The Slave Bible at Museum of the Bible

I can’t say that Washington DC’s Museum of the Bible is a museum I’d have given much thought to visiting, but through September, they’re hosting an exhibition on the Slave Bible. It’s a fascinating piece of history, and worth checking out if you’re in town.

The Slave Bible, as it would become known, is a missionary book. It was originally published in London in 1807 on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of enslaved Africans toiling in Britain’s lucrative Caribbean colonies. They used the Slave Bible to teach enslaved Africans how to read while at the same time introducing them to the Christian faith. Unlike other missionary Bibles, however, the Slave Bible contained only “select parts” of the biblical text. Its publishers deliberately removed portions of the biblical text, such as the exodus story, that could inspire hope for liberation. Instead, the publishers emphasized portions that justified and fortified the system of slavery that was so vital to the British Empire.

Source: The Slave Bible: Let the Story Be Told | Museum of the Bible

How Abraham Lincoln helped rig the Senate for Republicans 

The modern conclusions drawn here are very questionable, but the Civil War history was pretty edifying: I knew that Lincoln had pushed through the statehood for a couple of states, but the political impact had never been fully clear until reading this.

This largely forgotten act of line-drawing enabled one of the most consequential gerrymanders in American history. Because the virtually unpopulated Nevada became its own territory, Republicans could admit it as a state just four years later. That gave the Party of Lincoln two extra seats in the Senate — helping prevent Democrats from simultaneously controlling the White House and both houses of Congress until 1893.

Nor was this selective admission of the Republican state of Nevada an isolated case. Among other things, the reason why there are two Dakotas — despite the fact that both states are so underpopulated that they each only rate a single member of the House of Representatives to this day — is because Republicans won the 1888 election and decided to celebrate by giving themselves four senators instead of just two.

Source: The forgotten history of how Abraham Lincoln helped rig the Senate for Republicans – ThinkProgress

Winfield Scott’s Transgender Horse

I’m a city slicker, unfamiliar enough with horses that I can’t see anything wrong with Winfield Scott’s statue. Clearly critics of the time were better versed, and this amusing WaPo article delves into their complaints, as well as other statue-based quirks.

Brown began work on Scott’s statue in Philadelphia, using bronze from cannons the general had seized in the Mexican-American War. Scott often rode a mare into battle, so Brown, known for his artistic realism, placed the general atop a small female horse. That didn’t sit well with Scott’s relatives, who wanted the general portrayed on a heroic-looking charger. So they pleaded with Brown to add some “stallion attributes” to the steed.

Brown grumbled but reluctantly complied. Sort of. He added a small male sexual “appendage” to the small female horse. Suddenly, she became a he.

Source: The general’s horse wasn’t manly enough. So the sculptor gave the mare a makeover. – The Washington Post

Making the Monument

Dissent Magazine reviews without reviewing Harold Holzer’s book on the Lincoln Monument sculptor, Daniel Chester French. No complaints here – they’ve offered an interesting article.

It was within this neoclassical setting, inspired by the Parthenon, that French had to place his Lincoln. For a brief time, there was talk of installing an enlarged version of Saint-Gaudens’s Standing Lincoln, inside Bacon’s Memorial, and French himself entertained the idea of sculpting a version of the Lincoln he had done for the Nebraska Capitol. But soon it became clear to Bacon and French that only an original statue of Lincoln would be suitable for the Lincoln Memorial rising on the National Mall.

What French arrived at was a concept entirely different from the Lincolns that he and Saint-Gaudens had already done. French’s Lincoln was no longer a politician pondering the future. He was a president sure of the future. “What I wanted to convey was the mental and physical strength of the great war President and his confidence in his ability to carry the thing through to a successful finish,” French would say. His decision to portray a transcendent Lincoln gazing at the capitol at the other end of the mall reflected this view, and so did the scale of his statue, which stood nineteen feet high and weighed over two hundred tons. Had French’s Lincoln risen from his chair, he would have been thirty feet tall.

Source: Making the Monument | Dissent Magazine

West Virginia’s thousands of unclaimed medals

I try to avoid Fox “News” stories, but this one is intriguing and well-presented. West Virginia has made a push to connect Civil War veterans’ descendants with their ancestors medals.

A year after the Civil War ended, West Virginia authorized the minting of more than 26,000 medals to honor the state’s soldiers that served in the Union Army. More than 150 years later, however, thousands of those medals are still unclaimed.

Randy Marcum, a historian at the West Virginia State Archives, told Fox News that 3,392 medals remain in the state’s possession. A large number of Civil War veterans, he explained, were simply unaware of their existence, as were generations of their descendants.

“A lot of these folks, straight after the war, they went out West,” he said, noting that the newly created state of West of Virginia was a turbulent place in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. While more than 26,0000 West Virginians served in the Union ranks, it is estimated that over 10,000 served in the Confederacy’s forces.

Source: Civil War puzzle: West Virginia urges veterans’ descendants to collect thousands of unclaimed medals | Fox News

The politics of touch

A brief but interesting article about the history of handshaking, with particular emphasis on Lincoln’s use of it as a political tool. Amazing to think that something as commonplace as handshaking has a history!

Lincoln was a prodigious handshaker, and it added to his reputation as an egalitarian, common man, one literally and figuratively in touch with the people.

A marathon handshaking session in New York in February 1861 as president-elect left him with hurt hands. Just after his election as president, according to J. G. Holland in 1866, Lincoln met with crowds whose “hand-shaking … was something fearful” with “Every man in the crowd … anxious to wrench the hand of Abraham Lincoln. He finally gave both hands to the work, with great good nature.”

Source: Abraham Lincoln, Joe Biden and the politics of touch

Civil War fathers’ trauma was passed on to sons

A strange study by UCLA. I’m not much of a scientist, but it feels as though their Civil War related findings are a bit slim. Meanwhile, the nutritional health of the mother played a huge role in the longevity of their children, but that part gets shunted to later in the end of the summary.

The study examined the records of 2,342 children of 732 POWs during the no-exchange period, 2,416 children of 715 POWs from the period when exchanges were common, and 15,145 children of 4,920 non-POW veterans. All of the children were born after 1866 and survived to at least age 45.

One of the most interesting findings was that sons born during the later months of the year to men who were POWs during the decline in conditions of Confederate camps fared better than sons who were born earlier in the year. Costa said that’s most likely because the mothers of the later time of year births had better access to nutrition during their pregnancies.

Among sons born in the fourth quarter to mothers with adequate nutrition during their pregnancies, there was no difference in the eventual death rates between sons of POWs and sons of non-POWS. In contrast, among sons born in the second quarter, when maternal nutrition was inadequate, the sons of ex-POWs who experienced severe hardship during captivity were 1.2 times more likely to die than the sons of ex-POWs who fared better in captivity and non-POWs.

Source: Civil War data reveals that fathers’ trauma can be passed on to sons | UCLA

How Cinco de Mayo Helped Prevent a Confederate Victory

A look at Cinco de Mayo, and the effect it had on the war raging in the USA.

Hayes Bautista says California Latinos were ardent Union supporters. When their home countries won independence from Spain, they had unilaterally abolished slavery and established citizenship for non-whites. Now living in California, a free state, they saw the pro-slavery Confederacy as an existential threat. When reports reached Los Angeles of Zaragoza’s victory against the French, Latinos made the Civil War connection immediately.

“In 1862, things weren’t going well for the Union in the Civil War, but here in Puebla was a clear-cut victory that completely threw the French timetable off,” says Hayes-Bautista. “The news reports just electrified Latinos and jolted them to a whole new level of organization and activity.”

Source: How Cinco de Mayo Helped Prevent a Confederate Victory in the Civil War

Why We Need a New Civil War Documentary

This article by Smithsonian mag reached me at a very opportune time. I am a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary series, and had it running in the background for the umpteenth time last weekend as I worked. For some reason, after dozens of viewings, this was the first time that I really noticed the documentary’s conciliatory and controversial nature. In the 30 years since it was released, a lot more scholarship has been conducted, the Lost Cause myths have finally been seriously questioned, and society at large has started to push back against the traditional Southern narratives. I still love the series for its emotional core and excellent production values, but I agree with this author that we’re due for an updated look at the war and its aftermath.

By focusing on a type of military history wherein all sides can be seen as—in some way—heroic, “The Civil War” allows us, as white Americans, to forget about the reasons why we were fighting in the first place. It allows us to focus only on an antiseptic form of history that makes us feel good, on a narrative that emotionally relieves us of sins that should not be relieved. It allows us to convince ourselves that the dishonorable were in some way honorable; it reassures our sense of selves as inculpable white Americans; it allows us a psychological pass for the sins of our forefathers.

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Nat Turner’s slave rebellion ruins are disappearing in Virginia

An interesting push by a county in Virginia to preserve and present historical artifacts and sites where Nat Turner’s rebellion took place. As the last quote in the article states, “Just because something bad may have happened at a place, or something that was distasteful, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be kept.”

Until recently, the all-white county historical society was uncertain how to handle its macabre legacy. Within the past 10 years, though, as popular interest in Turner’s story has grown — including through the controversial 2016 film “Birth of a Nation” — attitudes have loosened.

Work is underway to establish slave-insurrection-history trails: a walking route in Courtland and a driving tour through the southwest corner of the county where the rebellion took place.

Source: Nat Turner’s slave rebellion ruins are disappearing in Virginia – The Washington Post