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October 24, 1977: Last Veterans Day in October

Then the teacher brought her arms down and the kids began to sing … I Knew why I felt at home.  The spirit of freedom was hovering over that play yard as it did all over France at that time. A country was free again. A people had recovered their independence and their children were grateful. They were singing in French, but the melody was freedom and any American could understand that.  America, at that moment, never meant more to me …
Audie Murphy describing a 1948 return visit to France

 

 

 

 

 

Due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act Veterans Day was celebrated on the fourth Monday in October in 1971-1977.  Veterans’ groups were appalled and the date was shifted back to the traditional November 11 in 1978 where it has remained.

On September 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford, a Navy combat veteran of World War II, signed the law returning Veterans Day to November 11:

I HAVE signed into law today S. 331, a bill which will return the annual observance of Veterans Day from the Fourth Monday in October to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supports the expressed will of the overwhelming majority of our State legislatures, all major veterans service organizations, and many individuals.

Under a law enacted in 1968, the fourth Monday in October was designated for the observance of Veterans Day. Since that law took effect, it has become apparent that the commemoration of this day on November 11 is a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens. It is a practice deeply and firmly rooted in our customs and traditions. Americans have appreciated and wish to retain the historic significance of November 11 as the day set aside each year by a grateful nation to remember and honor those, living and dead, who fought to win and preserve our freedom.

I believe restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 will help preserve in the hearts and lives of all Americans the spirit of patriotism, the love of country, and the willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good symbolized by this very special day.

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I Guess They Don’t Teach History at UW Madison

My bride obtained her master’s degree in library science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  Judging from a recent event, I guess they don’t teach history, at least American history, there anymore:

 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison certainly shows up quite a bit in the news lately. The most recent incident is yet another call for going after historical American figures, but this time it’s not Columbus. The students at UW would like some modifications to an offensive statue on their campus, this one of Abraham Lincoln. Rather than asking for Honest Abe’s visage to be torn down and removed, they would like a plaque placed nearby noting Lincoln’s culpability in the massacre of Native Americans. However, the school’s chancellor has denied the request for the time being.

 

Go here to read the rest.  Below is the history the complaining students either were never taught or slept through:

 

 

It is easy to forget that between 1861-1865 there were other wars fought by the United States in addition to the Civil War.  One of these was the Dakota War of 1862 fought in Minnesota.  Relations between the native Dakota (Sioux) and the white settlers of Minnesota had been rocky for years before 1862.  Late treaty payments, and cheating Indian agents had reduced many of the Dakota to poverty on their reservations.  Alcoholism was rampant as were diseases of the white man.   Encroachments on the land of the Dakota by the settlers was common and some of the Dakota responded with murder.   Tensions erupted into open conflict on August 17, 1862 when a member of a Dakota hunting party murdered five whites.  A council of Dakota under war chief Little Crow that evening decided it was time to drive the whites out of the Minnesota river valley.  Over the next few weeks between 450-800 settlers were massacred by the Dakota.  The Dakota made an attempt to take the town of New Ulm but were repulsed.

Regular Army troops, Minnesota volunteer regiments originally mustered to fight in the Civil War and various militia units fought the Dakota throughout the state.   The Americans held Fort Ridgely in the southwestern part of the State from two attacks by the Dakota.  The Dakota won two victories over the Americans at the Battle of Redwood Ferry on  August 18, 1862 and at Birch Coulee on September 2, 1862.

The largest battle of the War took place at the battle of Wood Lake on September 23, 1862.  Colonel Henry Sibley marched from Fort Ridgely up the Minnesota River valley on September 19, 1862 with the Third, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiments, various militia units and a battery of six cannon.  Little Crow planned to ambush Sibley’s force at Lone Lake.  (Sibley’s guide mistakenly thought Lone Lake was Wood Lake, and hence the misnaming of the battle.)  The ambush was discovered when a foraging party from the Third Minnesota approached a group of Dakota concealed in high grass.  The fighting lasted for two hours.  Little Crow had between 700-1200 braves and Sibley had about 1169-2000 soldiers.  As usual, artillery had a big impact on the morale of Indians in combat.  The Americans routed the Dakotans.  Casualties were light on both sides with seven Americans kill and 7-15 Dakota. Continue Reading

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Of Vineyards, God and Abraham Lincoln

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
Matthew 21: 33-44
Our Lord references Isaiah in this parable.  Seven centuries before Christ Isaiah had warned Judah that the wrath of the Lord was kindled against them, a Vineyard that failed to produce fruit.  This warning was ignored, as the lamentable history of the Jews ended in repeated foreign conquest, punctuated by the heroic revolt of the Maccabees that ended in civil war, tyranny and the Rule of Rome.  Small wonder that the Jews of the time of Jesus were ever on the watch for a Messiah from the House of David who would free Israel from foreign chains and bring the pure worship of God.  However, as Abraham Lincoln would note eighteen centuries after Christ, “The Almighty has His own purposes”.   The Messiah came, largely unrecognized by the Jews, and did bring about the pure worship of God, but mostly by the despised gentiles, including the hated foreign occupiers of Rome.
We Men do our best with our wits to understand the ways of God, but as the Bible truly notes, His ways are not our ways.  What we perceive as disasters He may well perceive as building blocks to carry out a vast divine plan that we simply cannot discern in our brief lives and with our fallen intellects.   Our task in our lives is to carry out His will, as best as we can discern it, but to always recall that God may be intending something entirely contrary to what we wish and hope for.  This is a fact that is often hard to accept, but, as Lincoln also noted,  “as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

Judge Douglas ought to remember when he is endeavoring to force this policy upon the American people that while he is put up in that way a good many are not. He ought to remember that there was once in this country a man by the name of  Thomas Jefferson, supposed to be a Democrat—a man whose principles and policy are not very prevalent amongst Democrats to-day, it is true; but that man did not take exactly this view of the insignificance of the element of slavery which our friend Judge Douglas does. In contemplation of this thing, we all know he was led to exclaim, “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just!” We know how he looked upon it when he thus expressed himself. There was danger to this country—danger of the avenging justice of God in that little unimportant popular sovereignty question of Judge Douglas. He supposed there was a question of God’s eternal justice wrapped up in the enslaving of any race of men, or any man, and that those who did so braved the arm of Jehovah—that when a nation thus dared the Almighty every friend of that nation had cause to dread His wrath. Choose ye between Jefferson and Douglas as to what is the true view of this element among us.

Abraham Lincoln, September 16, 1859

 

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The Entire Civil War

 

 

 

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

 

 

 

An excellent brief retelling of the Civil War by the Civil War Trust using animated maps:

 

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July, Lincoln and Springfield

 

 

Last Friday my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to Springfield to attend the Lincoln Museum and go to the Lincoln Tomb.  As we made our way though the Museum we encountered, for the second year in a row, a large number of Amish touring the Museum, the women wearing long dresses and poke bonnets that made them look as if they stepped from the 1860s.  The Amish were obviously fascinated by what they were seeing and talked among themselves in “Pennsylvania Dutch”.   Illinois has had a large colony of Amish in the Arthur, Illinois area, about 72 miles from Springfield, since the 19th century.  (Although the Amish are as theologically as far from the Church as it is possible for Christians to be, I should note that I have a huge amount of respect for them.  They take care of their own, and ask nothing from the larger society in which they live, except to be left alone, a sentiment which resonates with me.)

After the museum, as usual we had a first rate lunch at the nearby The Feed Store.  (Nothing shouts Midwest more than eating in a restaurant with a name like that.)  (I highly recommend their barley soup, their tuna fish salad sandwich, and any of their many variants of cheesecake.)

