If Not For Abraham Lincoln’s Hat, Trump Would be the “Most Presidential” President in American History

Lincoln cartoon

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.

Lincoln Impersonators Unite!

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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.

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A Saturday Morning in Gettysburg

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We got to hang our with Abe! 

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:

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Students at the Lincoln Gettysburg Address memorial after “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery

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The “Ike” section of the Gettysburg Visitor Center store

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Anyone want to be buy me a Christmas present?  🙂

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Speaking of Abe… (photo by Joy Fea)

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Messiah College Pennsylvania History students at the Pennsylvania monument (Photo by Joy Fea)

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The “loyal women” of HIST 345: Pennsylvania History

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I was an official Gettysburg tour guide for the day!

Did Lincoln Offer a “verbal cake and ice cream” to slaveowners?

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.

Did Lincoln’s Reliance on “Providence” Make Him an Incompetent President?

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This semester my Civil War class is reading Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIt 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.

The Author’s Corner with Richard Carwardine

61d4we2M85L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Richard Carwardine is Professor Emeritus at Oxford University. This interview is based on his new book, Lincoln’s Sense of Humor (Southern Illinois University Press, 2017).

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!

Historians Discuss American History in the Age of Trump

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Tom Ashbrook interviews historians Judith Giesberg and Julian Zelizer on his WBUR-Boston show “On Point”

Listen here.

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.

Should Mississippi Remove the Confederate Emblem on its Flag?

Flag_of_Mississippi.svgSome of you may remember historian Otis Pickett from his excellent post on teaching history in a Mississippi prison. Read it here.

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!

Abraham Lincoln: Internationalist?

BlumAn alternative title for this post might be “Abraham Lincoln’s Rural Enlightenment.”

Over at “Just Security,” Lincoln biographer and former Bill Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal argues that the 16th POTUS would have probably rejected the idea of “America First.”

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?

Abraham Lincoln’s “Martyrdom”

Clements Library, Brian Dunnigan

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.

Over at his blog Faith and History, Wheaton College history professor Tracy McKenzie urges Christians to be careful of making too much out of the fact that Lincoln was murdered on Good Friday.

A taste:

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.

The National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the Papers of Abraham Lincoln

72118-last_lincolnDonald 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.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson on Trump’s Muslim Ban: “It’s a Shock Event”

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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.

Richardson explains:

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.richardson

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.

Fellow Historians of Lincoln and Reconstruction: Cut Hillary Some Slack

72118-last_lincolnApparently several historians and journalists are upset by Hillary Clinton’s remarks about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War at last night’s CNN’s Democratic candidate’s town hall meeting.  Here is what she said about Lincoln in response to an audience member who asked her to say something about the POTUS who has inspired her the most:

You know, I – wow, when I think about his challenges, they paled in comparison to anything we have faced or can imagine.  You know, more Americans died in the Civil War than, you know, the wars of the 20th Century put together.

So here was a man who was a real politician.  I mean, he was a great statesman, but he also understood politics.  And he had to work to put together, you know, the support he needed to be able to hold the country together during the war.

And while he was prosecuting that war to keep the Union together, he was building America, which I found just an astonishing part of his legacy.  The transcontinental rail system, land grant colleges, he was thinking about the future while in the middle of trying to decide which general he can trust to try to finish the war.

That’s what I mean, when you’ve got to do a lot of things at once, what could be more overwhelming than trying to wage and win a civil war?

And yet, he kept his eye on the future and he also tried to keep summoning up the better angels of our nature.  You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive.  And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.

But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow.  We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant.  So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.

And, as I say, our challenges are nothing like what he faced, but let’s think ourselves about not only what we have to do right now, especially to get the income rising in America, especially to make college affordable, do something about student debt, keep health care growing until we get 100 percent coverage and so much else.

But let’s also think about how we do try to summon up those better angels, and to treat each other, even when we disagree, fundamentally disagree, treat each other with more respect, and agree to disagree more civilly, and try to be inspired by, I think, the greatest of our presidents.

