I still don’t get what is so wrong with this shirt that Eric Wittenberg found in the gift shop at the Gettysburg Visitor Center. At first I thought that Lincoln was reacting to a gun shot, which would seem inappropriate, but I quickly realized that “Old Abe” was kickin’ some new dance moves. It’s a pretty hip design and what’s more American than having some fun with our historical figures. In fact, I am going to purchase one next time I am in Gettysburg.
Which reminds me, I am going to be in Gettysburg in July as a participant in this summer’s Civil War Preservation Trust workshop for teachers. On Saturday night I am taking part in a roundtable discussion on the role of technology and social networking tools in the classroom. Check out the website and register for what promises to be a dynamite list of talks and tours of the Gettysburg battlefield.
I know that Professor Clyde Wilson is widely known for his involvement with a number of institutions associated with the neo-Confederate movement such as the League of the South, but this guy was trained as an undergraduate and graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina. He wrote his dissertation at UNC and went on to write a couple of pretty respectable books, including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew. Wilson is best known academically for his work on editing the John Calhoun Papers. I guess what I am getting at is that behind what I can only describe as a commitment to expressing a conservative world view through these organizations there is a well-trained historian.
I have no problem with Wilson wanting to express his political views, but it is incredibly disturbing to see him sacrificing his integrity as a historian to do so? Consider the following quiz that has been attributed to Wilson at the Confederate Digest site. [Update: I didn’t notice but the source is Lew Rockwell.]
What American President launched a massive invasion of another country that posed no threat, and without a declaration of war?
What President raised a huge army at his own will without the approval of Congress?
What President started a war of choice in violation of every principle of Christian just war teaching?
What President said that he had to violate the Constitution in order to save it?
What President declared the elected legislatures of thirteen States to be “combinations” of criminals that he had to suppress?
What President said he was indifferent to slavery but would use any force necessary to collect taxes?
What President sent combat troops from the battlefield to bombard and occupy New York City?
What President sent the Army to arrest in the middle of the night thousands of private citizens for expressing their opinions? And held them incommunicado in military prisons with total denial of due process of law? And had his soldiers destroy newspaper plants?
What President was the first ruler in the civilized world to make medicine a contraband of war?
What President signed for his cronies special licenses to purchase valuable cotton from an enemy country even though he had forbidden such trade and punished other people for the same practice?
What President refused medical care and food to his own soldiers held by the enemy country?
What President presided over the bombardment and house-by-house destruction of cities and towns that were undefended and not military targets?
What President’s forces deliberately targeted women and children and destroyed their housing, food supply, and private belongings?
What President’s occupying forces engaged in imprisonment, torture, and execution of civilians and seizing them as hostages?
Under what President did the Army have the largest number of criminals, mercenaries, and foreigners?
Who was the first American President to plot the assassination of an opposing head of state?
Who had the least affiliation with Christianity of any American President and blamed God for starting the war over which he presided?
What President voted for and praised a law which forbade black people from settling in his State?
What President said that all black people should be expelled from the United States because they could never be full-fledged citizens?
What President was the first to force citizens to accept as legal money pieces of paper unbacked by gold or silver?
Who was the first President to institute an income tax?
Who was the first President to pile up a national debt too vast to be paid off in a generation?
Who is considered almost universally as the greatest American President, indeed as the greatest American of all times and as a world hero of democracy?
What predecessor is President Obama most often compared to?
Of course, the answer to all of these questions is Abraham Lincoln. Again, I have no problem with Wilson wanting to express his political views. Honestly, I could care less about his broader world view. What I don’t believe is that these questions accurately reflect his understanding of Lincoln and the broader issues related to the Civil War. The questions are simply too childish and uninformed to be an honest reflection of Wilson’s understanding of the relevant history. In short, I don’t believe you, Clyde Wilson.
This exhibition takes you inside the highest levels of the United States government as Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet struggle with the momentous issue of war. Restricted to the information they possessed at the time, you will confront the perplexities and options they faced during the first weeks of Lincoln’s presidency — and decide for yourself if they made the right choices…
Following the approach so skillfully employed by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her critically acclaimed book Team of Rivals, the exhibition uses the experiences of Lincoln’s closest advisors to illuminate Lincoln’s leadership. A combination of compelling artifacts, images, and audio/visual presentations introduces you to the powerful personalities who advised the President and brings to life those fateful days when a divided nation teetered on the brink… then toppled into the dark abyss of civil war… [emphasis in the original]
My question or concern has more to do with the explicit connection with Goodwin and the title of her book. I should point out that I have very little understanding of how exhibitions are put together beyond my brief work with the staff at Monticello.
It’s not surprising to me that Goodwin would be involved in an exhibit that features the decisions made by Lincoln and his cabinet on the eve of war and given the popularity of her book it seems appropriate that she would serve as a “personal guide” through the exhibit. That said, for some reason I have trouble with the title of the exhibit; it smacks of crass commericialism and leaves the visitor with the impression that the exhibit is the result of one individual. More troubling is that the visitor is likely to believe that the exhibit is based on Goodwin’s interpretation and conclusions. Of course, I have no way of answering such questions. I must assume that the exhibit is the result of a collaboration between historians, curators, and archivists. Did Goodwin have overarching control and influence that would justify such a title? Again, I have no way of knowing. I would be very interested to know the extent of Goodwin’s involvement in the development of this exhibit.
Is there any precedent for this? Does anyone else have similar concerns or are my worries completely off base? What do you think?