Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Goddam Abe Lincoln ... goddam you"


     Abraham Lincoln went from a log cabin to the White House, he freed the slaves and won the Civil War, while writing the most stirring sentences ever spoken by an American politician.
    But if Lincoln is even more than that, our greatest president, who comes as near to an American saint as anyone in our history, then the moment of his beatification came 150 years ago this evening, April 14, 1865, when a fanatical Southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth, outraged at the thought that blacks would become American citizens,  snuck up behind Lincoln in his unguarded box at Ford's Theater and put a bullet behind his ear.
     The tragedy was amplified by occurring precisely at the moment of national joy, at least in the North, as the Civil war had ended a scant week before. 
     Lincoln's death left the nation awash in grief, which has a tendency to skew our perceptions of history. Eyes filled with tears no longer see clearly. The love and respect lavished on Lincoln after his assassination had the tendency to portray him as a serious saint—I've already written about how that fallacy is embraced by right wing talk show hosts. It also leaves the impression that he was always revered, and that too is a fantasy, and a harmful one.  
     There are thousands of books about Lincoln, exploring every aspect of his life. One of my favorites is  Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President edited by Harold Holzer (Addison-Wesley Publishing: 1993). These letters and notes, some of them very brief, bring Lincoln's era alive, in all its crazed passion. Like online comments today, they are a quick, sobering glance under the rock of American life.
    "Equal rights & Justice to all white men in the United States forever," urges John McMahon of Hambrook, Penn. on Aug. 5, 1864. "White men is in class number one & black men in class number two & must be governed by white men forever."
     Lincoln's correspondents complain about politics, try to wheedle job appointments, gush with praise when successful, spew bitterly when not. 
     "My Dear Sir," writes Jesse. K. Dubois, "I am sorely disappointed in all my expectations from Washington. I made only two or three requests of you. One for the Northern Superintendancy of Indian Affairs for my friend J.P. Luce. My heart was set on this application for him..."
     Nothing is more contemporary than scorn, and Americans lined up to denounce Lincoln ("You are destroying the country") and the men he surrounded himself with.  
    "For God's sake let a plain man say a few plan words to you," begins John P. Cranford, a New Yorker. "It is commonly reported and believed that Mr. Seward is drunk daily; and it is universally believed that [Secretary of War Simon] Cameron is a thief —All men believe you, upright—but know you lack experience and fear you lack nerve."
     Well, maybe not "all men." 
     "Sir Mr Abe Lincoln if you don't Resign we are going to put a spider in your dumpling and play the Devil with you," writes one A.G. Frick in February, 1861, in a letter discovered in the Chicago Historical Society files, "you god or mighty god dam sundide of a bith go to hell and buss my Ass suck my prick and call my Bolics your uncle Dick god dam a fool and goddam Abe Linoln who would like you goddam you excuse me for using such hard words with you but you need it for you are nothing but a goddam Black nigger."
     It seems the wildest anachronism that someone wrote to Abraham Lincoln and told him to suck his dick—yet why do I feel that type of person isn't safely consigned to history? Lincoln's spirit might be gone, wiped from the body politic, impossible. But his enemies remain, strong and vocal and all too common. Malice like that never dies. 
     That said, let's not give them the final word. 
     Some of the letters are positive, such as Edward Everett's graceful note penned the day after they share a podium dedicating the Union cemetery on the Gettsyburg battlefield. 
    "Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts offered by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the cemetery," the former governor of Massachusetts writes. "I should be glad, if I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."
     Lincoln replies with delightful tact: "You could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one."
     He was thinking of the public when he wrote that. Perhaps that is the most amazing thing about Lincoln. Facing what he did, a nation divided, at war, vicious enemies, within and without, one of whom would kill him, 150 years ago today, that he managed to remain the man he was. Another reason to revere him. 

46 comments:

  1. The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) website reports that Abraham Lincoln was admitted to the Illinois bar on September 9, 1836 and that he is deceased. https://www.iardc.org/ldetail.asp?id=422763680

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    1. Off topic but-

      Off topic/I get a kick out of these relatives of these hood gang boys when their kids are shot, saying they were good boys-they were going to med school. Oh sure. My younger bro is an orthoped. surgeon, went to Northwestern then Stanford. He didn't do that by hanging on street corners listening to rap, buying guns, selling drugs, being lazy and by having various kids with diff. ladies that he didn't bother with. Ask that ST writer John Fountain if you don't believe me. Decent A-As will say the same thing.

