Remember that movie about a young Abe Lincoln that’s been in the works? Well, if you’re going to Sundance, you can see it this weekend. The rest of us will have to settle for this quick peek that’s popped up online:
Category Archives: Abraham Lincoln
One of the things I’ve been working on lately is a short video to accompany a Civil War exhibit, which opens next month in D.C. We’re lucky to have a TV/radio center on campus with a professional staff; they’ve been handling the recording and editing. All I had to do was give them the narration and accompanying images, so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time looking at wartime photographs and engravings.
Every history buff has probably had the experience of watching a documentary and noting an image that doesn’t exactly match up with the narration—a photo of casualties at Antietam during a segment on a battle in Tennessee, for example. There are so many great Civil War images that it’s easy to criticize filmmakers for this sort of thing, but sometimes the most “correct” picture isn’t necessarily the right one.
And sometimes you have to sacrifice accuracy in one direction for the sake of accuracy in another. Let’s say you’ve got a first-person voice-over taken from a primary source, in which someone recounts his first impressions upon meeting Lincoln in 1861. The text emphasizes his long legs, hollow face, and overall awkwardness. Ideally, you’d accompany this voice-over with a picture of Lincoln that really shows off these physical qualities, like this one:
That photo isn’t from 1861. In this case, though, the writer’s visual impression of Lincoln is what matters. Chronological concerns aren’t as important, at least in my opinion.
But what if the subject is Willie Lincoln’s death and its tremendous emotional toll on the president? This photo of a worn, haggard-looking Lincoln would suit the tone:
But this sitting was a few years after Willie died. You could probably make a legitimate case that using this photo to illustrate that event is a little bit misleading. It wouldn’t be a major point of criticism, but it would still be a valid one.
I’ve done quite a bit of image acquisition before; back when I was putting together exhibits for a living, it seemed like I spent all my time poring over Civil War photographs. But this video project is a different animal, because you don’t have as much room to explain the images the audience is seeing. Film is a visual medium, of course, so you’d think it would be particularly well suited to the use of historic images. With an exhibit, however, you’ve got the luxury of adding a detailed caption to the pictures you’re using, giving you the opportunity to qualify, annotate, and explain them. Video doesn’t give you the chance to do that. You’ve got a little more freedom in your use of imagery, but it comes with some added risk.
A few items worthy of note as we ring in 2014.
- This list of New Year resolutions for Kentuckians includes a few history-related things to do, including some sites that every citizen of the Bluegrass State should visit. I’ll add one more assignment for Kentuckians in 2014: If you haven’t already, read either Thomas Clark’s classic history of the state or the more recent volume by Lowell Harrison and James Klotter.
- Speaking of knowing your local history, all you folks in Winston-Salem should get acquainted with your town’s Rev War namesake.
- We’re getting a new statue of Sam Houston here in Tennessee, where he made a name for himself before heading off to Texas. There’s also a new Civil War Trails marker going up in Maynardville, just down the road from my neck of the woods.
- Zachary Keck argues that Americans’ fondness for revolutions is misplaced, and stems partly from our own revolutionary beginnings. But he also claims that the American Revolution wasn’t all that revolutionary, because it didn’t upset the status quo. Keck notes that most revolutions don’t create stable, free societies; real progress is due more to evolution than revolution. But should we consider the democratization of the nineteenth century to be an effect of the American Revolution or an example of gradual evolution? Gordon Wood took the long view of the Revolution as a process that turned America away from the hierarchical, colonial past and toward the democratic, egalitarian nineteenth century. Taken as a discrete event which ended in the 1780s, though, the Revolution seems more limited in scope. I guess it all depends on your perspective.
- By far the year’s most popular post here at Past in the Present was a 2012 item about an off-color anecdote told by Abraham Lincoln which made its way into Spielberg’s film.
- I’d like to pick a best American history book of 2013, but most of the books I read this year had already been in circulation for a while. People have been writing history books for a lot longer than I’ve been reading them, so I spend most of my reading time trying to catch up with backlisted titles. As for the best American history book I read in 2013, I’d probably go with Rachel Klein’s Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808.
- High point of 2013 for me? Under any other circumstances, visiting the Freedom Trail, Lexington and Concord would be impossible to top, but…
The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (ALLM) will display a new exhibit “Abraham Lincoln and the Technology of War” at the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington, D.C. Curated by Steven Wilson, ALLM curator and assistant director, the exhibit investigates the significance of inventions and new machines in the Civil War.
Included in the exhibit are artifacts from the B&O Railroad Museum, the Kentucky Military History Museum, the National Firearms Museum, the Center for Northern Indiana History, the Tennessee State Museum and the Vicksburg National Military Park-U.S.S. Cairo. Some rare items from the collection of the ALLM are a Greene bolt-action breech-loading rifle, Captain John Worden’s speaking trumpet and a collection of carte de visite photographs.
