Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. It’s just an experiment for a history nut looking for an outlet. Apologies if I come off as pedantic- that is the last thing I want to do. I love reading non-fiction, and reading about Abraham Lincoln has become quite a hobby. I have been interested in him for years but have only really been a student of Lincolniana for about five years. That might seem like a long time, but being one of the most-written about people in history, there is so much material and interpretation regarding him that you really have to dig deep to get to the real guy. But we are lucky to have so many sources on him. 🙂

I suppose I could consider myself an amateur Lincoln historian. I have read countless books and articles on the man. I’ve also read all of his published writings and letters of correspondence (his letters are my favorite.) I’ve read books about his wife’s family, and double biographies comparing him to other influential men of his time, like Stephen Douglass or Charles Darwin. I’ve read countless contemporary accounts which describe what it was like to be in his presence, what his voice sounded like, the expressions on his face, his innate sadness, and even how he walked. (Back then people were better at deep observation and clear description.) I’ve read how the historiography and public perception encompassing him has evolved over the years. I know all of the myths that surround him. I’ve also read a lot of critical books on Lincoln in which he is interpreted as a tyrannical president. I know the arguments against him. I feel like the critiques are especially important; you have to be able to argue all sides in order to understand your subject wholly. I feel confident in my knowledge of Lincoln, those around him, and his world. So if you trust me enough, please let me explain why the film Lincoln was amazing.

Going to the theater the other night to the film, I knew it would either be something really great, or, something I would pick apart. Well- wait, who are we kidding? We all know we’re in good hands when it comes to Daniel Day-Lewis. I am just a little surprised at how freaking well he did it because I’m used to Hollywood taking history and bastardizing the shit out of it. That indeed was not the case here. As far as I’m concerned, he nailed Lincoln.

Here’s how DDL got the president. We’ll start with his physical portrayal.

Lincoln was very often described as, well, ugly. His homeliness was prominent. He would even joke this about himself. When a woman accused him of being two-faced, he replied, “Ma’am, if I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?” He also held a deep aura of sadness about him. Some said that you could see it in his face when he’d descend into one of his “spells”.

But once a person got to know him all of that melted away. Anyone who met him said that once he started to speak, especially if he was telling one of his ‘stories’, his whole face lit up and his visage would suddenly change from that of darkness to bright light. A lot of people remarked about the sparkle in his eyes. There are many scenes wherein DDL exhibits this sparkle but also the weighted sadness that the president carried about him.
This brings us to the walk. You won’t be able to help but notice how he walks in the film. I’ll say that this little detail was something that really impressed me about DDL’s performance. When I saw how he would kind of stoop and heavily move himself along, I knew he really did his homework. Actually, he was shooting for extra-credit here. Here’s just one account of how Lincoln walked:

He walked as though he was always about to plunge forward; and he put his whole foot down at once, not rising from the toe, and hence he had no spring in his step. His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” People also remarked about how he walked as though his body was really heavy, and his joints always looked rather awkward. DDL brought to life all of this. I love that kind of attention to detail.

Lincoln’s voice was a big issue for the actor. He apparently spent a lot of time researching what his voice sounded like. Well, my friends, so have I, and I must say that I think he got as close as anyone can get. It’s pretty incredible, really. Surprisingly, (mostly to the people who met Lincoln the first time), his voice was rather high-pitched, with a bit of a Kentucky screech. Historians say it actually worked to his advantage because a tenor voice carries better to crowds than does a deeper one. Who knew?

So the big three physical aspects of Lincoln he got right. The duality of his ugly & sad/ bright & colorful visage, his unusual walk, and his surprising voice. Check, check, and check. A+ for him so far.

And now for how he captured his essence. Which begs the question, what was the essence of Lincoln? It’s what I love about him most, and there’s so much to him. There’s much to say here but I’ll keep it ‘short’ with some tidbits.