      It isn't always about prejudice, lack of jobs or bad cops. Do you think someone making tons of money selling drugs wants to work at Mcd's or WM for 8 bucks or 12 bucks an hour? get real

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    2. notice the super libs, and I don't like right wingers either, never live in the hood to really know what it's like or even spend much time there

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    3. And this relates to Lincoln ... how? I request that posters respond to the voices here, not the voices in their heads.

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  2. Exactly, NS. I told an acquaintance from TN, that the South always hated Lincoln. There's a reason they were Dems for a long time. Let's not suddenly pretend. I loathe southern hypocrisy. And besides, he's not a Republican in today's sense.

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    1. There's a reason William T. Sherman is my fave General. He taught those southerners a good lesson.

      I wonder if that JP Luce is an ancestor of Claire Booth Luce.

      Mr. Anon

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    2. To raise a point I raised a few days ago, if today's GOP wants to claim Lincoln as their own, then they have to own handing African-Americans over to the Klan and Jim Crow sixteen years later in the Compromise of 1877.

      I'm curious though: imagine the following scenario: The "Quiverfull" movement takes hold among evangelical Christians and their birthrates skyrocket. Within 100 years, the religious right has regained control of the body politic. A conservative supreme court overturns every gay rights ruling of the previous century. A law is passed preventing the IRS from treating gay couples as married for the purpose of tax breaks. A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is passed, cutting federal funding of welfare in half. Using the same attenuated Constitutional powers used to bully states like Wisconsin into raising the drinking age to 21, Congress forces states to tighten their own welfare spending and requirements for benefits.

      Several northern states say they've had enough - they won't stand for having gay citizens be second-class under the law or being handcuffed on their own state policies. By an overwhelming majority, they vote to leave the United States and join Canada. What would today's progressives say? "No, sorry, no matter what the majority in the U.S. does, you will stay part of the United States."

      I realize that demographics are arguably pointing in the exact opposite direction - I'm just saying the Civil War is more ambiguous as a matter of law than it is a matter of justice.

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    3. If you look at the Constitution, there is no way to legally secede from the U.S. It would be a dangerous precedent for various states to think they could and undermine us as a nation.

      One doesn't want to return to the Articles of Confed. where states could do whatever, making us weak as a whole

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    4. Or right to privacy - you know how lawyers can be! Actually both rights might be inferred to come from the mysterious 9th Amendment. I agree it's a pretty settled matter here's an article discussing it further: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/is-secession-legal/

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    5. Those who try to spin the South as "justified" in wanting to secede (or see the situation as somehow "ambiguous") usually point to some variation of "the consent of the governed" as their justification.

      To which I would reply: The slaves were very thoroughly "governed," and few if any Southerners ever worried about their consent.

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    6. good one, Scribe

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  3. Many reasons to admire Lincoln. The exchange with Governor Everett revealed him to be almost alone among politicians in understanding that "brevity is the soul of wit."

    His grasp of governance was displayed when he said: "Democracy discovers its justification not in emergency actions, but in the ordinary and difficult work of passing laws, and the daily dedication of people who agree to live by laws."

    And his gift for leadership by what General Grant said about him: "Mr. Lincoln gained influence over men by making them feel it was a pleasure to serve him."

    Tom Evans

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  4. Tom I think it was you quoting some poetry the other day. A fave of mine is The Highwayman, by A. Noyes.

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    1. I read it in high school. A long time ago. Thanks for reminding me. Noyes didn't write a lot of wonderful poems, but he lived an interesting and productive life. I found out reading his biography that, although he was English, he grew up on the Welsh coast, near the little town my father came from.

      TE

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  5. Was it anon not anon or bitter scribe saying to a poster one shouldn't make snarky comments, but our blog host does at times.

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    1. I think at times I've said "don't take this as snarky" but other times it's been definitely intended. Spare the snark, spoil the snarky blogger.

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    2. Right, because it's my football. And I don't mind some snarky comments. But others I do. There's nothing fair about it, and those who come here expecting an open forum dedicated to whatever they want to say have come to the wrong place.

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    3. I don't mind snark per se. I intensely dislike pointless, purposeless snark.

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  6. Good timing with this article with the Lincoln's passing anniversary.

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    1. I'm not sure if "good timing" is justified. I noticed the anniversary, then wrote the article.

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  7. A.G. Frick's comment is an anachronism not only because of the content of his message, but it reads like he typed it on his iPhone. "you god or mighty god dam sundide of a bith" could be auto-correct gone bad. Or a Google Voice message transcription.

