia (now West Virginia) only by the Ohio River. For many of the escaped slaves making their way north, Cincinnati was their first "stop" on the Underground Railroad. Many abolitionists lived in Cincinnati and their story is told at the Freedom Center, too.
Of course, the Underground Railroad was not actually a railroad and the routes were not underground. Rather, it was a "network" with multiple lines running from the south through cities like Cincinnati and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "Conductors" ran safe houses, served as guides, and otherwise assisted the escaped slaves on their way to freedom. Historians estimate that more than 100,000 slaves sought their own freedom through escape and a "trip" along the "railroad." Even if they escaped to Cincinnati and cities further north, there was always the extreme danger of being captured and returned to bondage. This is why many slaves continued their journey until they reached Canada or even heading south to Mexico, those two countries having abolished slavery long before the United States.
The Freedom Center doesn't teach the visitor only about the Underground Railroad. It presents the entire history of slavery in North America, dating from even prior to 1492 when Columbus made his first landfall in the Americas. I was impressed that the Center is not politically correct. It frankly relates the story how Africans were sold to European slavers by other Africans, who had captured their rival tribesmen. This fact is not often mentioned in history, but Africans did practice slavery. A nice re-creation of the bowels of a slave ship shows just how horrible the journey was for these poor souls. In the very early days of European arrival, slavery did exist in the northern states, including in New Amsterdam (New York City). Of course, slavery eventually did die out in the northern states, but remained present in the south until after the Civil War.
Original artifacts are shown throughout the museum, including ankle irons, chains, whips, slave ID tags, and other instruments of brutality. The Center is not for the faint of heart. Items created by slaves, such as baskets, rare articles of clothing (most slave clothing is long gone), pottery, and wooden items are on display, too.
The story of the abolitionists who fought long and hard to end slavery is told as well. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth are represented through personal items, books, and wonderful displays. White abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe (who I am proud to call an ancestor) are represented as well.
A wing of the Freedom Center is dedicated to the history of the Underground Railroad. An excellent interactive exhibit is presented by an African-American man portraying a slave who wants to escape to freedom. He tells you you're coming along with him but asks you to answer various questions, such as when is the best time of year to try to escape (surprisingly enough, winter), if you should take your family or not (the fewer the people, the better the chance to escape), what paths to take (along rivers and streams) and so on.
Of course, Abraham Lincoln is represented. This is in addition to the temporary exhibit at the center. Lincoln's growth from being willing to leave slavery as is to wanting to eradicate it once and for all is told frankly and movingly.
The most incredible display in the Freedom Center is what I've included as the photo for this posting. It might look like a log cabin, not all that different from the so-called "Birth Cabin" of Abraham Lincoln. In actuality, it is an original slave pen from Kentucky. How the Freedom Center acquired it is quite a story. Just a few years ago, a landowner (a farmer) from Kentucky contacted the Freedom Center and told them he believed that a portion of his tobacco barn used to be a slave-holding pen. He wanted to donate it to the Center. Much research was done into land records in both Kentucky and Ohio, interviews held with long-time area residents, and finally the experts reached the conclusion: indeed, this was truly a slave-holding pen. The barn had been built around this structure, estimated to date to the 1830's. Expert conservationists went to the site, carefully removed the outer barn and delicately disassembled the pen. Some restoration work was required, but the structure you see in this photo is essentially original. Visitors are permitted to walk into the pen and imagine the horrors that those wretched souls must have experienced.
Unfortunately, slavery exists in our world even today. A section of the Freedom Center deals with this subject as well. It is estimated that 25 million people currently are held in bondage in our supposedly "civilized" world.
The Freedom Center has an excellent gift shop with a wide range of books and other items about U.S. slavery, the Underground Railroad, and current day struggles for freedom throughout the world.
I've read that the Freedom Center has struggled financially since its opening. That is a shame, because we as a people need to learn about this stain on our nation's history.
I was engrossed by my visit. If you ever find yourself in Cincinnati, it's worth a few hours of your time . Hopefully, you'll have a better appreciation for the struggles of the slaves and the efforts of those who fought to free them. I know I do.
Four Lincoln log cabins out of five. Had the exhibit been larger, I would have given it a perfect rating.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The Joint Congressional Committee On Inaugural Ceremonies has announced that the theme for President-Elect Barack Obama's inauguration will be "A New Birth Of Freedom." The theme, borrowed from the closing phrase in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, was selected by the committee, made up of Democrats and Republicans alike.
Inaugural themes are traditionally chosen to reflect a major anniversary in America, and this year's theme was selected primarily because Obama's inauguration will occur less than a month prior to the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. According to Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the committee,
"At a time when our country faces major challenges at home and abroad, it is appropriate to revisit the words of President Lincoln, who strived to bring the nation together by appealing to 'the better angels of our nature.' It is especially fitting to celebrate the words of Lincoln as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of the United States."