His humility and kindness are what I find most striking about him. He was one of those people who immediately put you at ease (which I also love about my husband.) It was a combination of wisdom and past experiences that allowed him to put his ego aside and be able to look at the bigger, and more important picture. He treated everybody he knew and met with dignity and courtesy. With the people surrounding Lincoln, there was always the sense that they never knew what he was really thinking. He was an incredibly private man who didn’t divulge much. However, he was brilliant in how he handled them; coyly utilizing them in ingenious ways in order to serve the greater good. He had the patience to endure their criticisms when they didn’t know what he was up to, and the fortitude to stand firm with what he intended. He carried a huge burden because of the war, and used humor as a means of dealing with so much pressure and grief. He once said that “with the fearful strain upon me night and day, if I did not laugh, I should die.”

I admire his self-education, and his incredible memory for passages and books. I admire how he never held a grudge against any body and how well he suffered the egos of other politicians. Once, (years before he became president), a fellow lawyer met Lincoln who was supposed to help with a case. He dismissed Lincoln as a “gorilla” and refused to let him take part. Years later, recognizing this man’s particular ability and talent, Lincoln asked him to join his cabinet as Secretary of War. That man accepted, and after spending time with Lincoln and getting to know him, Edwin Stanton became one of his most ardent admirers. He is also the one who gets pissed at Lincoln for his stories at times (which you will see in the film) because he finds it inappropriate. Did Lincoln give a shit? Hell no. He needed humor like a hobo is in need of a ham sandwich.

Lincoln was really just a likeable guy. I think this movie captures that. I think that upon watching it, you almost feel as though you’ve met him too. I would rate this movie (on a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being an abomination and 10 being the stuff of bad-assery,) a 10 in historical accuracy. So much of the dialogue was verbatim from what really occurred. The attention to detail (the Jackson portrait in Lincoln’s office, his wearing shawls around the White House, the antics of his son Tad, the anecdotes/stories he tells, the conversation he has with Mary on their last carriage ride, his tendency to put his notes and speeches in his hat, etc.), were all really there, done, or said. There were a couple of parts where I knew what would happen or be said next. Yep, it was that spot on and I need that much of a life.

The resemblance of the entire cast to their characters was incredible. Watch out in particular for these characters because believe you me, they looked nearly exact:

Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones- in a brilliant performance)

Secretary of State William Seward (played by not-sure-of-his-name but he was wonderful as the accomplished and trustworthy secretary)

and Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens (played by another who’s moniker I don’t know, but his was the most striking resemblance)

Oh, and also the guys who played Lincoln’s personal secretaries, John Hay

and John Nicolay (both of whom looked identical too!)

Well done Spielberg, and bravo Daniel Day-Lewis. Thank you for convincingly taking me to a beloved time and place. Most of all, long live Lincoln!
Here’s a little paradoxical treat that not a lot of people get to see- the only photo in existence of Lincoln’s body as he lay in state.

Lincoln and the subjugated race

I originally intended this next blog to be about Women’s History Month (March.) It’s something I’m pretty passionate about because a) I love history, and b) I happen to be a woman. In that order, too. No sooner was I looking for a video of Emily Davison’s deadly protest* did I start to wish I was writing about Lincoln instead. I can never stay away too long. So here goes another Lincoln bLOG!

Historians who dedicate their lives to the study of Lincoln usually come to really, really love him, and those who severely criticize him, had not taken much time at all to even know him. Now that is no way to love a man. 😉 As I’ve mentioned before, there is a great deal of information and sources on Abraham Lincoln. So much so that there is a lot of myth and misinformation surrounding him, perpetuated since the moment of his death. It takes a lot of research (mostly from his personal correspondence) before one can get to, well, as Lincoln might have put it, the “thusness” of the man. I have recently crossed a threshold in my L-philia where I can now recognize to which speech or letter a quote of his belongs, although I can only do that for about one-fifth of them. I’ve also completely memorized the Gettysburg Address and can recite it with ease like the alphabet. I know the dates of the important milestones in his life, and I know his personality. Still I am no where near being a Lincoln scholar. Though it sure is a fun amateur pursuit until I get there.

Lincoln on the eve of his presidency.

Lincoln on the eve of his presidency.

