Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Thinkin’ Lincoln

Thanks to the staff at the American Civil War Center at Tredegar as well as the University of Richmond for hosting what was by any measure a first-rate conference.  Special thanks go out to Mark Howell who organized the sessions and for inviting me to take part in the conference.  It was a true honor to be included in such a fine list of Lincoln scholars and Southern historians.  I am not going to try to summarize the entire conference in one post; instead, I am going to take the time to think about some of the things I heard and offer reflections in the coming weeks.  I do hope, however, to offer a summary of Ed Ayers’s keynote address, which included a new digital project that Ayers and others are now working on at the University of Richmond.

The most enjoyable parts of these gatherings is the opportunity to interact with talented scholars.  For me it was a chance to finally meet James McPherson.  Although I only spoke with him briefly it was nice to shake the hand of a man whose scholarship helped to fuel my interest in the subject and continues to frame many of the questions that drive my own research.  I can explain to you just how important his body of scholarship is to the field, but you don’t really get a feel for it until you attend one of these conferences.  Throughout the weekend speakers acknowledged McPherson’s role in shaping their own thinking on various topics as well as his generosity and encouragement.   You also get a sense of just how many historians were trained by McPherson and who went on to respectable careers in their own right.  I also spent time talking with historian and fellow blogger, Brian Dirck.  Brian is a hell of a nice guy and his presentation was particularly interesting and one that I will comment on at some point soon.  Sorry for sounding a bit over the top, but some people get excited about sports personalities while others get excited about historians.

In addition to meeting McPherson I had a wonderful time talking with Elizabeth Brown Pryor about her recent biography of Lee as well as the range of responses to it.  I also enjoyed chatting with Frank Milligan, who is the director of the Lincoln Cottage in Silver Spring, Maryland and look forward to the opportunity to work with teachers on the cottage grounds.  On Friday evening I had a wonderful dinner with Frank Milligan, Michael Burlingame, Manisha Sinha, and Leslie Rowland.

My teaching session yesterday morning went well.  We had a small group of educators and we spent the time talking about how we go about teaching Lincoln and the difficulties involved in moving beyond some of our own biases that may have been learned early on in our own lives.  It was a nice change of pace from the conference proceedings and gave me a great deal to think about in terms of my own teaching.  Thanks to everyone who attended.

On a different note, I noticed that the average number of visitors per day has topped 1,000.  I don’t know what this means relative to other Civil War/history blogs; perhaps I am being blown out of the water in this regard.  Still, it seems fitting to use it as an excuse to thank each and every one of you for making Civil War Memory part of your daily routine.

“Sic Semper Tyrannis”

22th Regt. U.S. Colored TroopsBanner for the 22th Regt. U.S. Colored Troops, by David Bustill Bowser. Organized at Philadelphia in January 1864, the 22nd U. S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment lost 217 men during the last year of the Civil War. David Bustill Bowser was a self-taught black artis; he designed regimental flags for eleven African-American units and also painted portraits of Abraham Lincoln and John Brown.

Bowswer sent the 127th and 3rd regiments off to war carrying banners reading “We will prove ourselves men” and “Rather Die Freemen, Than Live To Be Slaves.” The 45th’s banner, proclaimed “One Cause, One Country,” while the 24th’s banner depicts a black soldier ascending a hill, his arms outstretched in prayer, beneath the words “Let Soldiers in War, Be Citizens in Peace.”

What I find interesting about this particular image is that Bowser utilized the Virginia state motto before Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865.  We almost automatically associate this phrase with Booth’s deed.  The Confederate has tossed aside his sword and flag and must await his fate, which is now in the hands of what I assume to be a former slave.  The tables are now turned and both the future of this Confederate soldier and of the South rest in the hands of those who were once oppressed.  This is a very powerful example of the emancipationist legacy of the Civil War.

Note: Assuming that the soldier is a former slave than this is also an interesting example of The South v. The South theme.

[Image from Library of Congress]

Getting Right With Lincoln or Getting Lincoln Right

It’s comforting to be looking at an entire week off from school.  Of course, I’ve got plenty to do, such as writing three entries for Encyclopedia Virginia as well as a bit of work on my Crater manuscript.  As I mentioned last week, I will also be leading a discussion for around 25 teachers at the ACW Museum’s “Lincoln and the South” conference this coming weekend in Richmond.

This is not a formal presentation.  I simply need to come up with a theme or set of questions to get the ball rolling and, hopefully, the participants will steer it from there.  So, here’s what I got.  In my last post I suggested that we might look at the biases that our students bring to the classroom as well as the intellectual/cultural baggage that we as teachers bring to the study of Lincoln.  I’ve decided to concentrate on the latter.  I am proceeding on the assumption that we can’t address the former question until we better understand how we as teachers approach Lincoln. One of the things I noticed during my recent TAH sessions was the difficulty that some of the teachers had with the subject of the Civil War and memory.  At times, I actually thought they were projecting their own biases and anxieties onto their students.

With this in mind, my plan is to concentrate specifically on how we teach Lincoln and race/slavery.  We will begin the session with a very short handout that includes four brief excerpts from Lincoln on the subject. Two will reveal Lincoln’s harsh views on race and colonization while the other two will highlight his consistent views on the immorality of slavery and its incompatibility with this nation’s founding ideals.

Just as historians do, teachers make choices of what to teach and emphasize in their courses.  I suspect that when it comes to some of the more controversial moments in American history that those choices are influenced by factors that extend beyond the desire for balance and “historical truth.”  In the case of Lincoln we might be talking about having grown up with ideas of the “Great Emancipator” or an image that emphasized his belief in the inequality of the races.  Either way it is likely that such a background will shape the way we present Lincoln in class.  What I am ultimately hoping for is that we can have a frank discussion about the difficulties and challenges involved in discussing the issue of Lincoln and race in the classroom beginning with our own anxieties.  How can we identify our own biases and are there strategies that can be employed that can help us move beyond them?

Please feel free to add your own ideas.  Perhaps this plan makes no sense at all.

So Who Should Lincoln Have Chosen in 1864?

Brian Dirck just finished a series of posts on Abraham Lincoln’s greatest “flubs.”  Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Brian singled out Lincoln’s choice of Andrew Johnson as his vice-presidential candidate as his greatest flub.  Seems reasonable given what transpired following Lincoln’s assassination and Johnson’s opposition to the Radical Republican’s preferred vision of Reconstruction.  Of course, Lincoln could not have know that he would fall victim to an assassins bullet leaving the White House in the hands of a Unionist who proved to be hostile to the idea of black civil rights.  The whole question, however, hinges on the assumption that another choice would have led to a different outcome.  Well, of course it would [Imagine that somehow Thadeus Stevens got the nod and that somehow Lincoln managed to win.], but as Elektratig [click here for his blog] noted in the comments, what if we stay within the political parameters that governed the choice:

So who, then, should Lincoln have chosen? I’m assuming we keep to the same parameters: a Democrat or very “conservative” Republican, from a border state or (if no other choice) the “lower” north.

What a wonderful question and one that I’ve never really considered.  The commenter is forcing us to keep in mind the political considerations that would have shaped the choice of Lincoln (to whatever extent he was actually involved) and the Republican Party.

I’m not a big fan of counterfactuals, but this one is certainly intriguing.  In what way would the short-term effects have been different given the choice?  And in light of my recent post on Marc Egnal’s new book, how might the long-term consequences have been different?  Finally, does careful reflection about this counterfactual force us to shift our popular memory of Andrew Johnson in any way?