I have highlighted the section of her remarks that led some pundits to squeal.

Luke Brinker of Policy Mic has gathered some of the tweets written in response to Hillary’s remarks about Reconstruction and Jim Crow.  Here are a few of them:

Frankly, I was quite impressed with Hillary’s understanding of Lincoln.  She understood the challenges that he faced as POTUS during a Civil War.  She knew that his presidency was not just about the Civil War.  Her references to the railroads and land-grant colleges were excellent.  She was aware of his problems with Union generals.  Her references to reconciliation and forgiveness captured the spirit of the Second Inaugural.  How many presidential candidates could summon this kind of historical knowledge off the top of their heads?

Of course she did imply that Reconstruction was a problem.  People like Chait and Bouie are correct to note that Radical Reconstruction in the South had positive results for the former slaves.  If Hillary was referring to the policies of Republican Reconstruction, then she was wrong to imply that it had negative consequences for Blacks.

On the other hand, she could have been simply referencing the “Era of Reconstruction,” a period that covers the entire period in U.S. History from 1865-1877.  This is normally how American History textbooks cover the period.  This “era” saw Republican policies that brought human and civil rights to those who were enslaved.  You had the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.  But this era ended tragically for African American as white redemption won the day, leading to Jim Crow and segregation.  From a curriculum standpoint, all of this–the good and the bad–are covered under the so-called “Era of Reconstruction.”

Did Hillary make a mistake by lumping Republican Reconstruction with Jim Crow and segregation?  Probably. But I don’t think it was enough to merit the outrage I am seeing among historians and the references to Hillary invoking the Dunning School.

If liberal commentators want to find the real problem with Hillary’s statement they should consider the fact that if Lincoln had lived the union might have come together much sooner, but I am not sure  we would have had a period of Reconstruction that benefited former slaves in the way that it did.  Lincoln’s so-called “Ten percent plan” made it pretty easy for the South to return to the Union without addressing the plight of the former slaves.

 

Gary Gallagher on the Movie "Lincoln" and the Gettysburg Address

If you are a Civil War buff you will want to read this interview with University of Virginia historian Gary Gallagher conducted by Clayton Butler of The Civil War Trust.  He talks about Civil War scholarship, some of the projects that his graduate students are tackling, and the movie Lincoln.  In light of today’s 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, here is a taste of the interview:

CWT: I know you’ve written on the Civil War in film and popular art. What did you think of Lincoln?
GG: I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was transcendent. I don’t think any other actor should ever play Lincoln. I think the movie had some parts that don’t work very well at all, and I think it’s very much a reflection of how we understand the Civil War now, in the sesquicentennial. That is – it’s mainly important for emancipation. So you get the ludicrous early scenes where soldiers are reciting the Gettysburg Address, which is cast as a speech mainly about ending slavery, to Lincoln. Lincoln couldn’t have recited the Gettysburg Address at that point! The idea that anybody else would have memorized the Gettysburg Address is just ludicrous. Virtually no one paid much attention to the Gettysburg Address during the Civil War. Very few newspapers paid much attention to it, only the tiniest part of the loyal population paid much attention to it.
CWT: Edward Everett seemed to like it!
GG: Yes. He did. He seemed to like it. A couple of Democratic newspapers picked up on it, but for the most part it was met with absolute silence. Harper’s Weekly buried it. No commentary, just the text. It became much more important, of course, when Lincoln was assassinated, and now it’s one of the great American speeches. I think the greatest American political speech is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, by a pretty wide margin, but the Gettysburg Address is splendid as well. Lincoln actually could say something in a few words. That art has been lost by all our current politicians, who basically can’t say anything in many, many words.

What is the Library of America’s Best-Selling Volume?

I am sure many of my readers know about the Library of America, a publisher “dedicated to publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing.”

I must confess that I do not own a single volume in this series.  I guess I am pretty lowbrow.