We finished our day at Lincoln’s tomb praying for the repose of his soul and the souls of his wife and kids.)  Once again I thought to myself how nice it was that the first or second greatest President in our history, has his tomb in a cemetery open to all, where there are no guards, no charges for admission, not even for parking.  You simply pull up to the small parking area next to the tomb, go in and make your way through the tomb.  We owe Mary Todd Lincoln for that.  After Lincoln’s murder, there was an attempt to have Lincoln buried in Washington with a grand mausoleum being erected thereafter over his remains.  Mary Lincoln would have none of it.  She took her dead husband, and had the remains of her dead son Willie exhumed, and traveled with them both back to Springfield for burial.  She wanted nothing more from Washington except to get out of there as quickly as she could, a city where she had suffered grief that makes her such a poignant figure in American history.  (An exhibit in the Museum shows her framed by a rain stained window, sitting forlornly, mourning the loss of Willie.  My bride and I, sadly, having lost a son know precisely how she feels.)  We made sure to rub the nose of the nose of the huge bust of Lincoln outside of the tomb.  Most noses of Lincoln on metal statues and busts in Illinois are shiny due to the Illinois superstition that rubbing the nose of a bust or a statue of Lincoln brings good luck.  With my son taking the Illinois bar at the end of July, it can’t hurt.

It wouldn’t be a McClarey expedition if we didn’t buy books.  We bought books yesterday at the Museum and the Prairie Archives bookstore in Springfield which boasts a collection of a quarter of a million books. Most of the books were about Lincoln or the Civil War (surprise!) and here are those books:

Lincoln the President:  The Last Full Measure, J. G. Ballard and Richard N. Current (1955).  This is the fourth and final volume in Ballard’s study of Lincoln.  At the time of his death in 1953 he had written only eight chapters.  In his will he suggested either historian Allan Nevins or Richard N. Current to finish his work if he could not.  Current took up the challenge, even though he had never written about Lincoln before, and completed the volume in 1955.  He later became one of the great Lincoln scholars of his day, writing numerous books on Lincoln and dying in 2012 at age 100.  Now I have the complete set.  I think I will read it backwards like witches are said to say their prayers. Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom: Bulwark of Freedom

 

 

 

On this date 239 years ago New Hampshire adopted the Constitution and the Constitution went into effect, as the “Live Free or Die State” was the ninth state to vote to ratify it.  I love the Constitution.  The Founding Fathers crafted it well.  Where this country has gone off the rails is when one arm of the tripartite government begins to operate outside of its scope.  For example, when courts act like legislatures, when administrative agencies act like legislatures, when Congress attempts to micromanage foreign policy, etc.  I have heard the Constitution praised as the bulwark of our liberties.  It is a pretty sentiment, but mistaken.  Lincoln hit the target in a speech on what is the bulwark of our liberties, after God:

What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.
September, 11, 1858

 

Theodore Roosevelt on Abraham Lincoln

 

Theodore Roosevelt had two heroes:  his father and Abraham Lincoln.  In 1905 he wrote this introduction to a collection of the writings of Lincoln:

 

Immediately after Lincoln’s re-election to the Presidency, in an off-hand speech, delivered in response to a serenade by some of his admirers on the evening of November 10, 1864, he spoke as follows:

“It has long been a grave question whether any government not too strong for the liberties of its people can be strong enough to maintain its existence in great emergencies. On this point, the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test, and the Presidential election, occurring in regular course during the rebellion, added not a little to the strain…. The strife of the election is but human nature practically applied to the facts in the case. What has occurred in this case must ever occur in similar cases. Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this as philosophy to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged…. Now that the election is over, may not all having a common interest reunite in a common fort to save our common country? For my own part, I have striven and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here, I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom. While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.”

This speech has not attracted much general attention, yet it is in a peculiar degree both illustrative and typical of the great statesman who made it, alike in its strong common-sense and in its lofty standard of morality. Lincoln’s life, Lincoln’s deeds and words, are not only of consuming interest to the historian, but should be intimately known to every man engaged in the hard practical work of American political life. It is difficult to overstate how much it means to a nation to have as the two foremost figures in its history men like Washington and Lincoln. It is good for every man in any way concerned in public life to feel that the highest ambition any American can possibly have will be gratified just in proportion as he raises himself toward the standards set by these two men.

It is a very poor thing, whether for nations or individuals, to advance the history of great deeds done in the past as an excuse for doing poorly in the present; but it is an excellent thing to study the history of the great deeds of the past, and of the great men who did them, with an earnest desire to profit thereby so as to render better service in the present. In their essentials, the men of the present day are much like the men of the past, and the live issues of the present can be faced to better advantage by men who have in good faith studied how the leaders of the nation faced the dead issues of the past. Such a study of Lincoln’s life will enable us to avoid the twin gulfs of immorality and inefficiency—the gulfs which always lie one on each side of the careers alike of man and of nation. It helps nothing to have avoided one if shipwreck is encountered in the other. The fanatic, the well-meaning moralist of unbalanced mind, the parlor critic who condemns others but has no power himself to do good and but little power to do ill—all these were as alien to Lincoln as the vicious and unpatriotic themselves. His life teaches our people that they must act with wisdom, because otherwise adherence to right will be mere sound and fury without substance; and that they must also act high-mindedly, or else what seems to be wisdom will in the end turn out to be the most destructive kind of folly.

Throughout his entire life, and especially after he rose to leadership in his party, Lincoln was stirred to his depths by the sense of fealty to a lofty ideal; but throughout his entire life, he also accepted human nature as it is, and worked with keen, practical good sense to achieve results with the instruments at hand. It is impossible to conceive of a man farther removed from baseness, farther removed from corruption, from mere self-seeking; but it is also impossible to conceive of a man of more sane and healthy mind—a man less under the influence of that fantastic and diseased morality (so fantastic and diseased as to be in reality profoundly immoral) which makes a man in this work-a-day world refuse to do what is possible because he cannot accomplish the impossible. Continue Reading

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Cross Examination the Lincoln Way

 

I have always loved this scene from Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).  Few things are more enjoyable for a trial attorney than a cross examination that is tearing up the opposition case!  Of course in real life in the video above the prosecutor would be on his feet constantly objecting:  Argumentative!  Assumes facts not in evidence!  Mr. Lincoln is using a document that has not been admitted into evidence!  If Mr. Lincoln is going to testify let him be sworn in! Etc.  Of course this was done at a time when most judges tended to give a great deal of lee-way to counsel in their questioning of witnesses, especially in a frontier court and the jury might assume with frequent objections that the prosecutor was attempting to keep the truth from them and vote not guilty as a result.  In any case it is a great scene.

Adlai Stevenson, who would go on to be Vice-President of the United States, when he was young saw Lincoln in action in cross-examination: Continue Reading

Lincoln on Taylor

I have never liked Presidents’ Day.  Why celebrate all presidents when only a select few of them, like Washington and Lincoln, deserve to be celebrated?   Officially the date is still the commemoration of George Washington’s birthday, which actually won’t occur until February 22.  However, I will keep up my tradition of writing about presidents on this day.

American presidents all fit into two broad categories:  those who had political careers and held political offices prior to their presidency and those who did not.  Only five presidents held no political office prior to being elected President:  Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Donald Trump.  Zachary Taylor, the first non-politician to become president, is now an obscure figure to most Americans, his fame in the Mexican War almost entirely forgotten by the oblivion that has largely swallowed that conflict, and his relatively brief time in office ensuring that his administration would be one of the forgotten ones in popular memory.  Ironically, one of our two most famous Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, deliver a eulogy on the death of Taylor.  Tomorrow I will comment on the obituary.  Today, I want us to focus on Lincoln’s words, as we use the eulogy as a springboard to look at “Old Rough and Ready” throughout this week.  Here is Lincoln’s eulogy:

EULOGY PRONOUNCED
BY HON. A. LINCOLN,
ON THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF THE LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
At Chicago, July 25th, 1850

GENERAL ZACHARY TAYLOR, the eleventh elected President of the United States, is dead. He was born Nov. 2nd, [2] 1784, in Orange county, Virginia; and died July the 9th 1850, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, at the White House in Washington City. He was the second [3] son of Richard Taylor, a Colonel in the army of the Revolution. His youth was passed among the pioneers of Kentucky, whither his parents emigrated soon after his birth; and where his taste for military life, probably inherited, was greatly stimulated. Near the commencement of our last war with Great Britain, he was appointed by President Jefferson, a lieutenant in the 7th regiment of Infantry. During the war, he served under Gen. Harrison in his North Western campaign against the Indians; and, having been promoted to a captaincy, was intrusted with the defence of Fort Harrison, with fifty men, half of them unfit for duty. A strong party of Indians, under the Prophet, brother of Tecumseh, made a midnight attack on the Fort; but Taylor, though weak in his force, and without preparation, was resolute, and on the alert; and, after a battle, which lasted till after daylight, completely repulsed them. Soon after, he took a prominent part in the expedition under Major Gen. Hopkins against the Prophet’s town; and, on his return, found a letter from President Madison, who had succeeded Mr. Jefferson, conferring on him a major’s brevet for his gallant defence of Fort Harrison. Continue Reading

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

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Lincoln and Liberty Too

 

 

The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,

The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,

State-character but comparative failure at forty

In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,

Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,

And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:

This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,

Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches

Which make the monumental booming of Webster

Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

Something for the weekend.  Lincoln and Liberty Too, the most stirring campaign song in American history, sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War music to modern audiences.  Mr. Lincoln’s birthday is on Monday which this year coincides with the state holiday in Illinois.  I always close down the law mines on that day.  Lincoln used to say that Henry Clay was his ideal of a statesman and for me Abraham Lincoln has always filled that role.  Presidents come and Presidents go, but Washington and Lincoln remain, the fixed stars of the better angels of our natures.

