Friday, November 28, 2008

Gettysburg Address On Display At The Smithsonian


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.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chillin' With Abe Takes On A New Meaning

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.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chillin' With Abe


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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Incredible Lincolnia Auction


From time to time, I stroll through the land of eBay and blog about some of the more interesting or unusual Abe items up for bid. I've also posted about Lincoln speeches and rare letters being offered by Sotheby's or other auction houses.

On November 20th, Heritage Auction Galleries (Dallas, Texas) is holding a very special auction of Lincoln items in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Some of the items to be offered at auction are Lincoln autographs, the veil Mary Lincoln wore on her fateful trip to Ford's Theater, John Wilkes Booth items (including the earliest known autograph of his), a ticket to Lincoln's second inauguration, mourning ribbons, Lincoln's bloody shirt collar and so on. The item I've pictured here are a pair of spectacles owned by Lincoln, complete with impeccable provenance: a letter from Mary Harlan Lincoln, Lincoln's daughter-in-law.

The prices to be realized aren't for the easily shocked. Opening bid on Old Abe's specs is a cool $26,000! Take some time to look through the auction items and be in envy of the eventual new owners. I sure will be! You can find the auction site here. Thanks to an anonymous commenter for bringing the auction to my attention.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Evening As A Fugitive Slave On The Underground Railroad


My previous two posts have discussed the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and a temporary exhibit about Abraham Lincoln and his interaction with the U.S. Constitution during the Civil War. I visited the exhibit and Freedom Center in preparation for my experience as a "fugitive slave" on the "Underground Railroad."

On two weekends a year, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio) and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad present an experiential program in which visitors experience an evening as "fugitive slaves" who are trying to escape to "Hope" (the codeword for Cleveland) and the final trip to freedom in Canada.

Groups of about 25 people are "immersed" in the role of slaves, with as much historical accuracy as possible. A National Park Service ranger told us that we were now in the year 1854 and we were a band of slaves who had escaped from their master in Tennessee. She pointed out that along our way (a two hour 2-mile hike) we would run into "slave catchers," "abolitionists," and other assorted characters. We would have real weapons pointed at us, but double and triple-checked to assure they were unloaded. Harsh language might be said, but we were in no way to talk back to the people, even if emotions were overwhelming. (At no time was the dreaded "N word" spoken by the actors due to modern-day sensitivities, but we were often called "Negroes").

The trip took place after dark and we were escorted by candle-lanterns for historical accuracy. No flashlights were used, thank goodness. We were asked to turn off our modern conveniences like cell phones and pagers.

We were greeted at first by a farmer's wife (all re-enactors, of course) who warned us of the dangers ahead, that she heard there were slave-catchers along the way. Although the re-enactors and park ranger never told us about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, we were constantly reminded in our role as "slaves" that we could be captured at any time along our journey to freedom and returned to our owners. The Fugitive Slave Act was part of the Compromise of 1850 and was an attempt to appease Southerners who demanded their "property" to be returned to them. Not more than 10 minutes into our journey, a group of slave-catchers descended upon us out of nowhere, and made us kneel on the ground. We were yelled at, told to keep our heads down and mouths shut, and no one would get hurt. The re-enactors were brandishing guns as we had been warned. After another 5 or 10 minutes, men jumped the slave-catchers and "freed" us.

The different re-enactors we encountered played historical roles of the times. For example, an African-American woman ran up to us and told us to hide because strangers were coming. She was a "freed" woman and had her papers with her to prove it. As we were "hiding" the men accosted her and tore up her papers while she screamed, thus meaning she was once again a slave. In real life in those times, this happened many times. Former slaves or even African-Americans who had never been held as slaves had to carry papers with them proving they were free. If slave-catchers or unscrupulous northerners would ignore or destroy their papers, the people could be returned to slavery.

We also met "Quakers" who sang "Follow The Drinking Gourd" which meant to follow the Big Dipper, pointing to the North Star. We also met "friends" who led us in a rendition of "Amazing Grace" which we were to use as part of our "disguise" as a travelling "minstrel group."

We encountered an "Irish" couple who were furious at us and other African-Americans, free or not, because they were afraid we'd take their jobs. In the 1850's, the newly arrived Irish were indeed the lowest people on the job ladder because Americans in those days detested Catholics. And it is in fact true that Irish were often "lower" than slaves and free blacks when it came to finding work. The "Irish" couple demanded we turn around and go back south. Of course, we didn't.

Along the way, we also had to hide a couple of more times as strangers were coming along. Other people we met were well-intentioned white people who belonged to "colonization societies," the purpose of which was to "deport" the slaves back to Africa, mainly Liberia, or Haiti. In fact, Abraham Lincoln for a while supported this idea as a possible answer to the slavery problem. While many abolitionists detested slavery, they didn't exactly want African-Americans living next door. Indeed, the American Colonization Society was mentioned to us "slaves" during the evening as the best solution. The ACS was a real organization which did in fact send freed slaves back to Africa, principally to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

We walked along the real Ohio-Erie Canal on part of our experience. The canal towpath was used by the real fugitive slaves as it crossed Ohio diagonally from Cincinnati to Cleveland. The towpath and canal still exist in many parts of Ohio, including in the National Park. To imagine that we were walking in the footsteps of the real slaves was a powerful emotion.

Finally, we were led into a barn (property of the National Park Service) where we were told we were safe and food would soon be brought to us. After a soft musical interlude on a folk guitar, there was a loud gunshot. Just then, another group of slave-catchers stormed in the barn and made us kneel once more. The leader of the group was the local "constable." This was also historically accurate. One would think that the local law would be sympathetic to the plight of escaping slaves. Not necessarily. The Fugitive Slave Act required local sheriffs and constables to capture fugitive slaves and return them to their owners. If the local law official didn't obey this law, that person could actually be arrested and fined the fair market value of each slave he didn't return. Of course, many sheriffs ignored the law, but others didn't. The "constable" in our performance got into a heart-wrenching argument with his "wife" but in the end, we were turned over to the slave-catchers.

That's how we as a group ended up: we remained "captured" and were "forced" to board the train car, which was supposedly going to return us south. As we boarded the car and found our seats, no one in our group of "slaves" talked. Not even a whisper. I think it was a combination of the thought-provoking program we'd just experienced (it took two hours as I wrote previously), and the constant yelling at us by the re-enactors which made everyone so quiet.

We of course didn't experience the true experiences of a fugitive slave. We weren't exposed to the elements (winter months actually saw the most attempts at escape) for more than two hours; we weren't in danger of being shot or hanged; we weren't starving; we didn't have bloodhounds tracking us; and we didn't have to decide if a person was a friend or an enemy.

After we left the train car, we met up with another Park Service ranger who related some current day horror stories of modern slaves in countries like Pakistan, where a person might sell his child for the equivalence of $12.00 because he has a debt he can't pay. The ranger asked us what we might have done in the 1850's if we were slaves. Would we leave our family behind so we could escape? It was easier for one to escape than for a family to escape. If we were not slaves, would we have helped them? And she asked us if we'd be willing today to research clothing companies before we buy a shirt, since some clothing manufacturers use slave labor.

I thought this program was truly outstanding. If you ever get a chance to come to northeastern Ohio in November or anywhere else in the country which offers an Underground Railroad experience, take the opportunity. I visited the National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center to learn something about this subject before I experienced my evening as a fugitive slave. I'm happy I did, because I feel as though I got even more out of my experience. I hope no one is offended by the image of the poster I've included. Unfortunately, it's part of history.

Our country has come a long way in the past 150 years. While slavery no longer exisits in our land, there are still 25 million people worldwide who are in bondage. The struggle must continue until all people, everywhere on Earth, are free.

A Visit To The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center


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.

Exhibit Review - Lincoln: The Constitution And The Civil War



Back on October 17, 2008 I wrote a post about an exhibit which had just opened at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Titled "Lincoln: The Constitution And The Civil War, the exhibit examines Lincoln's role in conjunction with the U.S. Constitution during the American Civil War.

A couple of Fridays ago, I took the day off and drove the 500 mile round-trip between my home in northeastern Ohio and Cincinnati so I could experience the exhibit. The exhibit is open only until January 11, 2009 and it was imperative to make the trip prior to the snowstorms hitting the Ohio highways.

The exhibit is in one room of the Freedom Center, and does not cost extra for admission. That's a nice feature, since many museums charge extra fees to see special exhibits. The exhibit takes the visitor from Lincoln's election, tells the story of secession, examines Lincoln's actions, discusses the Emancipation Proclamation, and finally ends with the 13th Amendment, which at last banned slavery in the United States.

