Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A New Lincoln At Gettysburg Photo Claim

The above image (magnified) is the only undisputed photograph of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, PA on November 19, 1863. Taken either during or just after his delivery of his immortal Gettysburg Address, the photo depicts a hatless Lincoln in the middle of other dignitaries on the speakers' platform as thousands gathered for the dedication of the National Cemetery that day.

Nearly 6 years ago, I posted this article about a claim which was made by John Richter of Hanover, PA that he had found Lincoln in another photograph taken that day in Gettysburg.  That claim has been the subject of much discussion and even controversy since it was reported in 2007. Even strong magnification of the image could not settle the issue as some (including me) said that the gentleman in that image looked too heavy to be the gaunt Abraham Lincoln.

Now another gentleman has claimed to find "Lincoln" in that photo, but this "Lincoln" is apparently several yards in front of Richter's gentleman.  This month's issue of the magazine Smithsonian contains a lengthy article relating the claim of a former Disney animator and current professor Christopher Oakley that he has found "Lincoln" in a different spot in that photo of the crowd. As the claim made by Richter has generated controversy, there are disputes over this latest claim.

Copyright considerations preclude me from publishing the blown up photos from Oakley and the Smithsonian story.  But since the original photograph of the crowd scene is part of the public domain, I include it below. The original article I posted in 2007 and referenced above contains Richter's "Lincoln."  The article in Smithsonian contains images of the gentleman Oakley is claiming is "Lincoln."  I'll let the reader decide for himself or herself if either of these "Lincolns" is in reality President Lincoln.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lincoln Document Found In Switzerland

The country of Switzerland is known secretive banking, cheese, neutrality, skiing, and majestic beauty as this image of the Swiss Alps shows. Now it can be known as the site of a recent discovery of a document which contains the handwriting of Abraham Lincoln.

NBC-affiliate station KSDK (St. Louis, MO) reported that researchers with The Papers Of Abraham Lincoln project at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) were contacted by a gentleman from an Australian university.  He remembered seeing a Lincoln document in Switzerland while doing research there, and thought the people at the ALPLM would like to know about it.

The researchers contacted the Bibliotheque de Geneve (Library of Geneva) who confirmed the authenticity of the document in question.  It was written in May 1863 by famed minister and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), as a letter of introduction for a female journalist.  Nearly two years later, Lincoln added his own comment to the letter, stating that while he didn't know the person in question, if Beecher had vouched for her, he would as well.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project is actively searching the world for any documents which were written or signed by Lincoln.  This new discovery, while not significantly important, shows that there are hopefully more Lincoln documents waiting to be found.

The entire article from KSDK, complete with the text of the letter, may be found here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New Project Marks Lincoln's Visit To Iowa

Sometimes a chance discovery is all the impetus a new historical project needs to get under way.  Council Bluffs, Iowa is the setting for a new effort to commemorate Mr. Lincoln's visit to that city in 1859.  

According to the Omaha World-Herald in an article published on August 12, 2013, a local historical society was looking under a pile of books when he found a plaque which marked Lincoln's visit to Council Bluffs.  His curiosity piqued, the gentleman and other local historians further researched Lincoln's 4-day 3-night visit to the town.  

It seems that Lincoln came to Council Bluffs to look at 17 town lots which his campaign manager Norman Judd had offered to Lincoln as collateral for a personal loan.  He arrived in August 1859 and spent the next few days visiting with Judd, other friends, attending a church service, and giving a speech. Unfortunately, there is no text of that speech and the only account of it is from a Democrat newspaper of the day, which was unkind in its review of his address.

The new project resulting from the discovery of this forgotten plaque aims to mark the location of the original lots which Judd did deed over to Lincoln in November 1859 for that loan which amounted to $3,000. Judd later paid it back in full plus interest to Lincoln's widow Mary and her son Robert in 1867. 