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The Whole Great Family of Man

March for Life

These communities, by their representatives in old  Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We  hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are  created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with  certain unalienable rights; that among these are life,  liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic  interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their  lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of  the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to  all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their  enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and  likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded,  and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole  race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized  upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide  their children and their children’s children, and the countless  myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise  statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity  to breed tyrants, and so they established these great  self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man,  some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that  none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life,  liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look  up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to  renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth,  and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues  might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would  hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles  on which the temple of liberty was being built.

Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858

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Abraham Lincoln Sums Up the Obama Years

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And this too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

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March 4, 1865: The Greatest Inaugural Address

lincoln_second-inaugural

Hands down the most moving  inaugural address in American history is the second inaugural address given by President Lincoln, little over a month before his death.  It is short, to the point and powerful.  It is also the most important theological document written by any American President.  Here is the text:

Continue Reading

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

quote-character-is-like-a-tree-and-reputation-like-a-shadow-the-shadow-is-what-we-think-of-it-the-tree-abraham-lincoln-112628

 

The very next day, somebody was discussing with him the difference between character and reputation, when he said,—with a look at me, as if to remind of what he had been talking about the day before,—perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of; the tree is the real thing.

Noah Brooks, newspaper correspondent and friend of Abraham Lincoln, recalling a statement by Lincoln

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Tad and the Turkey

Turkey Pardon

Stories cluster about Lincoln like barnacles on a great ship. Many of them cannot be sourced at all and have to be consigned to legend. One such story that is probably just a legend is that of Tad and the Turkey. The White House in 1863 received the gift of a live turkey that was to be fattened up for an eventual White House dinner. Tad grew fond of the bird, named him Jack and eventually begged his father for the Turkey’s life. Lincoln was reluctant at first, noting that the Turkey had been given as a gift for the table and not as a pet. Tad’s pleas however eventually caused Lincoln to give the Turkey a presidential pardon.

Like all good legends this story has the participants behaving in character: Tad always did have a menagerie of pets in the White House, and Lincoln was soft-hearted about animals and was a fairly indulgent father. A sequel to the story had Jack the Turkey stepping to the front of a line of soldiers waiting to vote at a polling place set up at a White House. Then Lincoln is supposed to have inquired of his son if Jack was going to vote. Tad solemnly responded that Jack could not vote due to his being too young. Continue Reading

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Lincoln on Labor and Capital

 

 

It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class–neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families–wives, sons, and daughters–work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

From Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861

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Fortnight For Freedom: Great Family of Man

fortnight for freedom 2016

 

 

 

These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.

Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858

Fortnight For Freedom: Abraham Lincoln on the Supreme Court

 

 

 

 

 

fortnight for freedom 2016

 

(This is a repeat from last year.  In light of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday, go here to read about it, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down two key sections in the Texas abortion law, it seemed more relevant than ever.  The Supreme Court is growing ever more high handed in its rulings, and what it is engaged in when it comes to favored made up court created rights like “abortion” and “gay marriage” has nothing to do with the law or the constitution.  In his blistering dissent in Hellerstedt, Justice Clarence Thomas nailed it:


 

Some quotes from Abraham Lincoln in how to react to illegitimate Supreme Court decisions.  An illegitimate decision is one in which the Court arrogates to itself the power of a legislature under the mendacious guise of merely interpreting the Constitution:

1.  I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit; as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the government.

2.  Judicial decisions have two uses-first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use, they are called “precedents” and “authorities.”

3.  We think its (the Supreme Court) decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution.

4.  At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.

5.  Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents, according to circumstances. That this should be so, accords both with common sense, and the customary understanding of the legal profession. Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom: National Suicide

fortnight for freedom 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Prophetic words of warning for us today from a young Mr. Lincoln:

 

We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838

 

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Lincoln Book Haul

 

Well, yesterday my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to Springfield to attend the Lincoln Museum and go to the Lincoln Tomb.  As we made our way though the Museum we encountered a large number of Amish touring the Museum, the women wearing long dresses and poke bonnets that made them look as if they stepped from the 1860s.  The Amish were obviously fascinated by what they were seeing and talked among themselves in “Pennsylvania Dutch”.   Illinois has had a large colony of Amish in the Arthur, Illinois area, about 72 miles from Springfield, since the 19th century.  (Although the Amish are as theologically as far from the Church as it is possible for Christians to be, I should note that I have a huge amount of respect for them.  They take care of their own, and ask nothing from the larger society in which they live, except to be left alone, a sentiment which resonates with me.)  After the museum my family went to the Prairie Archives bookstore where I again marveled at their large collection of Lincoln books.

As usual we had a first rate lunch at the nearby The Feed Store.  (Nothing shouts Midwest more than eating in a restaurant with a name like that.)  We finished our day at Lincoln’s tomb praying for the repose of his soul and the souls of his wife and kids.)  Once again I thought to myself how nice it was that the first or second greatest President in our history, has his tomb in a cemetery open to all, where there are no guards, no charges for admission, not even for parking.  You simply pull up to the small parking area next to the tomb, go in and make your way through the tomb.  We owe Mary Todd Lincoln for that.  After Lincoln’s murder, there was an attempt to have Lincoln buried in Washington with a grand mausoleum being erected thereafter over his remains.  Mary Lincoln would have none of it.  She took her dead husband, and had the remains of her dead son Willie exhumed, and traveled with them both back to Springfield for burial.  She wanted nothing more from Washington except to get out of there as quickly as she could, a city where she had suffered grief that makes her such a poignant figure in American history.  (An exhibit in the Museum shows her framed by a rain stained window, sitting forlornly, mourning the loss of Willie.  My bride observed to me yesterday that, sadly, we know precisely how she feels.)

It wouldn’t be a McClarey expedition if we didn’t buy books.  We bought books yesterday at the Museum, the Prairie Archives and a used book store in Bloomington during an extended pit stop on our way home to Dwight.  Most of the books were about Lincoln (surprise!) and here are those books:

  1.  Lincoln’s Political Generals, David Work (2009)-Usually the incompetence of the generals appointed for political reasons is highlighted by historians, but it has always struck me how many of them, a perfect example is Illinois Congressman turned general John “Black Jack” Logan, eventually became competent officers.  Just as more than a few West Pointers failed the iron test of war, more than a few politician-soldiers passed it.
  2. Abraham Lincoln:  The Quest For Immortality, Dwight G. Anderson (1982)-A controversial book, Anderson contends that Lincoln deliberately sought to achieve immortality by becoming a second Washington.  I find his thesis unconvincing, but I was happy to add his book to my collection as it is well argued and does highlight an aspect of Lincoln often missed, surprisingly, by other historians:  that Lincoln was very conscious of history and how he and his contemporaries would be perceived by future generations.
  3. Lincoln the President, volume II (1945-reprinted 1974)-James G. Randall’s Lincoln the President is an exhaustive look at Lincoln as President, from an interesting standpoint: an admirer of Lincoln who also thought the Civil War was unnecessary. Scholarship was superb, albeit dated after six decades.  I now have three volumes, of the four, in my library.
  4. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 2008 and Summer 2009. Cutting edge articles on studies of Lincoln and his times are published twice a year by the Springfield based Abraham Lincoln Association.
  5. Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen:  A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times, Rae Katherine Eighmey, (2013)-I told my bride that Lincoln had a marked indifference to what he ate, with a slight preference for the humble country fare on which he was raised, but that did not dampen her enthusiasm for this tome.
  6. “Here I Have Lived”:  A History of Lincoln’s Springfield, Paul M. Angle (1933-reprint 1971)-A look at Springfield during the life of Lincoln.  It is hard to overestimate the impact of that community on Lincoln.
  7. Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften (2010-first paperback printing 2015)-A look at the impact of Lincoln’s study of Euclid on the way he thought.  Go here to read a post I wrote back in 2012 on that subject.
  8. The Annotated Lincoln, edited by Harold Holzer and Thomas A. Horrocks (2016)-A 604 page look at most of the major writings of Lincoln and a representative sample of his correspondence.   The clarity, and logical precision, of Lincoln’s mind shines through in his writings.  When one considers the meager education that Lincoln had, viewing his body of work makes one weep for the output of most modern politicians, albeit one can rarely be certain what is written by any modern politician after they attain office, and what is the product of the minds of staffers.  O tempora, O mores!

