Red Skelton and his unforgettable rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance. Skelton rose out of abject poverty to become one of the great comedians of his time. His comment about the phrase “under God” reminds us how deeply this phrase is embedded in American history:
The addition of “under God” to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 of course echoes this sentence from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The Pledge was altered with that phrase of Lincoln’s specifically in mind. The Knights of Columbus played an important role in getting the pledge changed, beginning in 1951 to say the Pledge with the phrase “under God” inserted at all Knights of Columbus functions.
Lincoln probably recalled the phrase from George Washington’s use of it in his order to the Continental Army on August 27, 1776 before the battle of Long Island:
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.
Edward Everett was the main attraction at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. He had led a distinguished life serving as Governor of Massachusetts and ambassador to Great Britain. In 1860 he had run on the Constitutional Union Party ticket as vice-president, attempting to forestall the break up of the Union that he clearly saw coming. After the election of Lincoln he became a vigorous supporter of Lincoln’s policies to preserve the Union by force. He would die in 1865 prior to the end of the War, but with the knowledge that the Union would win and the Union would be preserved.
He was a good choice to be the main speaker, still vigorous at sixty-nine, one of the most eloquent orators of his time, a time which included such speakers as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John Calhoun. As he spoke it was as if the past of the country was commenting on its turbulent present. He spoke for two hours and his listeners would have felt cheated if he had not done so, as lengthy speeches were expected at that time in American history on important occasions, unlike our own time where any statement that goes over three minutes is considered long-winded.
After his address he wrote Lincoln a famous letter in which he included this sentence that almost all Americans would agree with: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”
Executive Mansion Washington November 20, 1863
Hon. Edward Everett. My dear Sir:
Your kind note of to-day is received. In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one. I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure. Of course I knew Mr. Everett would not fail; and yet, while the whole discourse was eminently satisfactory, and will be of great value, there were passages in it which transcended my expectation. The point made against the theory of the general government being only an agency, whose principals are the States, was new to me, and, as I think, is one of the best arguments for the national supremacy. The tribute to our noble women for their angel-ministering to the suffering soldiers, surpasses, in its way, as do the subjects of it, whatever has gone before.
Our sick boy, for whom you kindly inquire, we hope is past the worst. Your Obt. Servt.
Here is Everett’s speech, interspersed with my commentary. It is completely our of step with our sound bite age, but it is worthy of our close attention as it sheds light upon his time: Continue reading
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 27, 1858
In nine days, this town will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s speech with a ceremony at the same Soldiers’ National Cemetery featuring the U.S. Marine Band, Gov. Tom Corbett and a reading of the Gettysburg Address.
The news of the surrender of Vicksburg did not reach Washington until July 7, 1863. On top of Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg, the town went wild with rejoicing. A jubilant crowd went to the White House. President Lincoln made an impromptu speech that contained many of the themes and thoughts that he would flesh out in his Gettysburg Address delivered on November 19, 1863:
Fellow-citizens: I am very glad to see you to-night. But yet I will not say I thank you for this call. But I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. [Cheers.] How long ago is it? Eighty odd years since, upon the Fourth day of July, for the first time in the world, a union body of representatives was assembled to declare as a self-evident truth that all men were created equal. [Cheers.]
That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the fourth day of July has had several very peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men who framed and supported that paper, including the particular declaration I have mentioned, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the one having framed it, and the other sustained it most ably in debate, the only two of the fifty-five or fifty-six who signed it, I believe, who were ever President of the United States, precisely fifty years after they put their hands to that paper it pleased the Almighty God to take away from this stage of action on the Fourth of July. This extraordinary coincidence we can understand to be a dispensation of the Almighty Ruler of Events.
Another of our Presidents, five years afterwards, was called from this stage of existence on the same day of the month, and now on this Fourth of July just past, when a gigantic rebellion has risen in the land, precisely at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow that principle “that all men are created equal,” we have a surrender of one of their most powerful positions and powerful armies forced upon them on that very day. [Cheers.] And I see in the succession of battles in Pennsylvania, which continued three days, so rapidly following each other as to be justly called one great battle, fought on the first, second and third of July; on the fourth the enemies of the declaration that all men are created equal had to turn tail and run. [Laughter and applause.] Continue reading
Weasel Zippers broke the story that the above plaque is affixed to the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies on the campus at Northeastern University in Chicago. The historical ignorance is appalling but unsurprising. After all, dead Republicans have been voting Democrat for generations in Chicago!
Update: Northeastern responds:
The Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University is housed in a building that bears historical significance. From time to time, the integrity of a plaque honoring the memory of Abraham Lincoln is questioned. Installed in the building for its opening in 1905, the plaque includes an inscription of the word “democrat” following Abraham Lincoln’s name. According to building archives, the word democrat was used because Lincoln was an advocate for democracy—the political or social equality of all people. The word was not chosen to reflect a political affiliation.
The building was initially designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his uncle, the Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones. Jones and Wright disagreed about the building design, which was handed off in 1902 to Dwight Perkins, who made several changes to Wright’s original design.
The building was designed to house a comprehensive social service agency called the Abraham Lincoln Center. According to documents by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, John Lloyd Wright, the building was named for his father’s hero.
The Abraham Lincoln Center was purchased in 1969 by the Illinois Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities for Northeastern Illinois University. Since that time, the building has housed Northeastern’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies. Now in its 47th year, Northeastern’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies is an academic center for students and scholars to examine the political, economic, cultural and social forces that impact inner city communities. Nearly 150 graduates have gone on to earn doctoral degrees and pursue careers as professors, instructors and administrators in higher education.
The academic programs housed in this building promote political and social equality, the same values espoused by Abraham Lincoln. Northeastern Illinois University recognizes the context that this plaque was created and intends to uphold its integrity.
Jones, who founded the Abraham Lincoln Center, was a Unitarian, and something of a flake.
One hundred and fifty years ago President Lincoln received an invitation to say “a few appropriate remarks”. Lincoln while he was President received many invitations to speak and accepted very few of them. This one, however, he did accept. It was an invitation from David Wills, a Gettysburg attorney, who had been appointed by Andrew Curtin, governor of Pennsylvania, to spearhead the ceremony for the opening of the national cemetery at Gettysburg.
Beginning on October 17 the Union dead had been removed from their makeshift graves and reburied. We must not think of Gettysburg then as it is now. Now, it is a national park, a symbol of national pride. Then it was a scene of almost unspeakable horror, bearing the raw scars of a huge battle where over 8,000 Americans had recently been killed and over 27,000 had been wounded, many maimed for life. It had been a Union victory, but the War went on with no end in sight. Lincoln seized upon the opportunity to explain to the American people, perhaps to also explain to himself, what Gettysburg meant. Here is the text of the invitation: Continue reading
One of the many things that I find fascinating about Lincoln is how different he looked in most of his photographs. All but one of the Lincoln photographs were taken during the last eleven years of his life, and they are an interesting study in contrasts. This is especially intriguing since the subject of a photograph in Lincoln’s day had to sit absolutely still for at least 18 seconds, and I would think this would tend to flatten out any emotions that the subject was feeling at the time which might have altered his features.
I have studied Lincoln now for almost a half century and the complexity of the man is perhaps his most salient feature, and that shines through in his pictures. A man known for his humble birth, but who hated the life of poverty and drudgery that he worked so hard to escape from. Famous for reading before the embers of a fire place as a child, he read little as an adult beyond newspapers and a few choice books, but what he read he retained with a bear trap like grasp. A teller of humorous tales who was afflicted with deep melancholia. No formal education to speak of, but the finest writer of prose ever to sit in the White House. A deeply logical man who loved Euclid, he could understand the passions, the loves and the hates, that almost destroyed his nation. A humane man who abhorred bloodshed, he presided over the bloodiest war in our history. Viewed with suspicion by the abolitionists of his day, it was his fate to destroy slavery that had existed in what would be the United States for a quarter of a millennia. Turn Lincoln over in your mind and new facets of the man spring up.
Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, captured some of the many Lincolns that appeared in the photographs: Continue reading
In the never ending effort of the Obama administration to see just how absurd they can be over the fake government shutdown, they have attempted to close down the Gettysburg battlefield. I say attempted because a lot of tourists are engaging in civil disobedience and touring the battlefield, playing catch me if you can with National Park Service Rangers. Go here to read all about it.
This of course is all part of a carefully orchestrated plot by the Obama administration:
A U.S. park ranger, who did not wish to be identified, told FoxNews.com that supervisors within the National Park Service overruled plans to deal with the budget cuts in a way that would have had minimal impact on the public. Instead, the source said, park staff were told to cancel special events and cut “interpretation services” — the talks, tours and other education services provided by local park rangers.
Instead of feeling pain the public has had a glimpse into just how mean, petty and spiteful the gangsters currently in power in the White House can be.
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
The things you find while wandering the Internet! Here is a pastoral letter on Abraham Lincoln written in 2009 on the bicentennial of his birth by Bishop W. Francis Malooly, Wilmington Diocese:
MYSTIC CHORDS OF MEMORY IN THE 21ST CENTURY: REMEMBERING PRESIDENT LINCOLN ON THE BICENTENNIAL OF HIS BIRTH 1
A Pastoral Letter to the People of the Diocese of Wilmington by Bishop W. Francis Malooly
Abraham Lincoln was born 200 years ago today. Lincoln was not a Catholic. Nor was he a member of any organized denomination and his religious views are in many ways obscure. Some aspects of his legacy are still controversial almost 150 years after his death. Yet, by any measure Abraham Lincoln was one of America’s greatest statesmen and his speeches and writings contain some of the most profound thinking relating to religion that have been produced in this nation. Moreover, in his life we can see many of the classic Christian virtues; virtues that are as relevant today as they ever were in the past; virtues that help explain why Lincoln’s legacy is so large.
Before turning to Lincoln, himself, though, it is useful to first consider another statesman whose life reflects those virtues. In 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Saint Thomas More to be the patron of statesmen and politicians: “There are many reasons for proclaiming Thomas More Patron of statesmen and people in public life. Among these is the need felt by the world of politics and public administration for credible role models able to indicate the path of truth at a time in history when difficult challenges and crucial responsibilities are increasing…His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue.”2
My predecessor, Bishop Michael Saltarelli, inspired by Pope John Paul II’s proclamation, issued in September 2004 his Litany of Saint Thomas More, Martyr and Patron of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers which concludes with the prayer: “Intercede for our Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, that they may be courageous and effective in their defense and promotion of the sanctity of human life – the foundation of all other human rights.”3 With this Litany, Bishop Saltarelli emphasized that it is important for each of us to remember politicians and public servants daily in our prayers. He also placed the Diocese of Wilmington at the forefront of efforts to foster and promote devotion to Saint Thomas More. As G.K. Chesterton so prophetically stated in 1929 “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.”4
I followed Bishop Saltarelli’s lead this fall when I reissued the Litany and asked every parish to pray it at the end of every Mass in the Diocese the weekend of October 25-26, 2008.5
Saint Thomas More and Abraham Lincoln were two very different men, living in different countries and separated by centuries. Nevertheless, they shared the view that public service required them to pursue the public good rather than their own personal ends, even to the point that they put their lives at risk-and ultimately died-in that pursuit. Indeed, Lincoln and St. Thomas shared many virtues-virtues that are key to effective public service. In Lincoln’s life, Catholics and non-Catholics alike can see so many dimensions of the beatitudes, the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) lived vibrantly. We can see through the lens of Abraham Lincoln so many of the lessons that were taught in the life of Saint Thomas More – that virtue in the life of the politician extends to both their public and their private lives, that magnanimity and charity lead to solid decisions in moments of crisis and confusion, and that governance is above all, an exercise in virtue. Continue reading
On Saturday night, September 21, 2013, I was master of ceremonies at a performance of “Visiting the Lincolns” performed by Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller in Dwight, Illinois. The performance was masterful. Mr. Krebs and Ms. Miller have been performing as Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln since the mid-nineties and they gave a highly polished two person play. The audience was very much a part of the play, as the premise of the play is that the members of the audience are unexpected visitors at the White House who appear just before the Lincolns on Good Friday 1865 are due to leave to attend a play at Ford’s Theater.
The play is a mixture of comedy and drama as the Lincolns deal with the task of attempting to entertain their unexpected guests. Mrs. Lincoln serves lemon juice and cookies as she and Mr. Lincoln discuss their courtship, and their sorrow over the deaths of their sons Eddie and Willie, as well as Emancipation, the War and the other events that made the Civil War an unforgettable crossroads in American history. Mr. Krebs and Ms. Miller demonstrate both the bickering, that the Lincolns did on occasion historically, and their deep love for each other. The play is enlivened with some of Lincoln’s stories and constant interaction between the Lincolns and the audience. One of the more dramatic episodes occurs when Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln are reading amusing dispatches from Union generals and criticizing the incompetence that was often a hallmark of Union high command, when Mrs. Lincoln lightheartedly begins reading Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby, not realizing that the letter consoled a mother for the loss of her five sons, and the reading awakens Mary’s constant grief over the loss of her two sons. It made the dramatic hallmark for the evening. Continue reading
Well, today is the day. Every year my little town has a festival, Dwight Harvest Days. We draw tens of thousands of visitors from all around for parades, a flea market, a craft show, rides, a 5k run, and many, many other events.
This year, I have arranged, well I should say the Dwight Rotary Club, of which I have been a member for 28 years, has arranged, for Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller to bring their presentations of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln to the Dwight High School Auditorium, 801 South Franklin Street in Dwight on September 21, 2013, tonight, at 7:00 PM. The presentation is free and I think we will have a huge turnout, especially among students.