If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of looking at the context in history. So here’s today’s context:

It’s not an easy task trying to tackle Lincoln’s views on the African-American race. He himself was conflicted as to the best approach in freeing them. For many years, long before he became president, he was a supporter of colonization. This was the idea of sending ex-slaves to Africa. (Fast fact: The American Colonization Society had bought some land in Africa in the 1820s and established the nation of Liberia for ex-slaves emigrate to.)

The Liberian flag.  Look familiar?  After awhile the society fizzled out leaving Liberia and its inhabitants to their own devices.

The Liberian flag. Look familiar? After awhile the society fizzled out leaving Liberia and its inhabitants to their own devices.

Yes, this approach was generally meant to get “blacks out of America.” For other Americans, it was to get them out so that they wouldn’t have to endure the injustices and racism they were sure to face in the States. To them it seemed a practical solution for an impractical evil. It’s easy for us to look back and judge their blunt racism. The reality was that America, at that time, had no model whatsoever to draw from in creating a mixed society. No other country at that time had such a society. It wasn’t pure racism, it was purely inconceivable for them to coexist with one another.

A sort of tally of African-Americans going to Liberia

A sort of tally of African-Americans going to Liberia

There were plenty of people during this time who absolutely abhorred slavery, but they just didn’t know how to get rid of it. Worse still, once they got rid of it, they had no answers for how to integrate black people into society, which, especially in the South, was built off of a racist concept. Not to mention the fact that some northern states had “Black Laws” which barred anyone with even just 1/4 African-American blood from entering. “What then?” Lincoln asked. “Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition?” I can not stress enough how inconceivable it was to practically every one at this time that the two races could coexist in one society. Add a very common and deeply-rooted racism in the mix, and you have yourself quite a dilemma.

Recognized as 3/5 human, with no rights "that the white man was bound to respect," (A supreme court judge said this), how could they pursue happiness?

Recognized as 3/5 human, with no rights “that the white man was bound to respect,” (A supreme court judge said this), how could they pursue happiness?

The critics like to dig deep enough only to find little tidbits that “prove” Lincoln was a complete racist and they use it disqualify him as a champion of equality. That’s easy enough to do. In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln is quoted as saying


I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races… I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they can not so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.

Fear-mongering racism

Fear-mongering racism

At first, it is a disheartening shock to the Lincoln fan. How could he say such things? Did he really believe it? Only after a couple more years of reading did I realize that he did not. Most, if not all, Lincoln historians would agree with me (or rather, helped me agree with them.) This speech was delivered in southern Illinois, in an area known as Egypt. It was known to be very conservative, very anti-Republican, and very racist. Douglas knew if he could portray Lincoln as a N* lover, the Senate would be his, so he put Lincoln in a tight spot for the campaign. Lincoln merely said this to cater to the crowd and heed the political environment. This kind of political maneuvering isn’t a modern invention, after all. 😉

Once you get to Lincoln’s personality, his quirks, and his genius, then you begin to see his magnanimity from which all his greatness springs. You realize that with Lincoln, you very nearly have a perfect human being. I realize that this sounds completely bogus and very biased, but ask anybody who has read a lot about him. You’ll be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t like him. To act upon any notion of supremacy was directly opposite to his personality.

Ok, so his general McClellan didn't like him. History remembers "slows" McClellan an egotistical whiner.

Ok, so his general McClellan didn’t like him. History remembers “slows” McClellan as an egotistical whiner so Lincoln wins.

Doris Kearns Goodwin had this to say about it:

There is no way to penetrate Lincoln’s personal feelings about race. There is, however, the fact that armies of scholars, meticulously investigating every aspect of his life, have failed to find a single act of racial bigotry on his part. Even more telling is the observation of Frederick Douglass, who would become a frequent critic of Lincoln’s during his presidency, that of all the men he had met, Lincoln was “the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely, who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color.” This remark takes on additional meaning when one realizes that Douglass had met dozens of celebrated abolitionists, including Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and Salmon Chase. Apparently, Douglass never felt with any of them, as he did with Lincoln, an “entire freedom from the popular prejudice against the colored race.”