Continue Reading

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What Might Have Been

One of the great tragedies of American history is that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated before he could implement his post war reconstruction policy.  In a letter in January 1864 to Major General James Wadsworth, a wealthy New York politician and philanthropist who helped found the Free Soil Party, Lincoln set forth his basic policy:

You desire to know, in the event of our complete success in the field, the same being followed by a loyal and cheerful submission on the part of the South, if universal amnesty should not be accompanied with universal suffrage.

Now, since you know my private inclinations as to what terms should be granted to the South in the contingency mentioned, I will here add, that if our success should thus be realized, followed by such desired results, I cannot see, if universal amnesty is granted, how, under the circumstances, I can avoid exacting in return universal suffrage, or, at least, suffrage on the basis of intelligence and military service.

How to better the condition of the colored race has long been a study which has attracted my serious and careful attention; hence I think I am clear and decided as to what course I shall pursue in the premises, regarding it a religious duty, as the nation’s guardian of these people, who have so heroically vindicated their manhood on the battle-field, where, in assisting to save the life of the Republic, they have demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot, which is but the humane protection of the flag they have so fearlessly defended.The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of the both races; and it must be sealed by general amnesty. Continue Reading

His Childhood Home He Saw Again

All of his life Abraham Lincoln enjoyed poetry and would occasionally compose poetry.  In the fall of 1844 he was campaigning for Henry Clay in Clay’s unsuccessful run for the Presidency in southern Indiana and visited the region where he lived as a boy.  He told a friend that the terrain was the most unpoetic imaginable, but moved by nostalgia he set pen to paper:

I

My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that’s earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;

As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar–
So memory will hallow all
We’ve known, but know no more.

Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.

Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.

I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I’m living in the tombs. Continue Reading

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The Better Angels: A Review

“You are the only man of all men that I would wish to surpass me in all things.”

Saint Augustine in a letter to his son Adeodatus who died at age 19.

 

 

 

The Better Angels (2014) is one of the most beautiful films I have even seen.  My review is below the fold and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full force. Continue Reading

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Lincoln on Mercy

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I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.

Abraham Lincoln

Running down the origin of this quote was a lot of fun.  It sounded like something that Abraham Lincoln would have said, but I had difficulty finding a source for it.  It is cited all over the internet, but no reference is given other than a speech in 1865, and such a lack of citation is often the sign of a spurious quote.  After some searching I found it.  It is sourced in a conversation that Joseph Gillespie had with Abraham Lincoln.  Gillespie was a fellow member with Lincoln of the Illinois General Assembly.  With Lincoln he helped found the Republican party in Illinois.  Elected a circuit court judge in 1861, he helped set up the Illinois Appellate Court.

During a visit to Washington in Spring of 1864, Gillespie met with Lincoln and,  among other subjects they discussed, Lincoln mentioned the problem of captured paroled Confederate troops who were found in arms before they had properly been exchanged:

These men are liable to be put to death when recaptured for breach of parole.  If we do not do something of that sort, this outrage will be repeated on every occasion…It is indeed a serious question, and I have been more sorely tried by it than any other that has occurred during the war.  It will be an act of great injustice to our soldiers to allow the paroled rebels to be put into the field without exchange.  Such a practice would demoralize almost any army in the world if played off upon them.  It would be nearly impossible to induce them to spare the lives of prisoners they might capture.  On the other hand, these men were no doubt told by their superiors that they had been exchanged and it would be hard to put them to death under any circumstances.  On the whole, my impression is that mercy bears richer fruits than any other attribute. Continue Reading

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Day by Day?

Recently at a library book sale I purchased two volumes Lincoln 1840-1846 (1939) and Lincoln 1809-1839 (1941).  Both volumes were written by Harry E. Pratt and published by the Abraham Lincoln Association of Springfield, Illinois.  These two volumes attempted to relate the events of Lincoln’s life day by day.  They joined two earlier volumes that accomplished the same task for the years 1847-1861.

The Abraham Lincoln Association still exists.  Go here to view their website.  The Association did pioneer work in the last century in studies about the Sixteenth President, particularly in assembling documents written by Lincoln and publishing them.  The publication of the eight volume work of the writings of Lincoln bankrupted the Association for a time.

The volumes about the day to day activities of Lincoln often focused upon legal documents filed with courts by Lincoln, and proved an effective weapon against the cottage industry of the forging of Lincoln legal documents.  I find the volumes make fascinating reading, perhaps because I am not only a Lincoln student, but also a lawyer. I have nothing but admiration for the hard work that went into compiling them and everyone who studies Lincoln is in the debt of Mr. Pratt and the two other authors of the series. Continue Reading

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Lincoln Biographies

Wonder how Jefferson Davis
Feels, down there in Montgomery, about Sumter.
He must be thinking pretty hard and fast,
For he’s an able man, no doubt of that.
We were born less than forty miles apart,
Less than a year apart–he got the start
Of me in age, and raising too, I guess,
In fact, from all you hear about the man,
If you set out to pick one of us two
For President, by birth and folks and schooling,
General raising, training up in office,
I guess you’d pick him, nine times out of ten
And yet, somehow, I’ve got to last him out.

These thoughts passed through the mind in a moment’s flash,
Then that mind turned to business.
It was the calling
Of seventy-five thousand volunteers.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Commenter Greg Mockeridge asked my recommendation for a Lincoln biography.  The above video shows the Lincoln tower of books, a 34 foot tower of books about Lincoln located at the Ford’s Theater Center for Education and Lincoln.  The tower includes books about Lincoln as of 2011.  The number of books written about Lincoln are estimated to be approximately 16,000.  No one of course has read all of these books, nor should they.  Life is too short for such monomania, and in any case most of the books would be greatly repetitious and many of them mere hack work of little intrinsic value.  Here are the books I recommended:

1. Carl Sandburg-Poor scholarship even when it was written back in the forties, it is a magnificent oil painting of a biography that gets to the essence of Lincoln, while lacking the accurate detail of a photograph.
2. Michael Burlingame’s recent massive two volume bio is great for looking at the more recent Lincoln scholarship.
3. T. Harry Williams’ Lincoln and His Generals still remains, after more than six decades, the best look at Lincoln as commander in chief.
4. James G. Randall’s Lincoln the President is an exhaustive look at Lincoln as President, from an interesting standpoint: an admirer of Lincoln who also thought the Civil War was unnecessary. Scholarship was superb, albeit dated after six decades.
5. Allen Guelzo’s Redeemer President views Lincoln as a thinker, a surprisingly overlooked aspect of Lincoln as he first and foremost was a man of ideas. Lincoln had the ability of taking abstract and complicated concepts, stripping them down, and presenting them in his writing and speaking in a straightforward manner. He makes it all look easy, which perhaps detracts from what a powerful mind he possessed.
6. Stephen Mansfield’s Lincoln’s Battle With God is the best book on Lincoln in years. First rate scholarship directed at Lincoln’s religious views, a perennial subject of vitriolic debate in Lincoln Studies. Mansfield details the difficulties of making iron clad assertions about Lincoln on many topics because Lincoln often kept his cards tucked against his vest, and contemporary accounts by people who knew Lincoln often disagree about the most basic items.
7. Stephen B. Oates’ With Malice Towards None, stands out as perhaps the best one volume bio of Lincoln. Continue Reading

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Presidential Assassins: Born Under an Unlucky Star

Hattip for the above video to commenter Greg Mockeridge.

