HT: Nate McAlister
Washington had been unusually angry in the weeks preceding Inauguration Day. Seven states had already left the Union; a mob had tried to attack the Capitol on the day Congress met to tabulate the electoral college vote. Fights broke out in the galleries during speeches, where spectators jeered, “Abe Lincoln will never come here!”
Over the winter, armed militias paraded through the city, and hooligans smashed Republican printing presses, as if to prevent news from flowing. Rumors swept the District that a militia was going to invade from Virginia to set up a new proslavery government. They wanted to keep all of it — the Capitol, the White House and especially the name: the United States of America. Lincoln would have had to start his presidency elsewhere.
There was far more to the visceral opposition to Lincoln than just his views on slavery. He had won with less than 40 percent of the vote, and entrenched interests feared the loss of easy access to Washington’s gilded corridors. Although they were not as gilded as they might have been — one reason it was taking so long to renovate the Capitol was that the guards hired to protect it from looting were stripping its treasures for themselves, down to the paint.
It seemed as though everyone was on the take. Certainly, the proslavery interests had owned Washington for as long as anyone could remember, capturing an overwhelming preponderance of the nation’s House speakers, committee chairs, sergeants-at-arms and Supreme Court justices. Lobbyists flourished in this climate, buying and selling access from local watering holes.
Read the entire piece here.
Here is Jonathan White of Christopher Newport University:
With President Trump’s illness disrupting his campaigning and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic afflicting Americans across the country, some commentators have wondered whether the 2020 election should be postponed. But the election of 1864 and President Abraham Lincoln’s insistence that it be held, even amid civil war, provides a resounding answer: No. Indeed, Lincoln believed that holding a fair election under even the most challenging circumstances was needed if self-government was to survive.
From the very beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln insisted that he was willing to fight to ensure the survival of republican government. “Our popular Government has often been called an experiment,” he told Congress in a special message on July 4, 1861. It was now for the American people “to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets.” Once ballots had “fairly and constitutionally decided” a contest, resorting to anything “except to ballots themselves at succeeding elections” could not stand. This, Lincoln wrote, “will be a great lesson of peace, teaching men that what they can not take by an election neither can they take it by a war.”
Read the rest here.
Today, The Washington Post published another interesting piece from Jeffrey Engel, director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History. (Some of you will recall that we talked with Engel about Trump’s impeachment in Episode 61 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).
Using the presidencies of Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Engel gives presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden some political advice. Here is a taste of his piece, “The louder Donald Trump complains about Joe Biden, the quieter Biden should be“:
One need not support Joe Biden to discern history’s applicable lesson for him. Standing on the cusp of yet another existential crisis, as the covid-19 pandemic and a reckoning over long-standing structural racism further strain an already fractured electorate, Biden’s best argument for unseating the incumbent is how Americans have fared on President Trump’s watch. Like Hoover and Buchanan before him, or the Articles of Confederation for that matter, it’s hard to claim that Trump has offered the steady and unifying presence Americans demand in turbulent times. Even his most avid supporters would not apply the word calm to the president’s news conferences or tweets.
Trump, and the anxiety he engenders even in the best of times, is therefore Biden’s most valuable electoral asset. Every reelection campaign is ultimately a referendum on the incumbent, and Trump dramatically fails Ronald Reagan’s famous test: Are Americans better off today than when he took office? They are hardly more at ease. No matter the ultimate efficacy of his pandemic policies, our current commander in chief has been less an unshakable keystone than a powder keg of his own.
Read the entire piece here.
In Trump’s “own words”:
I am just kidding, but this was certainly strange:
Let’s summarize and breakdown this argument:
- Dershowitz says that a president can engage in three types of quid pro quos: for the public good, for the political interest of the president, or for the financial interest of the president. It is often hard to distinguish which motive is at work at any given time.
- Trump, like any president, believes that his election is in the “public interest.” As a result, his call to investigate the Bidens was perfectly fine. It is worth noting here that Dershowitz’s entire argument is built on the idea that Trump did ask the Ukrainians to investigate his political rival. Not everyone on the Trump defense team seems to agree with this.
