WTF? Author Edits Lincoln

24 01 2011

I enjoy Thomas Lowry’s books.  I think of them as the People magazine of Civil War literature, and not in a bad way.  You can read the books in short bursts, putting them down for a while and returning to them later without losing the “flow” of single narrative works. But this is just too much – via the National Archives Facebook page I learn that Dr. Lowry has admitted to changing the date on a pardon issued by Abraham Lincoln in order to give it more importance than it would otherwise have (though I imagine to the subject of the pardon and his heirs, if any, the importance of said date is secondary).  Here’s the story from a National Archives press release, and here’s a video explaining what happened:

Sure enough, the document is in Basler, on page 298 of Vol. VII, with the correct date.  It’s been there since 1953.  Can this be any more blatant?  And how could it have been missed by NARA and Lincoln scholars for thirteen years?  While Dr. Lowry no doubt deserves the approbation sure to be heaped upon him, there are a lot of other folks who look foolish right about now.

This will of course call into question the accuracy – the honesty – of all Dr. Lowry’s work.

Update – denials from the doctor here.  Thanks to Kevin.

About these ads

Actions

Information

18 responses

24 01 2011
Russell S. Bonds

On your latter point, Harry, it occurs to me that some poor National Archives staffer will now be charged with spending the next several months poring over with a magnifying glass every collection Lowry ever looked at.

24 01 2011
Brett Schulte

Wow. I’ve read one or tow of Lowry’s books myself. I cannot ever imagine changing a historical document for my own personal gain. That is incredibly disappointing, as as Russ mentioned, the obvious next question is, “What else has this guy changed?”

24 01 2011
Will Hickox

Is that the actual document? The forged “5″ looks rather obvious to me.

25 01 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Yes, it’s the actual document (magnified a few times, of course).

24 01 2011
Falsifying the Historical Record: Thomas P. Lowry | Crossroads

[...] where authors unknowingly incorporated these false findings into their work.  Harry Smeltzer deplores what Lowry did, but he can’t resist the following dig: “And how could it have been [...]

25 01 2011
Craig Swain

With all due respect to the professional historians and archivists chiming in on the topic, the more I read on this news item, the more it sounds like a tempest in a teapot.

The change of date caused no major revisions of our interpretation of history. At best, we will change the answer to a trivia question. Nobody got injured by Lowry’s action, save perhaps Lowry himself (or a few staffers at the Archives who might answer for the slip in security). In the end, the historical record was set straight. A “Lincoln” paper has a smudge on it. And that’s about it?

I can think of two other incidents involving the National Archives where significant damage was done – I’m talking national security, people’s lives placed at risk, and major links in the historical record completely lost – from the last five years.

25 01 2011
Will Hickox

Couldn’t agree with you less. Suppose the NA staffer had decided not to act on his suspicions? The historical record would not have been set straight, the false date would have remained a fact, and the forger a hero for making the “discovery.” As someone who has done research in that truly remarkable collection called the National Archives–and has felt the thrill of holding a document written in the hand of someone I’ve researched–I’m a little surprised to see you wave off this defacement of a historical document for the perpetrator’s own fame as a mere “smudge.”

No one, however (as far as I can tell) is suggesting that this violation was/is more serious than the incidents you mention.

25 01 2011
Chris Evans

I totally agree Will. That is not right what he did in trying to change the historical record. Some other person could be encouraged by his dastardly example to try to change other things from American and World history. He is a fraud for changing the date and should be ashamed. It is not a little deal when dealing with Lincoln and American history.
Chris

25 01 2011
Craig Swain

How so? As pointed out here and elsewhere, the record was already set and published in a compilation of the Lincoln files some decades earlier. As several distinguished historians have pointed out at length in the last two days, nobody in academia even considered Lowry’s interpretation seriously (or at least that is the line they are using today).

What we have here is vandalism, to be sure, but nothing that shakes the foundation of the historical record. If you believe otherwise, please explain how this one little document somehow changes the way we view Lincoln, his last day, or anything that happened between 1861 and 1865. And I’m not asking for some high level generalization. Be specific. Why is this document important to anyone, save perhaps autograph collectors?

25 01 2011
Will Hickox

Whether or not this document changes our view of Lincoln isn’t the issue. The issue is that it’s an original Lincoln document that was apparently modified by a trusted researcher in pursuit of kudos, increased publicity and possibly money.

Another issue lies in the fact that “the record was already set and published in a compilation of the Lincoln files some decades earlier,” as you point out, and yet nobody until very recently appears to have checked the original against that compilation.

26 01 2011
Craig Swain

And do you believe that every document “on record” or in the archives lays in an unaltered state?

Better still, to properly place this incident in perspective, do a web search for “Sandy Berger” and “9/11 Commission”. I’ll stop my comment at that because as the next logical points edge close to our host’s rules for behavior.

26 01 2011
Chris Evans

It should be important to the American people that some rascal is going into the National Archives and changing original Lincoln documents for his own self glory.
Chris

26 01 2011
Brooks D. Simpson

Craig, I would not say “nobody.” Never would have. Some people were apparently quite thrilled. Others simply never heard about it until this week.

25 01 2011
The Lowry Kerfuffle « Bull Runnings

[...] this post I linked to stories about Thomas P. Lowry and his apparent doctoring of an Abraham Lincoln [...]

26 01 2011
Dick Stanley

That’s just incredible, that anyone would change a date on a historical document. He must have snuck the pen in since all the archives I’ve ever been in refuse to let you have anything but a pencil and a few sheets of paper.

Of course they rely on your honor and if you have none, as Lowry apparently has none, then you could do anything. But what insolence, rewriting Lincoln.

27 01 2011
Harold Holzer’s Excellent Diversion | Crossroads

[...] that Mr. Holzer calls Dr. Lowry “this gifted scholar.”  Recall what Harry Smeltzer said on Bull Runnings: “While Dr. Lowry no doubt deserves the approbation sure to be heaped upon [...]

27 01 2011
Was AL More Like GBM Than HUG? « Bull Runnings

[...] recent flood of posts on various blogs resulting from the Lowry controversy has been fascinating.  Now there’s one out there that’s tangential but tantalizing [...]

20 02 2011
Thomas Lowry’s Version of Events « Bull Runnings

[...] blogger Drew Wagenhoffer passed along the information that Dr. Thomas Lowry (see here and here) has started a WordPress site presenting his side of the whole National Archives [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 781 other followers

%d bloggers like this: