Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Book Review: "The Words Of Abraham Lincoln"

This year has already seen the publication of numerous books about Abraham Lincoln, from children's books to the massive two-volume biography by Michael Burlingame. One of those books is a brief, but informative, book titled "The Words Of Abraham Lincoln" from Newmarket Press, released this month.

As you might guess, the book contains Lincoln's own words, from little known letters to friends, family, and generals, to his majestic Gettysburg Address and inaugural addresses. It includes excerpts from his 1860 address at the Cooper Union in New York City and text from his final public speech just days before his death.

I like how the editor of the book (Larry Shapiro, former editor-in-chief of the Book Of The Month Club and editorial director of the History Book Club) arranged these selections of Lincoln's writings thematically, rather than chronologically. For example, there is a chapter about Lincoln's letters to his generals, another featuring Lincoln's writings on slavery, still another contains letters written to his family. This arrangement helps the reader access Lincoln more readily than the traditional chronological arrangement of most books containing Lincoln's writings.

Mr. Shapiro also provides brief but helpful introductions or notes to the selected writings. This allows the reader to understand the letters and speeches in the proper context. There are reprints of the most famous Lincoln photos at the beginning of each chapter. I especially was pleased to find a chronology of important events in Lincoln's life as an appendix to the book.

Copyright restrictions preclude me from including any text of the book in this review. I wish that wasn't the case, because some of the more obscure letters which Lincoln wrote can be very powerful and moving.

To be sure, "The Words Of Abraham Lincoln" lacks the completeness of larger works dedicated to the writings of Lincoln. But that's not the point of this book. In just 113 pages, the editor has chosen a wide range of writings which, I think, gets to the essence of Abraham Lincoln. It is an excellent introduction for those individuals who wish to learn more about the nation's 16th President, who also happened to be a brilliant writer of the English language. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: Newmarket Press provided me with an advance copy of this book. I am in no way otherwise affiliated with the company, nor have I been compensated financially for this review. You may purchase a copy of this book here in both hardcover and softcover.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Preserving A Piece Of Lincoln Family History

From today's edition of the Daily News-Record (Harrison, VA) comes this story about efforts underway to preserve a piece of Abraham Lincoln's family history. The Lincoln Society of Virginia entered an option last week to purchase almost ten acres of Lincoln's family homestead site which includes an antebellum house and a family cemetery. The goal of the Society is to restore the house and open a museum to honor Lincoln and to remember his Virginia family roots.

Abraham Lincoln's great-grandfather, John Lincoln, set up the original 600 acre homestead in 1768, according to the Society. John's son, also named Abraham, was President Lincoln's grandfather, who later relocated to Kentucky. Other branches of the Lincoln family continued living on this estate. The home pictured here was built around 1800 by Jacob Lincoln, brother to President Lincoln's grandfather Abraham. It is considered to be a "Shenandoah Valley Federal-Style" brick home, with later additions.

The Lincoln Society of Virginia was founded just five years ago in 2004 with the goals of promoting the Lincoln family legacy in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, to help protect the Lincoln Family cemetery, and to of course disseminate information about President Lincoln. It now faces the steep task of raising over $450,000 in order to purchase the home and ten acres of land from the current owner. It has two years to reach the target.

I've included another photo of the house below, which shows the current state of disrepair. Plans are in place to restore the home to its former glory once the fundraising goals are met. The second photo below is a snapshot of the ancestral Lincoln cemetery.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Should Pennsylvania Museum Permit Testing Of Lincoln's Blood or DNA?

Today's issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper contains this article about an interesting dilemma facing a small museum in that city. The Grand Army Of The Republic (GAR) Museum and Library owns a small strip of the pillowcase which supported Lincoln's head as he lay dying in the Petersen House in Washington, D.C. The piece of fabric contains Lincoln's DNA in the form of dried blood and brain matter. Now a researcher has asked to borrow this strip so he can test the DNA in order to see if Lincoln had a rare form of cancer.

Mr. John Sotos, a cardiologist and author, wants to test the strip so he can confirm his belief that Lincoln had a rare genetic syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN2B). Sotos has carefully studied all 130 known images of Lincoln and combined with eyewitness accounts of Lincoln, believes Lincoln would have died eventually from cancer. But he needs to test the DNA on the fabric to confirm it. The article goes on to describe more fully how Sotos and a diagnostician have reached this belief. I wrote about Sotos and his belief previously in this posting.

The dilemma for the museum, of course, is should it grant Sotos' request and risk damaging this artifact from the assassination? Or should it refuse to loan him the strip of fabric in order to assure its preservation, not to mention honoring Robert Todd Lincoln's request to let his father rest in peace?

The museum board is going to discuss the issue at its next board meeting, probably on May 5th. It's retained a biologist to advise it. The president of the board of directors of the museum is against lending it, even if just two or three strands are required for the test. But he would vote only if the other directors split their votes.

My own opinion, for what it's worth? I would strongly encourage the GAR Museum board of directors to NOT lend this priceless artifact for this testing. I realize it's important to understand as much as we can about historical figures, but what's the purpose of knowing if Lincoln did or did not have this syndrome? We know he most certainly did not die from such a disease. He has no living direct descendants who would benefit from knowing if they were carriers of MEN2B. Finally, I'm forced to wonder if the descendants of Abraham Enloe are behind this push for testing, since they claim that Enloe was the true father of Abraham Lincoln. The Inquirer article mentions their longtime claim.

The bottom line is that history's interest in preserving this assassination relic outweighs the question about Lincoln's genetic status at the time of his death. I hope the board of directors will vote to retain the fabric as is and preserve it for everyone to enjoy.

The article contains more images of the fabric, including a close-up. Be sure to take a look.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Bill Moyers Journal" To Air Special Lincoln Program

Another special program to honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln is coming to the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Bill Moyers Journal is going to air "Lincoln's Legend and Legacy," a special performance edition of the series, featuring the actor Sam Waterston and the nation's foremost Lincoln scholar, Harold Holzer.

The show will feature Waterston providing dramatic readings of prose and poetry written about Lincoln and his legacy by some of the greatest American writers, from Herman Melville to Allen Ginsburg to Frederick Douglass and Langston Hughes. Holzer will provide the context of the various excerpts which Waterston presents. The link I provided in the first paragraph contains some video previews of the show. Be sure to check out Waterston's reading from Melville's words about Lincoln's death. Waterston has portrayed Lincoln in both film and on stage. For those of you who have never heard his recital of the Gettysburg Address, click this link from CNN video. It's very moving.

This edition of Bill Moyers Journal is set to air on April 10, 2009 (9:00 p.m.) which happens to be Good Friday. Of course it was also a Good Friday the day that Lincoln was assassinated. As always with PBS, be sure to check your local listings as the show may be preempted for a local program.

For a behind-the-scenes story about the taping of this program, click here. It's an interesting story from an historian from the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) Heritage Museum who was lucky enough to be in the audience. I wish I could've been!

I'm looking forward very much to watching this program. Waterston is one of our finest actors, and I truly enjoy Harold Holzer's presentations on Lincoln. Let's hope this PBS Lincoln special is better than the mediocre "The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln" and the dreadful "Looking For Lincoln" which were both shown by PBS in February.

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