- If Trump does something that he believes will get him get elected, “in the public interest,” then it cannot be “the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” In other words, Trump can do whatever he wants because he believes his presidency to be in the national interest. As several commentators have been pointing out in the last couple of hours, this is the equivalent of Richard Nixon telling David Frost “when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.”
- When Abraham Lincoln told William Tecumseh Sherman to “let the troops go to Indiana so that they can vote for the Republican Party” it was not an impeachable offense because Lincoln believed his own election was necessary for victory in the Civil War. I am still trying to figure out how Dershowitz thinks this example has anything to do with the current impeachment case. Lincoln was not soliciting foreign interference in an American election and withholding aid until he got it.
- It is dangerous to “psychoanalyze a president” or “get into the intricacies of the human mind.” I will let Adam Schiff handle this one in the video posted below.
- Presidents always balance national interest with motives rooted in party loyalties and personal interests when they make foreign policy decisions. It is thus impossible to understand which motives are corrupt and which ones are not. Again, I will let Schiff take this one.
Here is Schiff’s response:
This was one of the top moments of the entire trial. Schiff completely dismantled Dershowitz’s argument using the Harvard professor’s own method of argumentation.
As I see it, the House case is getting stronger by the day. This is happening for three reasons. First, Adam Schiff has been amazing. Second, the president has a weak defense. Third, John Bolton has a book manuscript.
Here you go:
President @realDonaldTrump & this nation need our prayers. He continues to face an onslaught of lies, slander, & innuendos w/this impeachment sham. It’s just shameful what our Democratic Congress is putting this country through. 1/2
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) December 13, 2019
It always amazes me how these court evangelicals use prayer as a political tool. If we want to play Graham’s game we could also say that the Democrats need our prayers because they continue to face an “onslaught of lies, slander, and innuendos” from the President of the United States. And we could add: “It’s just shameful” what the President of the United States “is putting this country through.”
Franklin is correct when he says that this nation “needs our prayers,” but I doubt God wants to hear his partisan petitions. As Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address: “The Almighty has His own purposes.”
Yesterday I wrote briefly about ending my Alexander Hamilton course on the day the House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachment for only the fourth time in United States history.
After I ended class by playing “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” I walked down the stairs in Frey Hall at Messiah College to teach the last day of my U.S. History to 1865 survey course. I had no idea that we would be reading and discussing Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address on this historic day, but it seemed fitting.
SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 1865
Fellow-Countrymen, at this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While theinaugural addresswas being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses;for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
In addition to suggesting that the whistleblower should be executed, announcing that Congressman Adam Schiff has a thick neck, stating Joe Biden is “dumb as a rock,” and calling the press “animals,” Trump also made another Abe Lincoln reference in his recent closed-door meeting with U.S. diplomats. Here is Yahoo News:
At one point, Trump said his only predecessor to appear more presidential than he was Abraham Lincoln.
“I’m the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat. That was tough to beat,” Trump said. But he added: “I have better hair than him.”
Read the entire Yahoo piece here.
On Saturday, during a visit to Gettysburg with my Pennsylvania history class, I met Abraham Lincoln. It was actually George Buss, a former teacher who has been impersonating Lincoln for over thirty years.
I though about George today when I read Olivia Waxman’s Time article about a gathering of Lincoln impersonators. Here is a taste:
For Lincoln impersonators like Tom Wright, the work is serious business.
“When you’ve got this outfit on, you’ve got to be proper, and make sure you don’t do anything that would take away from Abraham Lincoln,” says Wright, a 71-year-old from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Indeed, when it comes to historical second skins, the attitude is as important as the accoutrements. “To me, this guy was important to the country because he saved the Union,” says Wright. He and his wife, Sue Wright, recently joined dozens of other faux-Lincolns for the 25th annual Association of Lincoln Presenters, a conference of reenactors, amateur historians, and other Honest Abe enthusiasts held April 11-14 at the Amicalola State Falls Lodge in Dawsonville, Georgia.
There were 22 Abrahams, 12 Mary Todds, one Robert Todd, one Jefferson Davis, and even one George Perkins Marsh (Lincoln’s ambassador to Italy) present at the event, which began in 1990. The Abrahams, of course, always steal the show.
