Friday, May 31, 2013

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 4

Logical inconsistencies did not get past the razor-sharp mind of Abraham Lincoln. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 Lincoln dismissed one of Douglas’s arguments with devastating effect. ‘Any attempt to twist his views into a call for perfect social and political equality with Negroes was but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse.’
Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 3

'I do the very best I know how and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.'
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 2

'You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.'
Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lincoln's Wit/Wisdom, 1

A few days after they were married in 1842, Lincoln wrote a friend that nothing was new 'except my marrying, which to me is a matter of profound wonder.'
Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Humor and Politics, Part 1

The story goes that during his campaign for the House of Representatives in 1846 Lincoln's Democratic opponent was a fire-and-brimstone preacher named Peter Cartwright.

During the course of the campaign Lincoln went to one of Cartwright's services. When Cartwright said, "All who desire to give their lives to God and go to heaven will please stand." A sprinkling of men, women and children stood up, but not Lincoln. The preacher then exhorted, "All who do not wish to go to hell will please stand." Once again people stood up - except Lincoln.

Cartwright, as one might imagine, was sensitive that his political opponent was there, in that very congregation, so, in his gravest voice, he said, "I observe that all of you save one responded to the first invitation to give their lives to God and go to heaven. And I further observe that all of you save one indicated that you did not desire to go to hell. The sole exception in both instances was Mr. Lincoln, who did not respond to either invitation. May I inquire of you, Mr. Lincoln, where you are going?"

Lincoln slowly rose: "I came here as a respectful listener. I did not know that I was to be singled out by Brother Cartwright. I believe in treating religious matters with due solemnity. I admit that the questions propounded by Brother Cartwright are of great importance.

"I did not feel called upon to answer as the rest did. Brother Cartwright asks me directly where I am going. I desire to reply with equal directness. I am going to Congress."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lincoln's money woes

According to a House report of early 1863 the war was costing the government a staggering $2.5 million a day [Sundays included], and the government was taking in, from every source imaginable, $600,000 a day.

The future looked even more gloomy; the report went on to claim that in order to finance the war for the coming 18 months the Lincoln administration would have to pry loose from banks, investors and patriotic citizens [whose sons, by the way, were dying in record numbers] an estimated $1billion!

[For the record, the war lasted a full year beyond those 18 months.]

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Abe and the turkey-buzzard quill

Dennis Hanks reported the following story of Abe Lincoln, his first cousin, as either a teenager or a pre-teenager, with a turkey-buzzard quill in his hand, writing out the words “Abraham Lincoln.”

“’Denny,’” the boy said to his cousin. “‘Look at that, will you? “Abraham Lincoln!” That’s me. Don’t look a bit like me!’ And,” said Dennis, “then he’d stand and stare at it a spell. ‘Peared to mean a heap to Abe!”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lincoln's "Authbiography"

In June of 1860 after he received the Republican nomination for President, Lincoln was asked to prepare a brief sketch of his life that was destined to become a campaign biography. The final version ran to about 3,000 words and he put it together for for a newspaper editor named John Scripps.

When Scripps asked Lincoln for details about his early life in Kentucky, Lincoln said, “Why, Scripps, it is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life. It can be all condensed into a simple sentence, and that sentence you will find in Gray’s Elegy: ‘The short and simple annals of the poor.’ That’s my life, and that’s all you or any one else can make out of it.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Playing to an extreme base: the counterbalance Part 4

One final thing this story of Lincoln’s reconciliation with Colonel Benbow shows: Lincoln’s supreme self-confidence, his belief in the sheer force of his personality. What else accounts for the change in a man who had fought for four long years - then [more or less in the twinkling of an eye] clasps his enemy’s hand with both of his own?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Playing to an extreme base: the counterbalance Part 3

Lincoln’s behavior in dealing with Colonel Henry L. Benbow is distinctive in a number of ways.

Besides being simple, one-on-one, and bent on reconciliation, it also shows great personal courage.