“Abraham Lincoln and the Technology of War” will open to the public on January 14, 2014. The exhibit will remain on display through July 6, 2014. Admission is included with regular daytime visit tickets to Ford’s Theatre, which is free but requires timed entry tickets. Tickets may be reserved in person at Ford’s Theatre Box Office, through Ticketmaster at 800.982.2787, or online at http://www.fords.org.
Brief digression on the origins of the NAACP thrown in for good measure. This church is about an hour from my hometown. Maybe a field trip is in order.
I award this fellow two facepalms: one for propagating ludicrous pseudohistory, and another for wasting his pulpit to do so.
By the way, if you’re looking for Internet conspiracy theory horseflop at its very best, Google “Abraham Lincoln Rothschilds.” This site in particular is a masterpiece of unintentional hilarity. Apparently Lincoln was Jewish, he fathered twins with a German ruler’s illegitimate daughter, and Mary Todd killed her own husband and pinned the murder on Booth, who was also her drug pusher. Good times.
I didn’t really start taking the Gettysburg Address seriously until one day when I was in grad school, trying to figure out how to finish a paper while eating a roast beef sandwich. I was enrolled in a seminar on the early national period, and my professor had told us to write an essay answering the following question: Who was more prescient, Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson? Of these two men who had very different visions of what America should be, which one saw the country’s future direction more clearly?
My instinct was to go with Hamilton. In terms of policy, he was probably the most forward-looking of all the Founders, envisioning a United States with a vigorous, centralized government and a modern, diversified economy. The overall course of American history has been in this direction, especially since the late nineteenth century.
At the same time, in terms of ideology and values—what Americans have believed about themselves and their country, and what they have wanted to believe about their role in the world—Jefferson casts a long shadow. If the overall trend of the operation of government and economics has been Hamiltonian, Jefferson’s ideals have been the ones espoused most frequently. In fact, it’s in terms of equality that Hamilton and the other Federalists look most antiquated, committed as they were to older ideas about elitism and deference. ”America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed,” according to G.K. Chesterton. ”That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in The Declaration of Independence….It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just.”
I knew that I’d probably end up hedging a little, noting that while Hamilton was more prescient in terms of the way America has operated, Jefferson was more influential in terms of Americans’ self-definition. But that answer seemed a little wishy-washy. I wanted to come up with some sort of definitive answer.
So I was sitting at an Arby’s restaurant, trying to knock out an outline for the paper while getting a bite to eat, when I figured out how to give both Hamilton and Jefferson their due. Neither man was totally correct. It was Abraham Lincoln who understood America most clearly, because at Gettysburg he reconciled these two different visions of the nation so that each one supported the other. Lincoln oversaw a Hamiltonian war—a war of national consolidation, and a war that would result in a more commercial nation with a more vigorous central government—but he did it to achieve Jeffersonian ends. Indeed, he did it while invoking Jefferson, chapter and verse.
In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln tied the birth of America to the promise of liberty and Jefferson’s 1776 “proposition” that all men are created equal. ”The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society,” he had claimed shortly before his presidency. Lincoln praised Jefferson because his Declaration of Independence did not merely justify the Revolution. Jefferson had used that document to set down “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”
In 1863, the American experiment to work out this “abstract truth”—an experiment only “four score and seven years” old—would either survive and vindicate government of the people, or it would collapse and call the whole enterprise of popular government into question. If a minority could dissolve the Union due to the outcome of an election, democracy by majority rule was unworkable. To Lincoln, secession was therefore an existential threat to democratic government itself. The stakes in the Civil War were breathtakingly high. The survival of popular government was what the men buried at Gettysburg had given “the last full measure of devotion” to defend.
Lincoln thus believed that the Hamiltonian tools of a consolidated Union and an active national government were necessary to secure the Jeffersonian principles of liberty and equality. These tools would also be the means to extend these Jeffersonian ideals to the enslaved. The war would not only secure what the Founders had gained, but finish what they had left undone by resolving the great American contradiction of slavery in a nation dedicated to freedom.
Rather than merely dedicating a cemetery, Lincoln explained the meaning of America, defined the purpose of the war, paid tribute to the dead, exhorted his audience to continue their struggle on behalf of freedom, and reconciled the two seemingly contradictory American impulses of Union and liberty. And he did it in less than three hundred words.
If you live in my neck of the woods, here are a couple of upcoming events you might like.
This Saturday from 2:00 to 6:00 P.M., Marble Springs State Historic Site in Knoxville is holding its annual “Halloween Haunts & Haints” event, with special activities for kids and trick-or-treating at the site’s historic buildings.
Next up is the Lincoln Institute’s 2013 R. Gerald McMurtry Memorial Lecture. Ron Soodalter will present “The Quality of Mercy: Abraham Lincoln and the Power to Pardon,” at 11:00 A.M. in the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. Soodalter is the author of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, and has worked as an educator, curator, and contributor to numerous national magazines.
The Great Emancipator takes a walk on the wild side in the new Illinois Office of Tourism ad, and I think it’s hilarious.
…in an interview at the Lincoln Institute blog. Check it out.