Was AL More Like GBM Than HUG?

27 01 2011

The 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 – tangentializing?  Check out Dmitri’s riff on Crossroads’ retort to Opinionator’s opinion.  It’s a shame that Dmitri doesn’t allow comments (that’s his right, of course), but if you want to express your thoughts – recognizing they be thoughts on the post and not knee-jerk reactions to the poster and whatever you suspect his motivations to be – feel free to comment away!  I know this is supposed to be my blog, and you may think it inappropriate for me to entertain a discussion of another blogger’s post, but hell, it IS my blog and I can do whatever I want, so there.





The Lowry Kerfuffle

25 01 2011

Update: For anyone who thinks that by asking how this fraud slipped by for so long I’m being too harsh or judgmental, check out Harold Holzer’s comments on the New York Times blog Opinionator.  Yikes!!!

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In this post I linked to stories about Thomas P. Lowry and his apparent doctoring of an Abraham Lincoln pardon.  Needless to say the topic has been burning up the blogosphere, Facebook, and discussion groups the past two days.  Dr. Lowry and his wife now deny having committed the act despite a signed confession.  While history is rife with confessions signed falsely under duress, I’m not Oliver Stone and things don’t look good for the doctor.  But anything is possible, and John Coski is willing to give Lowry the benefit of the doubt.

I wondered aloud how such a fraud could have gone undetected under the circumstances (those circumstances being the long-time inclusion of the document in Basler’s edition of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln and the association of the fraudulently dated document with perhaps the most studied day in Lincoln’s life and one of the most studied days in American history).  Most accept that Dr. Lowry’s motivation was to gain some fame by the “discovery” of the document, yet at the same time many claim that it was such a minor blip – after all, it didn’t really change anything we already knew about Lincoln – that hardly anyone, and certainly no one important, even noticed at the time it was made, despite the NARA press release.  Some have said that another reason the discovery went unnoticed was that Dr. Lowry received little attention from mainstream historians, yet the book in which the doctor doctored document was used received the endorsement (I know, a blurb is a blurb is a blurb and I don’t expect blurbers to have gone over every footnote with a fine tooth comb) of a mucky-muck in a Lincoln scholar organization and another from an established historian who also wrote its foreword.

In various forums, my questioning of how the fraud went undetected at the time and took 13 years to correct (kudos again to the folks at NARA – better late than never) has resulted in accusations that I am flinging out a red herring to deflect blame from Dr. Lowry (whom I do not know) – I’ve maintained from the outset that he deserves whatever he gets.  Seems like a strawman red herring (a straw-herring?), though both those terms are so over- and mis-used they’ve become meaningless to me.  Others seem to think I’m pointing fingers at specific individuals or classes of individuals for not catching the fraud earlier.  Other than NARA, I don’t believe any one person or group of people should have caught it.  But I was imprecise in what I was trying to say.  Given the vast number of folks who consume every tidbit of info on Lincoln and in this case his assassination, which includes pretty much everything concerning the days surrounding his murder, I’m really just mystified none of them, none of them, looked into the announcement any further.  Maybe it really wasn’t a big deal and nobody noticed.

But they’ve sure noticed now.

In a different life I was a corporate internal auditor.  In my experience, there are two types of auditor personalities (both dull): one who wants to catch the bad guy, the bad guy being his focus; and one who wants to find out how an act can in the first place be committed and in the second go undetected – he’s interested in systems and controls.  I was always the second type.  Old habits die hard.  I’m sorry if my doubts caused anyone to take offense.

As for how the fraud could have been mechanically carried out, I’ve communicated with my NARA contacts past and present and others familiar with the doctor and his wife.  The Lowrys were trusted researchers: they spent a lot of time in the archives. A whole lot of time. Were some of the restrictions placed on less regular visitors relaxed in their case? Not formally or in practice by anyone I’ve heard from. But if Lowry’s confession is to be believed, somehow that pen made it into the central research room.

Also, as trusted researchers, when they declared their discovery it was taken at face value – NARA likely didn’t feel the need to verify prior to making the announcement of what some there believed a major find.  That a trusted researcher might tamper with a document signed by Lincoln, a sacred document, may have been unthinkable.  Perhaps precedent also came into play – no other Civil War document alteration has come to light at NARA in 150 years.  since its founding in 1934.

What has impressed me most over the past 24 hours is the sense of loss felt and expressed by people I’ve corresponded with who were close to Dr. Lowry (yes, some respected historians are in that group).  They all considered him a friend.  By most accounts he’s been a good guy, quick to help and give advice.  Perhaps some of those friendships can be repaired.  Short of exoneration I suspect most will not.  All in all this has been a very sad episode.  Shakespearian in character, if not in scope.  Burnham Woods has come to Woodbridge, VA.





