About one year ago, the famous actor Daniel Day-Lewis was named by director Steven Spielberg to star in the Spielberg's biographical film about Abraham Lincoln. Filming has been under way in Richmond, Virginia since March 2011, with release due in December 2012.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
All in all, it was a great experience. I love writing and speaking about Abraham Lincoln, with the goal of helping to educate others about his life and legacy. It was the first time I've lectured outside of my hometown area and I hope it's not my last opportunity to do so.
Thank you to the kind people of Granville, who made my first visit to your town so memorable and wonderful!
Friday, October 21, 2011
Although Abraham Lincoln never lived in my home state of Ohio, his connections to the Buckeye State are nonetheless many and deep. Lincoln's second Secretary of War (Edwin Stanton) and his Treasury Secretary (Salmon B. Chase) were Ohioans. Another Ohioan (John A. Bingham) was a U.S. Congressman during Lincoln's administration, and served on the tribunal which tried the Lincoln conspirators. The two best Union generals, Grant and Sherman, also hailed from this state. Lincoln himself gave major speeches in the cities of Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. And the latter two cities hosted funerals for Lincoln on his journey home to Springfield.
These and other Lincoln connections to Ohio will be the focus of my latest lecture about the 16th President Of The United States. Titled "Abraham Lincoln In Ohio", the presentation will be held at the Granville, Ohio Public Library on Saturday November 5, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. Granville is about 30 miles due east of the state capital of Columbus. Attendance is free.
Why not drop by, learn more about Mr. Lincoln, and meet yours truly? I love meeting fellow Lincoln enthusiasts. Thank you.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 9:15 AM
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I was recently asked to review a new book which claims that mental illness helped some of the most powerful moral and political leaders in history to achieve greatness.
The book is titled "A First-Rate Madness" and it's author is an esteemed psychiatrist, Nassir Ghaemi. Dr. Ghaemi is professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, graduate of Harvard Medical School, and also holds an undergraduate degree in history.
"A First-Rate Madness" describes the mental afflictions which affected such important leaders as Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln. Each leader is discussed in a chapter or two. Since the focus of this blog is Abraham Lincoln, this review will focus on the chapter about him.
Dr. Ghaemi discusses Lincoln's well-known bouts of depression in his chapter "Both Read The Same Bible", text taken from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. He writes about Lincoln's apparently serious despair in 1835 after the death of his supposed girlfriend Anne Rutledge. Lincoln was supposedly watched over by close friends at New Salem, who feared for his life. Another episode when Lincoln was struck by deep depression was in 1841 after his broken engagement to Mary Todd, when he wrote: "I am now the most miserable man living."
As I wrote, these episodes of Lincoln's depressive episodes are well-known to people who have read even casually about him. But Dr. Ghaemi takes these known episodes and stretches them to make what to me seems to be an unsubstantiated claim: that Lincoln "suffered from severe depression, probably a version of manic-depressive illness" and that "Most of the time, Lincoln was a highly depressed, even suicidal man." Well.
Dr. Ghaemi's chapter on Lincoln uses as its main source the 2005 book "Lincoln's Melancholy" by Joshua Wolf Shenk. That book caused somewhat of a controversy among Lincoln scholars and historians about its claim of Lincoln's "serious depression." Harold Holzer for one, doesn't accept the theory that Lincoln was nearly incapacitated by his "hypochondria" as Lincoln called it. Otherwise, how could Lincoln have pulled himself together over the course of four years in leading the country in the Civil War, especially after the death of his favorite child, Willie, in 1862? Personally, I agree with Mr. Holzer; Lincoln couldn't have been so depressed as to be suicidal "most of the time" or else he couldn't have led the country, let alone so brilliantly led it.
Dr. Ghaemi then goes on to try to show how Lincoln's depressive episodes made him more receptive to political realism. He gives more well-known examples: Lincoln's early opposition to abolition; his support for colonization of freed slaves; his eventual acceptance of ending slavery; and his magnificent Second Inaugural Address, where he refused to "gloat" over victory.
I would have believed more about Dr. Ghaemi's chapter about Abraham Lincoln had he used more than one significant source for it, especially a controversial book full of disputed historical facts and assumptions. He also doesn't make a very convincing connection (for me, at least) between Lincoln's "constant" depression and brilliant leadership.
I am neither psychiatrist nor medical doctor of any kind. But I do know a fair amount about Abraham Lincoln. And I know enough to understand that Dr. Ghaemi's thesis about Lincoln's "madness" turning him into a great leader seems to be weak, at best. It forces me to wonder about the other claims for other leaders in the rest of the book, which I have admittedly yet to read.
In summation, "A First Rate Madness" has an interesting premise, but ultimately, the premise cannot be proven, at least about our nation's greatest president. Spend your time and money on other (and better) books if you wish to read more about Lincoln's legacy and life.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 6:46 PM
Monday, September 19, 2011
The life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln have been written about in countless thousands of books beginning with the earliest campaign biographies in 1860. His impact on the United States of America was of course significant beginning with his election to the Presidency and continues to be felt today. Republicans and Democrats alike claim his ideals, the current President of The United States considers him a personal hero, and of course historians (professional and amateur both) continue to research and write about him. Many more millions of people are fascinated by this enigmatic leader.
But how did or does Lincoln affect the rest of the world, if at all? Does his story resonate with people in other countries? Do foreign political leaders use his ideals in governing their own nations?
These questions are considered in a newly published book from Oxford University Press. The book "The Global Lincoln" is a collection of essays written by scholars from around the world, including the countries of England, Wales, Spain, India and regions such as Latin America, the Far East, and the American South.
As one of the reviews on the back cover states, "The Global Lincoln is unique." In my own four decades of reading books about Lincoln, I have never before encountered one which attempts to investigate Lincoln's enduring legacy (if any) in other parts of the world. Therefore, I was eager to begin reading this book when it arrived from the publisher.
I admit that I have yet to complete my reading of this work. At some points, the book has held my interest, especially in the chapter discussing foreign prints featuring Lincoln. Written by Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, this essay is well-written in clear language, and reflects his powerful knowledge of the image of Lincoln in prints. Holzer is perhaps the leading Lincoln scholar of our time, and deservedly so.
Other essays, though, are so densely written in a style which academics only use that the author's point will no doubt be lost on many, if not most, readers. I refer to the opening essay by the two principal editors of the book, Richard Carwardine (President of Corpus Christi College at the University of Oxford, England and Jay Sexton, Lecturer In American History at Oxford). While the essay is informative and serves as a decent introduction to the rest of the book, it is at times so filled with dense information, ideas, and language that it will perhaps fail to entice the average reader into continuing reading.
An example of such writing is the authors' usage of words such as "dicta," "lacuna," and "vacuous" in their introductory essay. Most people probably will not know the definitions of these words (respectively: "statements about political principles", "a gap", and "mindless"), therefore missing the point of the essay itself. Ironically, the authors of this essay talk about how Lincoln understood the power of simplicity and accessibility in his words. Lincoln avoided the use of the flowery and rambling language of his day, choosing intead to use more concise language in order to make his own writings more powerful and memorable. It's a shame that these two brilliant authors of this particular essay ignored Lincoln's own example.
