Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Abraham Lincoln Blog Takes A Break


The Abraham Lincoln Blog is taking a bit of a break over the next couple of weeks. I'm heading to the country of Turkey tomorrow morning so my wife and I can attend the celebration of her father's 90th birthday on Thursday. My wife is originally from that country and her parents still live there.

The image in the photo is taken on the beach where they live on the western coast of Turkey. Yes, it's every bit that beautiful. It will be my 10th trip to the country and I never tire of it, its people, and the amazing history everywhere you look. There are remnants of ancient Rome and Greece, the Hittites, the Byzantines, the Ottoman Empire, and other peoples mentioned in the Bible. It is a fascinating land.

Of course, this being a blog about Abraham Lincoln, I had to find an article about his administration's interaction with the Ottoman Empire, which is here. The U.S. and the Ottoman Empire had very cordial relationships in those days. Today, Turkey remains a staunch and important ally of the U.S. in the unstable Middle East.

The other snippet I know about Lincoln's interaction with the Ottomans is that he sent General Lew Wallace (author of the famous Ben-Hur) as ambassador to Constantinople (now Istanbul). He hoped that the ancient city would inspire Wallace to write another Biblical novel.

Thank you for your patience if I don't update the blog over the next couple of weeks. If major "Abe News" breaks, I'll blog about it as soon as possible. I return in early August after, it is to be hoped, a very relaxing vacation.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review: "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln"


Perhaps no American in history is surrounded by more mythology than Abraham Lincoln. The "Great Emancipator" who freed the slaves actually freed not a single one. The man who supposedly put himself above politics to serve the good of the country was in reality a masterful politician who was not above playing hardball to get what and where he wanted. The most lingering and powerful myth of all for most Americans might be the belief that Lincoln was adored while he was alive, seen as the savior of the Union. Nothing could be further from the truth.

An important new book has been released in the past few months which reveals just how despised Abraham Lincoln was by his opponents, the press, the intelligentsia, and abolitionists. The book, written by Larry Tagg, is titled "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln" with the subtitle of "The Story of America's Most Reviled President." I've had the great pleasure to read the book and have decided to post a review of it here in my blog.

(Before I begin the review, I want to make it clear that Larry Tagg is a Lincoln enthusiast. The book discusses the hatred felt for Lincoln by people in the 1860's. It is not a revisionist history or modern-day "hatchet job" on Lincoln.)

Lincoln was obviously the target of fanatical hatred throughout the South, where he received not a single electoral vote in the election of 1860. He was branded an usurper, a tyrant, a bigot, a king, and a gorilla. He was called ugly, foolish, stupid, and other names not fit to print even by today's standards.

What is more surprising, though, is how much Lincoln was detested by many in the North. The rival Democrat press savaged him from the moment he was nominated. Most Northerners felt this backwoods country lawyer from what was then the frontier was not up to the challenge of leading the country at the most critical point in its history. Abolitionists hated him because of his foot-dragging about slavery. His political rivals targeted him from the beginning as well, his new Secretary of State William Seward attempting a bit of a "coup" against him. The intelligentsia laughed at his appearance, mocked his lack of formal education, and were repulsed by his accent. "Proper society" was shocked by the stories of his crass, even vulgar jokes (at least by the standards of the day), and his awkward manners. Even George B. McClellan, the commanding general of the Army Of The Potomac detested Lincoln, was insubordinate to him, and called him an "idiot" in writing.

"The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln" goes into great depth relating how much Lincoln was assailed from the time of his nomination, during the election campaign, and throughout his presidency. The author relates how Lincoln was mocked throughout the country when he was sneaked into Washington in the dead of night prior to his inauguration, thanks to credible threats of violence against him during his journey from Springfield.

Where "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln" excels is when the author presents the reasons *why* Lincoln was so hated. It wasn't simply because he was a Republican, for members of his own party detested him. Tagg describes clearly the various reasons, including an inherent distrust of leaders by Americans; a series of weak presidents who preceded Lincoln; the party system which had produced those weak presidents; the spoils system which had caused a serious corruption of politicians (sound familiar?); and of course the great debate over slavery. This analysis over the course of a few chapters is outstanding and helps the reader to understand what Lincoln faced as soon as he was nominated.

In the book's epilogue, Tagg discusses the almost instant deification of Abraham Lincoln after the assassination. Newspaper editors who had hurled the most vile of invectives against Lincoln for the previous 4 1/2 years now sang his praises in print. They followed the theme of "Just when Lincoln was finally getting this thing right, he was killed." Preachers who had attacked him for either not being enough of a Christian or being too slow about slavery, now compared him to Christ, for Lincoln was of course shot on Good Friday just as he was leading his country to the "Promised Land." Even papers in the defeated Confederacy now felt compelled to offer him the kind words in death that he was denied in life. Of course, the Union Armies might have something to do with "winning over" the Southern Press. The epilogue to this book is poignant and even moving.

"The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln" is beautifully written, with an almost rhythmic cadence at times. Even though it totals 473 pages, it does not seem overly long, because the story and the writing hold the reader's attention. There is generous use of reprinted cartoons and sketches of the era vilifying Lincoln, including many I had never before seen.

Mr. Tagg obviously did an incredible amount of research for this book, much of it from the original sources. It is thoroughly footnoted and Tagg provides a helpful bibliography for the reader who wishes to learn more about the subject matter.

I would have liked to have seen a little more about the press reactions to The Gettysburg Address, because many editors thought it was undignified, too short, and some didn't bother to even reprint it in entirety. The book discusses this in just a couple of pages. But this observation is only a personal opinion and it is the only quibble I had while reading the book.

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln." Along the way, I learned a great deal more about this under-represented area of Lincoln history than I previously knew.