Read the entire piece here. I wonder if George was there.
It is a beautiful today in south-central Pennsylvania–a perfect day to spend some time on the Gettysburg battlefield. This morning we took ten students from my Pennsylvania history class to Gettysburg. We have been reading Jim Weeks’s book Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine and exploring the way the battlefield has evolved since July 4, 1863. I have given a lot tours of Gettysburg focused on military history, but until today I had never done a Gettysburg “memory” tour.
We have been focusing on how Gettysburg became a shrine of American civil religion–a destination for patriotic pilgrims. We arrived at 7:30am for “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. I read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and stressed the religious nature of the speech. We talked about what Lincoln meant by the use of words such as “consecrate,” “hallow,” “devotion,” and “new birth.” We discussed the blood sacrifice necessary to the consecration of such sacred ground. And, since I teach at a Christian college, we talked about the difference between civil religion and Christian faith.
After our devotion in civil religion we headed to the Visitor Center. Most of the students ended up in the bookstore. Some of them bought souvenirs to remember their pilgrimage to this sacred site of American nationalism. Others noted the way this sacred site is connected with the marketplace. We even got our pictures taken with Lincoln, the great prophet of U.S. civil religion.
We spent the rest of the tour on these topics: race and the 1913 and 1938 reunions of Gettysburg veterans, with an assist from David Blight (at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial); the meaning of the Robert E. Lee statue (on Confederate Avenue); the Eisenhower Farm and Gettysburg as a Cold War site; the tension between battlefield authenticity and environmental concerns; the influence of popular culture (Jeff Schaara and Ted Turner) on the battlefield (at the monument to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top); and the role of Daniel Sickles in promoting the bill that brought the battlefield under control of the U.S. War Department.
Here are some pics:
Who was responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation? Was it Lincoln? The Republican Party? The slaves themselves? Gettysburg College Civil War scholar Allen Guelzo makes a case for Lincoln in his recent piece in The Wall Street Journal. Here is a taste:
In an age when rocking century-old statues off their pedestals has become a public sport, no historical reputation is safe. That includes Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.
It is “now widely held,” Columbia historian Stephanie McCurry announced in a 2016 article, that emancipation “wasn’t primarily the accomplishment of Abraham Lincoln or the Republican Party, but of the slaves themselves, precipitated by the actions they took inside the Confederacy and in their flight to Union lines.” Ebony editor Lerone Bennett put this argument forward in his 2000 book, “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.” The Zinn Education Project, which distributes Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” to students, claims that Lincoln offered “verbal cake and ice cream to slaveowners,” while slaves themselves did “everything they could to turn a war for national unity into a war to end slavery.”
The case against Lincoln is a lot less energizing than it seems. Slavery, as it emerged in American life and law, was always a matter of state enactments. There was no federal slave code, and Madison had been particularly eager to ensure that the Constitution gave no federal recognition to the idea that there could be “property in man.” But there was also no federal authority to move directly against slavery in the states.
The attempt by the Southern slave states to break away in 1861 seemed to offer several ways to strike at slavery. Some U.S. Army officers attempted to declare slaves “contraband of war,” and therefore liable to seizure like any other military goods. But the “contraband” argument fell into the error of conceding that slaves were property, and, anyway, no legal opinions on the laws of war regarded such property seizures as permanent.
Congress tried to put a hand on slavery through two Confiscation Acts, in 1861 and 1862. But “confiscating” slaves wasn’t the same thing as freeing them, since the Constitution (in Article I, Section 9) explicitly bans Congress from enacting “bills of attainder” that permanently alienate property. Confiscation would also have had the problem of ratifying the idea that human beings were property.
Lincoln tried to dodge the constitutional issues by proposing, as early as November 1861, a federal buyout of slaves in the four border states that remained loyal to the Union—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. But the representatives of those states rebuffed the offer, telling Lincoln that they “did not like to be coerced into Emancipation, either by the Direct action of the Government, or by indirection,” as a Maryland congressman reported.
Many slaves didn’t wait on the courts or Congress, and instead ran for their freedom to wherever they could find the Union Army. But the Army wasn’t always welcoming, and there was no guarantee that the war wouldn’t end with a negotiated settlement including the forced return of such runaways. Fugitive slaves were free, but their freedom needed legal recognition.
If you can get past The Wall Street Journal paywall, you can read the rest here.
This semester my Civil War class is reading Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. It is, without peer, the best book on Lincoln’s intellectual and religious life. Others seem to agree. In 2000, Guelzo’s biography received the prestigious Lincoln Prize for the best film or book about the Civil War era. Last night we discussed chapter 8: “Voice Out of the Whirlwind.”
Guelzo argues that Abraham Lincoln, at least in his adult life, was never a Christian, but he did spend a lot of time reflecting on big questions about free will and determinism and their relationship to a force or supreme being that governed the world. Lincoln, in his pre-presidential years, believed in what he called the “Doctrine of Necessity.” He wrote: “I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the “Doctrine of Necessity”–that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control…” Guelzo compares Lincoln’s view here to the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s “philosophical necessity,” a believe “that human beings possess neither free will nor the moral responsibility for the right or wrong actions that is supposed to follow the exercise of free choices.” (p.117).
During his presidency, Lincoln’s “Doctrine of Necessity” took on a more religious flavor. He began to use the word “providence” to describe this “power, over which the mind has not control.” He came to embrace a “divine personality” that intervened in human affairs. (p.328).
Guelzo argues, and quite convincingly I might add, that the Civil War led Lincoln to apply his view of “providence” to the political decisions he made as POTUS. This was particularly the case in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation was issued days after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam. In a cabinet meeting following the battle, Lincoln uttered what Guelzo calls “the most astounding remarks any of [the members of his cabinet] had ever heard him make.” Lincoln told the cabinet that he had become convinced that if the Union won at Antietam he would consider it an indication of the “divine will and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation.” (p.341). He added, “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.” Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation changed the course of the war. The Proclamation made it a war that was less about preserving the Union and more about freeing the slaves. It could be argued that it was the turning point of the Civil War. And Lincoln made his decision by somehow interpreting (with much certainty) the providence of God.
After class, a student asked me if I thought a United States President could get away with this kind of presidential leadership today. What if George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump made a republic-altering decision and said that it was based upon his reading of God’s providence? (Bush came close on numerous occasions). There would be many evangelicals who might love such a claim. But most Americans, including many evangelicals who believe in the providence of God but do believe we can know God’s will in every matter on this side of eternity, would think that such a decision-making process might be the height of presidential incompetence.
JF: What led you to write Lincoln’s Sense of Humor?
RC: It began when I asked myself: why did Abraham Lincoln hold the satirist David Ross Locke, creator of a fictional Copperhead bigot – Petroleum V. Nasby – in so high esteem that he told the author, “For the genius to write these things I would gladly give up my office.” I addressed this question, and Lincoln’s humor more generally, in a conference talk that prompted an invitation to write a book on the subject – an idea I welcomed, given the paucity of work taking Lincoln’s humor seriously.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Lincoln’s Sense of Humor?
RC: Since his death, Lincoln’s stories and jokes have become detached from the context that gave them their political and cultural bite, in the process losing their immediate ironic and satiric purpose. The book aims to locate Lincoln’s rich sense of humor in time and place, arguing that how and why he deployed it should be taken seriously: as a source of personal well-being, as a risky but largely profitable means of securing political advantage, and in some respects as an expression of ethical principle.
JF: Why do we need to read Lincoln’s Sense of Humor?
RC: Lincoln’s humor was not peripheral: it was a reflexive outgrowth of his personality and expressed his essential humanity. It co-existed with self-absorbed contemplation and melancholy. He told an Iowa Congressman that his recourse to humor was an indispensable relief from his “hours of depression.” Using a bow and arrow as a boy, he said, he had learnt that “one must let up on the bow if the arrow is to have force.” He added, “You flaxen men with broad faces are born with cheer, and don’t know a cloud from a star. I am of another temperament.”
Throughout his life he worked to develop the humorist’s craft and hone the art of story-telling. The book explores the versatility, range of expressions, and multiple sources of his humor: western tall tales, morality stories, bawdy jokes, linguistic tricks, absurdities, political satire, and sharp wit. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than satirical work that lampooned hypocrisy and ethical double standards.