my favorite Lincoln book

my favorite Lincoln book

There is another great story about Lincoln and Douglass. The former invited the latter to his second Inaugeral (as Lincoln always spelled it) reception. When Douglass arrived, he was stopped by two policemen and blocked from entering the White House. Douglass found a gentleman he recognized and asked him to tell word to the president about his predicament. Almost immediately Douglass was brought inside directly toward Lincoln amid hundreds of guests. When spotting him, Lincoln lit up, and said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “Here comes my friend, Douglass.” He then shook Douglass’ hand and asked him his opinion on his inaugural address because “there is no man who’s opinion [he] valued more than [Douglass’].” Pretty shocking for 19-century White House society. (By the way, this Douglass is not the same man that Lincoln debated in 1858, which was Stephen A. Douglas.)

Frederick Douglass.  Ex-slave.  Beat his overseer into submission.  Taught himself to read by tricking young white kids into teaching him letters.  Escaped.  Became an abolitionist.  Ran his own newspaper.  In short: an awesome man.

Frederick Douglass. Ex-slave. Beat his overseer into submission. Taught himself to read by tricking young white kids into teaching him the alphabet. Escaped. Became an abolitionist. Ran his own newspaper. In short: an awesome man.

Words can be powerful, but it’s the deeds that rough-hew our ends. In this, I believe Lincoln was no racist. I believe that he walked the moderate line between slavery and abolition, because he understood moderation to be the only way to successfully move the country forward. With every African-American who knew him, worked with him, or, as in the case of Elizabeth Keckley (Mary’s seamstress) lived with him, there is never an instance or pretense of superiority on Lincoln’s part.
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This is another quote which deserves some attention. Being a constitution man, he meant this simply because he didn’t believe in the federal governments right to abolish slavery where it existed. He believed, like a lot of people, that the Founding Fathers intended for slavery to die out eventually. He hoped for it, too. This quote was expressed during a very bad time of the war for the North. He did not want to exacerbate tensions with the border states, which did not support emancipation. He had to be as moderate as possible. However, by his associations with African-Americans, you can tell that he was unquestionably ahead of his time by treating them always as equals.

Let us not forget that the reason he died was because of his support for political equality for African-Americans. Booth was in the crowd the night Lincoln gave a speech about giving them the right to vote, and that is when he decided to murder the president.

A real man of his times, John "this country is for the white man alone" Wilkes "I hate black people" Booth

A real man of his times, John “this country is for the white man alone” Wilkes “I hate black people” Booth

When he was younger Lincoln wrote that slavery continually had the power to make him feel miserable. He hated the thought of it, and once witnessed a group of boy slaves (10 years old or so, he said), chained together by their necks, waiting to be shipped off to the auction block. He mourned for them and was scarred by the experience. He understood the world in which he lived, and being a shrewd, wise man, he knew that the general white populace would never allow black people to integrate into their society. He knew that it would be a long, hard road for them to achieve social and political equality. He knew he could at least help to start that process.

abraham_lincoln_quote_on_slavery_print-rb55286ed20134ebbb631c30445995e8a_bxi_400

*If you’re at all interested in Miss Davison’s famed protest for Women Suffrage, check out these links:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/davison_emily.shtml

for the video (right after 6:00)

Thank goodness for the few who go against the grain, fight against the current, for the betterment of society. We still have a way to go. Thank you for taking the time and reading my blog. Here’s to debunking Lincoln myths one blog at a time! 🙂

The man.  The myth.  The legend.

The man. The myth. The legend.

my little black book

I didn’t always love mostly just Lincoln.  I’ve “met” and been “introduced” to a lot of interesting people from the past, and even loved a few.  Of course I had always known about Lincoln, but it wasn’t until I really got to “know” him that my history heart was taken forever.  😉  Allow me to introduce you to my “past” loves (pun intended) as we go through my little black book of history.

Before the Railsplitter, Aaron Burr was the guy I was into.  I was young and venturing into American history after a few years with Medieval.  Burr taught me probably the single most important lesson involving history, and really, in life:

Don’t always believe what is commonly believed.