I have never liked Presidents’ Day. Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln? However, most presidents, for good and ill, have shaped the story of America.

To say that presidents have had a large impact on our history is to merely recite a truism. Presidential assassins, regrettably, have also had a large impact on our history.

On this President’s day we will look at the murderer of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. The rest of the week we will look at other successful assasins of presidents.

On July 4, 1835 Junius Brutus Booth, founder of the Booth theatrical family, sat down and penned a letter to President Andrew Jackson. Booth and Jackson knew each other and were friends, which makes the letter quite odd indeed. The text of the letter:

To His Excellency, General Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, Washington City,

You damn’d old Scoundrel if you don’t sign the pardon of your fellow men now under sentence of Death, De Ruiz and De Soto, I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping. I wrote to you repeated Cautions so look out or damn you. I’ll have you burnt at the Stake in the City of Washington.

Your Master, Junius Brutus Booth.

You know me! Look out!

Booth was one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his day, and he often gave unforgettable performances. However, he was often noted for his off stage escapades, usually fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. I have little doubt that when he penned this missive Booth was quite drunk. De Ruiz and De Soto had been convicted of piracy. Many Americans had asked for clemency for the men. De Soto did receive a Presidential pardon on July 6, 1835 after an interview with De Soto’s wife and defense attorney with Jackson. In 1832 De Soto had saved the lives of 70 Americans aboard the burning ship Minerva in 1831 and that made him a sympathetic figure to the American public and Jackson. De Ruiz and the other men convicted of piracy were hung. Go here for the details of the piracy trial.

And what happened to Booth? Nothing apparently. I assume that Jackson probably laughed off the letter, assuming that his friend was drunk when he wrote it, and in any case threatening to assassinate the president was not a crime in 1835. One fervently wishes that Booth’s son, John Wilkes Booth had merely written a letter threatening to assassinate Lincoln. Continue Reading

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Lincoln Our Contemporary

Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,

The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,

Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves’

Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,

Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field-

Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down

The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,

And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay

As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine

Plutarchan sentences carved in Latin bronze;

The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,

The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,

State-character but comparative failure at forty

In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,

Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,

And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:

This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,

Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches

Which make the monumental booming of Webster

Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Today is the 207th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.  Faithful readers of this blog know that I am an admirer of our sixteenth president.  My admiration is not a matter of mere historical antiquarianism.  I believe that many of the issues of Lincoln’s day are with us in our time under different guises.

  1.  Are all men created equal, or may we treat part of the “great family of man”, as Lincoln called humanity, as sub-humans, mere disposable property?
  2. Who should decide the great issues of our day:  the Supreme Court or the voters at the ballot box?
  3. What are the proper roles of the state governments and the federal union?
  4. Does God punish nations for sins?
  5. Are the Founding Fathers merely men of the past, or did they establish a movement that we should adhere to today?
  6. What is the meaning of freedom?
  7. Is this nation worth dying and killing for?
  8. Should the Constitution be amended to address the problems confronting us today?
  9. Are their evils like slavery that must be confronted no matter what the cost?
  10. Is a Republic a viable form of government long term?

When pondering these issues, I think Lincoln has much to teach us. Continue Reading

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But We Have Forgotten God

As we approach Lent in this Year of Mercy it is striking to me how most who call themselves Christians have lost any sense of sin.  Christ seems to be perceived as a divine Pal, with a dog like eagerness to embrace us just the way we are.  Such a deity would seem to resemble Barney the Dinosaur more than the God of the Bible.  Forgotten is the need for sorrow for sins, repentance for sins and amendment of life.  Our ancestors tended to think much differently.  Consider Proclamation 97 of Abraham Lincoln calling for a national day of prayer and humiliation to pray for forgiveness of national sins.  Here is the text of the proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

 

Continue Reading

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To All His Creatures

March for Life

 

 

These communities, by their representatives in old  Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We  hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are  created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with  certain unalienable rights; that among these are life,  liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic  interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their  lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of  the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to  all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their  enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and  likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded,  and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole  race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized  upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide  their children and their children’s children, and the countless  myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise  statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity  to breed tyrants, and so they established these great  self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man,  some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that  none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life,  liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look  up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to  renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth,  and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues  might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would  hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles  on which the temple of liberty was being built.

Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858

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Royal Dano and Abraham Lincoln

Royal Dano as Lincoln

 

 

Last night I was watching an old Rifleman episode and it was an odd one.  One of Lucas McCain’s neighbors turns out to be Abraham Lincoln!  Well, not the real Abraham Lincoln, but rather a man who incurred psychic trauma during his Civil War service and now he believes he is Abraham Lincoln.  However, the man, portrayed by the late actor Royal Dano, looks and acts just like Abraham Lincoln.  This show was broadcast in 1961 when the Civil War centennial was big news, and this was a clever way of getting Lincoln on the Rifleman show, a series set in the 1880’s, without having to invoke time travel!  The episode was moving and as I listened I thought the actor portraying Lincoln sounded familiar.  Then it struck me: the Disney Animatronics Lincoln!

Dano provided the voice of Lincoln.in the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln show which Disney premiered at the World’s Fair in 1964. Disney chose Dano because he believed his voice was most like what Disney imagined Lincoln sounded like.  In this Disney was probably incorrect.  Most contemporaries described Lincoln as having a high pitched voice.  However, Disney was a showman and not an historian, and I think Disney hit upon a voice that did fit the popular imagination of what Lincoln sounded like, said imagination having been formed by deep voiced portrayals of Lincoln on film by actors such as Walter Huston, Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey.  The Animatronics Lincoln now has a new voice actor as Lincoln, but to generations that came of age in the final decades of the last century and visited Disney World, Dano’s voice will be that of Lincoln’s. Continue Reading

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Video Clip Worth Watching: Lincoln Calms a Lynch Mob

Henry Fonda didn’t resemble Abraham Lincoln, but in his folksy mannerisms and stump speech oratory, he conjures up well the spirit of Lincoln the prairie lawyer in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).   Fonda didn’t want to take the role at first, feeling himself inadequate to play the Great Emancipator.  Ford called him up, and in a profanity laced tirade told Fonda that he would not be portraying President Lincoln, but rather Lincoln as a wet behind the ears attorney.  Fonda took the role.

Four years later, Fonda would star in the great anti-lynching movie, The Ox Bow Incident (1943): Continue Reading

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Reality Always Wins

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One of the recurring themes of this blog is that reality always prevails in the end. Professor Anthony Esolen, who has commented here, has a brilliant post at Crisis on this theme:

 

It may be that all of the mad errors of the last hundred years have risen from one first and terrible error: that of refusing to honor reality, including human reality, as it is. In generations past, if you did not honor reality, you paid for it swiftly and severely. Try to plant strawberries in a desert, or fig trees in a swamp, and your belly will tell you that you have been a fool, even if your mind is stubborn and slow to admit it. Send your women out with the oxen and the plow, the cross-cut saw and the mattock, while your boys do the laundry and the mending, and the very stones will testify to your stupidity. But our wealth and sophisticated technology are a great buffer between us and those stones. We can seem to ourselves, for a while, to get away with ignoring the real.

Not that we actually do get away with it. Ideologies treat man as if he could be pressed into any shape, like molten plastic poured into a form. Stalin tried his hand at the human extruding machine, ignoring the ordinary farmer’s love for the land to which he and his forebears had given their sweat and their souls. The result was to turn one of the great breadbaskets of the world, the Ukraine, into barrens, while six million people died—not before some of them had sunk below the beast and eaten their own dead. Mao tried his hand at the human extruding machine, ignoring the ordinary man’s piety towards his ancestors and their ways, and the result was a mass destruction of culture, and sixty million people dead.

