Dishonest Abe

This story is related in Team of Rivals, but Atlas Obscura provides more detail than Doris Kearns Goodwin did! Here’s an episode from Lincoln’s life that is less glorious and noble than some of his other deeds. Turns out, Honest Abe wasn’t great at letting lovers down easy.

In the end, Mary ghosted him. Lincoln concluded his last letter to her stating, “If it suits you best to not answer this, farewell. A long life and a merry one attend you.” She never replied. This left Lincoln smarting. He later claimed, “My vanity was deeply wounded… that she whom I had taught myself to believe no body else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness.”

Source: A Breakup Tip From Abraham Lincoln: Just Tell Her Your Town Is Terrible – Atlas Obscura

Civil War gossip

Ely S. Parker is known to history as the man who handwrote the terms of surrender formally accepted by Lee. I’d read a little about him, but I’d never noticed this scurrilous gossip which had Washington tongues wagging in 1867! Move over, Kardashians!

Washington was not content only to gossip about the wedding. Its residents came to see it for themselves. On Dec. 17, the Church of the Epiphany was crammed with onlookers. Sackett donned her wedding gown, and Grant arrived.

But the groom never showed.

Source: Civil War romance: The interracial marriage of white woman, Indian man

Uncertainty surrounds Abraham Lincoln’s early years

Was Lincoln’s family dirt-poor, or were they on a par with most of the families in that region? And what was Thomas Lincoln’s work ethic? This article, featuring comments from Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame, made me question facts I didn’t know I had to question about Lincoln’s youth.

Another mystery is Lincoln’s father. The question is “whether his father was an industrious and responsible fellow or rather shiftless,” Burlingame says. “I fall into the latter category in interpretation because there’s so much testimony from his neighbors and relatives (that) he was basically a good-natured fellow, but he was not ambitious, and he discouraged his son from acquiring an education, really wasn’t very close to his son and didn’t treat him very well.”

Source: Uncertainty surrounds Abraham Lincoln’s early years

Frederick Douglass on Chinese Immigration

Another great article from the reliably great Immigrant’s Civil War blog. Here’s Frederick Douglass speaking on the post-bellum efforts to curb Chinese immigration.

Douglass declared that the people of the United States were not racially, ethnically, or religiously homogeneous. Americans, he argued, are a “composite nation,” a people made up from many peoples. In recognition of this fact, he declared, “we should welcome to our ample continent all nations, …tongues and peoples; and as fast as they learn our language and comprehend the duties of citizenship, we should incorporate them into the American body politic. The outspread wings of the American eagle are broad enough to shelter all who are likely to come.”

Source: When a Ban on the Chinese Was Proposed and Frederick Douglass Spoke Out – Long Island Wins

Meigs’s Red Barn

I was lucky enough to be able to visit the old Pension Office on my last trip to Washington. It now housing an Engineering museum, but I got to sneak in quickly during setup for an event and take a few pictures of the massive columns inside. This blogger has taken far more – and far better – photos than I managed, and provides some excellent history on the construction and architecture of the building, which was all done under the eye of former Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. It’s a magnificent building, and well worth a visit if you’re in the DC area.

Meigs insisted that the mule driver be an African American; he wrote to Buberl, “Most of the drivers of Baggage Wagons were freedmen Blacks….By all means make the driver a Negro full blooded….I leave all the clothes to your taste, but he must be a Negro, a plantation slave, freed by the war.” (See Testaments to Union.)

Source: Landmarks: Meigs’s Red Barn

History professor nominated for Lincoln Prize

The Lincoln Prize was awarded last month, and this year’s winner sounds fascinating:

“Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War–Era South,” made her one of the five authors nominated for the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.

Sommerville began thinking about writing the book, which focuses on mental health in the 19th century American South, after she tried and failed to find scholarly information about mental illness during the era…

The Lincoln Prize is awarded annually for the best historical, nonfiction work on the Civil War. Throughout her book, Sommerville examines the ways class and race influence mental health issues by examining how they coincided with a period of collective suffering. She argues that in the period following the Civil War, suicide within white communities in the South started to be seen as a valorous act, while black communities saw an opposite effect, with African Americans being labeled manic and dangerous when they struggled with mental health.

Source: History professor nominated for Lincoln Prize – Pipe Dream

“Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments”

I wasn’t able to blog much in 2017, and subsequently missed much of the furore over the Confederate monuments being removed from public spots. I’m catching up on some of these arguments in The Atlantic. I particularly liked this suggestion of removing the monuments, but leaving the empty pedestals behind to foster discussion.

That summer, I traveled for the first time to Prague, in the former Soviet-bloc country of Czechoslovakia. I noticed almost immediately the concrete foundations and empty pedestals where monuments to communist leaders once stood. Some statues had been relocated to museums, while others were destroyed; skate boarders and sunbathers had since claimed their spot.

Source: Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments – The Atlantic

Civil War-Era Musical in SF

Readers in the San Francisco Bay area should note there’s a new stage show currently playing at the Berkeley Rep Theatre. It’s profiled in the NYTimes, though the focus is on the fact that its producer is Garth Drabinsky – a name we Canadians know and note less for his lavish productions than for the criminal activities of his production company! That said, his productions were always of excellent quality, and seeing as how Stephen Foster’s music is heavily used, this would be a must-see for me.

“It’s about two brutalized peoples, Irish and African-American, one fleeing famine, and one fleeing slavery, who meet in the Five Points, and, for a brief moment, change the flow of American history, until America catches up with it,” Mr. Kirwan said. “It’s not kumbaya, but it happened, and that’s what’s hopeful about it.”

It has a score that is at once familiar and new: rearranged and re-lyricized songs of Stephen Foster, the 19th-century composer celebrated for his contributions to early American pop music but criticized for his work on minstrel shows. Foster spent the final months of his life in the Five Points neighborhood, and is a prominent and problematic character in the show — talented but often untruthful, ambitious but often intoxicated.

Source: The Producer Has a History. So Does This Civil War-Era Musical. – The New York Times

Alabama Claims

An article about Grant’s Chief Justice nomination made an offhand mention of the reparations Britain paid after the Civil War. I haven’t done enough reading about the post-bellum period, and the Alabama Claims were news to me. It’s a pretty fascinating little footnote in history, not least because it involves a fast-tracking of British Columbia’s entry into Confederation.

After international arbitration endorsed the American position in 1872, Britain settled the matter by paying the United States $15.5 million, ending the dispute and leading to a treaty that restored friendly relations between Britain and the United States. That international arbitration established a precedent, and the case aroused interest in codifying public international law.

Source: Alabama Claims – Wikipedia

Looking Back On The First Government Shutdown

On the eve of the latest government shutdown ending, NPR takes a look back to the first shutdown, which also had its roots in racism. Plus ça change, America? I’m filing this blog post under “reenactments”.

GONZALEZ: At the time, African-American men were allowed to vote, but they tended to vote Republican. So Democrats didn’t want them voting. Sometimes, it resulted in violence at the polls. And the government would send troops. Nineteenth-century Democrats hated this. So when they gained control of Congress 14 years after the Civil War, they come up with this idea.

RICHARDSON: Simply starve the government until they did what we wanted by holding a gun to the head of the Treasury.

GONZALEZ: Fund the courts and the Army but only if the government stops protecting black voters.

RICHARDSON: There are a number of cartoons in the newspapers about how the Confederates have taken back over Washington and how they are deliberately starving the United States Treasury the same way that they starved Union prisoners.

Source: Looking Back On The First Government Shutdown In U.S. History : NPR