I have long followed the career of Mr. Krebs and I believe he is the king of Lincoln presenters. Some samples of his work:
I am looking forward to this immensely. It speaks well of the Great Emancipator in our national memory that he is by far the President most portrayed by historical re-enactors. Lincoln calls to something very deep in the American soul. Men portraying Lincoln go back to the first decade of the last century, while men and women who knew Lincoln were still alive, but were rapidly departing this vale of tears. They kept alive a memory of Lincoln as a man and not just a mere statue or a historical personage trapped in books. Those early Lincoln presenters gave the models by which Lincoln was portrayed in the new technology of film. Through the efforts of the Lincoln presenters the memory of Lincoln is kept ever green.
Like most counties in Central Illinois, we have our Lincoln sites, places Lincoln visited while he was riding the circuit as a lawyer. In those more civilized days, courts in most areas only operated part time. On a court day, the judges and attorneys would arrive at a county seat, and the trials on the court’s docket would be called and tried. So it was on May 18, 1840 when Lincoln and his fellow attorneys rode into Pontiac, the then tiny county seat of Livingston County, for the first ever session of the Circuit Court in Livingston County. Continue reading
How times have changed! On August 18, 1863 Christopher Spencer, inventor of the revolutionary Spencer repeating rifle, was able to walk into the White House and show one of his rifles to President Lincoln.
The concept of a repeating rifle was not new, and examples of such weapons had been produced since at least 1779. However, teething problems with the new technology made them impracticable as mass weapons until shortly before the Civil War. Benjamin Tyler Henry developed the famed Henry repeating rifle in 1860. Although never officially adopted by the Union army, this rifle was highly thought of enough by Union cavalry troopers that thousands of them purchased them privately, and they were equally prized when captured by Confederate troopers. The rifle could fire off 28 rounds per minute, compared to a rifled musket that could barely manage three rounds per minute under ideal conditions.
The Spencer repeating rifle was developed by Christopher Spencer in 1860. A seven shot weapon, it could manage 20 shots a minute and proved durable under battlefield conditions. By the end of the War, most Union cavalry and mounted infantry units had Spencers and their firepower was often devastatingly effective on the battlefield.
War department conservatism is often blamed for the fact that the Spencers were not more widely used during the War, especially by the infantry, but the truth is that the ability to supply Spencers to replace all of the Union rifles and rifled muskets simply did not exist during the War, and supplying the ones that could be manufactured to units cavalry and mounted infantry was a wise choice since they greatly magnified the combat power of the most mobile forces that the Union had. Continue reading
Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels in defense of Catholicism so frequently that I have named him Defender of the Faith, explains why liberal Protestantism deserves a place on the endangered species list:
Liberal Protestantism is dying. Rod Dreher says so in a recent column in The American Conservative, and the statistics back him up: for decades, liberal and mainline Protestantism has been on the decline in the US, with some denominations (such as the United Church of Christ) losing adherents so quickly that their future is in peril. Meanwhile, more conservative and evangelical denominations have generally held their own, or even experienced growth (see graph below). But liberal Protestantism in many ways exemplifies the best of what religion could be: it’s tolerant of differences, non-judgmental, open to scientific knowledge. Good stuff, right? So why is it that the open-minded liberal churches are dying out?
Golly gee willickers, it has to be painful to be this clueless. “Liberal Protestantism in many ways exemplifies the best of what religion could be,” only to someone who has absolutely no idea what religion actually is.
I guess I’m going to have to try to dumb this down even further and for the sake of brevity, I’m going to stick with the monotheistic religions but these principles apply to all religions. So here goes not much of anything.
Once they accept that, they’re kind of forced to accept three more concepts. Even if they never figure out what it is, there’s a reason why they’re here; after all, if you’re talented enough to speak existence into existence, why would Christopher Johnsons ever just sort of randomly turn up?
So if you’re here for a reason, even if you never ever understand what that reason is until you die, if then, does that not imply that the God who deliberately made you exist feels that your existence is important? And if your existence is important, does that not rather obligate you to try to live the way the God who made you exist wants you to live?
You can’t do that as well as you want to, of course. God, in His mercy, understands that and has provided vehicles of escape, the most sensible and efficacious being, according to this Christian, that vehicle provided by the Christian religion. That fellow on the Cross.
Well, I guess this was inevitable, at least I am sure that faithful readers of this blog will think that it was inevitable! Every year my little town has a festival, Dwight Harvest Days. We draw tens of thousands of visitors from all around for parades, a flea market, a craft show, rides, a 5k run, and many, many other events.
This year, I have arranged, well I should say the Dwight Rotary Club, of which I have been a member for 28 years, has arranged, for Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller to bring their presentations of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln to the Dwight High School Auditorium on September 21, 2013 at 7:00 PM. The presentation is free and I think we will have a huge turnout, especially among students.
I have long followed the career of Mr. Krebs and I believe he is the king of Lincoln presenters. Some samples of his work: Continue reading