The rest of the essays are more clearly written, which lend themselves to be of more interest to the average reader. It's interesting to note that Lincoln had a decent amount of influence in England during his lifetime and during the term of Prime Minister David Lloyd George into the early decades of the 20th Century, but now has waned significantly. Apparently the Welsh strongly identified with Lincoln and his ideals. In India, Gandhi barely mentioned him in his writings and Lincoln has had slight to no impact on the people or politicians there. On the other hand, in Ghana Lincoln's principles were used by its prime minister during the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union to defend his nation's strict neutrality.
My feelings about this book are decidedly mixed. For me, it swings between interesting and sleep-inducing. It's difficult to know what readers the various authors had in mind as they were writing the various essays. My best guess is that they were aiming their efforts at fellow academics, and certainly not ordinary people who want to learn more about Abraham Lincoln and his continuing legacy. To me, that is a shame, because history should be made to come alive for people, not turn them off on the subject even further.
In the final analysis, I must judge this book as only barely recommendable. It will interest only the most serious of Lincoln students and even for them, that interest will be a struggle to maintain.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:50 PM
I was contacted earlier this summer by a publicist for Time Home Entertainment, Inc. who asked me if I would care to review their special book issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. I agreed to do so, and my thoughts begin below.
The book is titled "The Civil War: An Illustrated History" and has been issued in hardcover with dust jacket for this first release. It contains more than 200 pages complete with text and lavish illustrations featuring rare photographs, including many I've never before seen even though I have read countless books about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln.
All the major battles and other events of the war are covered in the book, including a brief lesson on how divided this nation was in the decades preceding the war itself. There is a fine introduction written by Jeff Shaara, author of "Gods and Generals" and many other Civil War novels.
"The Civil War: An Illustrated History" provides an excellent overview of the war and the writing is quite good. However, it is not meant to be a book which covers the war in depth or great detail, and the advanced Civil War buff might find it repetitive for him or her.
But it succeeds very well as a good basic repository of information, facts, and high level analysis of the Civil War. As I mentioned earlier, I was impressed with the rare photographs included in the book, and for me that is its strongest feature.
Time's "The Civil War: An Illustrated History" may be found at bookstores everywhere and online from several different sources. Publication price is $29.95, but you will easily be able to find it for less.
Of the many books coming out this year and over the next few years during the Civil War sesquicentennial, this volume stands out as an excellent beginning point for those readers who wish to learn more about the nation's bloodiest war. Recommended.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:32 PM
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Greetings to the readers of The Abraham Lincoln Blog. It's been a while since I've updated this forum with a new post, thanks to a busy summer professionally and personally. In addition to writing this blog, I also edit the "Honest Abraham Lincoln" page on Facebook (http://facebook.com/honestabrahamlincoln) and write Lincoln-related "tweets" on Twitter (Mr_Lincoln). It's difficult to keep up with everything, but I do my best. The Facebook page has 615 fans at this writing, while the Twitter feed is followed by over 2,200 people.
In addition to using social media to help educate others about Lincoln's life and legacy, I have recently begun lecturing to public and private groups about different aspects of Lincoln. In recent months, I've spoken on his Inaugural Journey to Washington in 1861; his assassination and funeral train journey back to Springfield in 1865; and his struggles to find competent generals during the Civil War.
My next scheduled lecture will be about Lincoln's numerous ties to my home state of Ohio. While he of course never lived in the Buckeye State, he gave speeches in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. Ohioans Salmon B. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton served in his cabinet. Ohio generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan helped to win the Civil War. And Cleveland and Columbus hosted two of Lincoln's funerals. Lincoln antagonists Benjamin Wade and Clement Vallandigham also hailed from Ohio. Ohio was crucial in Lincoln's life and I look forward to lecturing on this topic.
The lecture is scheduled for November 5, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. at the Granville Public Library in Granville, OH, about 25 miles east of Columbus. All of you are invited to this free public lecture. Why not drop by and learn a little more about Mr. Lincoln? I would love to meet you.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Police in Baltimore, Maryland have arrested two men in the attempted theft of various historic documents worth millions of dollars from the Maryland Historical Society. One of the men, Mr. Barry H. Landau (pictured at left) claims to be one of the foremost collectors of presidential memorabilia, with over one million pieces in his collection. The man on the right, Jason Savedoff, is accused of being Landau's accomplice.
According to a copyrighted story in The Baltimore Sun newspaper, the two men were at the society on Saturday July 10, where they spent most of the day examining various historical documents made available to researchers. But they apparently showed suspicious behavior and society officials spotted Savedoff stealing a document and carrying it out of the building. Police were contacted and Savedoff was confronted by police. They discovered a locker rented by Savedoff near the society building, and found 60 documents, including some signed out by Landau.
Included in this attempted theft were documents signed by Abraham Lincoln, valued at $300,000, a document from the dedication of the Statue Of Liberty, another from the commemoration of the Washington Memorial, and various invitations to presidential balls. All told, the entire "haul" could've been worth in the millions.
Unfortunately, thefts of priceless documents from museums and historic societies aren't uncommon. Institutions have to balance access for researchers and security of their property. Only a few months ago, a researcher was caught "doctoring" a date on a pardon which Lincoln wrote, so it would appear that Lincoln wrote it on his last day in the White House. I have previously reported about thefts of Lincoln documents in articles which may be found here, here
and here. Other treasures such as the original patent for the Wright Brothers airplane are currently missing from other institutions.
The article from The Baltimore Sun tells more about the background of Landau. Apparently he has worked with various U.S. presidents and even hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities. He is the author of a book about presidential diplomacy and is said to be at work on a second book. Both of the men are being held in a Baltimore jail at this time.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 12:04 PM
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Although I'm currently on vacation on the Turkish Aegean coast, I felt I had to share some interesting news with my readers about a new discovery of some previously unknown documents written by Abraham Lincoln. A couple of my friends gave me the "heads up" and I'm grateful to them for it.According to this article in The Huffington Post, summer intern David Spriegel (age 21) was working with papers at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois when he made this new discovery. While sorting through papers which were to be digitized, Mr. Spriegel noticed a small inscription on a paper which read "The above memorandum is in the inscription of Abraham Lincoln - M. Hay".
These few documents detail the purchase and selling of some lots in Springfield dating back to the time that Lincoln was a lawyer in that town. Mr. Hay was Milton Hay, who served earlier in his career as a law clerk in one of Lincoln's firms. Milton Hay's nephew, John M. Hay, ended up becoming a secretary and personal assistant to Lincoln during his presidency, and later served as U.S. Secretary Of State.
The memos have been authenticated by experts and now will join at least 1,800 other authentic Lincoln documents in the Lincoln Library's collection.