The best books on Lincoln (David Donald's "Lincoln" and recent biographies by Michael Burlingame and Ronald White) help us understand the real Lincoln, the man behind the myths, the man who was not universally loved as we all seem to want to believe. And I am very happy to report that "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln" fits that description perfectly. This book is important and it deserves a lofty place in the pantheon of Lincoln literature. Well done, Mr. Tagg.

("The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln" was published in early 2009 by Savas Beattie LLC. It is available on Amazon.com and at LarryTagg.com plus bookstores nationwide. If you don't see it at your local store, ask them to order it for you. You will not be sorry you did.)



My rating:


5.0 Log Cabins out of 5.0 - An outstanding and important Lincoln work





Thursday, July 9, 2009

Greenpeace At Mount Rushmore

By now it's fairly old news that the environmentalist group Greenpeace staged a protest yesterday about global warming at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Members of the organization used rappelling anchors (already in place for the National Park Service to use when cleaning the sculptures) and unfurled a banner which read "America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians. Stop Global Warming."

I have mixed emotions about the protest that Greenpeace staged yesterday. Certainly, the members of the group broke the law by trespassing on National Park Service (NPS) land. They could have damaged the carvings. Most seriously of all, they endangered their lives and the lives of the NPS rangers who escorted them back to safety. And of course since I blog about Abraham Lincoln, I was at first angry that Greenpeace protested next to Mr. Lincoln's "head."

On the other hand, I care deeply about the environment and I practice environmentalism on an personal basis. I currently own a 2009 Toyota Prius, which is the third Prius I've owned since 2001. My wife and I recycle virtually everything we use. I believe global warming is real, although the causes of it are debatable. Looking at Greenpeace's banner in another way, it could be taken to mean that this country is in desperate need of leadership, the kind which Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and yes, Abraham Lincoln provided to our nation. In fact, I rather think these four men, especially Roosevelt (who championed conservation), would take action to help combat the effects of global warming.

The New York Daily News had a laughable headline it its edition today, claiming that Greenpeace "defaced" the face of Lincoln at the mountain. Well, no. It unfurled a temporary banner. It did not deface Lincoln's carving or any of the others. And looking at it from the viewpoint of the Native Americans, this mountain (which is spiritual to them) was defaced when Gutzon Borglum, the carver, created these faces in the 1920s. The NPS website states that Mount Rushmore was created to honor American History. True from one point of view. But it does not honor Native American history.

In the end, the Greenpeace protesters were arrested yesterday and face heavy fines and possible jail sentences. That is as it should be, because they did break the law. At the same time, they brought attention to an important issue. Above all, they demanded leadership from our president and the rest of the politicians. And that is not a bad thing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ford's Theater Museum Re-Opens on July 15, 2009


The museum at Ford's Theater is at long last scheduled to re-open to the public on July 15, 2009 after a $50 million renovation of it and the theater which took nearly two years. From accounts I've been reading in various sources, it sounds as if the long wait will be worth it.

In the July 3rd edition of The Washington Post, an article describes in detail about how carefully museum curators dressed a mannequin with the original clothes that Lincoln wore to the theater on April 14, 1865. Lincoln's dried blood is still on the trousers and oil still leaks from his boots even after 144 years. Curators were surprised to find that the fly in the trousers is missing a button and the remaining buttons are mismatched. Completing the mannequin and putting it into its glass display case were among the final preparations before the museum re-opens.

As I reported in January, the beautiful overcoat Lincoln wore that night has been deemed too fragile for permanent display, even in controlled lighting and climate conditions. It will be displayed on special occasions only.

The newly renovated museum will strive to tell more about the assassination and put that event into context of Lincoln's time in Washington. It will display the derringer used to kill Lincoln, the knife Booth used to slash Major Henry Rathbone (the Lincolns' companion that night, along with Clara Harris), a toy sword used by Tad Lincoln, opera glasses used by Mary Lincoln, and the actual door to the president's box from that night.

The "new" Ford's Theater and Museum will be a must-see attraction for people who wish to learn more about Abraham Lincoln and one of the greatest tragedies of American history.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lincoln Presidential Museum Achieves 2 Million Visitors

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois was visited on Independence Day by its 2 millionth visitor. The lucky person, pictured above being greeted by a Lincoln re-enactor, is Julie Domantay, who moved to Illinois from the Philippines just last year. Ms. Domantay confessed to not knowing much about Lincoln and wanted to visit the museum on Independence Day. Highly appropriate, considering the reverence that Lincoln held for the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence.

According to the article in today's State Journal-Register (Springfield, Ill.) newspaper, the Lincoln Museum achieved this milestone faster than any other presidential library or museum. That's not surprising to me, considering Lincoln's continued popularity and the fascination he holds for so many, including this blogger.

If you've never visited the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, I urge you to do so. It is full of outstanding information about the man. I personally wish it wouldn't be so Disney-like, but today's crowds apparently need entertainment while they're learning. I suppose there's not much harm in that.

The Museum features both permanent and temporary exhibits, plus a very good museum store.

Mr. Lincoln The Big Cheese



Abraham Lincoln was the "Big Cheese" in the U.S. for the most tumultuous period of our history. Now Honest Abe literally became the big cheese a couple of days ago in Washington, D.C.

Pictured above is a life-sized "statue" of Lincoln created entirely from a 1,000 pound block of cheddar cheese. According to this report from Fox News, the Cheez-It Cracker company has commissioned sculptor Troy Landwehr to create cheese sculptures in Washington, D.C. over the 4th of July weekend for the past three years. This year it was an obvious choice to do Lincoln in honor of his 200th birthday. The link contains a video of the carving as well.

Mr. Landwehr took five days to complete the work. I hope people don't find it to be too tacky, or dare I say, "cheesy."

 
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