Monday, April 29, 2013

Lincoln on lawyering, Part 3

Letter to James T. Thornton on December 2, 1858

Dear Sir

Yours of the 29th, written in behalf of Mr. John W. Widmer, is received. I am absent altogether too much to be a suitable instructor for a law student.

When a man has reached the age that Mr. Widner has, and has already been doing for himself, my judgment is, that he reads the books for himself without an instructor. That is precisely the way I came to the law.

Let Mr. Widner read Blackstone's Commentaries, Chitty's Pleadings's -- Greenleaf's Evidence, Story's Equity, and Story's Equity Pleading's, get a license, and go to the practice, and still keep reading.

That is my judgment of the cheapest, quickest, and best way for Mr. Widner to make a lawyer of himself.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lincoln on lawyering, Part 2

Letter to William H. Grigsby on August 3, 1858

My dear Sir:

Yours of the 14th. of July, desiring a situation in my law office, was received several days ago. My partner, Mr. Herndon, controls our office in this respect, and I have known of his declining at least a dozen applications like yours within the last three months.

If you wish to be a lawyer, attach no consequence to the place you are in, or the person you are with; but get books, sit down anywhere, and go to reading for yourself.

That will make a lawyer of you quicker than any other way.

Yours Respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lincoln on lawyering, Part 1

Letter to Isham Reavis on November 5, 1855

My dear Sir:

I have just reached home, and found your letter of the 23rd. ult. I am from home too much of my time, for a young man to read law with me advantageously.

If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already. It is but a small matter whether you read with any body or not. I did not read with any one. Get the books, and read and study them till you understand them in their principal features; and that is the main thing.

It is of no consequence to be in a large town while you are reading. I read at New-Salem, which never had three hundred people living in it. The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places.

Mr. Dummer is a very clever man and an excellent lawyer (much better than I, in law-learning); and I have no doubt he will cheerfully tell you what books to read, and also loan you the books.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.

Very truly Your friend

A. Lincoln

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lincoln as breath of fresh air.

In all my study of Abraham Lincoln I can think of no occasion when he appeared uncomfortable in his own skin.

British journalist William Howard Russell wrote after attending a White House state dinner in 1861 that he “was amused to observe the manner in which Mr. Lincoln used the anecdotes for which he is famous. Where men bred in courts, accustomed to the world, or versed in diplomacy would use some subterfuge, or would make a polite speech, or give a shrug of the shoulders as the means of getting out of an embarrassing position, Mr. Lincoln raises a laugh by some bold west-country anecdote, and moves off in the cloud of merriment produced by this joke.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A contemporary read on Lincoln mid-stream.

According to the New York Herald, “Lincoln was baffling. The more one gazed on him, the less easy it became to reckon what would be the end of his teachings. He was democracy beyond Cromwell or Napoleon, so completely modern that his like was not to be found in the past, a character so externally uncouth, so pathetically simple, so unfathomably penetrating, so irresolute and yet so irresistible, so bizarre, grotesque, droll, wise and perfectly beneficent…

“It will take a new school of historians to do justice to this eccentric addition to the world’s gallery of heroes.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Lincoln Assassination, Part 6

It did not excape the attention of this feverish but Christian country that Lincoln had been shot on Good Friday. Any number of preachers proclaimed on Easter Sunday, two days later, that “Jesus Christ had died for our sins; Abraham Lincoln had died for our country!”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Lincoln Assassination, Part 5

If truth be told, Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's irascible Secretary of War, was exactly the wrong person to take charge at the Lincoln death bed.

Among other things, he had an unreasoning, morbid fear of death. More than 20 years earlier Stanton was living in a boarding house, and when a servant girl died of cholera and was buried immediately, he dug up the girl's grave  - he couldn't believe she was actually dead since she had served him lunch that very same day.

A few years years later, when his daughter Lucy died, he had her body exhumed and kept the coffin in his room for two years.