It's not unusual for a new Lincoln document to surface, according to the article. What is unusual is that such discoveries are typically made by scholars and researchers, not by a summer intern only two weeks into his position. This finding by Mr. Spriegel will be hard to top.
Now, back to vacation, but always vigilant for new Lincoln discoveries to share with my readers.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 8:55 AM
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Union Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, the first notable death of the American Civil War. He was but 24 years old at the time of his death and his loss sent waves of grief throughout the Union. Other than his parents, no family felt his loss as keenly and as deeply as Abraham and Mary Lincoln, and their sons.
Elmer Ellsworth was born in the state of New York in 1837. Although he yearned to join the United States Military Academy at West Point, his grades were not good enough for that institution. He eventually moved to New York City, then relocated to Chicago where he studied law and became a law clerk. He was unusual among men of his era in that he strictly avoided tobacco and alcohol, much like Abraham Lincoln.
Ellsworth's first love remained military science and not the law. In 1859, he formed the "Chicago Zouaves" a precision military drill team, based on the famous Zouave soldiers of the French Army based in northern Africa, primarily in Algeria. The Chicago Zouaves wore the same type of uniform as did the real Zouaves; open jackets, baggy pants, and colorful accoutrements.
The Chicago Zouaves led by Ellsworth went on a barnstorming tour of the Northern states in the months leading up to the Civil War. The "regiment" as it was called performed stunning acrobatic moves, swift actions with their weapons, including bayonets. and dazzling march steps. They took the crowds across the north by storm, and it didn't matter one bit that the Zouaves, especially Ellsworth, never had seen real military action.
It was through these displays that Abraham Lincoln first met Ellsworth. A fast friendship began when Lincoln invited Ellsworth to Springfield in the late autumn of 1860, to continue his law studies by working for and with Lincoln. It turned out, though, that Ellsworth really helped in the presidential campaign by giving speeches and making appearances at various Republican functions. By now, Ellsworth was a famous man, and his efforts for Lincoln were noted during the campaign. Lincoln, according to author Adam Goodheart (1861: The Civil War Awakening), seems to have developed almost a "schoolboy" crush on the much younger and much shorter Ellsworth, who stood just 5'6" tall. Indeed, the entire Lincoln family became quite fond of Ellsworth, practically "adopting" him into their family. After Lincoln's election, he asked for Ellsworth to accompany the family to Washington.
Once Lincoln was in office, he requested several appointments in the regular Army for Ellsworth, but these didn't pan out. Upon the attack and fall of Ft. Sumter, Lincoln requested 75,000 volunteers from across the Union to come to the aid of the nation. Ellsworth then immediately departed for New York City, where he proceeded to raise a regiment of New York firemen. The New York Fire Zouaves, about 1,000 in all, then came to Washington to help defend the city.
The state of Virginia held a referendum on May 23, 1861 to determine whether or not it would secede from the Union. The citizens of that state decided it would leave, dealing a blow to the efforts of Lincoln and others to keep the most politically important southern state from leaving.
It was then that a hotel proprietor in Alexandria, VA, raised a giant Confederate flag (The Stars and Bars) over his establishment. The flag was so large, in fact, that Lincoln himself could see it from his office window in the White House. The effect of seeing the flag so close to Washington was unnerving to Lincoln, and especially to Mary. Ellsworth knew this and embarked on this course of action which led to his untimely death.
Early on the morning of May 24, 1861, Ellsworth led his men across the Potomac River into Alexandria, where they proceeded to occupy the city's telegraph office, hoping to cut it off from the rest of the Confederacy. Ellsworth then realized he was close to the hotel displaying the offensive flag. He impulsively entered the building and with two of his men climbed up the stairs to reach the roof. He cut down the flag and began carrying it back down the stairs.
It was then that tragedy struck. The hotel owner, one James Jackson, then swiftly pulled out a shotgun, fired, and killed Ellsworth instantly, the shot going through Ellsworth's heart. One of Ellsworth's men, Cpl. Francis Brownell, returned fire and killed Jackson on the spot.
The news of Ellsworth's death traveled swiftly through his men and quickly came to the White House. The Lincoln's, especially the president, were horrified and devastated at the death of their young friend. Later, Ellsworth's body was taken to the Washington Navy Yard, where the president and Mrs. Lincoln arrived in shock to view the remains. Lincoln ordered that Ellsworth's remains be put on view in the East Room of the White House, where a funeral was held for their young friend. The same day of Ellsworth's death, Lincoln received two visitors, who were stunned to see the President Of The United States weeping openly. Lincoln told them men: "I will make no apology, gentlemen for my weakness; but I knew poor Ellsworth well, and held him in great regard. Just as you entered the room, Captain [Gustavus] Fox left me, after giving me the painful details of Ellsworth's unfortunate death. The event was so unexpected, and the recital so touching, that it quite unmanned me."
The Union, too, felt the loss of Ellsworth deeply. There was a funeral journey back to New York state, not unlike the journey that Lincoln's own body would be given in less than four years from that day. Many people came to witness the train as it passed through cities and towns along the way. Song writers composed funeral marches. Currier and Ives, the leading print makers of the era, quickly produced a print showing the murder of Ellsworth, fairly accurately depicting the event.
While alive, Elmer Ellsworth was one of the most famous men in the United States. In death, his popularity grew even more as he became known as the first Union officer to be killed in the American Civil War. The young man with no military experience at all ironically became the first Union martyr.
Today Elmer Ellsworth is mostly unknown to those outside of the circle of Civil War and Lincoln historians and enthusiasts. There is a plaque today at the scene of Ellsworth's death in Alexandria. It commemorates not Colonel Ellsworth, but his shooter, the owner of the hotel.
On this 150th anniversary of the death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, I choose to remember him.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:20 PM
Saturday, May 7, 2011
What motivated the actor John Wilkes Booth into committing one of the most infamous crimes in American history, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? For the past nearly 150 years, most people have assumed it was a madman's attempt to seek revenge for his beloved fallen Confederacy.
Author and historian Nora Titone's recently published book, My Thoughts Be Bloody, posits a different reason for Booth's fateful decision to kill Lincoln. According to her, it was the intense rivalry between John Wilkes Booth and his older, more accomplished actor brother, Edwin, which eventually led to the assassination.
The Booths were America's greatest family of actors, most noted for their Shakespearean roles. The founder of the dynasty was the father of these two men, Junius Brutus Booth, a native of England who came to America in the 1820's after abandoning his wife to a life of poverty in that country. He arrived with his mistress, Mary Ann Holmes, the eventual mother of both Edwin and John Wilkes.
The book takes the reader through the lives of the Booth family as Junius uses his natural talents to achieve fame and fortunes playing to packed theaters across the United States. As alcoholism sets in, his performances become more erratic and his teenage son, Edwin, becomes his travelling companion to help keep him away from the bottle. It was on this years-long journey with his father when Edwin learns the art of acting which eventually makes him one of the finest actors in American history, even by today's standards.
