Tag Archives: Lincoln in Memory

Lincoln stuff is headed your way

Those of you who live near a ginormous city will be able to see Lincoln this Friday, but it won’t open here in flyover country until Nov. 16.  I’m almost as anxious to swap reactions with all you online history buffs and bloggers as I am to see the movie itself, but I guess I’ll have to wait an extra week before I can review it on the blog.  I suspect that the Union will win, the Thirteenth Amendment will go to the states, rousing speeches will be speechified, and a performance of Our American Cousin will be unexpectedly cut short—but all the same, don’t you guys in New York and L.A. spoil the ending for us, okay?

In the meantime, I’ve got a review of Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History in the works.  I’ll post it here or over at the Lincoln Institute blog, or perhaps cross-post it to both.

Speaking of Lincoln movies, you might remember the upcoming film about Lincoln’s relationship with Ward Hill Lamon that was in the news last year.  The folks behind the project have put together a sneak peek and they were kind enough to direct my attention to it.  Brooks Simpson has already posted the video over at Crossroads, but here it is anyway if you haven’t seen it yet:

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Once bitten, twice shy

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is out on DVD now, and my mom has been determined to see it, for reasons unfathomable to me. The day before yesterday she went to the local rental place, and every copy was checked out. Every single one.

She went back again yesterday, and still had no luck.

On her way home from work today she tried for the third time, and there was one copy available. She snagged it and carried it around while looking over the other new releases, and while she was in the store she overheard two different people ask the clerk if there were any extra copies of AL:VH in the back.

Maybe it’ll be one of those movies that die an ignominious death in theaters only to enjoy cult status in the home video market.

By the way, Mom didn’t like it.

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Old slogans

A Chinese guy who ordered a t-shirt with a Patrick Henry quote on it is appealing his sentence of two years in a labor camp.  When you live in America, it’s easy to forget that in some parts of the world those 250-year-old words are still…well, revolutionary.

On a much lighter note, there’s a pretty clever Lincoln-Johnson campaign site you guys should see.  Oh, and some new John Bell Hood documents are coming to light.

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Is Lincoln to blame for America’s empire?

Some observers see Lincoln’s presidency and the outcome of the Civil War as the point when America got off-kilter, sort of like a national equivalent to the Fall of Man.  At some point between 1860 and 1865, so this line of thinking goes, the country went off the rails and abandoned the legacy of the Revolution and the Constitution, leaving us with the centralized, interventionist, and industrial nation in which we now live.

There’s a nugget of truth to all this, but it’s hidden among a lot of overstatement and moralization.  The Civil War did contribute to the creation of a stronger and more vigorous central government, Lincoln’s use of presidential authority was broader than many of his predecessors, and the Union’s victory did accelerate the creation of a more consolidated and economically modern America.  At the same time, though, you can’t attribute America’s transformation entirely to the Civil War or to Lincoln’s presidency.  The war was a critical step down that road, but it wasn’t the only one—and the road itself was circuitous, since the exertion of federal authority has expanded and contracted at various times between 1865 and today.  Lincoln did a great many consequential things, but he didn’t sucker punch the whole country into the modern age single-handedly.

Abraham Lincoln portrait by William F. Cogswell, 1869 (The White House Historical Association via Wikimedia Commons)

In an interesting and provocative essay, Thomas DiLorenzo takes this notion of the Lincoln presidency as something akin to America’s moment of original sin and applies it to foreign policy.  He argues that Lincoln abandoned the Founders’ desire for neutrality and friendly commerce in favor of “imperialist fantasies about perfecting the entire planet as the bedrock of American foreign policy ideas.”  Lincoln, he states, believed that it was incumbent upon Americans to impose democratic ideals on other countries, and so our subsequent foreign entanglements and interventions follow from this misguided conviction.

DiLorenzo thus uses an interpretation of the past to critique the present.  As far as his criticism of American interventionism goes, I’m inclined to agree with him, at least to a considerable extent.  What I don’t agree with is his diagnosis of the historical origins of the problem.  Like the larger concept of which it’s a part—the notion that the Civil War is the point at which the country somehow went wrong—I think his argument contains a kernel of historic truth hidden in a matrix of serious oversimplification.  DiLorenzo makes Lincoln out to be a far more influential figure than he actually was.

He’s certainly correct that Lincoln believed the U.S., as an experiment in popular government, had an important role to play in the world.  Indeed, that’s one reason why he took secession so seriously.  If the nation collapsed in civil warfare, he thought, then the whole notion of a nation governed by the people themselves was in doubt.  Hence his argument at Gettysburg that America was a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to a proposition of equality, and that the war was a contest to determine whether any such nation could survive.  If the Union prevailed, self-government would be vindicated and would have the opportunity to take root elsewhere.