Lincoln's visit to Council Bluffs is actually more important for his later decision to make that city the legal eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad built in the United States.  While in Council Bluffs, he met with railroad engineer Grenville Dodge. He peppered Dodge with questions about the possibility of a railroad stretching from the east to west, and asked him where the best route would be.  Dodge replied from the village they were currently standing in across the Platte Valley and then west.  He pointed out its relatively close proximity to all the railroads in and around Chicago and the rest of Illinois. Lincoln accepted Dodge's recommendation only a few years later when Lincoln officially named Council Bluffs, Iowa to be the eastern terminus of the railroad across the nation. The above image is an old postcard which shows a memorial erected in 1911 to Lincoln's visit to the city. It looks out across the Mississippi River to the west, honoring both the railroad and Mr. Lincoln.

The article to which I linked above provides more details about this new effort in Council Bluffs to mark Mr. Lincoln's visit. A project begun after the chance discovery of an old plaque which provided only scant details of that day when Lincoln came to town.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

PBS To Premiere "Rebel" On Series Voces

On Friday May 24, 2013 the PBS Latino series "Voces" (Voices) will premiere its latest installment, titled Rebel, a documentary about an almost entirely unknown figure from the American Civil War. Rebel is the remarkable story of Loreta Janeta Velasquez, who disguised as Harry Buford, became one of the estimated nearly 1,000 women who fought in combat in the war.

Velasquez was especially unlikely to fight in the Civil War and not only due to her gender. She was born to a wealthy family in Cuba, who expected her to become a refined, elegant woman fitting of her place in society. Her parents sent her to New Orleans, Louisiana by her early teens where she lived with an aunt who attempted to teach her the classic lessons expected of a woman of the time: dance, knitting, sewing, and so on.  But as the name of this episode implies, Velasquez would have none of it.  Her personal hero was Joan of Arc, the French heroine who led armies to victory against the British in the 1400's.  Velasquez not only rebelled against society expectations for a lady, she went against the wishes of her family and married for love to a U.S. Army soldier from Texas.  After the onset of the Civil War, her husband resigned his commission to join the Confederacy. Personal tragedy caused the ultimate rebellious behavior to her gender; she disguised herself as Harry Buford and joined the Confederate army.

Velasquez/Buford fought at the first major battle of the war, First Bull Run (or First Manassas as she would have called it), and also fought in the Battle of Shiloh. She then turned to spying for the Confederacy in various guises such as "Mrs. Alice Williams."  Finally, it seems that she became at least a double-agent and spied for the Union, if not outright defecting to that side.

In 1876, Velasquez published "A Woman In Battle," her personal memoir of her life experiences, especially her service in the war. Her criticism of war profiteering and of the Confederacy itself caused a massive outcry among powerful former leaders of the rebellion, who actively worked to suppress her book and discredit her. In fact, the suppression and efforts to discredit Velasquez were so successful that she was erased almost completely from history. Many historians considered her to be little more than a myth.  Recent scholarship and research have revealed her to be a real woman who was far ahead of her time.

A publicist for PBS asked me to view an advance copy of Rebel for review here on The Abraham Lincoln Blog.  I'm pleased to report that the documentary is worthy of such a fascinating story.  The narration, re-creations, and acting are, as with most PBS programming, outstanding.  The re-creations are moving, especially given the almost total lack of dialog from the actors. As one would expect, several experts offer insight in the film, although in my opinion there are too many of them.  The quality  is exceptional as one would expect from PBS, which towers over the "history" programming shown on History or NatGeo.

Rebel is the project of director and writer Maria Agui Carter, who worked on the film for a decade with historians and archivists.  She herself is a Latina immigrant to the United States just like the subject of the film. The story she tells in this film is important and deserves to be known. After all, Latino and Latina history in the United States helps to make up our nation's history.

Please try to watch or record Rebel on PBS on Friday May 24, 2013. It's worthy of your attention.

Friday, April 5, 2013

New Lincoln Project Deserves Our Attention

Interest in Abraham Lincoln is soaring these days thanks to Steven Spielberg's brilliant Lincoln film, the so-so Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter movie, and of course the Lincoln birth bicentennial along with the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.  New books seemingly appear every week discussing some aspect of Lincoln's life or legacy.  Documentaries, some excellent, some dreadful pop up on cable television. One could say that Lincoln is "hot" right now.