Meanwhile, John Wilkes Booth, is left behind at the family home in Baltimore, where he attempts to learn the family trade of acting on his own. But without the natural genius of his father and brother Edwin to guide him in his education, he grows into something of a hack, more known for his athletic ability on stage than for his acting talent.
After their father finally succumbs to alcoholism, Edwin is ready to assume the role of Booth patriarch and quickly achieves a fortune of money, while finding fame on the stage in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The younger John, meanwhile, tries to achieve the same level of stardom, but cannot seem to make a go of it.
Edwin then calls a family "meeting of the minds" and with his influence, dictates that he will be the lone Booth brother acting in the prosperous markets of the northeast, while John is given the southern states, much less financially lucrative for actors. Edwin thus has the best chance for making money and his fortune continues to grow, while John in the "hinterlands" of the south, struggles constantly to make enough money to feed himself. It doesn't help, of course, that his acting is not good, but he never sees it that way. He seethes at his older brother.
All of this of course happens against the backdrop of the growing divide between North and South as the slavery issue (and other issues) threatens to tear the country apart. Although only a few years earlier he supported the Northern cause, John Wilkes gradually comes to take the side of the South. The rest of his family, including Edwin, their mother and other siblings, support the Union.
With John Wilkes' acting career seeing fewer roles, he attempts to go into the oil exploration business in Pennsylvania, the scene of the first big U.S. oil strike. He invests a great deal of money with friends, but they lose everything. The money losses further erodes his standing within the Booth family, helping to further intensify his rivalry (and hatred) of his brother Edwin.
John Wilkes returns to the family home nearly a broken man and meets with his brother, who is also home for a visit. They get into an argument filled with much rage and Edwin calls his brother "nothing but a rank secessionist" for expressing pro-Southern opinions. The outraged John Wilkes storms out of the home, more set in his support for the Confederacy than ever.
It was sometime in 1864 when John Wilkes began plotting against Lincoln, almost immediately after this huge quarrel with Edwin. The historical facts from this point forward are well known. Booth fell further and further into conspiracy until on the night of April 14, 1865, he murdered Abraham Lincoln.
After the assassination and John Wilkes Booth's own death on April 26, 1865, the surviving members of the Booth family struggled with what their son and brother had done. They seem to have tried to bury the deed and memories of John Wilkes along with his body. Edwin went on to even greater fame and fortune on the stage, establishing the Players Club for the wealthy and elite in New York City. None of Edwin's friends and associates mentioned John Wilkes, not even until after Edwin died in 1893.
My Thoughts Be Bloody is a line from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Each chapter title is also a line from a Shakespearean play. Since plays written by the Bard were so intertwined into the careers and lives of the Booth family, it is appropriate that the book's title should reflect that.
The book is excellent with its in-depth look at the dynamic of a highly dysfunctional family. The genius of Junius Booth is counter-balanced by his eccentricities which were made worse by his alcoholism. The Booth children were deeply affected by finding out that their mother, Mary, was not their father's wife. It was made even worse when their father's wife showed up unexpectedly to harass the family, making the children ashamed to be bastards. And of course the rivalry between John Wilkes and Edwin further roiled the family.
Titone has written a fascinating account of the Booths. The book is well-written, thoroughly researched, entertaining, and holds the interest of the reader. But does it make a strong case for the author's claim that it was the rivalry between the Booth brothers which led to the death of Lincoln?
I am not entirely convinced that it does. Yes, there was a rivalry. Yes, Edwin relegated John Wilkes to the less prosperous regions of the country for the latter's career. Yes, that led to jealousy and resentment. And yes, that led to John Wilkes advocating the Confederate cause.
But did this rivalry cause Booth to become an assassin? To make such a claim overlooks John Wilkes' oversized ego, self-absorption, feelings of failure from an acting career going nowhere and huge business losses. And perhaps, a touch of insanity. A lot of families have intense sibling rivalry, but they typically don't lead to murder. It may have been one motive, but I don't believe it was the only one.
Ultimately, where My Thoughts Be Bloody most succeeds is in helping us to find another piece of the puzzle in understanding what made John Wilkes Booth commit one of the greatest crimes in our nation's history. Above all, it is thought-provoking and that is the hallmark of what makes a work of history an achievement.
Well done. I highly recommend this book.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 3:25 PM
Robert Redford's latest film, The Conspirator, tells the "story behind the story" of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. By now, Lincoln buffs know that this is not the story of the main conspirator and assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Instead, it focuses on Mary Surratt, the owner of the boarding house in Washington, D.C. where Booth and other conspirators plotted first to kidnap President Lincoln, then changed the plan to murder. The movie is based on the book The Assassin's Accomplice, written by the historian Dr. Kate Clifford Larson.
Mary Surratt was arrested on April 17, just two days after the death of the president. She was held in solitary confinement in harsh conditions along with her co-defendants. All of the defendants were tried by military tribunal, rather than civil court, and were found guilty. Mrs. Surratt, Lewis Payne (who nearly killed Sec. of State William Seward), George Atzerodt (assigned to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson, but didn't carry out the plan), and David Herold (Booth's companion during the manhunt for the two) were hanged on July 7, 1865. Mary was the first woman executed by the Federal government, an act which remains controversial to this day.
The Conspirator is the first film from The American Film Company which was founded in 2008. It has the goal to produce films about events from our nation's past. The company will use historians to assure the films depict the events accurately, unlike so many other films which omit, warp, and flat out lie about the events they purport to tell us about.
Portraying Mary Surratt in the film is Robin Wright. Wright's performance is outstanding. She injects her character with the right blend of strength, courage, despair, and contempt, all traits that Mary Surratt showed during the trial. Thanks to makeup, styling, and costuming, Wright bears more than a slight resemblance to Surratt, which also helps to lend authenticity to her role.
James McAvoy plays Frederick Aiken, Mrs. Surratt's co-counsel. Aiken was a young attorney who served in the large law firm of Reverdy Johnson, a strong Union man and personal friend of Lincoln. Johnson is portrayed by the fine actor Tom Wilkinson. McAvoy's performance is good and shows the personal struggles Aiken had about defending a person accused of conspiracy against the president. However, his performance doesn't match that of Wright's.
In the days, weeks and few months after the assassination, the country was run not by the new president Andrew Johnson, but by the Secretary Of War, Edwin M. Stanton. It was Stanton who led the efforts to arrest the conspirators, track down Booth, and put into place the tribunal which tried the conspirators. Stanton is played in the film by the excellent actor Kevin Kline, who does a marvelous job portraying the anger and thirst for revenge which Stanton exhibited during those few months. It's probably nitpicky, but Kline's beard is not nearly long enough for him to accurately resemble Stanton, who had a long flowing beard down to his chest. I would have liked to have seen Kline have a larger role in the movie.