"Lincoln" is quite well done. Originally assembled by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the exhibit is different in that it is not the usual "putting Lincoln on a pedestal" that so many museums and other exhibitions have done in previous years. The facts are laid out quite clearly: Lincoln did take extraordinary measures in fighting to preserve the Union. He suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus, thus denying some prisoners the right to trial; ordered the closure of newspapers which opposed his actions; ordered the arrest of people for writing against or speaking against his actions; and essentially had members of the state legislature in Maryland arrested so they could not vote for secession (Maryland never seceded from the Union). The exhibit offers "pro and con" arguments for the actions Lincoln took in his fight for the Union. An interactive display permits visitors to register their opinion or "vote" about whether they think the actions went too far or not. Overwhelmingly, visitors supported Lincoln's actions.

There are some nice interactive displays in the exhibit. For example, case histories of six real-life people are presented. Each of the people was arrested during the Civil War for opposing the war in some manner. The visitor can find out what happened by using a touch screen. The most famous person the visitor learns about is Congressman Clement Vallandigham from Ohio. He was a leading anti-war figure who was a general pain in Lincoln's side. Lincoln had him arrested, then finally ordered his "deportation" to the Confederacy. Other people presented to the visitor are newspaper editors and other anti-war activists.

A very moving video shows footage of the Gettysburg battlefield as the voice of actor Sam Waterston recites the Gettysburg Address. While we can't hear Lincoln's voice, records do tell us that his voice was high-pitched and thin. I suspect that Waterston's voice is a close approximation.

For me, the best part of the exhibit is the collection of very rare and priceless artifacts on display. The visitor can see the original South Carolina ordinance for secession plus a printed copy of it. A top hat attributed to Lincoln is on display. Lincoln campaign items, including a campaign ribbon and a "Wide Awake" hat are shown. A newspaper clipping and original print of Lincoln's First Inaugural address are present. Lincoln's original order (in his handwriting) to resupply Fort Sumter is on loan. An original hand-written copy of the 13th Amendment is on display as well (in Secretary of State Seward's penmanship). An early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation may be seen.

Some disappointments, though. The original article I found about this exhibit stated that there were "100 artifacts" on display. If so, I certainly didn't see any beyond the 20 or 30 in the room. The exhibit itself is quite small. Even reading all the text of the displays, watching the video, and trying my hand at the interactive displays, it took me no more than an hour to get through it. Finally, the lighting was so darkened (in order to preserve the precious items, no doubt) , it would be difficult for someone with weak eyesight to read anything. I've been to other exhibits, including the wonderful touring exhibit of the National Archives documents a few years ago, and the rooms were not nearly as dark.

Disappointments aside, the exhibit is worthwhile for helping the visitor to understand the complexities of Lincoln, the Constitution, and the Civil War. We today are facing many of the same issues as our government tries to balance our safety and our liberties. In my opinion, the government has overstepped its bounds with warrantless wiretapping and the rest of the Patriot Act. It was surprising to me to see on an interactive display in the Lincoln exhibit that over 75% of the visitors think our safety is more important than our freedom. I'm not sure I would agree.

I wouldn't make a trip to Cincinnati *only* for the exhibit, but the Freedom Center is an excellent museum. Cincinnati is also home to a world-class zoo, art museums, a top-notch botanical garden, and of course the beautiful Ohio river waterfront. Just across the river in Newport, Kentucky, there is an outstanding aquarium. It's definitely worth a visit.

My rating of Lincoln: The Constitution And The Civil War?






Four Lincoln log cabins out of five. Had the exhibit been larger, I would have given it a perfect rating.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

'A New Birth Of Freedom' Is Obama Inaugural Theme

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

Using Lincoln To Help Inspire The Nation


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?"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

MAKE HISTORY - VOTE!


Today marks the end of a long and grueling presidential campaign season. Our nation will make history today, no matter who wins the presidential election. We will end up with either the first African-American president, the oldest elected president, or the first woman vice-president. Indeed, a momentous occasion in America.

I've included an image of a rare 1860 campaign poster. Like 1860, our nation seems to be at a cross-roads in 2008. Of course, no states are threatening to secede right now, but there are critical issues facing us. If you are reading this post, I assume you have at least a passing interest in history. Don't just read about history: make history. Exercise your right to vote!

 
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