One could easily imagine that news of an impending presidential visit had made it through the gossip-mill, even to a tent filled with Rebels. One can also imagine someone like Colonel Benbow with, say, a straight-edge razor up his sleeve on the million-to-one chance that he might get a chance to strike a significant blow for the Confederacy [surely John Wilkes Booth wasn’t the only Southerner who thought of killing Lincoln].

Any man who gets close enough to shake another man’s hand risks the threat of just such an attack, or at the very least, being spat at in the eye.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Playing to an extreme base: the counterbalance Part 2

... And inside that tent, among the all those sick and wounded Rebs was one Henry L. Benbow, a colonel in the 23rd South Carolina Infantry.

Colonel Benbow takes up the story, 'I was lying on my cot with my hands folded across my breast when the president extended his hand toward me.'

“Sir,” I said, “do you realize who it is to whom you offer your hand?”

“No, I do not,” he answered.

“Well, you offer your hand to a Confederate colonel who has fought you as hard as he could for four long years!” 

“Well, I hope a Confederate colonel will not refuse me his hand.”

“No, sir, I will not,” and I clasped his hand in both of mine.”’

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Playing to an extreme base: the counterbalance Part 1

Lincoln’s frontal-assault reaction to the hatred that engulfed the entire nation is best summarized by the story of Henry L. Benbow, told by Carl Sandburg in his Putzler prize-winning Lincoln biography.

According to Sandburg, in February of 1865, a few weeks before the war’s end, Lincoln was visiting the front at City Point Virginia, and in the course of that visit toured the sick and wounded. During that tour he happened on a tent filled with Confederate sick and wounded. The ranking officer conducting the presidential tour stopped him, saying, ‘you can’t go in there, Mr. President; that tent’s full of Rebs.’

And if Abraham Lincoln were like 99% of the people of the North, whether field commander or private; small child or business man; wife, mother, daughter, sister, he invariably would have said, ‘thank you for the warning, I certainly don’t want to waste any of my time on that rabble; they’re the ones responsible for all this death and destruction.’ And, unless he were a woman or a small child, would certainly have added, ‘God damn them to hell!’

That’s not what he said. What he did say was, ‘that’s the very place I mean to go,’ and he stepped inside...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Playing to an extreme base Part 2 – sound familiar?

A few years after the assault on Senator Sumner came the infamous Dred Scott decision.

Dred Scott was a slave who sued in federal court for his freedom on the basis that he had spent time in the free states. The case finally reached the Supreme Court but was thrown out because, according to the majority opinion since Dred Scott was a slave he had no right to present a case of any kind to any court. Taney further said that no black man had any rights that any white man need honor.
[This opinion was written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Maryland slave-owner].

The result was that both sides were even more acutely polaized.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Playing to an extreme base Part 1– shound familiar?

The run-up to the Civil War was an age of the ever-increasingly strident, of people utterly sure that they were right. And of course they were right - as long as the perspective didn't change, as long as the situation wasn't looked at from the other guy's (equally?) valid perspective.

The age is profligate with examples. In 1856, five years before the war broke out, Charles Summer delivered a rousing anti-slavery speech in the US Senate that played well to the Abolitionists in his home state of Massachusetts but infuriated the South - and led to a relative of a Southerner whose honor was besmirched to enter an almost empty senate chamber and attack Summer as he sat at his desk, beating him with his walking stick with sufficient vehemence that Sumner took years of recuperating before he returned to his senatorial duties.

In the meantime Representative Brooks, the assailant, received any number of replacement walking sticks from well-wishing fellow Southerners. - to be used again in case any other Northern hypocrite stepped out of line!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lincoln on lawyering, Part 4

Letter to John M. Brockman on September 25, 1860

J. M. Brockman, Esq.

Dear Sir:

Yours of the 24th. asking "the best mode of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the law" is received. The mode is very simple, though laborious, and tedious. It is only to get the books, and read, and study them carefully.

Begin with Blackstone's Commentaries, and after reading it carefully through, say twice, take up Chitty's Pleadings, Greenleaf's Evidence, & Story's Equity &c. in succession.

Work, work, work, is the main thing.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln

Getting bored? In case anyone is watching, Lincoln just may be giving us the secret of his – or anybody’s – success: work hard, hard, H-A-R-D.