Aaron Burr has gone down in history as the villainous traitor who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.  Not much else is taught about the guy.  Ever wondered what Hamilton did in the first place to ensue Burr’s wrath?  To start off, he had a big mouth.  He ruined Burr’s bid for a New York governorship, as well as any chances for presidency.  (Recall the electoral tie of 1800 between Jefferson and Burr?  Well, Hamilton made sure that Burr wasn’t the #1 pick.)   He also talked a whole lot of smack to the papers and wrote *gasp!* letters slandering Burr’s name.   He would not let up until he felt satisfied he destroyed Burr’s political career.  Why?  Opposing fundamental ideologies, I suppose.  Hamilton was a big government type, and Burr believed in the ability of people to govern themselves.  Hamilton really was just a player-hater.  He even hated Jefferson, and Adams, pretty much everyone except Washington.  (Don’t get me wrong- Hamilton was a dirty playerhimself- even having an affair with is wife’s sister.)   Now c’mon!

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This is from a Princeton University webpage. His father was the first “president” of the college and Burr is buried there.

Yet it’s Burr who has the bad name.  Hamilton was really starting to say some uncouth things about Burr, which finally came to the latter’s attention with a letter that became published.  Hamilton called Burr a bunch of names, and back in that day, your honor and name was what you built your life off of.  It was serious business to be publicly accosted.  Burr began a letter-writing campaign with Hamilton and a crony of his to get an apology.  “Alexander the Dick” only kept dragging it on and on with vague denials, much like Clinton’s infamous “depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is” remark.  Finally Burr had to put the issue to rest, and the only way to do that in early 19th-century America, was to lay out the pistols.  Like Charlie Murphy once explained on Chappelle’s Show about dueling, “Someone had to GO.”  I don’t think that Burr meant to kill him, however.

If you are interested at all in why Burr was an interesting cat, check out:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Aaron-Burr/149357405168424

Long story short, Hamilton had it coming.  Trust me.

Henry David Thoreau

What is not to love about him? A man secludes himself from society and builds his own cabin to contemplate what life is really about for over two years. Sometimes, especially after senior discount day at work, I wish I could hide in the woods for two years. Mostly, I love his wisdom and rather transcendental view on life. Did you know the actual pronunciation of his name should sound like “furrow” or “thorough” not “thur-ROW.” Just saying.

Thoreau was one of those "I get better looking the more you get to know me" people.

Thoreau was one of those “I get better looking the more you get to know me” types.

Thoreau inspired me with his words. I still go to him when I need to put my mind at ease. His Letters to a Spiritual Seeker is a particularly nice read.

“A single footstep will not make a path on the Earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.  To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again.  To make a deep mental path, we  must think over and over again the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

Adolf Hitler

Yes, as evil and dark it is to have him on a list such as this, to not do so would be to deny the fact that when you delve into history, sooner or later the huge swelling vortex of World War II will suck you in.  It’s inevitable because the era is so fascinating.  It is hard to wrap your mind around so much horribleness in one war.  As depressing as it can become to study, it is so important to never forget.  Hitler is at once fascinating and terrifying.  What gets scarier is realizing that it wasn’t so much him, but the people around him, and the apathy of the world that allowed the Holocaust to happen.  His minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, seems to me far more innately evil than Hitler himself ever embodied.

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A candid shot of Goebbels. Especially chilling if the story about this picture is true- that this photo was taken right at the moment he learned the photographer was Jewish.

Most people think Hitler was THE idea man behind it all.  Have you ever read Mein Kempf?  I have.  He really only put vague ideas out there (“we must get rid of the Jews”) but it was up to his henchmen to implement the plans into form.  It became competition among them in order to vie for Hitler’s favor.  (Historians are divided into two categories when it comes to Hitler: Intentionalists and Functionalists. Intentionalists argue that Hitler was the master-mind of it all and knew exactly what he was doing.  Functionalists maintain that he only had vague concepts, but it was up to people like Goebbels, Himmler, and Bormann to come up with the specifics.)  After just a few years of this on-again and off-again relationship (mainly with WWII), for my sanity’s sake, I had to call a break.  It’s been 2 years since I’ve read anything related to that era, and I’m still rather enjoying the distance.  This blog is about “past” loves, but surely you understand sometimes we let the bad ones in too.