The Conspirator is essentially a courtroom drama. Unfortunately, the courtroom scenes are not especially dramatic and at times the movie drags. While the film makes the case that the co-defendants should have been tried in civil court and not by military tribunal, it does not explain to the viewer why they were tried in such a manner. (Lincoln's Attorney General, Joshua Speed, one of his closest friends, made the recommendation for the tribunal, and President Johnson agreed.)
The film could have been much more dramatic and emotionally moving had director Redford chosen to depict in greater detail the maneuvers undertaken to stay (or overturn) the decision to hang Mary Surratt. In real life, her daughter Anna tried to get President Johnson to see her so she could plead to him directly for her mother's life, but Johnson refused. Anna is portrayed effectively by Evan Rachel Wood, the excellent young actress, and such a scene would have added some "oomph" to the drama surrounding the execution.
The greatest strength of The Conspirator is by far it's attention to historical detail. Filmed in Savannah, Georgia, the film has a great "authentic feel" to it. The courtroom and setting for the execution of Surratt and her three co-conspirators look amazingly like the photos and sketches of the actual locations from that time. Even the fact that Mrs. Surratt was shielded from the blazing sun by an umbrella the morning of her execution is included in the film. Very well done.
I felt that the film was a bit too sympathetic towards Mrs. Surratt. The casual viewer of the film may even have the opinion at its conclusion that she was guilty of nothing more than owning the house where the conspiracy took place. While historians debate even today about the degree of her guilt or innocence, it should be pointed out that the author of The Accomplice, Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, started her book thinking Mary Surratt was innocent. After her research, she reversed her own opinion and now believes in her guilt. I personally agree that Mary Surratt was deeply involved in the conspiracy. However, I am unconvinced that she should have been executed for her crimes. Her level of involvement simply was not the same as that of Lewis Payne, George Atzerodt, and David Herold, who surely received a just punishment.
The Conspirator raises an interesting question for us today, which may or not have been director Redford's intention. It makes a case against the trying of civilians by military courts, as is happening today in the War On Terror.
I enjoyed The Conspirator far more than I expected. The political overtones weren't as heavy as I feared they would be, nor did it portray Mary Surratt with complete sympathy as I suspected it would. The actors did a wonderful job, and Wright's portrayal of Mary Surratt was for me a revelation of the depth of her abilities. And let's face it: Robert Redford is a truly superb film director.
If The Conspirator is still playing in your area, I encourage you to go see it. A movie with such attention to historical detail and accuracy is seldom made.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 1:00 PM
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The American Civil War which began 150 years ago on April 12, 1861 exacted an unfathomable number of deaths: approximately 620,000 men died as a result of wounds or disease from 1861-1865. That is approximately 2% of the total population of the United States at the time, a figure which would mean over 6 million deaths in the same proportion of our current population.
I was contacted yesterday by Ms. Sarah Stodola, associate editor at TFT, who is the author of the article I am bringing to the attention of my readers. She asked if I would mind sharing it here on The Abraham Lincoln Blog due to the potential interest it might have for people. I agreed to do so and am receiving no compensation in any form for the publicity.
I'm not a financial expert or financial historian, so I cannot vouch for the numbers her article gives for the total estimated cost of the American Civil War. According to the table provided in the article, there is no consensus on how to gauge true "current day" costs adjusted for inflation prior to the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.
The article then concludes with a comparison between the cost of the Civil War and the total cost thus far of the "War On Terror" we are fighting today. Also given are comparisons of cost in relation to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
I'd encourage you to take a few minutes to read Ms. Stodola's article. The financial aspect of the American Civil War is an important part of history and helps to further our understanding of the conflict.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 2:20 PM
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
As I wrote in my previous post, today is of course the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. On April 12, 1861 the war began when Confederate troops began bombarding Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The war which took slightly more than four years to end, resulted in the deaths of 620,000 American soldiers, many of whom died not from battle wounds, but from horrendous disease acquired on the fields or in the hospitals. That total represents roughly two percent of the nation's population (including the South) in 1861. That would be over 6 million soldiers if the War would be fought today.
This time, thankfully, the nation has seemed to be approaching this sesquicentennial more somberly, choosing to commemorate rather than celebrate. That is more fitting and proper, because how can a nation celebrate the deaths of 620,000 men while fighting, in some cases, brother against brother?
Unfortunately, our current Federal Government has not formed an official sesquicentennial commission to commemorate the war. That has been left to the individual states, cities, towns, and villages across the country. Still, there are some noteworthy happenings which I'd like to share with you.
Earlier today, beginning before dawn, there was a re-enactment of the bombardment of Ft. Sumter. It seems as if it must have been a very moving ceremony. You can read about it courtesy of this report from the Associated Press. I believe there will be an "encampment" this weekend at the fort as well, should you be in the area.
The Library Of Congress in Washington, D.C. is staging an important exhibition of tintypes and other photographs from the Civil War from April 12 through August 13, 2011. Titled "The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection" features soldiers and sailors from each side, along with their families, possessions, and so on. Click here to read more about the exhibition.
The United States Postal Service today released two new stamps, one featuring the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the other featuring the First Battle Of Bull Run, which was of course the first major land battle of the Civil War. Information and images of the stamps may be found here.
Over the next four years, until 2015, there will be countless state and local commemoration ceremonies. My own state of Ohio had its official kickoff this past Sunday, April 10, at the statehouse in Columbus. Check your own state or community to see how it will commemorate the American Civil War sesquicentennial. USA Today has recently run a page which lists many such events from across the country. Click here to see the list.
I will continue to do my part to help commemorate the war, by continuing this blog about Abraham Lincoln. Rather than focus on the battles, generals, and soldiers, I will examine Lincoln and the actions he took during the war. I strongly feel that Lincoln himself is being overlooked in the commemorative events which have already taken place and those which have yet to happen. It's important that his role be discussed.
In addition, I operate a Facebook page in which "Lincoln" himself is providing real-time updates from the year 1861. I write in character as President Lincoln, interact with fans of the page, and give any important news. I began the page to commemorate his Inauguration Journey, and will continue it throughout his presidency. Why don't you drop by? Over 460 people have already become fans and I would love to have you join the experience. It's my way to help keep Lincoln's legacy alive. http://facebook.com/HonestAbrahamLincoln
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:55 PM
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:16 PM
Monday, April 11, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to the State Library of Ohio in Columbus to see an Abraham Lincoln exhibition I've been wanting to see for years now. The exhibition is "Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey To Emancipation." It tells the story of Lincoln's admittedly rocky path he travelled from the time he supported colonization of African-American slaves in other countries to his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The exhibition runs through April 15, 2011 in Columbus. Click here to see the next tour stops.
The exhibition consists of a series of panels which runs 75 feet in length. Reproduced are photos of historic documents, political cartoons, photographs, and ephemera which documents early abolition efforts; what America was like during Lincoln's youth; how the nation began dividing between anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions; the Civil War; the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation; and the events which led to Lincoln's assassination. See the photo below for an example of a section of one of these panels.