And when his first wife Mary died he dressed and redressed her in her wedding clothes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Lincoln Assassination, Part 4

Lincoln died in the early morning hours of April 15, 1865 - 148 years ago today. With his death the country seemed simply to come unglued, as if all that was coherent and meaningful rested overmuch on the uncanny force of the person who had just been assassinated.  How much the country needed the magnanimity and sense of compassion that seemed incarnate in President Abraham Lincoln! And yet sadly all that seemed to move humankind was marked by small-mindedness, rancor and recrimination – and a bottomless quest for revenge.

For example, Stanton who was running the country on the fateful night that Lincoln lay dying concluded (rightly or wrongly, but certainly very quickly) that the assassin had been acting as an agent of the Confederate government, and offered the unheard-of sum of $100,000 (four times the President's annual salary) as a reward for the capture of Jefferson Davis.

Then there was Vice President Johnson who spent that fateful night pacing back and forth in his room repeating, "They shall suffer for this! They shall suffer for

At a more modest level, while Johnson was visiting Lincoln in the Petersen house across the street from Ford's Theater to which Lincoln was taken after he was shot, he was unceremoniously rushed out of the room when word reached Stanton that Mrs. Lincoln, who was in a room next to her dying husband, wished to visit her husband again - Mrs Lincoln detested "that miserable inebriate Johnson." [In a letter fully a year later she gave vent to her spleen: "he wrote me a line of condolence and behaved in the most brutal way... As sure as you and I live, Johnson had some hand in this."]

At one point on that fateful night Mary was frightened by her dying husband's rattling breathing, and she let loose a loud, piercing shriek and then fainted, which caused the irritable Stanton to order, "Take that woman out and do not let her back again!"

Were cooler heads to prevail in this dire emergency? In point of fact, it seemed clear that the one with the cool head was dead. Those that remained behind were full of inchoate rage and bottomless grief.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Lincoln Assassination, Part 3

The tragedy that unfolded at Ford's Theater on that fateful night of April 14, 1865 [Good Friday, many observed] was replete with irony: The cause of the South was finished six days earlier - when Lee's surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, the South's most fearsome weapon, had literally passed out of existence, so the thought of taking the President's life had ceased logically to have any practical value whatsoever.

But obviously logic wasn't foremost in the mind of John Wilkes Booth.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Lincoln Assassination, Part 2

When it came to dying a violent death in office, the President seemed to live a charmed life.

How many examples there were!

In the summer of 1864, while riding alone one humid summer night to the Soldiers Home - think Camp David - a hidden marksman had fired at him, the bullet whizzing through his top hat. He asked that no mention be made of it. "It was probably an accident and might worry my family."

There is some evidence that poison had been tried as well - at one point the castor oil that had been ordered from a pharmacy had arrived deadly with poison, but had had too odd a taste to be swallowed.

Another story had it that a trunk of old clothes taken from yellow fever victims in Cuba had been delivered to the Executive Mansion in the hope that Lincoln would come down with that deadly disease.

And only a few days before his fatal trip to Ford's Theater Lincoln had walked through the still-burning streets of Richmond - an inviting target indeed for anyone, say, in an upstairs window with a rifle. "I was not scared about myself one bit," he commented afterward.

And of course there was the very real threat in Baltimore toward the end of the President-elect's train ride from Springfield to Washington - Lincoln, in disguise and with Ward Hill Lamon at his side [and armed to the teeth] slipped into the nation's capital on a different train ahead of schedule.

Yes, God Himself seemed to have marked this man for the completion of some task…

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Lincoln Assassination, Part 1

In 1861 Lincoln’s new Secretary of State William Seward had declared confidently, "Assassination is not an American habit or practice,." Lincoln, naturally, agreed. "What do they want to kill me for? If they kill me they will run the risk of getting a worse man."

Lincoln tried to get that message across to his good friend and self-appointed bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon. "This boy is monomaniac on the subject of my safety."  If Lamon had his way, said the President, Lincoln “would spend all day sitting in Lamon's lap.” For the rest, he said, "If they kill me I shall never die another death." "I determined when I first came here I should not be dying all the while."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Part 7 The Third Benefit.

Arguably the most telling benefit to accrue to the North from the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation was the effect on Confederate efforts to secure foreign recognition.

