Justice Antonin Scalia at Gettysburg

20 11 2013

ScaliaYesterday, as I watched via live streaming video and the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg National Cemetery drew to a close, it struck me that I was witnessing something special. No, not the roll of usual suspects who delivered speeches that were, well, nice. Not memorable, but nice. Everything rolled along. But then, the Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, took the podium to recognize sixteen immigrants who would become citizens as part of the ceremony. Each candidate citizen rose by country, and then Mr. Mayorkas introduced the official who was to administer the oath, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And I knew it as I heard it – Scalia’s apparently extemporaneous words were capturing the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s famous little speech better than had anyone else that day. Here’s the text:

Before I administer the oath, I want to say a few words of welcome to the new citizens. What makes us Americans, what unites us, is quite different from that which unites other countries.

There’s a word, ‘unAmerican.’ We used to have a House unAmerican Activities Committee. There’s no equivalent word in foreign languages. It would mean nothing in French political discourse to refer to something as unFrench, or in German political discourse to refer to something as unGerman. It is only Americans, we Americans, who identify ourselves not by our blood or by our color, or by our race or by where we were born, but rather by our fidelity to certain political principles.

That’s very strange. It’s unique in human history, I believe.

We are, as you heard from the Director a nation of immigrants, who have come here mostly for two reasons. First, for freedom. From the pilgrims in the 17th century to the Cubans and the North Koreans in the 20th and 21st centuries.

And that freedom, of course, is not free, as the dead who rest buried here can demonstrate. The last line of our ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is, ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ The two go together. Freedom is for the brave.

The second reason they came, these immigrants, was for opportunity. My father, who was the most patriotic man I ever knew, used to say that in the old country, if your father was a shoemaker, you would be a shoemaker. And in America, you could be whatever you were willing to work hard enough to be and had the talent to be.

And his son ended up on the Supreme Court.

My Grandmother expected me to be President; I didn’t quite make that. But it was possible. It is possible in America.

So welcome, my soon-to-be fellow citizens, to the nation of Americans. May America bring you all that you expect from it. And may you give it all that it expects from you.

Thanks to Interpreting the Civil War for the transcript.





Saving Lincoln

6 11 2012

A while back, I was contacted by a screenwriter working on this project. I don’t think she was quite satisfied with my opinion regarding Lincoln and soldiers returning from Bull Run. But they seem to have endeavored to persevere despite the withholding of my imprimatur for the proposed scene.





Lincoln C. K.

4 11 2012

Two of my favorite people all rolled into one.





Thomas Lowry’s Version of Events

20 02 2011

Fellow 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 incident. You can read it for yourself here.  While he is using a blog platform, I’m not sure if he’s going to make regular posts as events unfold or simply revise/add to what he already has up. Dr. Lowry claims to have taken a lie detector test and passed with flying colors. He has also named the men who obtained his confession – Mitchell Yockelson and Greg Tremaglio - and one way or another I’m interested to see what happens next.





From the Archives: Grace Bedell

17 02 2011

Since we’re commemorating Lincoln’s train trip to the inauguration in 1861 and I’ve been too busy to post anything lately, here’s a link to an earlier article on the statues of Lincoln and pen-pal Grace Bedell in Westfield, NY.  Check it out.





Is A Puzzlement

4 02 2011

I admit it – I’m a sucker for The King and I. In 1977 I actually got to see a revival of the musical at the Uris Theater on Broadway. Orchestra seats. Yul Freakin’ Brynner. Close enough to see all the gears and stuff and the line where his face panel met his robot head.  OK, just kidding about that last bit, but he was awesome in Westworld, too. But yes, we were close to the stage, and Brynner in his late fifties looked like he could still kick ass, even while doing the polka.  And I love the film, though my wife gets very annoyed when I correct her on occasions when she inadvertently allows her head to be higher than King’s…er, mine.  But why am I talking about this?  The Civil War Trust has a Primary Sources entry up on their website about Abraham Lincoln’s rejection of the offer of Siam’s King Rama IV (aka Mongut at left as portrayed by The Man) of war elephants to help defeat the Confederacy.  Check it out.

And now for a little singin’ ‘n dancin’:





“The Conspirator” Trailer

27 01 2011

It looks like Robert Redford’s The Conspirator will be making its debut on tax day, April 15, 2011.  Here’s the trailer (hat tip to Hop Tak):





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.








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