Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lincoln and Death 1

'I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me harm.'
- Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Jefferson Davis 9

The divisions engendered by the Civil War are nowhere more evident than in the eventual fate of the former president of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis. He was captured the month after Lee's surrender at Appomattox and spent the following two and a half years in prison, some of that time in leg irons. A number of lawyers offered to defend him for free against charges of treason, but the government, without explanation, never actually charged him with anything, maybe because Davis was such a divisive figure, maybe because they thought they might lose the case. He was eventually released and went to Canada for a time to regain his shattered health. On returning to his native Mississippi he was encouraged to run for his old Senate seat, but refused because the prerequisite was a request for amnesty - he refused to seek amnesty because he contended that he had done nothing wrong. He continued as one of the principal faces of what came to be called The Lost Cause until his death in the 1880s. Ironically, his citizenship was restored to him posthumously in the 1970's. Indeed, it is probable that he would have interpreted such a gesture as an insult. In any event, even in death, Jefferson Davis represented a figure of profound national division.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Jefferson Davis 8

According to Zeb Vance, Davis was ‘a man of imperfectly constituted genius… He could absolutely blind himself to those things which his prejudices or hopes did not desire to see.’

Friday, December 25, 2015

Jefferson Davis 7

Jefferson Davis allowed himself to be far too detail-oriented. At one point during the war he was embroiled in a controversy over whether or not soldiers in the field should receive hometown newspapers with the postage paid by the Confederate government. [Davis argued – successfully, as it turned out – against such an unwarranted depletion of the Confederate treasury.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Jefferson Davis 6

 ‘Slavery was established by decree of Almighty God… it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation… it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.’
- Jefferson Davis

Monday, December 21, 2015

Jefferson Davis 5

‘We protest solemnly in the face of mankind, that we desire peace at any sacrifice, save that of honor. In independence we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the states with which we have lately been confederated. All we ask is to be left alone that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we will, we must resist to the direst extremity.’
- Jefferson Davis

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Jefferson Davis 4

‘Truth crushed to the earth is truth still and like a seed will rise again.’
- Jefferson Davis

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jefferson Davis 3

‘If the Confederacy fails, this should be written on its tombstone: “Died of a theory.”’
- Jefferson Davis

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Jefferson Davis 2

‘Our cause was so just, so sacred, that had I known what was to be inflicted upon me, all that my country was to suffer, all that our posterity was to endure, I would do it all over again.’
- Jefferson Davis

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Jefferson Davis 1

‘The withdrawal of a state from a league has no revolutionary or insurrectionary characteristic. The government of the state remains unchanged as to all internal affairs. It is only its external or confederate relations that are altered. To term this action of a sovereign a “rebellion” is a gross abuse of language.’
- Jefferson Davis

Friday, December 11, 2015

Oddments 14: Good By to Springfield

'My friends: no one not in my situation can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried. I now leave not knowing when or whether ever I may return with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you as I hope in your prayers you will commend me I bid you an affectionate farewell.'
- Abraham Lincoln, President-elect, Farewell Address, Springfield, Illinois on leaving for his inauguration, February, 1861

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Oddments 13: The Lincoln Contradiction

Lincoln could be, and often was, the very picture of contradiction[s]. ‘He dressed like a farmer but read books on geometry and poetry.  He told witty stories and yet could successfully prosecute a dry or boringly technical case… Jonathan Birch, a fellow lawyer, witnessed Lincoln holding forth in the court clerk’s office, surrounded by other lawyers and telling some story. ‘His eyes would sparkle with fun,’ Birch remembered, ‘and when he had reached the point in his narrative which invariably evoked the laughter of the crowd, nobody’s enjoyment was greater than his.’ An hour later, however, Birch would see Lincoln seated on a chair with the back leaned against the wall, ‘his hat tipped slightly forward as if to shield his face, his eyes no longer sparkling with fun or merriment, but sad and downcast and his hands clasped around his knees.’ Birch thought him ‘the very picture of dejection and gloom. Thus absorbed have I seen him sit for hours at a time defying the interruption of even his closest friends… It was a strange picture.’
- Brian Dirck

Monday, December 7, 2015

Oddments 12: The Contrast with President James Buchanan

Before Lincoln's 1860 election the Buchanan administration had done virtually nothing to put down what looked like an incipient rebellion. Buchanan himself, although he viewed secession as flagrantly unconstitutional, could not - or would not - see any way to counter the hemorrhaging of states seceding from the Union [in the ten weeks leading up to Lincoln's inauguration seven states had seceded from the then total of 34l]. The lame duck Congress had done little better. To be sure, the House had introduced a bill that would have authorized the president to call out state militias, but the Senate – with the aid of senators from states about to secede - had actually passed a resolution requesting a lowering of the War Department's budget. When Lincoln took the oath he found that he had lost control to those seven states of all federal agencies; they had also seized every federal fortification except Forts Pickens and Sumter. In addition, the Mississippi River was obstructed or in Southern hands. Oh, and Washington, sandwiched between the southern-leaning states of Maryland and Virginia, was virtually defenseless...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Oddments 11: Lincoln and grass-roots diplomacy 2

‘If this is coffee please bring me some tea, but if this is tea please bring me some coffee.”
- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Oddments 10: Lincoln and grass-roots diplomacy 1