It would be wrong to think of Lincoln’s jocularity and story-telling as a frivolous appendix to his politics. He used humor as a political tool throughout his life; he was the first president consistently to make story-telling and laughter tools of office. No occupant of the White House has since exceeded his talent in this respect. He used stories to secure political or personal advantage, sometimes by frontal assault on opponents, but more commonly by exposition through parable, refusal through wit, and diversion through hilarity. The book analyses popular reactions to Lincoln’s jocularity and the waves of criticism it elicited during his presidency. It was a risky business, retailing jokes while the nation was engaged in an existential struggle costing some three-quarters of a million lives. At the same time, however, his reputation for wit and story-telling colored his image as a man of the people, a president who remained accessible to, and in touch with, the plain folk amongst whom he had moved throughout his life.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
RC: The USA fascinated many of those growing up, as I did, in the Welsh mining valleys, where there was a strong sense of transatlantic connection, through emigration and politics. One of my ancestors was the president of the United Mine Workers of America and chief founder of the CIO, John L. Lewis. As an undergraduate student at Oxford University in the 1960s, I felt the particular tug of American history. Don E. Fehrenbacher was the visiting Harmsworth Professor at the time, and he lectured on ‘Slavery and Secession’, the celebrated course designed by Allan Nevins that ran for over twenty successive years in Oxford. That introduced me to some of the great works of American history, including Fehrenbacher’s Prelude to Greatness, Kenneth Stampp’s Peculiar Institution, and David Potter’s Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis. I was hooked. I secured an Oxford graduate scholarship in American History, one that took me to Berkeley for the year 1969-70. There I not only studied American history but lived through its making.
JF: What is your next project?
RC: A study of American religious nationalism from the founding of the Republic to Reconstruction.
JF: Thanks, Richard!
Themes discussed and things learned:
- Julian Zelizer is writing a book about Newt Gingrich
- Zelizer says that we should be careful not to place Trump solely in “long term continuums.” There is a lot about him that is unique, new, and unprecedented.
- Giesberg trashes Newt Gingrich’s attempt to compare the culture wars with the American Civil War.
- Giesberg reminds us that Confederate monuments were erected during Jim Crow.
- Zelizer: If you think that we are living in “two different countries” today, try learning something about the 1960s.
- Giesburg assigns Eric Foner’s biography of Abraham Lincoln in her Civil War class at Villanova.
- Giesburg argues that Lincoln learned a lot during his presidency. So can Trump. (But she is not optimistic).
- Zelizer: In the 1990s, Gingrich pushed a kind of conservative populism similar to Trump’s base.
- Zelizer connects Trump’s populism to Father Coughlin and George Wallace. Trump is the first president to ride this wave of conservative populism to the White House.
- Zelizer: Race-based nativism never went away. Trump is not “restoring” anything.
- Evangelicals Christian do call NPR stations and make thoughtful comments
- Giesburg compares the Trump victory to the period of “redemption” at the end of Reconstruction.
Pickett teaches at Mississippi College in Clinton. He recently wrote an op-ed in the Clarion-Ledger arguing that the Confederate emblem on the Mississippi flag must go.
Here is a taste:
After the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag took on new meanings on the Southern landscape. It became thoroughly identified with a movement known as the Lost Cause, which sought to memorialize and preserve a collective Southern memory celebrating the Confederacy. However, as African-Americans were entering into civic spaces, running for office and voting in large numbers during Reconstruction and into the 1880s, they began to represent to Southern whites many of the great changes affecting the Southern landscape — chief among them a threat to Southern white political power. The Confederate flag began to be used publicly as a symbol that represented a return to “white rule.” Further, the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 became a legal tool to help whites regain political control through massive disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Through literacy clauses, poll taxes and interpretation clauses, African-Americans were almost entirely removed from the voting process in Mississippi until the mid-1960s. In the midst of this, attacks on African-Americans in the form of lynchings and violent intimidation attempted to keep African-Americans from political activity or challenging a new system of white control.