James Holman.

I met him in the days when I was really doing some traveling. A once-in-a-lifetime experience in Egypt, studying in Prague, venturing to Paris, and soaking in the sun in the Caribbean all pale in comparison to Mr. Holman’s exploits – a.k.a the Blind Traveler.
the Blind Traveler

Holman was one of those guys who lived to the absolute fullest.  He grew up in England and served for some time in her royal Navy.  At 25, however, he suddenly became blind. Medical care for these kinds of conditions consisted of burning flesh with a red-hot iron, in order to “induce” the affliction out by distracting the body with extreme pain. (Thank goodness for modern medicine!)

In a time when the blind were given bowls to beg with and rags to cover their eyes, Holman overcame the social stigma of blindness to become a celebrity traveler and best-selling author. He used eco-location (tapping a metal ball that was on the end of his cane to the ground and listening to the vibrations off of objects) to “picture” his surroundings. Equally amazing was his ability to travel so extensively on such a meager budget. He helped chart the Australian Outback. He fought the slave trade in Africa. He survived frozen captivity in Siberia, and rode horseback in the Brazilian Rainforest. There is even an account of him climbing a volcano- while it was erupting! His travels inspired the likes of Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Frances Burton.  Although I’ve never been real big on poetry, I do have a personal favorite that Holman himself wrote:

“The beauties of the beautiful are veiled before the blind;
not so the graces and the bloom that blossom in the mind;
the beauties of the finest form are sentenced to decay;
not so the beauties of the mind, they never fade away.”

He comes in a close second to Lincoln for me.

Princess Diana

I believe she is more historically relevant than what is usually credited to her.  Sure, she was beautiful, glamorous,  and “the most famous woman in the world.”  But she was so much more than that.  Instead of being satisfied enough with those labels and the lifestyle they afforded, she used those labels to create better agendas.  Knowing the world’s eyes were on her, she garnered a lot of awareness for the suffering and less fortunate.  Her naturalness, too, helped to break down stiff English social barriers.  In the 1980s, when the AIDS crisis was at its peak, it was also grossly misunderstood.  People with AIDS were stigmatized and treated like lepers of a caste society.  Diana helped to show that these people were deserving of care, and she broke that stigma by publicly shaking a young HIV patient’s hand.  She showed it was ok to touch them.  This simple gesture and image at the time was monumental in its meaning.

The photo that rocked the world.

The photo that rocked the world.

There are countless other public gestures she engaged in, in order to spread awareness for certain causes.  Remember all the land mine work just before she died?  She committed herself to literally hundreds and hundreds of charities.  There are many little stories about her visiting patients late at night to avoid paparazzi.  She did a lot in secret.  Despite whatever personal (and maybe even mental) issues she may have had, she never stopped believing that the people always deserved her best.

England only allows state funerals for the death of a monarch.  Only two exceptions to this have ever been made.  The first, was Winston Churchill in 1965.  In 1997, it was Princess Diana.  I read once that she had the following quote on her desk.

Love this quote- but it doesn't belong to Marilyn.  Try Harvard University professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Love this quote- but it doesn’t belong to Marilyn. It actually belongs to Harvard University professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Thanks again for tuning in, and if you have any opinions or feedback, I’d love to hear it!

Based off this blog I suggest the following reads:

Aaron Burr – Duel by Thomas Fleming

Henry David Thoreau – his Letters to a Spiritual Seeker

Hitler/ World War II – any, really.  lol.  But don’t miss The War of the World (Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West) by Niall Ferguson

James Holman – A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts

Not related to this post but everyday of the week I recommend this for Lincoln:  Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.

Lincoln bLOGS

Being a Lincoln junkie can be very rewarding.  He has got to be one of the most popular figures when it comes to paraphernalia and collectibles.  My friends and coworkers tend to pick this stuff up randomly and I’m really starting to get a collection – thus creating a monster.  I am a severe Lincoln-phile surrounded by a bunch of enablers.  Luckily, my hubby can be a voice of reason by telling me, “too much Lincoln babe.”  And I know it’s time to back off.