    But I was surprised to find out that "put a spider in your dumpling" is actually a thing:

    http://www.luckymojo.com/bluesspiderinyourwiley.html

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    1. Smith, you have too much time on your hands.

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  8. NS/ Then I hope you'll start discussions on interesting current event or news tidbits even if you don't have time to write about them all. I'd love to hear more of your take on things, not just what the other writers in the ST think, they aren't as interesting. No, I'm not just trying to flatter.

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    1. For example, I hope you or some other fine bloggers here -express your opinion on Hillary running. I'm a Dem. but don't like Hillary and it's not because of her gender. Now Elizabeth Warren and now you are talking.

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    2. I haven't figured out how I feel yet. Like many Dems, I have Clinton fatigue. On the other hand, compared to Rand Paul, et al, she's the embodiment of my fondest hopes and dreams. I thought she punted the whole email thing. On the other hand, it's one of an endless chain of false controversies being tossed at her. That's about it -- and why I haven't written much about her. I talk about her a bit, and taxes, tomorrow.

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    3. thanks, yes fatigue is the right word

      and I think the repubs feel the same about jeb or shrub

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    4. I never understood the email "scandal." If she had used a separate phone...or smoke signals...or whatever, for things she didn't want people nosing into there would have been no questions asked. By Congress or anybody else.

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  9. Does anyone else here enjoy the program on PBS, Mr. Selfridge?

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  10. There are many reasons to admire Lincoln, not the least of which is that he is our country's first Jewish president.

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    1. After all, he was shot in the temple!

      BA DA BOOM!!!

      I'm here all week - don't forget to tip your waitress

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    2. you should be shot for that joke, just kidding

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  11. He is not. I know that his mother may have been melongeon sp?, but that could be Arabic in relation or even part African.

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  12. Too bad his dad Thomas, didn't appreciate learning. But many backwoodsman or KY hicks wouldn't have back then. Same in Indiana.

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  13. the Koch brothers are dangerous

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  14. Rubio and Cruz are reactionaries.

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  15. Read in the police beater today in ST. Most of crimes, percentage and not just based on that, done by a certain so called minority, though they are not by majority of the population. Don't be Jesse J and gloss over facts calling it racism if see facts, numbers.

    Fox news is terrible and many fools believe it.

    Mr. S. Wish you could write a column based on the cops union trying to screw over Mrs. Koschman, see ST article today.. Then a crooked daley judge said too long to sue. Is that what unions are suppose to do? Can't blame the cops they prob had to listen to Daley. The cop chief then before this one now prob a crook or under Daley orders.

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    1. It's not too late to sue if there's been a coverup. She got something from city but not enough. Hope okay to discuss other ST items too.

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  16. Good article. One can just imagine the mail Obama gets. How ever I think every president including Washington got some terrible mail.

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    1. yes , especially from the right wing nuts or especially southerners or the minister john hagee lovers

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  17. so Hillary thinks she looks like one of the people cause she's riding cross country in a van? what bull-where's Bernie saunders when you need him

    and bad as Rubio may be he's not from some dynasty as the article says

    at least Rahm having Ferg inspector look into the union cops but again, they may have been under orders from top or lost their jobs

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  18. I noticed on some older posts, NS, it says comment has to be approved first before it goes on. You should do the same here.

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  19. Kudos to Frances Perkins, born today.


    helped with labor rights, etc


    A Mighty Girl



    Today in Mighty Girl history, champion of the New Deal and labor rights pioneer, Frances Perkins was born in 1880. Perkins was the first woman U.S. Cabinet memb...

















    See More

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    1. Old "New Deal" joke. FDR was our cruelest President because he kept Madam Perkins in Labor for 13 years.

      TE

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  20. Most of these arguments that try explain the South's cecession as justified, miss a very basic point: denying rights to any human being, be it Constitutional or not, are against the basic ideal of America. Blood line royalty has no more right to deny the rights of a human to their pursuit of happiness as does the DAR. One man, one vote. Equal justice under the law. As with religion, the big picture and basic ideals and tenants of the beliefs get warped by those who feel threatened if "those others" get the same rights as they do."
    Fear is that someone "undeserving" gets what's yours. Selfishness and basic humanity.
    It is laughable to see people rally and rail against welfare and social security disability who are on Welfare and Social Security Disabilty. They don't want the programs ended, they just don't want it to go to those that they decide don't deserve it.

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