Today Reader’s Almanac, the official blog of the Library of America, announced its ten all-time best-selling titles.

Here are the top three:

Thomas Jefferson: Writings (1984)–217, 518 sold.
Mark Twain: Mississippi Writings (1982)–150,973 sold.
Abraham Lincoln: Speeches, 1859-1865 (1989)–120,589 sold.

Not surprising.

It should be noted that Jefferson has a seven-year publication lead on Lincoln.

The only woman in the top ten is Flannery O’Connor.  The rest are white men.

Read the list here.

FDR was a Jew and Lincoln was a Catholic

OK, not really. But these rumors swirled during the FDR and Lincoln presidencies. Bruce Feiler wonders “Why Americans Don’t Like their President’s God.”

He concludes:

But as reliably as Americans have adopted these views, they’ve also moved past them. In every case of religious discrimination in the United States, whether it was Methodists in the eighteenth century, Catholics in the nineteenth century, or Jews in the twentieth century, the once reviled and ostracized “outsider” religion in America eventually makes it into the inner circle.

And odds are the pattern will repeat itself with Muslims in the twenty-first century.

Should Obama Follow Lincoln on Immigration?

Immigrant historian Alan Kraut thinks so.

Here is a taste from his piece at The Huffington Post:

Immigration? Lincoln? Yes, like President Obama, Lincoln lived in an era when immigration was a controversial matter. Between 1840 and 1860 approximately 4.5 million newcomers arrived, most of them from Ireland, the German states, and Scandinavian countries. Many more crossed back and forth across the border with Mexico, newly drawn in 1848. States, not the federal government were charged with counting, interrogating, and medically inspecting immigrants. Port procedures at state depots such as New York’s Castle Garden were haphazard at best. Millions of Catholics arrived striking fear in the hearts of American Protestants. Nativistic anti-Catholicism cropped up in a pulp literature featuring anti-papist stereotypes and undergirded the politics of the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s. While never serious contenders for national political power, there were Know Nothing governors, mayors, and congressmen who built their careers on opposing immigration.

When the Republican Party was formed in 1854, some Know Nothings drifted into the new party and wanted Republicans to adopt an anti-immigrant stand. Lincoln refused. In an 1855 letter to his Springfield friend Joshua Speed, Lincoln wrote, “I am not a Know Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people?. . .When the Know-Nothings get control, it [our Declaration of Independence] will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes and foreigners, and catholics[sic].’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty – Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. . . .” In 1860, Lincoln ran on a platform that came out against “any change in our naturalization laws, or any state legislation by which the rights of citizens hitherto accorded to immigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.”

As we approach the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War, America once again lives under the cloud of war and economic uncertainty. Workers in search of employment pour across our borders. Islamic immigrants strike fear in the hearts of some Christians. Though the federal government is charged with creating and enforcing immigration policy, private vigilante groups and now some states are trying to usurp that authority. As did Lincoln, President Obama must clearly articulate his position on immigration reform, substituting clear fresh vision for the blurry confusion of a contentious, befuddled Congress.

Democrats and Republicans agree that unauthorized immigrants now in the U.S. must not receive amnesty without paying a price. Some advocate fines, others suggest harsher measures. During the Civil War, Lincoln called on all Americans, including recently arrived immigrants, to serve their country. Perhaps a broader conception of national service is the answer in much the same way that many people convicted of non-violent crimes pay their debt to society in hours of community service. The tasks and time commitment for foreign-born engineers who have over-stayed their visas and those for manual laborers already working two jobs to support their families might differ, of course. Those immigrants who help a community clean up after a natural disaster or repair the swings in a playground pay a debt even as they are incorporated into communities they serve. All children need safe swings – natives and newcomers.

Whatever action Mr. Obama takes on immigration, it must honor Lincoln’s memory, reflect his fairness and decency, and embody his courage in time of crisis. Trading platitudes with the Arizona governor who signed a repressive legislation that feeds on anti-immigrant sentiment won’t do.

What We Might Learn From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

I have been critical of Abraham Lincoln on this blog and elsewhere. But I am still a big fan. I find his Second Inaugural Address to be one of the greatest political speeches ever delivered in American history. I have blogged about it here.

In the recent Christian Century, author, editor, and cultural critic Rodney Clapp thinks today’s culture warriors need a healthy dose of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. I could not agree more. Here is a taste of Clapp’s essay:

In the third paragraph of his address, referring to the North and the South, Lincoln said:

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.

This brief history of the jeremiad may help us deal with our current civil war—the culture war, a war so far fought mainly with words and not bullets. What if current Christians were to apply the profound theological truth of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address to the culture war? In approaching abortion, homosexuality and other intensely fought topics, Christians on both sides “read the same Bible and pray to the same God.” Each may find the other’s positions “strange,” but they might still be slow to judge ill of the other’s motive, lest they themselves suffer judgment.

Lincoln cut even deeper when he argued that the “prayers of both could not be answered,” because they were flatly contradictory. So does one side clearly triumph? No. The scholar Ted Widmer calls Lincoln’s oration possibly “the least triumphant speech ever delivered by a conqueror.” Lincoln no sooner recognizes that the prayers of North and South are contradictory than he adds that no one’s prayer “has been answered fully.” Both sides suffer a kind of judgment. And neither fully fathoms God’s purposes.

Though many of us know exactly where we stand on various contemporary and divisive issues, it is the nature of all wars, including the culture war, to be fought in a fog of confusion and ambiguity. Clarity, if it ever arrives, will be discerned only at a later point in history.

Recognizing as much, we might bring the American jeremiad back into the ecclesiological context in which it was originally proclaimed. That step will not miraculously resolve the culture war that pits Christian against Christian, church against church, but it might remind us that we do not know exactly how the culture war will be resolved. All we know, finally, is that after denominations are split and the ecclesial damage is done, God will have acted according to God’s sometimes mysterious purposes. And there will be no ground for triumphalism, no matter who declares victory.

Horace Greeley, Abraham Lincoln, and Active Government

History News Network has a short article by historian Johann N. Neem addressing the recent decision by the Maine Republican party to adopt a new platform “that challenges the principles of national sovereignty and active federal government.” What bother Neem the most, and rightly so, is that the platform “invokes the 1854 words of New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley that the then new Republicans were ‘united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty.”

Neem carefully shows how the Maine Republican party is engaging in some bad history: “Greeley, Abraham Lincoln, and other Republican founders would have been astonished at the policies that Maine’s Republicans are claiming as their inheritance.”

Here is a taste:

Both Greeley and Lincoln were ardent nationalists who supported the priority of the national Constitution and the national people (as in “we the people” not “we the peoples”) over those of the states. They did not reject federalism. Federalism was and is an entrenched part of the American political system, and states and the peoples of the states retain sovereignty in those places and spaces where the federal government is denied authority.

But to Greeley and Lincoln, there could be no doubt, as President Lincoln put it, that the nation preceded the Constitution and that the Constitution spoke for a single people united by Revolution and politics. “The Union is much older than the Constitution,” Lincoln reminded his audience in his 1861 inaugural address. Lincoln, of course, was challenging secessionists who believed the Constitution was a primarily federal rather than national document. The first Republican president, in contrast, was willing to use American troops to defend the sovereignty of a single, national people formed in the crucible of the war for independence.

And Neem concludes:

Greeley and Lincoln believed that capitalism promised all people the opportunity to work hard and to achieve—to be self-made. But they were equally aware that no one was self-made, that the promise of economic opportunity and economic freedom required government to step in by providing schools, economic infrastructure, ensuring the wide distribution of wealth, and ensuring that workers were not just formally but actually free. In short, whether or not the state Republican party’s principles are good for Maine and the nation, they are radically different from those that were espoused by the party’s founders.

Great piece.