Not today.  My body is sick so I’m out from work, but my mind never gets sick of Lincoln so I will venture to inundate you with more Lincoln lovin’.  I do feel weak for missing work because of headache and faintness when Lincoln went to work immediately (as in, within the hour) after his favorite son died.  Then again, he never had to pull off a senior discount day at the first of the month with a migraine. Beside that no one should try to compare themselves to Lincoln anyway.  😉

I do love it when people engage me in Lincoln talk.  So here are the top questions I am asked about the greatest man to ever live (it’s possible I have a bias.)

* Why didn’t Lincoln just let the South secede from the Union?

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He was a Constitution man.  His interpretation of that document did not support secession as a right held by the States.  To him the South’s secession was completely illegal and unfounded.  He absolutely refused to recognize it as legitimate.  The first states that seceded did so because they feared Lincoln wanted to eradicate the institution of slavery, when in actuality, he (and the Republican platform) only intended to limit slavery to where it already existed and not allow it to extend into new territories.  No matter how much Lincoln tried to convince them he didn’t want to take away their slaves they motioned to secede because, as Lincoln himself put it, “the South has eyes but cannot see, and ears but cannot hear.”  Lincoln was a man who, when undertaking to understand something would study and think it down “to the nub” (as my mentor, Dr. Reddin put it) until he had a complete and firm grasp on it.  He would not stop until all aspects and sides were understood clearly in his mind. In other words, his mind was dead sexy and there can be no doubt that his was the accurate assessment of the Constitution regarding the legalities and rights of states.  Also, he couldn’t have ever acknowledged the Confederacy as a country in its own right because of the risk of other nations offering alliances or providing aid.  So for him and his administration, it was always a rebellion rather than actual secession. 

* Was Lincoln gay?

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This particular myth came out in the early 2000s thanks to a book written by C.A. Tripp.  Guess what?  NOT a historian.  He was (he has since passed away) a psychologist, therapist and sex researcher.  Let’s just say that basically means he was very unLincoln-like in approaching his subject.  And yes I do have a bias for historians’ work.  They are trained very specifically in terms of how to do research and how to look at the past outside of our own modern lens.  How could someone trained from a completely different field interpret a historical figure with proper subjective accuracy?  You can’t.  But if you try, his book is what you get.  Here is the list of so-called evidence that Tripp pooled from to form his theory:

     – Lincoln shared a bed with another man for four years

     – A poem Lincoln once wrote about a same-sex marriage

     – A story involving a young Lincoln “having a hankerin” for his friend (which came from something printed in the 1940s and is, in fact, fiction.)

From this Tripp ascertained that Lincoln was a homosexual.  Obviously he failed to consider the first thing historians think about, the context of the time in which the events transpired.  Yes, Lincoln did share a bed with his best friend Joshua Speed for years.  On paper, that statement does point to the possibility of a homosexual relationship.  A historian would have dug further to look at why they shared a bed.  Anyone with plain common sense would have done the same too, right?  I like to think so.  But apparently you can write a book on a subject without really knowing what the f$#@ you are talking about and get it published.  Grr.  But moving on…

This is the context:  For a number of years Lincoln served as a lawyer on what was known in prairie/frontier life as the traveling judicial circuit.  Since towns were sparse and far between, with many not having their own courtrooms or even lawyers, men of law would spend 6 to 8 months of the year traveling around their state offering judicial services to local areas.  Joshua Speed was also a lawyer who traveled the circuit with Lincoln in Illinois during this time.  The thing about traveling in groups is that you tend to have to share rooms.  The thing about traveling in the 1800s is that you also have to share beds.  It was very, very common – if not routine – for these men to share beds since lodgings tended to be 1 room for 4 guests with 2 beds.  Also, this was during the Victorian era and we can’t even begin to understand how different their social dynamics were compared to today.  To us, their social stigmas border on the ridiculous.  Husbands and wives (for the middle classes and up) didn’t even share the same bed room.  Women could never dare speak of being pregnant (very taboo.)  Table clothes were ‘invented’ because of fear that table legs would be arousing to men.  Some bizarre stuff!  But I digress…

There is no substantial proof that Lincoln was homosexual or had homosexual tendencies.  Three words here:  Consider the context.