I found the exhibit to be very well done without hiding the fact that Lincoln was, at best, a moderate toward slavery in his early political career through the time he assumed the presidency. As I mentioned before, he even supported the now abhorrent idea of colonizing freed slaves, ejecting them from the United States, and forcibly colonizing them in African countries, such as Liberia. Some recent scholarship seems to indicate as well that he supported this idea as late as midway through his presidency. These facts may come as a surprise to those who believe that Lincoln was *always* "The Great Emancipator."
Lincoln showed an extraordinary capacity for personal growth in office. Even if it was a political tool, he issued The Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring any persons held in bondage in states, or areas of states, then in rebellion against the United States Of America, "Forever Free." Yes, the Emancipation did not free slaves in the still-loyal border states. Neither did it apply to Union-controlled sections of rebellious states. However, by this time Lincoln had come to believe that slavery in the U.S. needed to be eradicated in order to save the Union.
The exhibit is a fascinating look at the evolving beliefs of Abraham Lincoln concerning slavery. It's educating, well-told, and an impressive look at one of the worst times of American history.
Perhaps the most moving aspect of the exhibition for me was the artwork of young children who had drawn or colored pictures of their impressions of the story of slavery and Emancipation. Here are some of those pictures they drew:
Obviously the story made a big impression on these young people. Hopefully they will remember these lessons about slavery, Abraham Lincoln, and the reasons why the American Civil War was fought. It's important that they know the facts, and not revisionist history told today by neo-Confederates who insist the war was fought over tariffs and that Union was the aggressor.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:16 PM
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Have you ever been told that you have an ancestor or two who fought in the American Civil War? Perhaps you already know the name(s) of your ancestors who served with either the Union or Confederacy, but don't know how to go about finding out important information about the ancestor. In which regiment did he serve? In which battles did the regiment fight? Was he injured, captured, or killed? Now, thanks to a very special partnership between two organizations, that information is more easily accessible than ever.
It's estimated that two-thirds of Americans living today have at least one ancestor who lived through the Civil War, while nearly 17 million of us have an ancestor who fought in the war. Until now, the draft records have been available only to those people who were able to travel to Washington, D.C. to the National Archives for painstaking research. Beginning tomorrow it will be easier than ever before to find out more about your ancestor who fought in the bloodiest war Americans have ever participated in. Who knows? Maybe your ancestor was one of these young men from the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the photo above.
I typically refrain from giving free publicity to businesses and institutions because I don't want to make this blog about Abraham Lincoln too commercial. But in this case, I'm making an exception. This free access to Ancestry.com will be invaluable to hopefully thousands of Americans who want to learn more about their family tree. DISCLAIMER: I am receiving no compensation of any kind from Ancestry.com, nor any of its affiliates, including a membership. I was contacted by a representative who asked me to write about this release, which I've agreed to do.
Here is the publicity release which the Archives and Ancestry.com released earlier today:
WASHINGTON, D.C., and PROVO, UTAH -- (April 6, 2011) – Ancestry.com, the world's largest online family history resource, and the National Archives, today launched millions of newly digitized Civil War records that are now available online for the first time. This effort is part of an ongoing partnership between Ancestry.com and the National Archives to make important historical records more easily available to the American public. Ancestry.com’s entire Civil War Collection of more than 42 million records, including 25 million records from the National Archives, will be free to access for the general public for one week beginning on April 7. Existing members will have immediate access beginning today. Included are the entire U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865 and the complete 1860 and 1870 Censuses. These Civil War collections are in the National Archives and have been digitized by Ancestry.com to help preserve the original records and provide convenient online access. They now serve as a vital source of information for an estimated 17 million Americans who have an ancestor who fought in the conflict. The entire Civil War Collection can be accessed for free at www.ancestry.com/civilwar150
The highlight of the Civil War Collection is the newly digitized Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865. These records are among the most popular in the National Archives Civil War holdings and served as a virtual male census for the northern states during the war period. Famous 19th century Americans such as Andrew Carnegie, future President Grover Cleveland, Aaron Montgomery Ward and multiple Rockefellers are all found in these records. Previously only available by request in original form in the Research Room of the National Archives, the public will now be able to easily access these records on Ancestry.com without having to travel to Washington, D.C.
“The significance of these records, which document one of the most important events in American history, cannot be overstated,” said Ken Burns, director and producer of the award-winning documentary THE CIVIL WAR and longtime board member of the Foundation for the National Archives. “I’ve been able to make multiple discoveries about my own great-great-grandfather Abraham Burns through these and other records from the National Archives. I’m excited that more people will now be able to have similar discoveries through Ancestry.com.”
Ancestry.com is providing another special experience in searching for Civil War and National Archive information through the new interactive Military Headstone Archives. Dynamic visuals and multimedia tools will enable users to ‘virtually’ explore the cemeteries of the Civil War’s most famous battlefields at Gettysburg, PA; Sharpsburg (Antietam), MD; Stones River (Murfreesboro), TN; Petersburg, VA; Shiloh, TN and Vicksburg, MS. Users can search for their family’s heroes in Ancestry.com’s unique collection of headstone photographs from 33 national cemeteries in the North and South. The new Military Headstone Archives can also be accessed by visiting: www.ancestry.com/civilwar150
Since 2008, Ancestry.com and the National Archives have worked as partners to make important historical records available to the public as part of a shared commitment to preserving America's heritage. A key component of this collaboration includes digitizing as many of the original paper National Archives’ Civil War records as possible and publishing those records on Ancestry.com.
“The National Archives continues to be a model for preserving important U.S. history and making those records available to the public,” said Josh Hanna, Executive Vice President for Ancestry.com. “We’re honored that our partnership with the National Archives has made millions of records, including the new Civil War Collection, available to the many Americans who want to learn more about their family history.”
“We are pleased that our partnership with Ancestry.com is making these important records available outside of our research rooms,” said Susan Cummings, National Archives Director of Access Programs. “This is just the first of many series of Civil War records that will be made available online-that are scanned from original records, instead of from microfilm in the years to come.”
The expanded Civil War Collection now includes new National Archives records such as: · U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865: This collection lists all Civil War Draft Registrations. There were four drafts between 1863 and 1865, which included 3,175,055 people in its rolls, although of those, just over 46,000 actually entered into service. Historically, the 1863 draft was one of the most tenuous moments in the Union outside of the battles fought on Northern soil. Most of the concern was due to the draft riots that took place in New York in 1863. These records include more than 630 volumes of registries and are lists of individuals who registered for the draft.
· U.S. Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865: This collection contains indices of compiled military service records for volunteer Union and Confederate soldiers who served with units organized in more than 20 states. The indices also include Confederate soldiers who later served with the Union Army, Union and Confederate soldiers, Generals and staff officers, and other enlisted men not associated with a regiment. Individual records contain both military and personal details useful for locating an ancestor in time and place by tracking his movements during the course of the Civil War.