What became known as the Mississippi Plan would soon travel to other Southern states, which would adopt similar state constitutions, and Mississippi would become the model of how whites could regain political control and reassert their power. For instance, convict leasing, in a sense, re-enslaved thousands of African-American males who were charged and sent to prison for violating ridiculous vagrancy laws. Men and boys were arrested and sent to work back in the same cotton fields that their ancestors worked as enslaved people. On a larger scale, sharecropping and tenant farming kept African-American laborers in cycles of debt and poverty for generations. Mississippi laws also limited these laborers from moving around and hiring out their labor to improve their financial position. Typically, the Confederate flag was the rallying symbol used by whites that embodied a reassertion of white political, economic and social control. In a sense, it was the symbol that provided a visible pledge to the aforementioned ideologies, philosophies, laws and social relationships.
It was during this time period, in April of 1894, some 30 years after the Civil War, that the Confederate emblem appeared for the first time on the Mississippi state flag. It was very clear what attaching this symbol to the state flag at this time meant: a return to white rule via violence, intimidation and disenfranchisement in order to regain an antebellum Southern “way of life” in which African-Americans were in their “proper” place. The flag was symbolic of a return to white-controlled state politics and segregated social relationships. The Confederate flag also came to resemble the enforcement of the Jim Crow system through violence and intimidation. Mississippi would become the No. 2 state in the nation in lynchings per capita. There was a constant threat of violence against African-Americans, and the Confederate flag became the symbol associated with that violence.
During the early to mid-20th century, the Confederate flag became a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations that experienced a resurgence in the early 1920s. For just about all African-Americans and many whites, the Confederate flag became a symbol connected with hatred.
Since the late 1800s, the Confederate battle flag has been used as an emblem of rebellion against integration and human equality and has, as a symbol, come to do little more than create division.
Read the entire piece here.
Pickett’s powerful plea for justice (make sure you read the whole thing) has met with some opposition. A writer at a conservative website in Mississippi recently argued that if the Confederate emblem is removed from the state flag then, by the same logic, we should also get rid of the Lincoln Memorial. Read it here.
I think the author of this conservative piece needs to sit down and read the Second Inaugural and then see if he still thinks the leaders of Mississippi during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era are the moral equivalent of Lincoln.
Nice work, Otis!
An alternative title for this post might be “Abraham Lincoln’s Rural Enlightenment.”
Here is a taste of his post:
During the decade of the 1850s, Lincoln befriended many German exiled revolutionaries, who would become his indispensable allies in the formation of the new Republican Party. Lincoln’s identification of the “spread of slavery” and “monstrous injustice of slavery” with the struggle for democracy abroad drew the parallels of American slavery with European tyrannies and the antislavery struggle with European revolutions. It was also a direct appeal to the large German community in Illinois, composed of refugees from the suppressed revolutions of 1848.
Defending the American “just influence in the world,” Lincoln raised the perspective of liberal Europe to advance his case to Americans. “Already the liberal party throughout the world, express the apprehension ‘that the one retrograde institution in America, is undermining the principles of progress, and fatally violating the noblest political system the world ever saw.’ This is not the taunt of enemies, but the warning of friends. Is it quite safe to disregard it—to despise it? Is there no danger to liberty itself, in discarding the earliest practice, and first precept of our ancient faith? In our greedy chase to make profit of the negro, let us beware, lest we ‘cancel and tear to pieces’ even the white man’s charter of freedom.”
In his little law office in Springfield, Lincoln further deepened his cosmopolitan understanding of the issues at stake. He subscribed to newspapers from across the country and journals from London. His line referring to “the liberal party throughout the world” was quoted without attribution from the New York Times, which had reprinted an article from the London Daily News, whose conclusion warned against “the one retrograde institution in America.” Lincoln’s phrase, “cancel and tear to pieces,” was an unacknowledged quotation from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a scene in which assassination of the rightful king is plotted. In a letter written in 1855, Lincoln also unfavorably compared the rising nativist movement of the Know Nothings against immigrants to Russia, “where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
As president, Lincoln presented the Civil War as an international event of the greatest magnitude, the cause of the United States as a liberal republic opposed by the same oppressive forces that had crushed the 1848 revolutions, and which sought the defeat of the American experiment in democracy. It was this idea that led Lincoln in 1862 to call the United States “the last best hope of Earth.”