These are flagrant sinners against God and the reality he made. But the murderer of only one man is a murderer all the same, and more pleasant or vacuous sinners against reality are still sinners and still work harm. In the aggregate they can destroy every bit as much as Stalin and Mao did. Abortion of course is one obvious example of a refusal to look at reality. The child-making act has as its natural and foreseeable end the making of a child. We do know this, just as we know that men should revere their parents and grandparents, and that people who have lived on a tract of land for a hundred years love it and will tend it more carefully than a cadre of bureaucrats could ever imagine. We simply pretend that we do not know it. We pretend that when a man and a woman do the child-making thing, and they make a child, it can strike them as an utter surprise, a bolt from the blue. If you are walking beside a row of high-rise row houses, and you are struck by a piano falling from a great height, that is a surprise, that is an unnerving accident. Not the other.

 

But, having stiffed the real and embraced a fantasy, here the ideology of sexual liberation, having played at being husband and wife without being husband and wife, we claim all at once to be Surprised by Baby, Dismayed by Baby, Utterly Undone by Baby, and, hence, we want Baby out of the way. To have it out of the way, we have to plunge ourselves even deeper into the unreal. We have to pretend that the baby is not human, when we know, of course, that it is, and that it is not alive, when we know that if it were dead, it would be called a miscarriage, and no moral problem would arise. We have to cleave our minds in half to have our lives of license whole.

So it is that Planned Parenthood, which has never helped any woman to become a parent, sells as human body parts the members of the human beings they have killed under the fiction that they were not human at all, calling it “medical care” when nothing is remediated. So also the Pill, destructive of the common good and (like all synthetic growth hormones) deleterious to the health of the women who use it, is called “medical care,” when no disease is cured, and no limb or organ is restored to its normal and natural function; rather, its purpose is to thwart the natural function of the reproductive system, even at the cost of the woman’s health. It is thus not like an inoculation to protect you against a communicable disease. It is like deliberately putting a joint out of socket. Continue Reading

Ghosts of the Library

 

One of my favorite stops at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

 

The Thirty-third Infantry Illinois Volunteers was organized at Camp Butler, Illinois, in the month of September, 1861, by Colonel Chas. E. Hovey, and mustered into the United States service by Captain T. G. Pitcher, U. S. A. Continue Reading

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August 23, 1865: Lincoln, Argentina

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Americans traveling through Argentina are sometimes surprised when they come across the town of Lincoln.  Founded in 1871, the name of the town was the result of a decree of the government of Argentina on August 23, 1865 which ordered that the employees of the government of Argentina observe three days of mourning for Lincoln and decreed that the next town founded be named in honor of Lincoln.  Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, President of Argentina from 1868-1874, was such an admirer of Lincoln, that he wrote the first biography of him in Spanish.

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Is Abortion Moral?

 

 

You’re going from dealing with people to dealing with what most people here at the Center consider a real hurdle, to do sterile room, because you have to deal with the actual abortion tissue. And for some people that’s really hard. They can be abstractly in favor of abortion rights, but they sure don’t want to see what an eighteen-week abortion looks like.

  • Anonymous clinic worker Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic Wendy Simonds (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick) 1996 p 69.

 

Dennis Prager zooms in on the essential question regarding abortion:  Is it moral?  Legal protection of the unborn is our goal, but winning the moral debate is all important, and the pro-life cause has been slowly winning that debate.

Today I will be driving by Galesburg, on my way to take my daughter back to college.  In the Lincoln-Douglas debate held at Galesburg on October 7, 1858, Lincoln got to the heart of the difference between him and Stephen Douglas regarding slavery:

But there still is a difference, I think, between Judge Douglas and the Republicans in this. I suppose that the real difference between Judge Douglas and his friends, and the Republicans on the contrary, is, that the Judge is not in favor of making any difference between slavery and liberty-that he is in favor of eradicating, of pressing out of view, the questions of preference in this country for free or slave institutions; and consequently every sentiment he utters discards the idea that there is any wrong in slavery. Every thing that emanates from him or his coadjutors in their course of policy, carefully excludes the thought that there is any thing wrong in slavery. All their arguments, if you will consider them, will be seen to exclude the thought that there is any thing whatever wrong in slavery. If you will take the Judge’s speeches, and select the short and pointed sentences expressed by him-as his declaration that he “don’t care whether slavery is voted up or down”- you will see at once that this is perfectly logical, if you do not admit that slavery is wrong. If you do admit that it is wrong, Judge Douglas cannot logically say he don’t care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down. Judge Douglas declares that if any community want slavery they have a right to have it. He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that any body has a right to do wrong. He insists that, upon the score of equality, the owners of slaves and owners of property-of horses and every other sort of property-should be alike and hold them alike in a new Territory. That is perfectly logical, if the two species of property are alike and are equally founded in right. But if you admit that one of them is wrong, you cannot institute any equality between right and wrong. And from this difference of sentiment-the belief on the part of one that the institution is wrong, and a policy springing from that belief which looks to the arrest of the enlargement of that wrong; and this other sentiment, that it is no wrong, and a policy sprung from that sentiment which will tolerate no idea of preventing that wrong from growing larger, and looks to there never being an end of it through all the existence of things,-arises the real difference between Judge Douglas and his friends on the one hand, and the Republicans on the other. Now, I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil, having due regard for its actual existence amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and to all the Constitutional obligations which have been thrown about it; but, nevertheless, desire a policy that looks to the prevention of it as a wrong, and looks hopefully to the time when as a wrong it may come to an end. Continue Reading

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Fortnight for Freedom: Bishop Sheen-Life of Abraham Lincoln

Fortnight For Freedom 2015

In our current struggle in this country for freedom, it is good to recall champions of it.  Two names stand above all others:  George Washington and Abraham Lincoln

In that regard,  Bishop Sheen retold the life of Abraham Lincoln on his television show.  Originally broadcast in 1954, it is an interesting take on the Great Emancipator.  Completely fascinating.  A great tribute by a son of Illinois to the greatest son of Illinois.

As a native of Peoria, Sheen knew that Lincoln re-emerged into political life on October 16, 1854 when he gave a speech in Peoria that attacked the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by Stephen Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act.  Go here to read that speech.  The rest of Lincoln’s political life was set by that speech that catapulted him into the challenge to Douglas for his Senate seat in 1858, and his Presidential campaign against Douglas in 1860.  For Lincoln personally, the Peoria speech was the most significant of his life.

Of course Bishop Sheen did not celebrate Lincoln simply because of his connection with Illinois and Peoria.  In addition to his winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves, Lincoln was also ever a friend to Catholics.

In the 1840s America was beset by a wave of anti-Catholic riots.  An especially violent one occurred in Philadelphia on May 6-8.  These riots laid the seeds for a powerful anti-Catholic movement which became embodied in the years to come in the aptly named Know-Nothing movement.  To many American politicians Catholic-bashing seemed the path to electoral success.

Lincoln made clear where he stood on this issue when he organized a public meeting in Springfield, Illinois on June 12, 1844.  At the meeting he proposed and had the following resolution adopted by the meeting:

“Resolved, That the guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic, than to the Protestant; and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall ever have our most effective opposition. Resolved, That we reprobate and condemn each and every thing in the Philadelphia riots, and the causes which led to them, from whatever quarter they may have come, which are in conflict with the principles above expressed.”

Lincoln remained true to this belief.  At the height of the political success of the Know-Nothing movement 11 years later, Mr. Lincoln in a letter to his friend Joshua Speed wrote:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”

On July 4, 1864, when Lincoln had much else to occupy his mind, he attended a fundraising for a  Catholic church for Washington blacks.  Lincoln had given permission for the fund raiser to be held on the lawn of the White House. Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: Abraham Lincoln on Supreme Court Decisions

Fortnight For Freedom 2015

 

Some quotes from Abraham Lincoln in how to react to illegitimate Supreme Court decisions.  An illegitimate decision is one in which the Court arrogates to itself the power of a legislature under the mendacious guise of merely interpreting the Constitution:

 

 

1.  I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit; as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the government.

2.  Judicial decisions have two uses-first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use, they are called “precedents” and “authorities.”