In recent months, a new Lincoln website or blog has appeared that I wish to bring to the attention of my own readers.  A young woman named Cassandra who lives in the American west has begun an ambitious project about Lincoln, in which she wants to post an article a day about Lincoln to her blog, which may be found at   It's a delightful mix of information, quirkiness, and fun.  I've enjoyed reading her various posts, which range from her own insights about Lincoln to comical pop-culture "Abe Lincolns" that she's found while surfing on the Internet.  In fact, I like her Lincoln project so much, I contacted her to ask if she'd submit to an interview, which she readily agreed to do.  What follows is the interview we had via email.

1. What led to your adoration of Lincoln?

 It all started as a kid, when I was visiting Disneyland for the first time.  Right when you walk in the park, there used to be a "ride" (or so my dad called it) called The Hall of Presidents.  Inside was an animatronic Lincoln that said a few things including the Gettysburg Address.  I'm not sure why it affected me so strongly, but since that day my family started on quite the Lincoln kick.  I barely remember anything else about that day with so much detail.  

2.  How long have you been a fan of Lincoln's?

 Let's see, I was about 7 during the Disneyland event, so I guess that's going on 20 years! Yikes!

3. What led you to begin writing a blog about Lincoln, especially a post a day?

Since the blog revolution, I've loved how readily available people's passions, interests, hobbies, and countless other things can be shared.  I had seen the post a day type of blog many times, when I started looking around my house at all the Lincoln crafts I had made it seemed totally plausible that I could and should try my hand at it.  Lincoln has always been my favorite interest and I knew this blog would lend me the opportunity to learn more and engage others into the life of Lincoln along the way.

4. What about Lincoln most attracts you to him?

That is a heavy question.  When I was 7, I think it was something about the Gettysburg Address that attracted me to him.  As I've grown older, read more books, done more research the thing that I love about Lincoln tends to change as to where I'm at in life.  If I'm sad, I love to read about his bouts of depression and how he overcame them.  When I'm worried about seeing signs of bipolar behavior in my family and friends, I read about Mary.  And I love him for loving her throughout her disease. What I love most is that he was a man, a real man, that changed history and only truly fascinating people hold that capability.

 5. Do family members/friends ever tell you that you're talking too much about him or are obsessed with him?

I am very lucky to have supportive friends and family that encourage my love of Lincoln.  If anything, it has made us all closer because as soon as anyone finds a new Lincoln fact, we get in touch.  Now we have an excuse to socialize, and I think everyone benefits.  Friends and family have been active members in blog helping in many ways from creating crafts, forwarding me information, to the endless amount of creative ideas they send my way.   For people that aren't aware of the Lincoln thing, I think the first time they come into my house can be a bit disconcerting.  As soon as I explain the blog and the interest, they begin to look at it as a hobby instead of some crazy person who may have a shrine to Abraham Lincoln in her house.  Hahaha, it's made for a lot of interesting conversation. 

6. What's your favorite aspect of Lincoln's life or legacy?

My favorite thing that Lincoln left behind were his letters.  I could read endlessly his eloquent thoughts.  We are so lucky that so much of his personal writing still exists. Also, whenever I read them, the voice of Abe (like Daniel Day) echos them in my head.  In a way, Lincoln is my favorite author.  

(end of interview)

Thank you, Cassandra, for agreeing to the interview about your really wonderful Abe-A-Day blog.  Readers, please check it out at  I know you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Getting Abraham Lincoln Right

My previous post discussed the 150th anniversary of the Territory of Idaho, when on March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Congressional Act which established the territory.  Last week, the Gem State of Idaho held ceremonies at the state house in the city of Boise to mark the anniversary.

Part of the ceremonies included a renaming of the auditorium inside the state house after President Lincoln, complete with the installation of a handsome plaque which I've shown in the photo above.  The relief on the plaque is based on a famous photo of Lincoln taken in 1860.  On this plaque is a quote purported to come from Lincoln: "There is both a power and a magic in public opinion. To that let us now appeal."  Powerful words, but are they Lincoln's?  

That question was asked by Ms. Melissa Davlin, a reporter from the Times-News newspaper from Twin Falls, Idaho, when she contacted me last week via email.  She had seen my post about Idaho Territory, and told me about the plaque with this quote. Ms. Davlin apparently understood that many "quotes" of Abraham Lincoln are spurious, either attributable to someone else or simply made up.  She inquired of my opinion about the quote on this plaque, because she wanted to be sure it's accurate. Davlin had searched for the quote online, but had found only one reference to it from the early 1900's.  