Read the entire post here.
Lincoln scholars, what say ye?
In case you haven’t seen it all over social media, today is the 152st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It is also Good Friday. Lincoln was killed on Good Friday in 1865, making today one of those years when the commemoration of Jesus’s death lines up with the assassination of the so-called “savior” of the Union.
I started this blog because I wanted to be in conversation with thinking Christians about what it means to think Christianly about American history. At its best, our engagement with the past should be a precious resource to us, but it can also be a snare, especially because of the temptation that we face to allow our thinking about history to distort our identity as followers of Christ. That temptation, in turn, is but a reflection of a more basic temptation to idolatry that has been a constant theme in the human story. The subtle seduction of idolatry can take innumerable forms, but one of these surely for American Christians over the past two and a half centuries has been the temptation to conflate God’s Church with the American nation.
I’m especially mindful of this today because Lincoln’s assassination instantaneously triggered across the grieving northern states a response that should make us wince, if not shudder. Northerners hardly spoke with one voice, but a common response from northern pulpits was to speak in terms of the president’s “sacrifice” and “martyrdom,” both terms fraught with religious significance. Almost no one missed the symbolism of the timing of Lincoln’s death. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses Grant on Palm Sunday—in an event that seemed to signal at long last a northern triumph—and now the nation’s leader was killed on Good Friday. It was child’s play, if childishly foolish, to connect the dots and begin to speak of Lincoln as the nation’s savior and messiah.
Two days later, pastors across the North would mount their pulpits and begin to do so. So, for example, the Reverend Henry Bellows of New York City informed his congregation that “Heaven rejoices this Easter morning in the resurrection of our lost leader . . . dying on the anniversary of our Lord’s great sacrifice, a mighty sacrifice himself for the sins of a whole people.” In Philadelphia, minister Phillips Brooks assured his flock that, “If there were one day on which one could rejoice to echo the martyrdom of Christ, it would be that on which the martyrdom was perfected.”
But not all analogies were between Lincoln and Christ. The day after Lincoln’s death, a Philadelphia newspaper editorialized, “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. So the blood of the noble martyr to the cause of freedom will be the seed to the great blessing of this nation.” Here the central analogy was not between Christ and Lincoln, but between Christ’s church and Lincoln’s nation.
Read the rest here.
Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities. This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency publishes the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. This is a “long-term project dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his entire lifetime (1809-1865).”
In 2015 the National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding for the preparation for online publication of materials from the pre-congressional career of Lincoln . Here is a short press release:
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project has received a $400,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that will allow more documents about Lincoln’s congressional career to be placed online.
The new three-year grant is the largest the Papers of Abraham Lincoln has received from the NEH. It comes in the form of $100,000 in outright funds and $300,000 in matching funds.
“NEH is proud to support programs that illuminate the great ideas and events of our past, broaden access to our nation’s many cultural resources, and open up for us new ways of understanding the world in which we live,” said William Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The grant covers the period from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2019. It will support the salaries of editors who are working through the documentation of Abraham Lincoln’s early life and career. These staff members, along with other editors, will focus on the markup, annotation and review of Lincoln’s legislation, correspondence and speeches during his single term in Congress (1847-1849).
Because most of this offer comes in the form of a matching grant, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln must raise at least $100,000 a year from private sources to match the amount offered by the NEH. Thus, the NEH award effectively doubles each private donation from friends and supporters of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.
“This grant represents an affirmation of the importance of our project,” said Director and Editor Daniel W. Stowell. “NEH support validates the progress we have made thus far and encourages private support of the exciting work remaining before us.”
Read more about this grant here.
For other posts in this series click here.
Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College is one of my favorite historians. I highly recommend her most recent book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party.
Today Richardson gave me permission to publish a piece she recently posted to her Facebook page.
Richardson is probably right in assuming that Steve Bannon is behind Trump’s recent Executive Order on Muslim refugees. She describes what Bannon is doing as a “shock event.” This is an attempt to throw the country into confusion and chaos so that the administration can present itself as the only entity capable of restoring order.
What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.” Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.
Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.
Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.
My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.
But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.