'I entered the room with a moderate estimate of my own consequence and yet there I was to talk with - and even to advise - the head man of a great nation. I was never more quickly or more completely put at ease in the presence of a great man than in that of Abraham Lincoln.'
- Frederick Douglass, Ex-slave

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Oddments 9: Staggering Civil War Numbers

From mid-April 1861 until mid-April 1865 three million men North and South had seen war service. Killed in action or dead from wounds and disease were 360,000 from the North, 260,000 from the South [one-fourth of all white men of military age], a grand total of 620,000 Americans.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Oddments 8: Diplomacy in Action 2

‘Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is consistently doing?’
- Abraham Lincoln

Friday, November 27, 2015

Oddments 7: Diplomacy in Action 1

'If this is coffee please bring me some tea; but if this is tea please bring me some coffee.'
- Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Oddments 6: Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln

‘This, then, is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates, to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his growing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing. His success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with decency and morality – kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy – can also be impressive political resources.’
- Doris Kearns Goodwin

Monday, November 23, 2015

Oddments 5: Rebel Humor

There was no dearth of humor among the Rebels. Whenever General Lee would ask how his veterans were, particularly toward the end, they would say, ‘General, I’m real hungry.’ One with a bit of the poet to him years later expressed it this way: ‘I thanked God I had a backbone for my stomach to lean up against.’ Yet another put his situation this way ‘My shoes are gone; my clothes are almost gone. I’m weary, I’m sick, I’m hungry. My family has been killed or scattered, and may now be wandering helpless and unprotected. I would die, yes, I would die willingly because I love my country. But if this war is ever over, I’ll be damned if I ever love another country!’

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Oddments 4: Lincoln’s Military “Experience”

In 1832 Lincoln served as a captain in the Black Hawk War, an Indian skirmish which lasted but a few weeks and in which he did not once hear a shot fired in anger. In short, there seemed to be virtually nothing in this experience that might contribute to a burgeoning political career. He had a way of dealing with those who, like himself, had virtually no combat experience to bolster their careers: he showed how they and he were pretty much on the same footing. In short, their pretense brought out his withering humor. 'By the way, do you know I am a military hero? Yes, sir, in the days of the Black Hawk War, I fought, bled, and came away. Speaking of General Cass's career reminds me of my own. I was not at Stallman's defeat, but I was about as near to it as Cass to Hull's surrender; and like him I saw the place very soon afterwards. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break, but I bent my musket pretty badly on one occasion... If General Cass went in advance of me picking whortleberries, I guess I surpassed him in charging upon the wild onion.  If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did, but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say that I was often very hungry.'

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Oddments 3: Lincoln’s Curiosity

Lincoln had a voracious curiosity. Since he had virtually no formal schooling he learned early in life that satisfying his curiosity was going to be his job and his job alone. Consequently, as a child he taught himself to read and write; he also taught himself Euclidean geometry, then surveying, then the law. He was a lifelong student of literature having memorized long passages from both Shakespeare and the Bible. As if all that were not enough, in 1849 he applied for a patent on his design for ‘a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant chambers with steam boats’ [these chambers were designed to lift steam boats above sand bars]. He is the only president in American history to have been granted a patent. Then as President he taught himself how to be a Commander in Chief.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Oddments 2: Lincoln’s realism

Harriet Beecher Stowe one winter evening toward the end of the war asked if the president did not feel a great relief over the prospect of the war soon coming to a close. And Lincoln had answered, she said, in a sad way: 'No Mrs. Stowe. I shall never live to see peace. This war is killing me.'

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Oddments 1: A Lincoln admirer

'...I only wish to thank you for being so good - and to say how sorry we all are that you must have four years more of this terrible toil. But remember what a triumph it is for the right, what a blessing to the country - and then your rest shall be glorious when it does come! You can't tell anything about it in Washington where they make a noise on the slightest provocation. But if you had been in this little speck of a village this morning and heard the soft, sweet music of unseen bells rippling through the morning silence from every quarter of the far-off horizon, you would have better known what your name is in this nation. May God help you in the future as he has helped you in the past and a people's love and gratitude will be but a small portion of your exceeding great reward.'
- Mary Abigail Dodge, from her village of Hamilton, Massachusetts, written on the day of Lincoln's second inauguration, March 4, 1865.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Blacks in America 9

'He treated Negroes as they wanted to be treated - as human beings... Negro visitors to the White House were treated without false heartiness, but without any sign of disdain. Never condescending, Lincoln did not talk down to Negroes, nor did he spell out his thoughts in one-syllable language of the first reader.'
- Frederick Douglass

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Blacks in America 8

'I entered the room with a moderate estimate of my own consequence and yet there I was to talk with - and even to advise - the head man of a great nation. I was never more quickly or more completely put at ease in the presence of a great man than in that of Abraham Lincoln.' 
- Frederick Douglass

Monday, November 9, 2015

Blacks in America 7

'...and then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation.'
- Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Blacks in America 6

'You say you will not fight to free Negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you, but no matter. Fight you, then exclusively to save the Union.'

- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Blacks in America 5

The colored population is the great available, and yet unavailed of, force for restoring the Union. The bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once.'
- Abraham Lincoln