Other additions to the Civil War Collection include:
Union records · New York Civil War Muster Rolls · New York Civil War City Registers · Kansas Civil War Enlistment Papers
Confederate records · Confederate Pension Applications from AL, AR, TX and VA · Georgia Civil War Correspondence · Alabama Census of Confederate Soldiers · Register of Officers of the Confederate States Navy
To begin searching The Civil War Collection, current subscribers can visit www.ancestry.com/civilwarand new users can visit www.ancestry.com/civilwar150. For further stories and updates related to Civil War family history research, please follow Ancestry.com on Facebook and Twitter.
About Ancestry.com Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq: ACOM) is the world's largest online family history resource, with nearly 1.4 million paying subscribers. More than 6 billion records have been added to the site in the past 14 years. Ancestry users have created more than 20 million family trees containing over 2 billion profiles. Ancestry.com has local Web sites directed at nine countries that help people discover, preserve and share their family history, including its flagship Web site at www.ancestry.com.
About the National Archives The National Archives and Records Administration, an independent federal agency, is the nation's record keeper. Founded in 1934, its mission is unique -- to serve American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage. The National Archives ensures continuing access to the essential documentation of the rights of American citizens and the actions of their government. It supports democracy, promotes civic education, and facilitates historical understanding of our national experience. The National Archives meets a wide range of information needs, among them helping people to trace their families' history, making it possible for veterans to prove their entitlement to medical and other benefits, and preserving original White House records. The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers, and Presidential Libraries, and on the Internet at http://www.archives.gov/.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 4:58 PM
Friday, March 4, 2011
The people began arriving at the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington City before dawn on March 4, 1861, 150 years ago today. They gathered in front of the East Portico of the Capitol, where in only a few hours, Abraham Lincoln would at long last be sworn in as the 16th President Of The United States Of America. The image above was taken 150 years ago today during Lincoln's First Inauguration ceremony.
In those days (and until 1933 when the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified), presidential inaugurations were held on March 4th. It had been nearly four months since Lincoln had won the 1860 presidential election over three other opponents, garnering only 39% of the popular vote. Since his election, seven southern states had seceded from the Union.
Lincoln had remained publicly silent about the secession crisis while he was President-Elect. Even during his Inauguration Journey when he gave over 100 speeches over the course of 13 days from Springfield to Washington, he had said barely anything of substance about the turmoil rocking the nation. He had claimed that the crisis was "artificial" and that the south had nothing to really "complain" about, but he had not given many hints about what his policies would be toward the rebellious states. As winter turned into spring, Lincoln's long public silence was about to end. The crowd, estimated at 30,000, waited along with the nation, north and south, to hear Mr. Lincoln's Inaugural Address.
The crafting of the Address had begun back in Springfield, where Lincoln had been working on it since his election. An initial version of it had been set in type by the Springfield newspaper Illinois State Journal at Lincoln's request. Lincoln shared this first draft with various friends and leaders, seeking their opinion as to how it should read. Upon his arrival in Washington, Lincoln asked his designated Secretary of State, William H. Seward (his main rival for the GOP nomination the year before in Chicago), for his own inputs. As Lincoln scholars such as Harold Holzer have pointed out, the speech which had been strong in tone in Lincoln's first draft, became progressively more conciliatory to the southern states as others suggested corrections.
Outgoing president James Buchanan accompanied Lincoln on the ride from The Willard Hotel (where the Lincoln family had been staying since its arrival in Washington on February 23rd), riding in an open carriage. They were surrounded by soldiers on horseback, who would hopefully keep Mr. Lincoln alive long enough to take the oath of office. There were numerous death threats already against Lincoln, including some which had arrived in Washington City just days before. Supposedly during the carriage ride, President Buchanan said something along the lines to Lincoln "If you are as happy entering office as I am to leave it, then you are the happiest man in the world." Buchanan's presidency had been an abject failure as he sat and did nothing as the nation tore itself apart.
Lincoln might have been personally gratified at winning the election, but one cannot imagine that he was "happy" to be entering office during this national crisis. In fact, he was rather apprehensive about it, having been up before dawn that day. Along his recent Inauguration Journey, he had admitted many times that he felt a greater burden upon becoming president than any of his predecessors, including the burden which faced Washington to help establish a new nation. Lincoln's burden, of course, was to try to save that nation.
The usual dignitaries were waiting Lincoln's arrival at the Capitol. On the platform near to him were Senators and Congressmen, other high ranking government officials, and the Chief Justice Of The United States, Roger Taney. Seated very close to Lincoln was Stephen A. Douglas, the northern Democrat Lincoln had defeated four months before. As Lincoln rose to speak, he looked for a place to rest his hat. When he could find none, Douglas graciously took the hat from Lincoln and held it for him, saying that if he couldn't be President, he could as least hold the President's hat.
Security was extraordinarily tight as Lincoln was on the platform waiting to speak. Sharpshooters had been stationed on the top of the Capitol and every soldier who could be spared in Washington had been. Police ringed the grounds of the Capitol, eyes constantly scanning the crowd. The U.S. Secret Service was not yet in existence this day and everyone feared Lincoln would be killed before he became President. Fortunately on that day, at least, Mr. Lincoln would survive.
Lincoln opened his Address with pleasantries to those gathered before him, then immediately began discussing the national crisis. He began by quoting himself from a former speech, again stating that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." He stated that his stance had not changed.
The Fugitive Slave Law, by which escaped slaves were required to be returned to their owners was also addressed by Lincoln. He stated that he and the Congress would continue to enforce that law; fugitive slaves would continue to be returned to their masters. He told the crowd, but really speaking to the Southerners, that it was the law of the land. This section of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address is perhaps the most surprising to modern eyes when people first read it.
Lincoln went on to address the concept of secession. He said "I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments." In Lincoln's view, the Union which had been entered into by all of the states could not be destroyed by only some or one of those states.
After a few more paragraphs, Lincoln next addressed the issue of potential war. Lincoln said that there would be no violence against the rebellious states, unless it was "forced upon the national authority." He said clearly that under his administration, the Federal government would "hold, occupy, and possess" its property and places and would continue to collect the duties. But at the same time, he said that there would be no "invasion" beyond this pledge to hold onto property.
Then Lincoln got to what was really at the heart of the national crisis, (contrary to claims of neo-Confederates and the Sons Of The Confederacy): the extension of slavery. Lincoln stated: "One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute." Lincoln explained how in his opinion, how disunion would weaken the Fugitive Slave Law and would revive the then-abolished foreign slave trade.
A few more paragraphs of the Address consisted of Lincoln encouraging patience of the people, explaining how the people gave the duties to the President, and even pledging to support the notion of a new amendment to the Constitution, protecting slavery for all time where it already existed. Another surprise for people who think Lincoln tried to eradicate slavery at the beginning.
Lincoln then moved to his closing statements. He told the South that "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."