The best source for researching anything which Lincoln said or wrote is The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, published by the Abraham Lincoln Association in 1953.  It contains dates and locations of every known speech, letter, telegram, and quote from Lincoln which can be proven to be authentic.  Thanks to the Association, this indispensable resource is now available here with a searchable database.  I searched for the quote in The Collected Works using a variety of word combinations, but it was not found anywhere in the text, which comprises 9 thick volumes when published.  I then did an online search of this "quote" and like Ms. Davlin, I found only one reference, the one which she had earlier located.

I replied in an email to Ms. Davlin that I don't believe the quote to be factual.  If it's not in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, that's a very strong indication that it's not legitimate.  She replied that the quote was provided by the leading Lincoln expert in Idaho, Mr. David Leroy, who is the former Lt. Governor and attorney general of that state.  He said that the quote is from the famous "Lost Speech" of Lincoln, which was given in Bloomington, Illinois in 1856.  The speech was apparently so dazzling that all newspaper reporters present gave up taking notes in order to listen.  No text of the speech in Lincoln's handwriting is known to exist.  The only "text" of that speech was printed in the early 1900's by a man who was present for it, attorney Henry Whitney.  This text is disputed by many Lincoln scholars because it's based on memories of a speech given nearly four decades previous to its publication.  Additionally, some of the words and cadences of the "Lost Speech" text don't seem to mesh with speeches given by Lincoln in the middle 1850's.  

The Times-News published an article about the quote in question on Monday March 11, 2013.  In that article, Mr. Leroy defends his use of this Lincoln quote by stating that "most Lincoln transcripts are suspect, even from his most famous speeches" because newspaper accounts of them differ, or that Lincoln sometimes  deviated from his own notes while speaking.  That statement is correct.  For example, we simply don't know the exact text of the Gettysburg Address as spoken by Lincoln on November 19, 1863.  Newspaper accounts from reporters present to hear Lincoln that day run the gamut from summaries which miss the entire point of the speech to what may be Lincoln's words verbatim.  He wrote five copies (that we know of) of the Gettysburg Address and each has slightly different variations. But even if contemporary news articles of Lincoln's time gave conflicting accounts of the same speech, those articles were published within days or weeks of the speech.  Those are far more reliable than a "text" of a speech published almost forty years after the fact.  

The article also mentions two Lincoln historians who disagree with Mr. Leroy about the authenticity of the quote.  The first is none other than the greatest living Lincoln scholar, Mr. Harold Holzer, author of more than 40 books and countless articles about Lincoln.  He also served as the chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.  The second Lincoln historian mentioned is yours truly.  Neither of us accept the authenticity of the "quote" on the Idaho plaque.

Lincoln, in fact, spoke often about public opinion in his speeches prior to becoming President.  On December 10, 1856 in Chicago, he stated at a Republican dinner that "Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much."  In other words, shifts in public opinion can and do change the direction of government.  That factual quote could have been used on this plaque without changing the intent of what Mr. Leroy meant to convey. 

To his credit, Mr. Leroy understands the minor controversy over the "quote" he selected for this plaque in the state house in Boise.  He says that debate is healthy and he's of course correct.  I'm quoted in the article as stating that I hope the plaque remains in place and I mean it.  It's actually quite beautiful.  I only wish the quote on the plaque was absolutely authentic. 

Our job as historians is to present undeniable facts about the past so we can educate others.  It's important that we get history "right" so we don't perpetuate misunderstanding of events and the people who were involved in them.  Especially critical is getting the history of Abraham Lincoln right, for he is, perhaps, surrounded by more legends than any other figure from American history.  If we fail in that effort, we can never learn about the real Abraham Lincoln, the man behind the myths.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Abraham Lincoln Recalls The Troops

On March 10, 1863, 150 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation which ordered soldiers who were absent without leave (AWOL) back to their units.  The "Proclamation Recalling Soldiers To Their Regiments" offered a mixture of amnesty and a threat of punishment to such troops.