* How bat shit crazy was his wife, Mary?

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She is an interesting character who is generally misunderstood.  Yes, she was the insanely jealous type and she had a very hot temper.  Witnesses once saw her chasing Abraham with a knife down a street in broad daylight.  (She may have just asked him if she looked fat in her dress…)  Sometimes she would just fly off the handle.  I suppose she just had a really weak disposition.  But then again…

Half her family were Confederates.  She lost brothers in the war.  That’s got to make for some amount of tension in the White House.  Also, she had suffered a lot more loss than most people even in her era endured.  Now, in a time when you are lucky if half your children reach adulthood, this is really saying something.  She suffered more than most.  Add that with the severe social oppression women of this time had to live with, I’d say some of her frustration was perfectly justifiable.  Some people just become more violently combustible when they have no real outlet or voice in society.

That was her weak side.  Have you ever wondered why Lincoln ever even bothered to marry her?  It was because she had a wonderful strong side.  She was a smart lady.  She knew politics well and was incredibly well-read (something Lincoln would require in a partner, no doubt.)  There are tons of accounts of how remarkably graceful and charming she could be.   Lincoln loved her mostly because of her independent mind.  A good trait in a man!

She was once temporarily committed to an insane asylum by her son Robert, 10 years after the president’s death.  How would you deal if you had lost your mom at 6, your dad at 31, THREE of your brothers in the war, a son at 4, another at 12, and another at just 18 years of age.  Oh yeah, and she had severe migraine headaches practically all. of. the. time. Sometimes her headaches were so bad that she couldn’t get out of bed for days.   Living with this, tell me what kind of mood you’d be in too.

Why did John Wilkes Booth assassinate Lincoln? 

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Because he was a dick.  Or so that’s what Booth thought about Lincoln.  Probably more than half the country did too, before he was killed. And now everyone just knows that it was Booth who was the dick.

Booth had already tried to conspire to kidnap the president in order to bribe Washington for a Union surrender.  That plan was thwarted with the war coming to an obvious close but with Confederate surrender.  Lincoln had successfully been re-nominated for president and delivered an impromptu speech from a balcony at the White House following the announcement of war’s end.  In his speech he mentioned giving African-Americans citizenship and the right to vote.  There were a lot of Americans who hated Lincoln for being a “Black Republican.”  Newspapers all over the country did nothing but criticize Lincoln and admonish him.  Lots of people felt like he was destroying America.  Booth was in that crowd that evening for Lincoln’s short speech.   He was already well-aware of the Emancipation Proclamation which had prompted his initial kidnapping plot. He absolutely loathed the idea of black equality. When the president mentioned black suffrage, Booth seethed and declared, “that is the last speech he will ever make.”  He thought that by killing Lincoln, he could save the country and restore it to the whites.  As an actor, and coming from a famous Shakespearean family, killing the president would be his great and final dramatic act.  He was convinced that he was a hero and would be celebrated like Caesar’s Brutus because Lincoln was a tyrant.
But don’t you worry, he didn’t die feeling satisfied. He had 12 long and agonizing days after killing Lincoln to think about what he had done.  It wasn’t until he saw the papers a few days after the attack that he knew he had made a grievous mistake.   He was finally hunted down and found in barn. After having been shot and paralyzed, Booth, in his final dying moments, asked to have his hands raised to his face so that he could see them.  “Useless,”  he said, looking upon the hands that had killed one of the world’s greatest men.  “Useless.”  Then he died. 

* Did Lincoln really free the slaves? 

This will have to be continued.  I have my own theories regarding this, and it will require a great deal of information, so I will be saving it for a future blog.  Thanks for tuning in today.  Of the many things Lincoln teaches us, it’s you can’t believe everything you’re taught about Lincoln.  And THAT teaches us something.  🙂

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