- If you’re within driving distance of Nashville, don’t forget about the special exhibition of the original Emancipation Proclamation at the Tennessee State Museum, Feb. 12-18. Viewing hours are limited and lines may be long, so click here to learn how to make advance reservations. Some time slots are already full.
- Hey, speaking of Lincoln, did you know that in addition to leading a Marxist war effort, he was also an “unscrupulous fascist“? A sneaky devil, that Lincoln.
- Here’s an interesting history of the sites associated with Lincoln’s early life.
- Thoughts from East Tennessee on the importance of family heirlooms.
- There’s another proposed state law to prevent people from fiddling with or renaming monuments. This one is right here in Tennessee.
- Some info on the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Chattanooga Campaign.
- Mt. Vernon has acquired an original painting by Benjamin Latrobe.
Category Archives: Abraham Lincoln
I can understand why he’d be miffed that Lincoln wrongly depicts representatives from his state voting against the Thirteenth Amendment, but sending a letter to Spielberg asking him to fix it in time for the DVD release is going a little overboard.
Whenever Glenn Beck and David Barton get together to talk about history, you know you’re in for a show.
Check out this conversation they had about the movie Lincoln. Beck asks Barton about the film’s accuracy, and Barton claims that, contrary to what the film shows, the Thirteenth Amendment passed Congress easily as a “slam dunk” and without all the wheeling and dealing.
In reality, the vote in the HOR was anything but a “slam dunk.” Approval of a proposed constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority, not a simple one, and the Thirteenth Amendment just barely passed. A mere handful of additional nays, and it wouldn’t have.
Barton’s supporters are always assuring us that he’s an expert in matters constitutional and historical; he does know how new amendments get added to the Constitution, right?
As for the “wheeling and dealing,” Lincoln’s administration did, in fact, put quite a bit of pressure congressmen to support the amendment. The exact nature and extent of that pressure is a matter of some uncertainty (for obvious reasons, it’s not the sort of thing that leaves a paper trail), but that Lincoln was more heavily involved in this congressional matter than was usual for him is pretty well established.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been teaching a section of the introductory course on Abraham Lincoln which all freshmen at Lincoln Memorial University are required to take. On the first day, I asked the students to write down five things they think of when they hear Lincoln’s name. I didn’t require correct answers, and I told them not to consult any books or other sources. I was just curious to see what comes to the mind of the average American eighteen-year-old when Lincoln is mentioned.
The most common responses by far involved some aspect of the assassination, with all but five of the students mentioning Lincoln’s murder. About one-third of them referred to the fact he was shot in a theater, and one-fifth mentioned John Wilkes Booth by name. One of them mentioned Booth’s close proximity to Lincoln at the 1864 inauguration.
Lincoln’s height was the second most common thing that came up, followed pretty closely by references to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s opposition to slavery, and his “Honest Abe” moniker. One-quarter of the students mentioned the fact that he was the Sixteenth President of the United States, and the same number mentioned his iconic stovepipe hat. One-sixth of them referred to Lincoln’s whiskers, his Kentucky background, his appearance on American currency, his “railsplitter” nickname, or his association with the Civil War.
The early deaths of several of Lincoln’s relatives was mentioned twice. So was the Thirteenth Amendment, the date of his birth, his election to the presidency, and the association of his name with LMU.
Only two incorrect statements appeared in the responses. One student claimed that Lincoln was “stern and serious,” perhaps confusing his appearance in formal portraits with his actual demeanor. Another wrote that Lincoln got into hot water with his dad for chopping down a cherry tree, but I half suspect that this answer was an intentional joke rather than an honest mistake.
