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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “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.
- 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.
- 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!