Such recognition was a prize dearly sought – once obtained hopefully favorable financial arrangements could be made by a cash-strapped Confederacy, maybe even a military alliance to break that increasingly pesky Yankee blockade keeping all that Southern cotton from those hungry European mills – according to some excited editorialists, within a matter of months there would have been established on the North American continent a viable thing called the Confederate States of America [to parallel that other North American thing called the United-in-a-kind-of-a-way States of America].

To be sure, England and France had been toying for the first 18 months of the war with abandoning their neutrality and formally recognizing what Lincoln had consistently treated as a complete fiction: the Confederate States of America. The dazzling successess of Lee and his cohorts particularly in those first 18 months of the war coupled with the pent-up demand for Southern cotton from all those hungry European mills almost did the trick.

But then came this Proclamation and it became clear that recognizing the Confederacy would put these major European powers clearly on the wrong side of history. [It didn’t help the South that cotton from Egypt had already begun to fill a need – others had access to what was no longer a Southern monopoly: King Cotton.]

As Henry Adams, private Secretary of the US Minister to the UK, said, “The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us here than all our former victories and all our diplomacy. It is creating an almost convulsive reaction in our favor all over this country.”

Expensive though it was in so many ways to the Northern war effort in general -and the Republican Party in particular - this proclamation not only doomed the Confederacy but challenged the nation to live out the meaning of “all men are created equal.”

In the words of Horace Greeley, the editor of the influential New York Tribune, who had excoriated Lincoln in the past for his ‘mistaken deference’ to slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation was ‘one of those facts in human history which marks not only an era in the progress of the nation, but an epoch in the history of the world.’

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Part 6 The Second Benefit.

More important, arguably, than gaining enthusiastic Black military support was the commensurate depriving of the South of that same support. From te beginning of the Civil War slaves were either employed in direct military-assistance tasks such as digging trenches, building breastworks and the like, or working on plantations – either way they represented a considerable contribution to the Southern war effort and economy. It was this contribution that Lincoln was determiined to undermine.

Slaves had, of course, voted with their feet from the outset of the War long before the issuance of any Emancipation Proclamation. If Union forces were anywhere near them they, with greater and greater frequency, made their way to the safe side of Union lines where they were used [exploited?] in performing roughtly the same military-assistance tasks.  They were, to use the parlance of the time, contraband.

What had been a steadily increasing stream became a torrent once news that Lincoln had freed the slaves spread like wild fire in the South.

The South, which suffered from a population disparity with the North of 5 to 2, could not afford the loss of over a million slaves. On the other hand, the Emancipation Proclamation in effect left the South helpless to do anything to stop this particular population hemmorhage.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Part 5 The First Benefit

So, why did Lincoln do it?

Three reasons:

First, Lincoln balanced out the loss of white military support by picking up Black military support. And Blacks flocked to enlist. From their perspective they were fighting literally for their freedom. Indeed, they far preferred to die honorably fighting the evil of slavery than to die without honor in the heremetically-sealed grip of slavery.

This was true even though they were paid half the salary of their White counterparts, even though they were given the most menial of tasks, even though, when given a strictly military obective it was one doomed to failure – despite all that an estimated 186,000 Blacks joined the Union military. In other words that represented far more excited Blacks joining than disgusted Whites abandoning.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Part 4 The Cost

Needless to say, in issuing an Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln was playing for high stakes indeed.

One of the ways this decision cost Lincoln was militarily. Northern soldiers were ok with fighting to preserve the Union, but freeing the slaves was too much for them.  Particularly in the middle states – states like Illinois, Indiana, Ohio that touched the South – thousands of whilte soldiers walked away from the war.  One of the most dramatic examples of this took place in April of 1863, four months after the Proclamation went into effect: the entire 109th Illinois Infantry Regiment was arrested for mutiny!

In addition, the fragile bi-partisan support for the war in Congress evaporated like snow in spring. As one irate opponent put it,  it was a blasphamy to make equal those whom God Himself had created unequal.

And finally, of course, despite assurances from Republican newspapers that blacks would not flood the North and take away jobs, the Republicans paid a heavy price during the mid-term elections of 1862, which took place just a few weeks following the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.