The following references each appeared once:
- Member of the Whig Party
- He dressed badly
- Born in a log cabin
- Was a Republican
- His wife shopped a lot
- Carried letters in his hat
- A public speaker
- Had many enemies
- Was a great leader
- Loved reading books
- Had “defined” facial features
- Had disturbing dreams
- Mentioned the names of attending doctors at his deathbed
- Gettysburg Address
- Wrote about giant bones at Niagara Falls
- Grew up poor
Only one student mentioned the Gettysburg Address, which came as a surprise to me. Also surprising was the reference to Lincoln’s short meditation on Niagara Falls, one of his more obscure written works. In addition, I expected to see more references to his humble origins and log cabin birth, since that’s been such an important aspect of the Lincoln cultural phenomenon over the years. In fact, of the five major aspects of “Lincolnian memory” identified by historian Merrill Peterson (the savior of the Union, the great emancipator, the man of the people, the first American, and the self-made man), only the notion of Lincoln as emancipator was prominent in the students’ responses.
Finally, three students mentioned the recent “vampire hunter” meme. I leave it to you to decide whether that number is alarmingly high or reassuringly low.
Today I’ll be spending some time in my Lincoln class talking about the Ann Rutledge controversy. People tend to take biographical information for granted, as if all the facts we think we know about famous historical figures have just always “been there.” The Ann Rutledge case is a handy way to show students that historical information is constructed and contested, dependent on the evidence researchers are able to uncover and how they interpret it.
Ann Rutledge died in 1835, when photography was still in its infancy. That means I’ve got to rely on later, imaginative reconstructions when it comes to my PowerPoint slides. But while I was browsing around the Interwebs yesterday, I stumbled across a picture I’d never seen before, with an interesting typewritten caption attached.
In his book on the Ann Rutledge case, John Evangelist Walsh identifies James McGrady Rutledge as Ann’s favorite cousin. He was one of the family members who claimed that Ann and Lincoln were formally engaged.
I haven’t found any other information on “Miss Minnie Harms,” but that photograph might be as close as we can get to knowing what Ann really looked like.
- International audiences for Spielberg’s Lincoln will see a slightly different opening sequence to provide context for viewers who might not be as familiar with American history. Maybe some additional background would’ve been a good idea for American moviegoers, too; Black Hawk Down and Argo both needed historical prologues even though the events in question happened during the lifetimes of many of the people watching the films.
- Readers of ScreenCrush selected Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as the worst movie of 2012, indirectly proving the continuing viability of democracy as the best available form of government.
- Saving Lincoln, the upcoming film about Ward Hill Lamon, made HuffPo.
- That high-pitched, ecstatic shrieking sound you heard? That was me: We now have a trailer for the twentieth anniversary 3D re-release of Jurassic Park and an official release date for JP4.
I’ve got this irritating discomfort in the back of my jaw that just showed up a couple of days ago, so I’ve had to make a dental appointment. This is a problem, because deep within my mature and balanced psyche lies the pain threshold of a four-year-old girl.
But at least I’m in good company. Here’s an excerpt from a paper delivered by Dr. William Harper De Ford to the Pennsylvania State Dental Society on June 11, 1912 and published in The Dentists’ Record later that same year:
Dr. Wolf of Washington, D. C., told me that on one occasion, a tall, gawky, raw-boned, awkward specimen of humanity came to his ofiice for the extraction of a tooth. He placed him in the chair, procured a forceps, and just as he was about to operate, the patient said, “Just a moment, please,” drew from his pocket a small bottle, and took several inhalations. “Now you may proceed,” he said, and opened his mouth. The tooth was extracted painlessly. The bottle contained chloroform. The patient was Abraham Lincoln, then president of the United States.
He knew from personal experience that you’d better prepare for the worst when having your mouth worked on. Years earlier, another dentist had torn off part of Lincoln’s jawbone while extracting a tooth…and without any anesthesia. I hope I have better luck than he did.
A friend of mine alerted me to this. It’s called The Hypo, and it recounts Lincoln’s bout with depression as a young man in Springfield. You can read an excerpt by clicking here.