3.  We think its (the Supreme Court) decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution.

4.  At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.

5.  Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents, according to circumstances. That this should be so, accords both with common sense, and the customary understanding of the legal profession. Continue Reading

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June 1, 1865: National Day of Mourning

Mourning Lincoln

 

Although a Thursday, the national day of mourning struck most Northerners like a Sunday.  Businesses and government offices were closed and people repaired to their churches where they prayed and heard sermons on Lincoln.  Pat McNamara at his blog in 2012 noted the remarks after communion of Father Sylvester Malone, the founder of Saints Peter and Paul parish in Brooklyn:

“Catholics, we join our tears to day with those of the nation. As citizens and as representatives of the great Catholic body, we are bowed down by this great, this fearful calamity, that has befallen us. Abraham Lincoln, the wise, the just, and Christian Magistrate, has been assassinated. But the event has a deeper significance. It is not that Abraham Lincoln has thus been murdered; it is more it is the President of the United States, the representative of a nation of freemen, the head and chosen of its people. We mourn to day for the Christian patriot gone from us, but we stand appalled and horror stricken at the murder of a magistrate whose heart was so filled with Christian charity and forgiveness for those who had, forgetting their allegiance, taken arms against the most humane government on earth, against their country. My friends, take up this new burden of woe as befits you. Pray today for the salvation of this nation now laboring under this dreadful affliction. Pray for it every day. The nation needs all your prayers. Pray that those in authority may have the Divine guidance and protection in the trying situation upon which they are entering.” Continue Reading

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Lincoln and Pigs

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The state of Illinois has quite a few statues of Abraham Lincoln.  One of the more unusual is one erected in 2005 outside the Taylorville, Illinois courthouse showing Lincoln with a pig.  The statue is the work of noted sculptor John McClary.  According to local Lincoln lore, Lincoln was arguing a case in Taylorville when pigs were heard squealing under the floor.  Lincoln suggested to the presiding Judge that a Writ of Quietus be issued by the Court ordering the pigs to be silent!

A pig figures in another Lincoln story.  As the story goes Lincoln and other attorneys were riding on the old Eighth Judicial Circuit when they passed by a pig caught firmly in a mud mire.  The poor pig was squealing piteously, slowly sinking to its doom.  Lincoln and his fellow attorneys rode by.  After about a mile Lincoln stopped.  He couldn’t get that pig out of his mind.  Turning back he rescued the pig using two boards, the pig getting him muddy in the process and ruining the new suit he was wearing.  Lincoln noted that by freeing the pig from the mire, he had also freed him from his conscience, and that was worth a suit.

Lincoln seems to have been fond of pigs from his earliest days, at least according to this story written by Ferdinand C. Iglehart in 1902: Continue Reading

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The Lasting Impact of Abraham Lincoln

 In this temple
As in the hearts of the people for
whom he saved the Union
The memory of Abraham
Lincoln
Is enshrined forever 

Inscription above the Lincoln Memorial

Something for the weekend.  Lincoln and Liberty, Too.  The mortal remains of Abraham Lincoln were laid to rest in Springfield, Illinois a century and a half ago this week.  This is a good time to look at the impact of his life, a life more consequential for his country and the world than that of any other American except for George Washington.

1.  Lincoln ended slavery.  That is a simple three word sentence but what an accomplishment it was.  Slavery, a world wide institution, had existed in the American colonies since their foundation.  By the time of the Civil War the institution was two hundred and fifty years old and had tainted American history from its inception.  It tainted everything it touched, and, in the ringing words of Lincoln:

I hate [indifference to slavery] because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty-criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Slavery was such an entrenched institution in the South that only a mammoth Civil War, with atrocious blood-letting, brought about the conditions that ended it.  In four short years Lincoln lanced the boil of slavery, and if that were his only accomplishment that alone should ensure that his name will be honored by endless generations of Americans.  Critics of Lincoln often pretend that the South would have abolished slavery.  There is no evidence to support that belief, and much evidence to support the contention that slavery was an immensely strong institution and getting a new lease on life by having slaves work in factories.  Vast slave empires arose in the twentieth century, and the Confederacy, if it had won the Civil War, might now be regarded as a harbinger of the future on the issue of slavery, rather than as a rear guard defense of the past.  There is nothing inevitable about history, which is a human creation, and Lincoln ending slavery had global ramifications, and if he had failed opposite global ramifications might likely have occurred, which would have reverberated to this day.

2.  Lincoln preserved the Union.  There would be no United States today but for Lincoln.  There would be two or more nations where the United States of America now is.  Daniel Webster, in his immortal reply to Hayne in 1830 stated:  “Union and liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable.”  For this country and this world I believe his comment was prophetic.  Without a united America I suspect that this nation would not have successfully led the fight against Nazi Germany and then prevailed in the Cold War over the Soviet Union.  I think it all too likely that in addition to the United States and the Confederate States, there would have been other successor states to the original United States.  Allow secession once, and in times of national stress it would have been a “remedy” trumpeted by ambitious demagogues.  The founders of the Confederacy feared this, the drafters of the Confederate Constitution voting down South Carolina’s proposal that a right of secession be set forth in the Confederate Constitution and instead included in the preamble of the Constitution that they were forming a permanent federal government. Continue Reading

April 29, 1865: Johnson Postpones Day of Mourning For Lincoln

 

 

On April 29, 1865, President Johnson in his second Presidential Proclamation postpones the national day of mourning that he proclaimed in his first Proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

 

 

Whereas by my proclamation of the 25th instant Thursday, the 25th day of next month, was recommended as a day for special humiliation and prayer in consequence of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, late President of the United States; but

Whereas my attention has since been called to the fact that the day aforesaid is sacred to large numbers of Christians as one of rejoicing for the ascension of the Savior:

Now, therefore, be it known that I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do hereby suggest that the religious services recommended as aforesaid should be postponed until Thursday, the 1st day of June next.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 29th day of April, A. D. 1865, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-ninth.

ANDREW JOHNSON.

By the President:

W. HUNTER,

Acting Secretary of State. Continue Reading

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Sic Transit John Wilkes Booth

Death of Booth

 

 

Judging from his melodramatic “Sic, Semper Tyrannis!” at Ford’s Theater after murdering Lincoln, Booth perceived his role of assassin as  being his greatest role, a chance to play in real life a doomed Romantic hero, an avenger of a wronged people.  The last twelve days of his life, as he eluded capture must have been disappointing for him, as the newspapers he read, including those who had been highly critical of Lincoln, universally condemned his action.  Perhaps he perceived that instead of  being a hero, he was fated to be cast as a minor villain, remembered solely due to his slaying of a great hero.  Booth wrote in his diary, “With every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for … And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat.” Continue Reading

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April 19, 1865: Funeral Sermon on Abraham Lincoln

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Although it was a  Wednesday, many contemporary observers in the United States thought that April 19, 1865 felt like a Sunday.  Funeral rites were being conducted for Abraham Lincoln at the White House and a national holiday, a national day of mourning, was proclaimed.  After the funeral service at the White House, Lincoln’s body began its long trek back to Springfield, where it would pass through 180 cities with the people of the country given an opportunity to pass by Lincoln’s coffin.  The funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln attended.  He had been close to both Lincolns, the Lincolns had chosen him to preach the funeral sermon when their son Willie died, and he would accompany the body back to Springfield and preach the final funeral sermon there.  His sermon at the White House was a powerful effort and reflected a willingness to see the Hand of God in all things, a common sentiment at that time, that most of us today, even those of us who are religious, lack, especially when something terrible occurs.  God is relegated, in much contemporary religious thought, to being either a divine Santa Claus, or an ineffectual, albeit well meaning, divinity, who stands apart from the frequently terrible things that occur in this vale of tears and weeps with us.  I think Gurley is closer to the truth, even with his patina of Calvinism, as to the nature of I AM who created the universe. Here is the text of the sermon:

 

 

AS WE STAND HERE TODAY, MOURNERS AROUND THIS COFFIN AND AROUND THE LIFELESS REMAINS OF OUR BELOVED CHIEF MAGISTRATE, WE RECOGNIZE AND WE ADORE THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. His throne is in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all. He hath done, and He hath permitted to be done, whatsoever He pleased. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” His way is in the sea, and His path in the great waters, and His footsteps are not known. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? Deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If He cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder Him? For He knoweth vain men; he seeth wickedness also; will He not then consider it?”–We bow before His infinite majesty. We bow, we weep, we worship.