The Civil War was not going well for the Union at this point in 1863.  Lincoln still had not found even a competent general for the Army Of The Potomac, having recently relieved the hapless Ambrose Burnside of command and replacing him with Joseph Hooker, who had openly schemed against Burnside.  Thanks to the demoralizing defeat for the North at Fredericksburg and in other battles, numerous soldiers had begun deserting from the armies.  The number of volunteers had also been on a downward trend, so on March 3, 1863 Lincoln signed into law the Enrollment Act, which required the conscription (or draft) of all male U.S. citizens from the age of 20 through age 45.  This "Recalling Soldiers To Their Regiments" was the follow up.

The proclamation stated that if any troops then AWOL from their regiments would report back to designated points on or before April 1, 1863, they would be readmitted without threat of punishment.  They would only forfeit pay missed while AWOL.  However, it stated that anyone not reporting on or prior to the deadline would be arrested as deserters and fully punished as the law provided at that time.  Such punishment could (and sometimes did) include execution.

Finally, this proclamation also called on civilians to avoid tempting troops to desert and to stop aiding them in the effort as well.  It didn't specifically threaten civilians with arrest and punishment if found guilty, but military authorities could do so.

Much has been written about Lincoln's compassion toward soldiers and it's true that he often pardoned those he felt deserved a second chance.  But as this proclamation reveals, there were limits to his patience as the war dragged on.

You may read the entire text of the Proclamation Recalling Soldiers To Their Regiments here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Abraham Lincoln and Idaho Territory

Today is a huge day for celebration in the state of Idaho! 150 years ago today on March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Congressional Act which created the Territory of Idaho. There are celebrations going on throughout that state today and throughout this year as it celebrates its sesquicentennial.

"Territories" were formed by the United States government beginning as early as 1787 with the Northwest Territory (now Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, parts of Wisconsin) in order to organize, settle, and govern huge sections of land controlled by the government.  Territories had a governor and other officials, including legislatures, judiciary, marshals and so on.  Once a territory had enough population, it could petition the U.S. government to officially become a state and enter the Union.  Idaho was admitted as an official state on July 3, 1890.

The original Idaho Territory consisted of remnants from the old Oregon Territory and comprised most of the present day states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.  Over the decades of its existence, parts of the Idaho Territory were taken by the Wyoming Territory.  By the time of its admittance to the Union in 1890, the modern day boundaries of the state of Idaho had been determined.

As I mentioned earlier, today is a big day in Idaho.  To help honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln and his signing of the Act which formed Idaho Territory, the state legislature there has named an auditorium in the state house for him.  A handsome plaque dedicates the auditorium in his memory.  Here's a photo of the plaque unveiled just today:

I owe special thanks for this information to my friend Tara who happens to live in the Idaho capital of Boise. I would have completely missed this anniversary were it not for her letting me know of this special day for all Idahoans.

Idaho. One of the many parts of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, which continues to resonate throughout our nation nearly 150 years after his death.

Happy Birthday, Idaho!   If you'd like to read more about the events going on in that beautiful state this year, please click here.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Review: A New Birth Of Freedom: The Translator

Two years ago this month in February 2011, I reviewed the first in a trilogy of science-fiction books featuring Abraham Lincoln and other icons from that era in history.  The trilogy titled A New Birth Of Freedom is the story of a time traveler who has come from the very distant future to seek the help of Lincoln, the Union, and even the Confederacy against alien invaders who threaten to annihilate our planet.  The first book, "The Visitor," is the story of Mr. Edwin Blair, who returns to introduce himself to Abraham Lincoln in the year 1849, hands Lincoln a letter, and asks him to keep it until 1863 at which time the visitor (Mr. Blair) will return to tell Lincoln in detail what he is asking of him.  That book was hard for me to put down and I eagerly waited for the second in the trilogy.  

After a two year wait, the second book has arrived.  "The Translator" picks up where the first left off.  The Battle of Gettysburg has ended prematurely as the Union and rebel forces had combined to help combat the invaders.  Some of the invaders had been captured, which raised huge ethical concerns about the treatment of prisoners of war, especially if those prisoners are bent on destroying your planet.  By the end of that first volume, a rudimentary way of communicating with the aliens had been discovered, that communication revealing the creatures to be intelligent.  In turn, that raised even more ethical and humanitarian concerns.