Abraham Lincoln spent the morning of Dec. 31, 1862 meeting with his cabinet to revise the final text of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was due to go into the effect the next day. On the morning of January 1, 1863, after an 11 A.M. reception at the White House, he signed the final, official copy of the document, which had been prepared by the State Department. Frederick Seward, the son of Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was an eyewtiness:
At noon, accompanying my father, I carried the broad parchment in a large portfolio under my arm. We, threading our way through the throng in the vicinity of the White House, went upstairs to the President’s room, where Mr. Lincoln speedily joined us. The broad sheet was spread open before him on the Cabinet table. Mr. Lincoln dipped his pen in the ink, and then, holding it a moment above the sheet, seemed to hesitate. Looking around, he said:
“I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. But I have been receiving calls and shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, till my arm is stiff and numb. Now this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled they will say ‘he had some compunctions.’ But anyway, it is going to be done.”
So saying, he slowly and carefully wrote his name at the bottom of the proclamation. The signature proved to be unusually clear, bold, and firm, even for him, and a laugh followed at his apprehension. My father, after appending his own name, and causing the great seal to be affixed, had the important document placed among the archives. Copies were at once given to the press.
Many abolitionist churches in the North and communities of contraband slaves in Union camps in the South held watch night services on Dec. 31 to await the final proclamation. This year, on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation, some organizations are continuing this tradition, and the document is on exhibit for a limited time at the National Archives.
You can read the final proclamation’s text in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln:
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, towit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James[,] Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New-Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina, and Virginia, (except the fortyeight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth-City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk & Portsmouth [)]; and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
At long last, we arrive at the most pressing issue yet regarding Spielberg’s Lincoln: Is there too much cussin’ in it?
The Hollywood Reporter asked David Barton for his take:
“The historical record is clear that Lincoln definitely did not tolerate profanity around him,” Barton says. “There are records of him confronting military generals if he heard about them cursing. Furthermore, the F-word used by [W.N.] Bilbo was virtually nonexistent in that day and it definitely would not have been used around Lincoln. If Lincoln had heard it, it is certain that he would instantly have delivered a severe rebuke.”
Barton is overstating his case, as he often does. Lincoln didn’t make a habit of swearing, but he did break out the curse words occasionally, especially when his temper got the better of him. Check out Chapter Seven in Michael Burlingame’s The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, which discusses some of these episodes. And as we’ve noted before, he wasn’t above telling an off-color joke.
What about those records of Lincoln confronting generals who cursed? Barton doesn’t specify which records he’s talking about, but in an article at his organization’s website he says Lincoln “personally confronted one of his own generals when he learned of his profanity and then urged the general to use his authority to combat that vice.” His source is Arthur Brooks Lapsley’s The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, which briefly mentions the incident without naming any names or providing specific details. Off the top of my head, I don’t know what incident this is. In any case, I don’t really think we can use this story to draw any broad conclusions about Lincoln’s level of toleration for profanity. It wouldn’t be unusual for a commander-in-chief to rebuke an officer who used vulgar language in his presence in the nineteenth century.
As for the f-word being “virtually nonexistent” during the Civil War, while the term wasn’t as common or endowed with so many varied meanings as it is now, it wasn’t unknown. It was rare to see the f-word in print, of course, although even during the Victorian era it appeared in pornographic stories.
Barton notes that officers and enlisted men in the Union forces were subject to courts-martial for using profanity, and that’s certainly true. Yet to judge by their own accounts, soldiers in that war—like soldiers in other times and places—swore profusely. “There is so much swearing in this place it would set anyone against that if from no other motive but disgust at hearing it,” wrote one Northern soldier about life in camp. Another noted that “Drinking, Swearing, & Gambling is carried on among Officers and men from the highest to the lowest.” The same thing was true of the Continental Army, where cursing was officially discouraged but widely practiced.
So if you ask me, here’s the bottom line: While Abraham Lincoln didn’t curse much, and while profanity wasn’t as ubiquitous in his day as it is in ours, there’s nothing particularly inaccurate about the movie’s language.
None of this really matters in the grand scheme of things, but I think it’s interesting that moviegoers are surprised at the notion that nineteenth-century Americans had an arsenal of vulgarities at their disposal and the moxie to use them. I think it’s because they look so stern and dignified in those old paintings and photos. We’re so used to seeing them in gilt frames and on marble pedestals that encountering them in any other way can be a jolt.