I think the theme is highly appropriate. First and foremost, it is an honor to the memory of the greatest president in our nation's history and not only because of the bicentennial of his birth. In my opinion, at least, the most important phrase in the Gettysburg Address is when Lincoln wrote ".....that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom..." At the onset of the Civil War, Lincoln's main goal was to preserve the Union, with slavery a lower concern of his, if at all. But as the war evolved into the national horror it was, Lincoln gradually came to believe that slavery must be eradicated from the landscape once and for all. Thus his reference to a new birth of freedom, the first being when the U.S. declared its independence in 1776.
Of course, giving freedom to the slaves was just the beginning of the long Civil Rights struggles in our country. The ex-slaves might have been technically "free," but the struggle for "true freedom" has been a long and arduous journey. "Jim Crow" laws placed on the books during the post-Civil War era kept African-Americans segregated, suppressed their right to vote, and were used to terrorize them into submission. The 1960's saw sit-ins, protest marches, and further fights in the battle for not just freedom, but for equality and justice for African-Americans.
This is why Obama's inaugural theme of "A New Birth Of Freedom" is so "fitting and proper." After more than 400 years of slavery, inequality, and injustice for African-Americans in our land, we are about to witness the inauguration of the first African-American president. Of course, that doesn't mean the struggle is finished. But we will be closer, at least, to the finish line.
As a history blogger, I really do try to keep The Abraham Lincoln Blog from being too political. I've commented during this presidential campaign on the various candidates from both major political parties, but only as they pertained to Mr. Lincoln. Candidates compared themselves to Lincoln ("I'll put rivals in my cabinet just like Abe did") or were compared to Lincoln by others. I criticized Ron Paul once for his bizarre statements about Lincoln.
But I do have to admit that I've become a strong supporter of President-elect Obama. No, I don't think he's the Messiah, as some right-wingers accuse Obama voters of believing. While I do think it's too early to call Obama "Lincoln-esque," the parallels are striking. Both Lincoln and Obama exploded onto the national scene, both served approximately the same amount of time in the Illinois Legislature, both had limited experience in national politics. More importantly, Obama's call for unity and his words of hope are so similar to Lincoln's.
I wrote a post back on the evening of Obama's acceptance speech at the Democrat convention which might have cost me a friendship of more than twenty years. That post was written because I was thrilled that history was occurring before our very eyes and I wanted to recognize that in my blog. This friend of mine, who was a groomsman in my wedding, called my post "drivel" and told me it was not "fair and balanced." This is an example of the divisiveness and attacks launched by both sides of the political spectrum for far too long.
If this friendship is lost over an election, I will mourn it. But I rejoice that a message of hope and inspiration won over a message of hate and fear.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Barack Obama has been elected to serve as the nation's 44th president. His unlikely journey to the highest elected office in the country began, of course, in Springfield, Illinois on the steps of the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln once served in the state legislature.
Many people have pointed out the similarities between Lincoln and Obama, including some who have gone so far as to call Obama "Lincoln-esque." That's an exaggeration at this point, because we can't know just what kind of leader Obama will be.
I watched Obama's acceptance speech last night along with millions of others across the country and around the world. As always, Obama's speech was eloquent and, at times, even moving. I was particularly struck by his paraphrases of Abraham Lincoln's words and his use of Lincoln's example to inspire the nation.
When discussing the beginnings of his campaign, Obama admitted his wasn't the likeliest to succeed, thanks to little money and few endorsements. He said that his army of volunteers, young and old, who worked around the country tirelessly for him is proof that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from this Earth." This paraphrase of the last line of the Gettysburg Address hammers home his point that together, people can achieve the unexpected.
Obama went on to ask for unity and an end to the bitter divide between people on the right and on the left, between Democrats and Republicans, between people of different color and different ideas. He again spoke of Lincoln, saying: " Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, 'We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.'" Of course that line was from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address.
John McCain also gave a moving speech last night as he conceded the election. He offered his support to Obama, thanked his millions of supporters, and said he still loves and believes in his country. It was the finest concession speech I've ever heard and it speaks to the honor and character of a man who so badly wanted to win. I think our country did a great disservice to him when it did not elect him in the 2000 presidential primary season, because I believe he would have led the nation with a steadier hand than what we have experienced since.
Only time will tell what Barack Obama will deal with during his presidency. I pray that Democrats and Republicans alike can find a way to reach across the aisle to help solve the many problems this nation is facing at this moment in history. And it wouldn't hurt to look back across some 150 years of that history and ask: "What Would Lincoln Do?"
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 10:52 AM
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 10:57 AM