Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Part 3 What was at Stake

The initial cabinet discussion of the Emancipation Proclamation took place in July of 1862, and when Lincoln was advised to wait its publication until the North had won a victory so that it would not appear the desperate gesture of a loser he agreed.

That victory came when the North repulsed Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North at the battle of Antietam in Maryland. So, on September 22, 1862, a few days after that fateful battle, the North issued what came to be called the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

It represented a stark choice: if the errant sisters of the South laid down their arms and returned to the Union by January 1, 1863 they would be rewarded with a plan for gradual compensated emancipation of their slaves.

Failure to do so would result in a far more upsetting expropriation: the freedom of their slaves without any compensation whatever.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Lincoln announced his intention to issue an Emancipation Proclamation his utterly astonished cabinet greeted this decision with stunned silence. After all, this was the most far-reaching decision of any presidential administration in American history, before or since for it challenged the nation to live out the obvious implications of “all men are created equal.”

Someone eventually broke the silence with the suggestion that we wait the issuance until the Union had achieved a military victory in the field for victories were proving hard to come by in mid-1862.

This of course reminded the President of a story. A farmer was returning home after a trip of a few days and was greeted by one of his workers after the following fashion: “Master, the little pigs is all dead. Oh,” he drawled eventually, “and the old sow is dead too, but I didn’t want to tell you all at once.”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Part 1

Lincoln agonized for months over the explosive issue of slavery. It was, 150 years ago, what we today would call “The Third Rail,” but this third rail concerned slavery, the mother of all ethical connumdrums in American history. Specifically, should he issue something like an emancipation proclamation?

The whole idea was repugnant to him since it would, in effect, represent the siezure of private property, and as a lawyer that ran counter to every constitutional bone in his body. And yet, as he often said, he was not going to leave any card unplayed in reestablishing the Union, and slavery was THE card yet unplayed.

So he decided the issue. On his own.

We, of course, might find that difficult to fathom, but having thought through all sides of the issue, having consulted with this one and that one, having heard all the arguments for and against, having been tugged this way and that way by competing forces, the decision was, seemingly, a relatively painless one to make.

In fact, on the day the emancipation proclamation first saw the light of day he told his cabinet, his utterly astounded cabinet, that he himself had already the issue itself but that he wanted their input on the incidentals surrounding the decision.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lincoln on both sides of the creek...

Missouri was, in Lincoln’s eyes, evenly balanced between Union and Rebel supporters. Indeed, Missouri had its own version of the Civil War that seemed to have a life of its own [in fact, the one in Missouri lasted well beyond the end of formal hostilities].

So when two groups of men came to Lincoln to argue as to whether or not a St. Louis church should be closed as a result of statements of disloyalty from its minister Lincoln’s reaction wasn’t surprising at all.

When the men finished their presentation Lincoln said that the situation reminded him of the story of a man he knew back in Sangamon County who had a melon patch that kept getting ruined by a wild hog.

Eventually the man and his sons decided to take their guns and track the animal down. They followed the tracks to the neighboring creek, where they disappeared. They discovered them on the opposite bank, and waded through. They kept on the trail a couple of hundred yards, when the tracks again went into the creek, and promptly turned up on the other side.

Out of breath and patience, the farmer said, "John, you cross over and go up on that side of the creek, and I’ll keep up on this side, because I believe that hog is on both sides of the creek!"

"Gentlemen," concluded Lincoln, "that is just where I stand in regard to your controversies in St. Louis. I am on both sides. I can't allow my Generals to run the churches, and I can’t allow your ministers to preach rebellion."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lincoln: the perfect woman

Lincoln told of the preacher that said, during his sermon, that although the Lord was the only perfect man, the Bible never mentioned a perfect woman.

A woman in the rear of the congregation called out "I know a perfect woman, and I’ve heard of her every day for the last six years."

When the astonished minister asked, "Who was she?"  back came the reply: "My husband’s first wife.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lincoln and the Pompous

As you can imagine, Lincoln’s tendency to resort to humor for self-therapy grew more intense as the responsibilities of the presidency became more unendurable. He wanted to lessen the tensions in himself and those around him, and he frequently pointed fun at pompous generals when doing this.

He said that he once saw a short, fat general that reminded him of a man he knew in Springfield whose name was Enoch. He said Enoch’s legs were so short that when he walked through the snow the seat of his trousers wiped out his footprints.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lincoln as Presidential Jokster

At every point in Lincoln’s varied career he used humor often with devastating effect. As president Lincoln had a way of easing a visitor out the door when he wanted the meeting to end.

He would frequently tell a joke to get rid of some unwanted visitor that had over-stayed his visiting time. In these situations he would use a funny story to illustrate a point he was trying to make, and then—while the listeners was still laughing—would ease them out the door.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"The Child is the Father of the Man"

Sigmund Freud once said, "The child is the father of the man" - truer words were never spoken.

They say that after a church service Lincoln, as a child, would mount a stump and delight the other children with his rendition of the sermon he had just heard. It showcased Lincoln's ability at mimicry, his remarkable memory as well as his bubbly, ever-present sense of humor.