Finally came some of the most beautiful writing Abraham Lincoln ever committed to paper, his closing paragraph. The idea and suggested phrasing had come from William H. Seward, his designated Secretary of State. But Lincoln recast Seward's stilted language into the famous words: "I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." The image below is of this closing paragraph in Lincoln's handwriting:
(If you have never read the complete text of Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, you may find it here. It's worthwhile to take a few minutes to do so.)
With Lincoln's First Inaugural Address completed, Chief Justice Taney arose to give the oath of office to Abraham Lincoln. It was one of the most ironic moments in U.S. history, for Justice Taney and his fellow justices had ruled in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that slaves had no rights as persons, and weren't even persons in the eyes of the law. Further, his court also ruled that Congress had no jurisdiction under the Constitution to interfere with slavery anywhere in the U.S. or its territories. It was, of course, a decision which helped to further tear the nation apart.
The Bible used that day by Abraham Lincoln to pledge to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution was not the Lincoln family Bible. That was still in the Lincolns' possessions which had yet to arrive from Springfield. Instead, a Bible from the Supreme Court was provided. After the ceremony that day, the Clerk of the Supreme Court wrote in the back about what it had been used for and later sealed it. It is the same Bible which President Obama used two years ago at his own inauguration. Below is an image of the Bible, which is held by the Library of Congress.
After completing the oath of office, Abraham Lincoln surprised many in the crowd by bending to kiss the Bible. He was not known to be particularly religious and had never before joined a church. The crowd erupted into a roar after Lincoln turned to face the crowd as the newly created 16th President Of The United States.
It was a brilliantly sunny day in Washington City 150 years ago today. But there were ominous clouds far off on the horizon, bringing with them the threat of Civil War.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 3:10 PM
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Abraham Lincoln's Inauguration Journey ended 150 years ago today, February 23, 1861 with his arrival in Washington City. He and his family, along with other associates, had been traveling since February 11, when they departed Springfield, Illinois. They rode through seven states, visited the state capitals of six of them, and stopped countless times along the way at large cities and places which barely qualified as crossroads. Some estimates say that Lincoln spoke to approximately 1 million people over the 1900 miles of the journey. Records show that he gave at least 75 speeches, but he no doubt gave more of which we have no evidence.
The Inauguration Journey which had been so successful in letting the people see their President-Elect should have ended triumphantly that day in Washington in front of adoring crowds. Instead it came to an inglorious end with Abraham Lincoln, while in disguise, being sneaked into the city before dawn broke, with only one person present to greet him.
The drama which led to Lincoln's stealthy entry began while Mr. Lincoln was still in Philadelphia. It was there where private detective Allan Pinkerton, who ran a famous detective agency (still in existence today) out of Chicago, informed those close to the President-Elect that his operatives had uncovered a plot against Lincoln. According to the reports of the agents, Lincoln would be attacked (probably stabbed) as he transferred between railroad stations in Baltimore, Maryland.
Maryland was a slave state, with strong secessionist leanings, more southern than northern in its outlook concerning the sectional crisis. Baltimore was the hotbed of those sympathies and the city was hostile towards northerners at that point. It mostly would have been problematic to get Lincoln and his family safely through the city to begin with, but now this "plot" that Pinkerton was reporting further complicated the situation.
It wasn't only Allan Pinkerton's detectives who reported a conspiracy against Mr. Lincoln. In fact, the superintendent of the New York Metropolitan Police, Mr. John A. Kennedy, had himself gone to Baltimore along with the city police chief, to investigate what they also felt was a plot against the President-Elect. The city's best detectives joined them in going to Baltimore.
At first, Lincoln's advisers were split about what should be done. But ultimately, it was decided that Lincoln should be sneaked through Baltimore so safe passage to Washington could be guaranteed. Lincoln himself was convinced by Pinkerton that the plot was real.
Lincoln continued with his itinerary in Pennsylvania, though. He spoke in Philadelphia at Independence Hall, then traveled for his address to the state legislature in Harrisburg. The public had been informed that Lincoln would then travel to Baltimore and finally to Washington.
Instead, Lincoln was secretly put onto another train car in Harrisburg and traveled back to Philadelphia on the night of February 22, 1861. Lincoln wore a type of overcoat (similar to a Navy pea coat), a soft felt cap, and a shawl he could put around his face if necessary. Lincoln's friend Ward Hill Lamon was with him, as was a female detective from the Pinkerton agency. Mary and the children remained overnight in Harrisburg while Lincoln was under protection. They would travel to Washington via Baltimore the next day on the Presidential Special which Lincoln was to have taken.
Other precautions were taken as well. Telegraph wires in and around Harrisburg were cut, thus isolating the city from the rest of the country. Lincoln had boarded the train there under an assumed name, with the female agent posing as his sister.
They arrived in Philadelphia the night of February 22, 1861 at around 10:00 p.m. where the party boarded the overnight train to Baltimore, Lincoln registering under an assumed name. The female agent shared the sleeping car with Lincoln, and slept near him in another bunk. If Mary Todd Lincoln knew about this, she must have exploded in rage as she was insanely jealous if another woman so much as looked at her husband.
The train finally came to Washington City at around 6:00 a.m. the next day, February 23. The only person present to greet Lincoln was his old friend, Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois. Washburne had seen right through Lincoln's disguise and said "Abe, you can't fool me!" The bodyguards, not recognizing Washburne, nearly attacked him on the spot, until Lincoln stopped the men.
Lincoln was safely arrived in the nation's capital without incident. But once the news got out about his stealthy trip to the city, the newspapers had a field day with their criticisms and lampooning of Lincoln. He was called "cowardly," "undignified," and much worse. Editorial cartoons were published in newspapers across the country (one of which, from Vanity Fair is shown at the beginning of this post), showing him sneaking around in exaggerated attire. His overcoat, shawl, and hat quickly became a "Scottish cap" and "kilt" according to some papers, and people even today believe that Lincoln wore a dress to pose as a woman.
Such was the ridicule from the newspapers that Lincoln himself regretted allowing himself to be hidden in disguise and sneaked into the nation's capital. Some historians claim that it affected his outlook on his personal safety throughout his presidency, leading him to refuse more than minimal security. However, it must be understood that death threats had come to Lincoln while he was still in Springfield. Even then, he seemed to take a cavalier approach to his own safety.
Historians today debate just how real the "Baltimore Plot" was. Harold Holzer, the nation's leading Lincoln scholar, believes that the plot, even if it did exist, was "ad hoc" at best. Other historians seem to believe it was authentic and that Lincoln would have been in true danger.
However, Lincoln himself chose to believe the plot was real. It must be remembered as well that Dayton, Ohio had been purposely avoided early in the Inauguration Journey due to a large population of "Copperhead Democrats" (Northern Democrats who supported Southern principles), thus avoiding potential dangers.
Above all, Lincoln's personal secretary and his self-appointed bodyguard and friend Ward Lamon, insisted that getting Abraham Lincoln safely to Washington City was of the greatest importance. And it is unquestionable that they were correct. To help resolve the national crisis, Abraham Lincoln had to survive to become President Of The United States.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:41 PM