“Where reason fails, with all her powers,
There faith prevails, and love adores.”

It was a cruel, cruel hand, that dark hand of the assassin, which smote our honored, wise, and noble President, and filled the land with sorrow. But above and beyond that hand there is another which we must see and acknowledge. It is the chastening hand of a wise and a faithful Father. He gives us this bitter cup. And the cup that our Father hath given us, shall we not drink it?

God of the just, Thou gavest us the cup:
We yield to thy behest, and drink it up.”

“Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” O how these blessed words have cheered and strengthened and sustained us through all these long and weary years of civil strife, while our friends and brothers on so many ensanguined fields were falling and dying for the cause of Liberty and Union! Let them cheer, and strengthen, and sustain us to-day. True, this new sorrow and chastening has come in such an hour and in such a way as we thought not, and it bears the impress of a rod that is very heavy, and of a mystery that is very deep. That such a life should be sacrificed, at such a time, by such a foul and diabolical agency; that the man at the head of the nation, whom the people had learned to trust with a confiding and a loving confidence, and upon whom more than upon any other were centered, under God, our best hopes for the true and speedy pacification of the country, the restoration of the Union, and the return of harmony and love; that he should be taken from us, and taken just as the prospect of peace was brightly opening upon our torn and bleeding country, and just as he was beginning to be animated and gladdened with the hope of ere long enjoying with the people the blessed fruit and reward of his and their toil, and care, and patience, and self-sacrificing devotion to the interests of Liberty and the Union–O it is a mysterious and a most afflicting visitation! But it is our Father in heaven, the God of our fathers, and our God, who permits us to be so suddenly and sorely smitten; and we know that His judgments are right, and that in faithfulness He has afflicted us. In the midst of our rejoicings we needed this stroke, this dealing, this discipline; and therefore He has sent it. Let us remember, our affliction has not come forth out of the dust, and our trouble has not sprung out of the ground. Through and beyond all second causes let us look, and see the sovereign permissive agency of the great First Cause. It is His prerogative to bring light out of darkness and good out of evil. Surely the wrath of man shall praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He will restrain. In the light of a clearer day we may yet see that the wrath which planned and perpetuated the death of the President, was overruled by Him whose judgements are unsearchable, and His ways are past finding out, for the highest welfare of all those interests which are so dear to the Christian patriot and philanthropist, and for which a loyal people have made such an unexampled sacrifice of treasure and of blood. Let us not be faithless, but believing. Continue Reading

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Mourning Lincoln

 

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.

Lincoln’s Farewell to Springfield, February 11, 1861

 

 

 

Something for the weekend.  The Funeral March of President Lincoln.  One hundred and fifty years ago the North was convulsed in grief, as it mourned the commander in chief who just had successfully concluded the bloodiest war in American history.  Lincoln belongs to the entire nation, but Illinois has always taken pardonable pride in her favorite son.  On May 1-May 3, 2015 Springfield, Illinois will be commemorating the funeral of Lincoln:

 

Mary Todd Lincoln, prostrated with grief, angrily resisted all suggestions and pleas that Lincoln be buried in Washington, and brought him home to Illinois, along with the body of their son Willie. Continue Reading

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Now He Belongs to the Ages

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Now he belongs to the ages.”  So said Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, who had kept vigil at Lincoln’s deathbed, after Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet.

In hundreds of posts since 2008 at The American Catholic and Almost Chosen People, I have examined various facets of the public life of Abraham Lincoln.  Of course, the most important part of Lincoln’s life came, as it will for each of us, after his death when he stood before God for the particular judgment.  In this life the outcome of that judgment is unknown to us.  However, I think  the record is well-established that during the Civil War Lincoln found his mind and his heart turning increasingly towards God.

Lincoln throughout his life had read the Bible and effortlessly used scriptural quotes in his speaking and writing, both in public and in private.  Lincoln had the Bible in his bones, and often turned to it.  Lincoln’s religious opinions are not simple to discern, however, as Mark Noll in a perceptive article skillfully points out.

In 1846 when Lincoln ran successfully for Congress against a well known Protestant minister, Peter Cartwright, he was attacked as an “infidel” and a scoffer against religion.  In a pamphlet Lincoln responded:  “That I am not a member of any Christian church is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular… I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, or scoffer at, religion.”  Before the election campaign Lincoln went to one of the revival meetings of Cartwright, probably to scope out the opposition.  During the meeting Cartwright asked all those who were intent on going to Heaven to stand, and Lincoln remained seated.  Cartwright then asked all those who were intent on going to Hell to stand, and Lincoln once again remained seated.  Cartwright then inquired of Lincoln directly where Lincoln intended to go since he stood neither for Heaven nor Hell.  Lincoln responded that he intended to go to Congress.

I have always thought that Mary Todd Lincoln, his wife and most perceptive observer, best understood Lincoln’s religious views:  “From the time of the death of our little Edward, I believe my husband’s heart was directed towards religion & as time passed on – when Mr. Lincoln became elevated to Office – with the care of a great Nation, upon his shoulders – when devastating war was upon us then indeed to my knowledge – did his great heart go up daily, hourly, in prayer to God – for his sustaining power When too – the overwhelming sorrow came upon us, our beautiful bright angelic boy, Willie was called away from us, to his Heavenly Home, with God’s chastising hand upon us – he turned his heart to Christ.”

Certainly Mr. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address gives strong evidence that Lincoln had thought long and very hard about God and human affairs.  Lincoln occasionally gave hints that indicated that he was thinking about his own destiny in the hereafter.  In August of 1864 it looked as if Lincoln was headed to electoral defeat.  A group of Wisconsin politicians visiting the White House suggested that perhaps Lincoln’s prospects would improve if he would agree to drop the Emancipation Proclamation in exchange for the Confederate states returning to the Union.  Lincoln responded briskly:

“I should be damned in time and in eternity were I to do that.  I will keep faith with the gallant black soldiers who have fought and died for this nation at Port Hudson and Olustee. The Proclamation sticks.”

As for the Bible, Lincoln gave frequent public and private comments that indicated his great respect for the book of books.  When Lincoln received the gift of a Bible from freed slaves in Maryland he made the following statement:  “In regard to this great book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.

In the summer of 1864 Lincoln spent an evening with perhaps his closest friend Joshua F. Speed.  When Speed arrived Lincoln was reading the Bible.  Speed recounted the incident as follows:  “As I entered the room near night, [Lincoln] was sitting near a window reading his Bible. Approaching him, I said, ‘I am glad to see you profitably engaged.’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I am profitably engaged.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘if you have recovered from your skepticism I am sorry to say that I have not!’ Looking me earnestly in the face, and placing his hand upon my shoulder, he said: ‘You are wrong Speed; take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith and you will live and die a happier and better man.’”

Very significant evidence as to the impact on Lincoln of the death of his son Willie and the war is given by Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln regularly attended.  In response to an inquiry as to whether Lincoln was a scoffer, Gurley replied as follows:  ” I do not believe a word of it. It could not have been true of him while here, for I have had frequent and intimate conversations with him on the Subject of the Bible and the Christian religion, when he could have had no motive to deceive me, and I considered him sound not only on the truth of the Christian religion but on all its fundamental doctrines and teachings. And more than that, in the latter days of his chastened and weary life, after the death of his son Willie, and his visit to the battlefield of Gettysburg, he said, with tears in his eyes, that he had lost confidence in everything but God, and that he now believed his heart was changed, and that he loved the Savior, and, if he was not deceived in himself, it was his intention soon to make a profession of religion.”

So much for the historical record.  When it comes to something of the heart and soul like religion, prose and facts can take us only so far.  Time to call on a poet.

Stephen Vincent Benet 87, four score and seven, years ago wrote an epic poem on the American Civil War, John Brown’s Body.  Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, it is available on line here.  In this section of the poem I think he gets close to the truth of Abraham Lincoln and his turning to God during the war.  Lincoln is sitting in the telegraph office at the War Department anxiously awaiting news of the battle of Antietam: Continue Reading

Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809-April 15, 1865

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!

But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.
Walt Whitman