But I don’t think DiLorenzo is accurate in equating Lincoln’s brand of American exceptionalism with a zealous support of foreign intervention.  Ever since the Revolution—since earlier than that, actually, if one takes the Puritans into account—Americans have believed they could instruct the world, but not all of them have believed they must do so by force.  I don’t really see any reason to assume that Lincoln’s American exceptionalism was necessarily of the militant kind or to lay the blame for America’s status as a global policeman at his feet.  True, the interventionist and expansionist U.S. of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries probably wouldn’t have taken the form it did if it weren’t for the creation of a consolidated and industrial nation with a vigorous government, which the Civil War made possible.  But that’s not to say that it wouldn’t have become an interventionist and expansionist country at all.  The agrarian, slave-based economic interest that was so influential in antebellum America was something of an imperialist engine in its own right, spurring on conflict with Mexico and sparking filibustering expeditions in other parts of Latin America.  Indeed, well before the Civil War, America had been practicing a form of internal imperialism with regard to the Indians.  It’s therefore entirely possible that an America without a Lincoln presidency or a Civil War might have become an interventionist world power anyway, albeit an interventionist power of a different kind.

I have no idea how Lincoln would feel about modern America’s willingness to spend blood and treasure policing the world.  Maybe he’d endorse the extension of American ideals and institutions to foreign countries by force of arms, at least under some circumstances.  Or maybe not; after all, he was a vocal critic of America’s war with Mexico in the 1840′s.  Whatever the case, I think he’d be quite surprised that anyone would draw a direct line between his readiness to use force to suppress what he considered an internal rebellion and the deployment of American forces across the globe a century and a half later.

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Labor Day miscellanea

A few items for your edification as you kiss your summer goodbye.

  • Joel McDurmon argues that David Barton failed to make his case in The Jefferson Lies.  The reason this is noteworthy is because McDurmon’s piece is posted at the American Vision website.  This organization calls for a nation “that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life, where Christians apply a Biblical worldview to every facet of society. This future America will be again a ‘city on a hill’ drawing all nations to the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them to subdue the earth for the advancement of His Kingdom.”  It’s pretty interesting to see Christian Reconstructionists taking Barton apart.  (Hat tip to John Fea)
  • A few months ago Connecticut rolled out a $27 million tourism marketing campaign organized around the slogan “Still Revolutionary,” which “speaks to Connecticut’s deep roots in the founding of this country and reminds us that we still have that independent, revolutionary spirit,” according to Gov. Daniel Malloy. It’s a little odd, therefore, that Fort Griswold (site of the 1781 Battle of Groton Heights and one of the state’s most important Rev War attractions) is conspicuously absent in the ads that have been released so far.  It’s the thought that counts, anyway.
  • In a new book, Robert Sullivan does for the Revolutionary War in the middle states what Tony Horwitz did for the Civil War in the South.
  • Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg is getting a new museum, slated to open next July.
  • An Illinois Lincoln fan is heading out on a cross-country trip to read the Gettysburg Address from the steps of every state capitol.  If my reckoning is correct, that adds up to about an hour and forty minutes of actual speaking time.
  • Speaking of Lincoln, the folks at Simon & Schuster know an opportunity when they see one.

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Some thoughts on Lincoln and Sandburg

prompted by a visit to Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.  It was a scorchingly hot day to be visiting national parks, but it was still a nice trip, and King’s Mountain was only eighty miles away.

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Sometimes a vampire is just a vampire

Is it a parable about social justice?

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is traditional progressive storytelling. It uses an axe-swinging superhero, Abe Lincoln, to retell the Left’s primary mythos – a parasitic few live off the misery of the people.

An attempt to grapple with dark chapters in our nation’s history?

The idea of America as a nation secretly created and controlled by vampires actually builds on a long history of popular “subversion myths” in which Freemasons, communists, or other conspiracies have secretly taken control of an otherwise good nation and threaten its social order. Like vampire stories, subversion myths frame good and evil in clear, unwavering terms. As nocturnal creatures who attack unseen, the vampires of folklore represent one of the oldest forms of subversion myth.

A “White Guilt Fantasy“?

When Abraham starts in on his vampire-hunting career, the movie still takes time to drop plot cookies that illuminate how awesome and pro-abolition he is, and how this fact makes him beloved by all good people. Such as the moment when Mary Todd, his future wife, gets all interested in him after he says something vaguely anti-slavery. Or the time when he and the black boy from the first act (Will Johnson) end up in jail for fisticuffs against some men who are determined to cart Will away as a slave.

And here I thought it was just a gimmick.

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I’ve got a few remarks on the Booth bobblehead brouhaha

…over at the Lincoln Institute blog, but Kevin Levin says pretty much the same thing more concisely and bluntly at Civil War Memory.

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New exhibit examines Lincoln the icon

The folks at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, TN have unveiled their latest exhibit, an exploration of the ways advertisers, filmmakers, politicians, and practically everyone have invoked Lincoln in the decades since his death.  “Lincoln in Memory: The 16th President in Personal and Cultural Recollections” relies heavily on original material from the museum’s vast holdings to illustrate Lincoln’s role as a cultural icon.

I got the chance to see this exhibit when it was under construction, and it was a rather surprising experience.  I worked at the ALLM as a student intern and later as a staff member, so I’m pretty familiar with the collection, but this exhibit includes quite a few items that were new to me.  It’s an impressive assemblage of Lincolniana: movie posters, original pop art, ads, calendars, propaganda, etc.

A brief description of the exhibit is available here at the museum’s website.  I strongly recommend a visit.  The ALLM has one of the finest Lincoln/Civil War collections anywhere, and it’s just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

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