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.





Interview: Hirsch & Van Haften, “Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason”

13 12 2010

Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason (Savas Beatie) is probably the most original thesis (or at this point, is it antithesis?) I’ve run across in a long while.  First-time authors and long-time friends David Hirsh (below first) and Dan Van Haften (below second) have been drawing a lot of attention with their study of Lincoln’s consistent use of principles of geometry in the construction of his speeches.  The two-headed Danvid answered a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Can you tell the readers about yourselves?

DH/DVH:  We met in the first grade.  David is a Des Moines attorney. For more than 10 years he co-authored the technology column for the ABA Journal.  Dan, who lives in suburban Chicago, retired from Alcatel-Lucent in 2007 after 37 years.  His work involved developing and testing telecommunications systems.

BR:   You have unusual backgrounds for Lincoln authors – particularly Dan.   Can you describe the winding road that led you to the wonderful world of Lincoln scholarship?

DH/DVH:  Dan first became interested in Abraham Lincoln in the 1990s when he attended three-day Lincoln seminars in Springfield. In 2006 David was thinking about researching a column for the ABA Journal on how Lincoln would have fared practicing law with today’s technology. Dan joined David and his wife in Springfield. Dan functioned as tour guide; David did research in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. After going through the old Lincoln and Herndon law office, David commented that Abraham Lincoln’s law practice, and small-town midwest law practice in the 1970s appeared to have many similarities. Then we visited the old Springfield train station from which Lincoln departed to Washington as President-elect never to return. David read the plaque outside the station containing Lincoln’s short farewell address. The combination of the touring and the research hooked David on Lincoln. He commented, “I used to think I knew something about Lincoln; I knew nothing.” There is nothing unusual about a lawyer being interested in Lincoln. It is true however that most Lincoln scholars are not lawyers. Added to that is the fact that not much substantive primary source material survives from Lincoln’s law practice. There was no official, court reported, stenographic record back then of opening and closing statements to juries, or of witness examinations. Nor was there recording of appellate oral arguments. Those are the things everyone would love to see. Plus briefs then were truly brief, not what they are today. Modern technology has made more of what survives generally available. That includes many arcane hand-drafted Lincoln legal documents. There are fine source books now like The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases, and Herndon’s Informants, and others. Things fell into place. It turned out that Dan’s math background was an ideal match for David’s legal background. When the book started there was no thought about how useful the math background would be for the book. It was one of many surprises. A secret was ready to be revealed.

BR:  How would you describe your writing and research process?

DH/DVH:  The process of two people jointly writing a book could be a book in itself. It greatly helped that we have known each other since the first grade. Obviously email, Google Books, telephone, Skype, web access to major sources including Basler’s The Collected Works all made it easier. For instance, we each had a print version of major Lincoln resources like Basler. The ability to digitally search was an added and valued tool. We wanted to focus on primary sources.

The initial plan was to focus on Lincoln’s work as a lawyer. We consciously decided that we did not want to deal with Lincoln’s presidential years and his speeches. Countless books had already done that. We felt his Lincoln’s law practice had been under-treated, mainly because of a lack of data. We wanted to use Lincoln’s law practice as a tool to both illuminate it and, by comparison, examine modern legal issues. Little did we realize where this would lead.

Right around the time of the decision not to write about Lincoln’s presidential years and his speeches, Dan stated, “The first thing I want to do is read the complete Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Cooper Union Speech.” To put it mildly, David thought this was a peculiar place to start given the topic limitation that was agreed on. But, not wanting to limit Dan’s creativity, David made no comment. Dan came back with a seven-page handwritten summary of key items from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. One paragraph included a reference which mentioned Euclid. David immediately became excited. David had always believed there was a relationship between math and language, and in his youth had wasted many hours looking for that connection. He instantly felt that this would lead to the connection between math and speech. David asked Dan to find everything in Lincoln literature that discussed or referenced Euclid.

Dan reported that not much was there other than that Lincoln mastered the first six books of Euclid, and his purpose was to learn what it meant to demonstrate.

So David said to Dan , “Do what Lincoln did; study the first six books of Euclid and find out what it means to demonstrate. Then when you find out what demonstrate means, find the best Lincoln example showing it.”

Dan studied Euclid, and then looked at Proclus’ commentary on Euclid. Proclus was a fifth century neo-Platonist philosopher. Dan determined the six elements of a proposition, which Euclid uses to prove his propositions, were used by Lincoln for the structure of the Cooper Union speech. The rest, literally, is history. Suddenly we were propelled into examining Lincoln speeches and his presidential years, in addition to his law practice. It turns out all of this nicely blended into a unified theme. We continued to rely most on primary sources, letting Lincoln speak for himself as much as possible. Then we turned to what his contemporaries said. Once we knew what demonstrate meant, we knew what to look for. Everything fell into place.

BR:  OK, this is probably the most original premise I’ve seen for a Lincoln study in a long time.   Keeping in mind that I scored higher on verbal than math on my SAT, and that the only time I consciously use geometry is when I play pool, can you briefly explain the principles of Euclidean geometry, how we know that Lincoln studied and mastered them, and how you demonstrate that Lincoln consciously used them when composing his speeches?

DH/DVH:  We cover no math in the book more complicated than 2 + 2 = 4. What we do cover is the hidden verbal template that underlies Euclid’s form, which Lincoln uniquely transferred to political argument and speech. This verbal template is profound, but simple.

We know Lincoln studied and mastered Euclidean geometry because he tells us he did in his short 1860 autobiography for John L. Scripps. Furthermore many Lincoln contemporaries who travelled with him on the Circuit comment on Lincoln pulling out Euclid and studying by candlelight. What Lincoln’s colleagues don’t know, and what Lincoln does not say, is specifically what he learned from Euclid. The common assumption, until now, was Lincoln learned Euclid for recreation or to sharpen his mind, kind of like mental calisthenics.

The actual technique is simple, though it takes a little practice to feel comfortable with it.

Here are the names of the six elements of a Euclidean proposition:

  • enunciation
  • exposition
  • specification
  • construction
  • proof
  • conclusion

Now for the definitions. Bear with us. The definitions, when taken together are simple. The terms themselves can be confusing at first because they are unfamiliar in this context. If you want to use this system you should first memorize the names and order of the six elements, then gradually internalize what they are.

For the enunciation, think in terms of: Why are we here. It contains short, indisputable facts. They are part of the given. It also includes a sought. This is a high level statement of the general issue being discussed.

For the exposition, think in terms of: What do we need to know relating to what is given. These are additional facts, generally fairly simple, and indisputable. These facts take what was in the enunciation’s given, and prepare for use in the investigation (in the construction).

For the specification, think: What are we trying to prove. The specification is a more direct restatement of the enunciation’s sought. While the sought is frequently neutrally stated, the specification is a direct statement of the proposition to be proved.

For the construction, think: How do the facts lead to what is sought. The construction adds what is lacking in the given for finding what is sought.

For the proof, think in terms of: How does the admitted truth confirm the proposed inference. The proof draws the proposed inference by reasoning scientifically from the propositions that have been admitted.

For the conclusion, think: What has been proved. The conclusion reverts back to the enunciation confirming what has been proved. The conclusion should be straightforward, forceful, and generally short.

We go into many more aspects of the technique in the book, simplifying and explaining. We also demarcate about 30 Lincoln writings into the six elements of a proposition. Once a Lincoln writing is demarcated, one is literally able to get inside Lincoln’s head. One sees how and why Lincoln makes his word choices.

In between the demarcations are many Lincoln stories showing his character and his characteristics. These give further insight into the man himself which make it easier to feel like one is truly inside his brain. Harvard professor and author John Stauffer characterizes our book as a sophisticated detective story. It is also a how-to manual. Anyone can be an Abraham Lincoln.

To answer your question of how we show Lincoln used this system, the 30 demarcations are the best evidence. The stories and historical comments that surround the demarcations reinforce the conclusion that this was a secret hiding in plain sight. We even construct an “I say” table that further confirms our proposition. You will have to read the book to find out what that is.

BR:  That’s fascinating stuff!  Was Lincoln unique in his use of Euclid’s template?

DH/DVH:  Yes and no. We discovered (for the first time) that Thomas Jefferson used this format for the Declaration of Independence and for his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Jefferson even refers to the religious freedom statute as a proposition. The Declaration proves the proposition that it is our right and duty to throw off allegiance to the British Crown and become free and independent. We demarcate both Declaration and the Statute for Religious Freedom in Chapter 13 of  the book. Like other discoveries in the book, we could not believe we were able to make this discovery so many years after these documents were drafted, and so many years after so many books had been written about them.

Lincoln was an admirer of the Declaration of Independence, and one can speculate that he recognized Jefferson’s use of Euclidean structure in the Declaration. We will never know. Many long regarded the Declaration as Euclidean, for instance the phrase, “all men are created equal”.  We found no reference to the six elements of a proposition in connection with the Declaration. The six elements had essentially been lost in the dust bin of history.

BR:  Are there any speakers (political or otherwise) today who you’ve identified as using this method?

DH/DVH:  Both of the authors have used the technique. The last person prior to that that the authors know used the technique was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln brilliantly transferred the language of geometrical proof to the language of political speech. The technique is usable by anyone. But even if you do not want to learn to speak and write like Lincoln, the technique is invaluable for finding weak spots in others’ arguments. It squeezes out sophistries. And if all you want to do is understand Lincoln better, you can reach a level of Lincoln understanding never before possible.

BR:  Did your research turn up anything that either surprisingly supported or contradicted any notions you held prior to beginning the project?

DH/DVH:  We had no significant prior notions. We followed the evidence wherever it led. It led us to Euclid, which led us to the six elements of a proposition. Only at that point did we set out to prove what Lincoln accomplished. We did not initially intend to cover Lincoln’s presidential years or his speeches. But we needed his speeches to prove our proposition. That led us to Lincoln’s great deception in his Cooper Union Speech, explained in Chapter 3. That again was something we did not anticipate. We could not believe that had gone undiscovered for over 150 years. But it was the six elements that indirectly led us to discover Lincoln’s Cooper Union deception. And in the process of all this, we returned to our original theme. The legal system itself proved to be Euclidean. This is what completes the explanation of how Lincoln was Lincoln.

BR:  How has your book been received so far?   In particular, what has been the reaction of the Lincoln establishment?

DH/DVH:  So far we have received warm embrace. There are flattering adjectives like “groundbreaking”, “astounding”, and “wow moments”. From our standpoint the book was a joy to research and write.

BR:  What’s next for you?

DH/DVH:  The is an endless series of topics to carry forward with the discoveries in Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason. If we find time, we will not run out of topics.

I’m not sure how David and Dan, alone or together, are going to top this effort, but if Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason is any indication, whatever they come up with should be unique.  You can keep up with their doings at www.thestructureofreason.com.





Back to Booth

20 11 2010

Yep, I get suckered in every now and then.  I run across a new release in the book store and/or hear the author of that book on C-Span and, despite the fact that the book will be available used or as a remainder in one of the many used book stores I frequent within 6 months, I lay out the cash.  More often than not, this happens in the case of a book on Lincoln.  And also more often than not, the book goes unread.  But every once in a while I pick one up that I know I’ll read, and these are usually in that peculiar subset of the Assassination.

The other day I bought My Thoughts Be Bloody, touted as The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth that Led to an American Tragedy.  I heard the author, Nora Titone, on C-Span: she does one of those presentations where you’re pretty sure every word has been scripted out (in contrast to my own presentations, where with the exception of quotations I speak off a very general outline).  There have been at least two other books published over the past 18 years that specifically examine the relationship between the Booth brothers, and Michael Kauffman’s American Brutus also spends some time on it.  Regardless, Titone’s is the story of how Wilkes was affected by the very strained relationship he had with his older, more talented, more respected, and more powerful brother Edwin.  I’ll read this once I finish the difficult to finish West Pointers and the Civil War (the title is misleading and it lacks focus and structure, but there’s a lot of good stuff in it).

Titone’s book has a shiny silver color, not unlike that of another new Lincoln book, Bloody Crimes by James Swanson.  This combines the stories of Lincoln’s funeral procession back to Springfield with the pursuit and capture of Jefferson Davis.  Swanson appears to be taking a page from Stephen Ambrose’s playbook by blending a story he has already written (the funeral train was a big part of Swanson’s previous work, Manhunt – which also had a shiny silver cover) with another story that just happened to be going on at the same time.  I guess that’s a good gig if you can get it.  I hope that the covers are the only similarity between Titone’s book and Swanson’s – I read Manhunt and, while it’s very well written, there’s not much there there.  Know what I mean?





No Casino Gettysburg Video #2 – The Gettysburg Address

7 09 2010

Another slick video from the No Casino people.  Very sharp, but like Mike I prefer my emphasis on of, by, and for, not people.  Sorry Sam.





Military Strategy at the Battle of Bull Run

28 07 2010

Donald Stoker, whose new book on strategy in the Civil War was the subject of this post, sent me a link to his summary of military strategy at the battle of Bull Run.  Check it out, see what you think.  As usual, I can quibble a bit.  For an expansion on Lincoln’s motivations for sending McDowell forth, see here.  For a look at how – or if – Patterson’s failure foiled the Federal plan for the movement, see here.

Look for an interview with Mr. Stoker here in the weeks ahead.








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