In "The Translator," the focus shifts from the reasons why Mr. Blair has come from the far future to the young man (and others) who can communicate with the alien prisoners.  The aliens tell him they need to communicate with "White Hat" and "Big Mouth," a soldier and a Native American, respectively.  No one knows where these two men are, let alone why the creatures need them to be found.  Even the aliens themselves aren't entirely sure why.

As in the first book, "The Translator" skillfully blends history, alternate history, and science-fiction into an interesting and fun book, while also raising important questions about how compassionate people must (or should) be toward their enemies.  That the author, Robert G. Pielke, holds degrees in ethics, theology, and history, it's understandable why this trilogy asks important questions of the reader.

Overall I enjoyed "The Visitor" more than I did "The Translator."  But it's understandable as the first features a battle, the mystery of why Mr. Blair is in Lincoln's time, and the shock of finding out why.  "The Translator"  just doesn't have the same swift pace and gripping narrative, but it's obviously setting the stage for the concluding volume.  It's still well-written, entertaining, and hard to put down.

Yes, the entire premise of A New Birth Of Freedom is ridiculous.  But if you like science-fiction in addition to history (you must, or you wouldn't be reading this post), then I'd highly recommend this trilogy.

Both books are published by Tribute Books and may be purchased on Amazon or at Whiskey Creek Press in paperback format.  eBook versions are available for Kindle and Nook, as well as through Whiskey Creek Press.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

PBS "Antiques Roadshow" Discovers Abraham Lincoln Letter

The long running Public Broadcast System (PBS) series Antiques Roadshow has "uncovered" a previously unknown letter written by Abraham Lincoln barely a month after his nomination as the Republican candidate for the 1860 U.S. Presidential Election.

The woman who brought the letter in for appraisal at the Roadshow's stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, found the letter in a desk she inherited from her parents.  They were collectors of antique furniture and had purchased the desk many years ago.  The letter, written to William Jones, is pictured in the photo above.  As you can see, it's in wonderful condition with some light foxing around the edges.  A paper conservator will be  able to preserve the letter and keep it from further damage.

William Jones was basically Abraham Lincoln's first employer. He lived in Spencer County, Indiana and was a well-to-do businessman.  Lincoln did odd jobs for him as he grew up.  Today you can visit the home of William Jones in Indiana.

The letter from Lincoln to Mr. Jones is a little illegible in the photo, but is a "thank you" to his old mentor and boss for the congratulations Lincoln received from him after the nomination.  Lincoln mentions Spencer County in the letter, saying that he misses his old neighbors there.  Lincoln's signature is strong and clear, signed "A. Lincoln" as he typically signed his other letters.  I wrote in the opening paragraph that this letter is previously unknown as it's nowhere to be found in the "Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln," a standard reference for Lincoln scholars and historians.

The appraiser of this Lincoln letter was Dr. Martin Gammon, director of the Rare Books & Manuscripts department for Bonhams and Butterfields in San Francisco. What value did he place on this Lincoln artifact?  You'll have to tune in and find out.  Let's just say that it's enough for the owner to take a very special vacation should she desire to sell. His appraisal of this wonderful find may be seen in the next episode of Antiques Roadshow, scheduled for Monday February 25, 2013 on PBS at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST).  Check your local listings as local stations often show PBS programs at different times.

An account executive with the series contacted me back in November to tell me about this wonderful discovery.  She asked if I'd publicize it for WGBH (Boston), the producer of the series.  I'm thrilled to do so for two reasons.  I'm obviously an Abraham Lincoln enthusiast.  And Antiques Roadshow just happens to be my favorite television program of all.  I love antiques and also collect Lincoln memorabilia.  So this discovery and appraisal are very exciting for me.

In addition, the executive with the show has asked me to join her, Antiques Roadshow appraiser Arlie Sulka, and perhaps another person or two, in a "Live Tweet" session on Twitter while the show is broadcast on Monday night.  I'm honored to be part of my favorite show.  I am "Mr_Lincoln" (@Mr_Lincoln) on Twitter, so I hope you'll join me and the others on this week's Antiques Roadshow!

Here is a link to a preview of this episode:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Honoring Mr. Lincoln On His Birthday

A one-room log cabin in the Kentucky wilderness was the setting 204 years ago today when a boy was born to Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln.  They named their son Abraham, after Thomas' father, murdered in front of his son when Thomas was but a young child.  This new Abraham couldn't have had more humble beginnings. His parents were poor and illiterate (though Thomas could scratch out his name), and his mother Nancy was herself probably illegitimate.  Little is known of her own background.  She died of "milk sickness" when her son was 9 years old and her daughter only 11.  Soon a step-mother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, and her own children joined Thomas and his children to form a new family on the Indiana frontier.

Life was hard, and as Lincoln himself later wrote, his childhood and youth could be described as the "short and simple annals of the poor."  The Lincoln family was indeed poor, but early descriptions of it living in abject poverty are probably exaggerated.  The Lincolns were no poorer nor richer than most of their neighbors working to eke out a living from the land.  Thomas eked out a living on various farms and made furniture to help further raise scarce money. 

Throughout his entire life, Abraham Lincoln had less than 12-18 months formal education, making him one of our least educated of the Presidents of The United States.  His father never encouraged education for his children, and in fact seems to have considered school to be a waste of time.  Fortunately for his son, Lincoln's step-mother Sarah encouraged Abraham to read and learn as much as he could.  As a child (and as an adult), Lincoln had an insatiable desire to learn and better himself.  He read fine literature like Shakespeare and the Bible, Aesop's Fables, and an early biography of George Washington.  Lincoln also later taught himself geometry in order to simply learn.  This motivation to improve his lot in life set him apart from almost everyone he knew, especially his father, which might explain why the two were never close.

Lincoln had extraordinary ambition, which along with his quest for learning, might help at least partially explain how he achieved such towering heights in life.  He wanted to be held in esteem, but only by making himself worthy of esteem, as he said in his first campaign speech when running for the Illinois State Legislature.  Lincoln lost that first election, but he was determined to succeed, and won on his second try.  By the time he was in his late 20's and early 30's, friends and associates began calling him "Old Abe" as a sign of respect for his intellect and wisdom. 

That Lincoln was a genius seems clear.  With no formal education in any field, least of all engineering, he invented and patented a device to help remove boats off of sandbars in the shallow rivers in Illinois.  Railroads supplanted the need for such a contraption, which was never used.  Nonetheless, his 1849 patent for his invention remains the only one awarded to a future President Of The United States. 

He was, of course, a political genius as well.  He and his team of advisors outmaneuvered favored candidates to win the GOP nomination for President in 1860.  Then he molded his political rivals into a cabinet which was among the best in U.S. presidential history as Civil War raged.  Secretary of State Seward, Secretary of War Stanton, and Secretary of Navy Welles, and Secretary of Treasury Chase all worked against Lincoln at one point, but he saw their abilities and overlooked their political differences because he knew they were the best men for their jobs. 

Perhaps the greatest sign of Lincoln's genius is his prose writing which was majestic and almost poetic at its best. Many writers consider his prose to be among the finest writing by anyone, period, and not only among Presidents.  His Gettysburg Address helped reshape and re-define America in only 271 words.  His Second Inaugural Address reveals his magnanimity and desire to restore the nation, yet is among the shortest of all Presidential inaugural speeches.  These and other of his writings took place in an era when orations were expected to last hours, with flowery and embellished phrases.  Lincoln's simplicity and clarity of speech still stun in their beauty today.

Fascination with Abraham Lincoln has never really gone away, but he is today enjoying a surge in popularity which is remarkable.  The bicentennial of his birth saw exhibitions, concerts, and a re-dedication of the magnificent memorial in Washington, D.C.  If anything, Lincoln's presence seems even stronger in recent months.  The Stephen Spielberg film "Lincoln" with its astonishing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis leads this year's list of Academy Award nominations with 12.  The dreadful "Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter" was released this past summer to so-so reviews and a weak box office, but it did raise Lincoln's visibility further into popular culture.  President Obama again used the Lincoln Bible last month for his second inauguration as he did for his first.  New books about Lincoln seem to appear weekly.  His character is used in television commercials, including a new series of ones for Lincoln automobiles (yes, that line was named after Lincoln).  In short, Mr. Lincoln seems to be almost everywhere we look.

It's difficult to say why Lincoln still resonates with so many people, old and young, women and men.  Is it because he was so honest, a trait which is terribly lacking in our era of lying politicians and cheating athletes?  Is it simply because we're commemorating the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War?  Could it be his rise from absolutely nothing to his achieving the highest office in our land?  Or is it his martyrdom after he was struck down by a treasonous coward just as he was ready to experience the conclusion of our greatest war? 

Probably each of us who is endlessly fascinated with Mr. Lincoln has his or her own reason or reasons for that fascination.  I am often asked during my lectures what led to my own fascination.  The short answer is, I have no idea.  My parents took me to his Birthplace Memorial in Kentucky when I was 4 or 5, a visit I don't remember.  But I was "hooked" from that visit and remain "hooked" by the story and legacy of the greatest of our Presidents of the United States. 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.  Thank you for your inspiration and leadership. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"The Abolitionists" Premieres On PBS American Experience

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago on January 1, 1863.  He has been known as The Great Emancipator by many people ever since.  But his journey to issuing that document was a long one, complete with many stops and starts, twists and turns.  But for years, his approach to ending slavery favored a gradual emancipation, with freedom to the slaves given in exchange for compensation to their owners.  Abolitionists, on the other hand, were people who worked, struggled, and even died to bring an immediate end to the "peculiar institution" throughout the United States. Without the efforts of these major abolitionists exerting pressure and influence on both Congress and Abraham Lincoln, the institution of slavery may have continued for many more years.

The PBS award-winning program American Experience is bringing the story of five important abolitionists in a three-part series titled "The Abolitionists" debuting on Tuesday January 8, 2013 from 9:00 - 10:00 p.m. ET and continuing on the following Tuesdays, January 15th, and January 22nd, 2013 at the same time.

These are the interconnected stories of Frederick Douglass, Angelina Grimke', John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Lloyd Garrison, each of whom actively worked and spoke out against the evils of slavery.  Frederick Douglass was born and slave and escaped to freedom, eventually becoming a powerful speaker, writer, and author, one of the most eloquent in American history.  Harriet Beecher Stowe fought against slavery, authoring Uncle Tom's Cabin, which caused further outrage against slavery when thousands read her book across the North.  Angelina Grimke' was a daughter of privilege growing up on a plantation in South Carolina and saw the horrors of slavery first hand.  She later left her family and became one of the most outspoken foes of slavery, giving lectures and writing tracts against it.  William Lloyd Garrison was founder, publisher, and editor of The Liberator, the most influential of the anti-slavery newspapers throughout the North.  And John Brown was unfortunately led to violence by his virulent hatred of slavery and slave-owners, eventually being executed after he and a tiny band of men stormed the Federal Arsenal in Harper's Ferry, VA in a misguided attempt to incite a slave revolt.

At various points in time during the 1840's and 1850's, the lives of these five brave individuals crossed paths, Douglass and Garrison teaming for a while, Douglass nearly becoming involved in Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, and so forth.

Abolitionists did not have the support of everyone across even the Northern states where slavery was already banned or at least mostly nonexistent.  Some, including Garrison, were jailed.  Others were attacked by mobs and killed in the violence.  They were called agitators, radicals, troublemakers for helping to fan the flames of disunion.  Their story is a fascinating one which every American should learn about.

I've had the good fortune to be sent a preview copy of the entire mini-series "The Abolitionists" courtesy of a publicity agent for PBS.  I watched with rapt attention the entire documentary and it is superb, as is anything shown on American Experience.  The actors who portray these five abolitionists are outstanding, and the narration is equally fine.  As with any documentary, there are brief excerpts of interviews with leading historians, including David W. Blight, the Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.  Other historians featured are Carole Berkin, Lois Brown, Erica Armstrong Dunbar and a host of other experts on abolition, slavery, and the individual abolitionists portrayed in the mini-series.

I encourage everyone to watch "The Abolitionists".  Their story must never be forgotten.  

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