Post 4/15 Minus “Martyr Goggles”

19 04 2015

LincolnApotheosisYes, I realize the standard line is that Lincoln’s death doomed the prospects for peaceful reconstruction. However, the transformation of AL’s memory clouds the issue. His universal popularity was post-assassination. Had he lived, real challenges – a less than friendly and vengeful Congress and his conflicting (mutually exclusive?) goals of a soft policy towards former Confederates and enfranchisement of freedmen – lay ahead. And with the profound goal of military victory gone, likely to be replaced with similarly unifying feelings of mourning and blame-laying, a living AL may have had a tough row to hoe.

In other words, I have my doubts.

While a spotty viewing of the talking heads crowding the C-Span airwaves over the past few days indicate some slight revision to the long accepted story of Lincoln’s death robbing the south of its “best friend”, I think some confuse the reality of what happened under the watch of Andrew Johnson (who at the start was viewed by the Radicals as more of an ally than Lincoln) with the likelihood of what may have happened under that of Lincoln.

Larry Tagg, in The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln (see interview here), does a fine job of viewing Lincoln in real-time, and shows that he was far from the most popular man in America as described by Sally Field’s Mary Todd in the film Lincoln, even after Lee’s surrender. To save my weary fingers, Mr. Tagg graciously provided me with a transcript of his Epilogue, The Sudden Saint. Here’s a sample (pp 462-463):

Even men who loathed Lincoln knew they must yield to his sudden sainthood. “This murder, this oozing blood, almost sanctify Lincoln,” wrote Count Gurowski on the day he died. “His end atones for all the short-comings for which he was blamed and condemned by earnest and unyielding patriots. . . . [W]hatever sacrifices his vacillations may have cost the people, those vacillations will now be forgiven. . . The murderer’s bullet opens to him immortality.” Radical Senator James W. Grimes of Iowa, who had regarded Lincoln as “a disgrace,” glumly predicted on the day after the assassination, “Mr. Lincoln is to be hereafter regarded as a saint. All his foibles, and faults, and shortcomings, will be forgotten, and he will be looked upon as the Moses who led the nation through a four years’ bloody war, and died in sight of peace.” A journalist lamented, “It has made it impossible to speak the truth of Abraham Lincoln hereafter.”

Radical Lincoln-haters wasted no time in convening. On the afternoon of April 15, as shock mixed with grief in the North, they gathered in Washington only hours after Lincoln’s death. There, they rejoiced. “While everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was universal that [it] would prove a godsend to the country,” wrote George Julian, who was there. “I . . . have not in a long time heard so much profanity,” he wrote. “It became intolerably disgusting. Their hostility towards Lincoln’s policy of conciliation and contempt for his weakness were undisguised.”

Zachary Chandler, who was also there, wrote his wife, “I believe that the Almighty continued Mr. Lincoln in office as long as he was useful and then substituted a better man [Andrew Johnson] to finish the work.” Ben Wade, Henry Winter Davis, and the others present agreed, of course, as did Radicals everywhere. Oliver Wendell Holmes, when he heard the news in Boston, judged that “more than likely Lincoln was not the best man for the work of reconstruction.” Wendell Phillips assured his listeners in a memorial speech at Tremont Temple the next week, “God has graciously withheld from him any fatal misstep in the great advance, and withdrawn him at the moment when his star touched its zenith, and the nation needed a sterner hand for the work God gives it to do.”

The rightness or wrongness of these opinions is irrelevant. Keep in mind that these are not the opinions of defeated and vengeful Confederates. These are the powerful Union men, relatively more powerful in peace than in war, with whom Lincoln would have to deal for the next four years.

A tough row to hoe.





Mint In the Box!

12 04 2012

Much was made recently of the decisions of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum and the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor’s Center to sell a John Wilkes Booth bobblehead doll action figure in their gift shops, and the subsequent decisions of those entities to discontinue the sales of the item in the wake of a public outcry. I, of course, could not resist the opportunity to get one for my library. It came today. I think some of the earlier stories manipulated JWB by purposely tilting his wobbly noggin in such a way as to make him, somehow, more sinister in appearance. With his head on straight, he doesn’t look any crazier than Senator Jim Lane of Kansas.

In All His Assassinistic Glory!

Mint In the Box!

Did You Know?

A Teaching Tool!





Ford’s Theater

2 02 2012

As part of my little tour of Washington, D. C. back in June 2011, I walked over to Ford’s Theater. I’d never been there before. The current complex has a much larger footprint today, but you can still make out the original building (click on all the below images for larger ones):

The Petersen House across the street, where AL died, was closed for renovations:

 

There’s a lot of cool assassination ephemera in the basement museum, including the door to the President’s box, the gun that did the deed, the boot that Dr. Mudd cut off Booth’s broken leg, and one of the hoods worn by (most of) the conspirators as they made their way from their cells to the courtroom:

   

But my favorite was this fundraiser quilt that was signed by notable figures of the day, including my two favorite Georges:

   

I feel bad for Zach Harton (2nd panel, top row), don’t you?

The tour concluded with the reconstructed theater:

  

Of course, I’m always looking for the sights and sites less seldom seen. In this case, it was the back of the building, and as usual I had the place to myself. I made my best bet as to which doorway was the one used by Booth to exit the building, mount his Peanut-tended horse, and make his escape up the alley (he had to make a left right around the spot where I took the first photo below). Even without the lovely Carol Merrill’s help I think I picked the right door, based on what I found on the threshold:

    

Craig Swain’s visit to the Ford’s Theater museum.

Robert Moore’s relative was on stage that fateful night!





“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):





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?








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