As a side note, of course, it was important that no adult be present!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Please: More Light, Less Nose!"

Lincoln, on a regular basis, received a consistent stream of uninhibited criticism during the Civil War
from any number of sources.

At one point the criticism was particularly virulent and produced the following story:

"A frontiersman lost his way in an uninhabited region on a dark and tempestuous night. The rain fell in torrents, accompanied by terrible thunder and more terrific lightning. To increase his trouble his horse halted, being exhausted with fatigue and fright.

“Presently a bolt of lightning struck a neighboring tree, and the crash brought the man to his knees. He was not what would be called a prayerful man, so his appeal was short and to the point:

"'Oh, Lord, if it is all the same to you, please give me a little more light, and a little less noise!’"

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"That reminds me of a story..."

One of Lincoln’s favorite expressions was, “That reminds me of a story.” Then he would tell a story, or a joke, that was always pointed to the issue at hand.

On one occasion he was confronted with a person who overreacted – a 20-foot reaction to a 2-inch stimulus – and told the following story:

“A man on foot, with his clothes in a bundle, came to a running stream which he knew he must ford. So he made elaborate preparations by stripping off his garments, adding them to his bundle, then tying the bundle to the top of a stick.

“That enabled him to raise the bundle high above his head to keep them dry during the crossing. When all preparations were complete he fearlessly waded in and carefully made his way across the rippling stream, and found it in no place up to his ankles."

Friday, March 8, 2013

Lincoln and the exploded dog

Lincoln needed humor as a kind of counter-balance to the depression he seemed to carry as a matter of course. And given the death and devastation that surrounded him at every turn, such debilitating depression was inescapable – except through humor.

As good an example of his resorting to humor is his reaction to the destruction of the once-formidable rebel army commanded by John Hood. That army had been annihilated in the battle of Nashville, Tennessee in late 1864.

Lincoln said "I think Hood’s army is about in the fix of Bill Sykes’s dog, down in Sangamon county.

“Bill Sykes had a long, yaller dog, that was forever getting into the neighbors’ meat houses and chicken coops. They had tried to kill it a hundred times, but the dog was always too smart for them. Finally, one of them got a bladder of a coon, and filled it up with gun powder, tying the neck around a piece of punk, a kind of fuse. When he saw the dog coming he lit the punk, split open a hot biscuit and put the bladder in, then buttered it all nicely and threw it out. The dog swallowed it at a gulp.

“Pretty soon there was an explosion. The head of the dog lit on the porch, the fore-legs caught astraddle the fence, the hind-legs fell in the ditch, and the rest of the dog lay around loose.

“Pretty soon Bill Sykes came along, and the neighbor said; ‘Bill I guess there ain’t much of that dog of your’n left.’ ‘Well, no,’ said Bill; ‘I see plenty of pieces, but I guess that dog, as a dog, ain’t of much more account.’”

Lincoln concluded that although there were still pieces of Hood’s army left, the army, as an army, wasn’t of much more account.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lincoln on Public Opinion Baths

On a regular basis Lincoln would meet members of the general public who made it their business merely to show up in the White House and wait their turn to tell their troubles to the President of the United States. How many world leaders have the sense of values made evident in the following?

"I feel--though the tax on my time is heavy--that no hours of my day are better employed than those which thus bring me again within the direct contact and atmosphere of the average of our whole people.  Men moving only in an official circle are apt to become merely official--not to say arbitrary--in their ideas, and are apter and apter with each passing day to forget that they only hold power in a representative capacity.

“Now this is all wrong.  I go into these promiscuous receptions of all who claim to have business with me twice each week, and every applicant for audience has to take his turn, as if waiting to be shaved in the barber's shop.  Many of the matters brought to my notice are utterly frivolous, but others are of more or less importance, and all serve to renew in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great popular assemblage out of which I sprung, and to which at the end of two years I must return.

“I tell you that I call these receptions my 'public opinion baths;' for I have but little time to read the papers, and gather public opinion that way; and though they may not be pleasant in all their particulars, the effect as a whole, is renovating and invigorating to my perceptions of responsibility and duty."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lincoln and Girls

Lincoln, particularly the young Lincoln, was always clumsy around girls. When in their presence he either sat on his hands or acted the clown. The truth was, he simply didn’t understand them, was convinced they thought him ugly, felt awkward and stupid in their presence.

And he realized that about himself. As he once said, “Others have been made fools of by the girls, but this can never be with truth said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, make a fool of myself.”

And his wife seemed to agree. She once described meeting her future husband at a dance where he came up to her and said, “Miss Todd, I want to dance with you in the worse way!”

“And,” she said, “We did.”

“And it was.”

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lincoln’s First Campaign: Bad News, Good News and GOOD NEWS

Lincoln first ran for political office at the age of 23.

•    The Bad News: he came in eighth in a field of thirteen candidates;

•    The Good News: of the 300 voters from his little village of New Salem ho polled 277; and

•    And finally the GOOD NEWS: he was just getting started!