Friday, February 12, 2016

Taught to Love Lincoln

Flag in Winter ~ Partly Cloudy

In The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell reminisces about "that first, great, artsy - craftsy age when Americans learn about Abraham Lincoln. How many of us drew his beard in crayon? We built models of his boyhood cabin with Elmer's glue and toothpicks. We memorized the Gettysburg Address, reciting its ten sentences in stovepipe hats stapled out of black construction paper. The teachers taught us to like Washington and to respect Jefferson. But Lincoln - him they taught us to love" (8).

Sometimes I miss the old days when we -- and a few decades later, our children -- colored in a picture of George Washington or made an Abraham Lincoln Log cabin out of popsicle sticks, and observed their birthdays separately and never stopped to ask if these leaders were ever anything other than absolutely heroic at all times.

By Sam ~ 1997 ~ age 4

I was already in college by the time the Bicentennial came along and basically missed all the big events and fireworks due to working long hours for little money at a stupid restaurant (of course, I should count my blessings, as those were the days when you could actually work your way through college by means of such a job). Vowell (b 1969) who grew up to become one of our most enlightened and beloved American historians, was still a little kid that summer and recalls a happier celebration:

" . . . I can’t help but notice that only one of my formative experiences, the Bicentennial, came with balloons and cake. Being a little kid that year, visiting the Freedom Train with its dramatically lit facsimile of the Declaration, learning that I lived in the greatest, most fair and wise and lovely place on earth, made a big impression on me. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of President Lincoln. Because he stared down the crap. More than anyone in the history of the country, he faced up to our most troubling contradiction—that a nation born in freedom would permit the enslavement of human beings—and never once stopped believing in the Declaration of Independence’s ideals, never stopped trying to make them come true.

"On a Sunday in November [2000], I walked up to the New York Public Library to see the Emancipation Proclamation. On loan from the National Archives, the document was in town for three days. They put it in a glass case in a small, dark room. Being alone with old pieces of paper and one guard in an alcove at the library was nice and quiet. I stared at Abraham Lincoln’s signature for a long time. I stood there, thinking what one is supposed to think: This is the paper he held in his hands and there is the ink that came from his pen, and when the ink dried the slaves were freed. Except look at the date, January 1, 1863. The words wouldn’t come true for a couple of years, which, I’m guessing, is a long time when another
person owns your body. But I love how Lincoln dated the document, noting that it was signed “in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.” Four score and seven years before, is the wonderfully arrogant implication, something as miraculous as the virgin birth happened on this earth, and the calendar should reflect that
" (167 - 68).

Born 12 February 1809
President of the United States of America
from 4 March 1861 – until his death, 15 April 1865

Patriotic Cat ~ James B. Fuqua


  1. I am sometimes bemused by the reverence paid the Emancipation Proclamation. Has anyone who holds it in such high esteem ever read it, particularly this portion: "... I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free..."

    To which "designated States, and part of States" was he referring? To those states and parts of states NOT rebelling against the Federal government. If you were a slave owner in the counties of Virginia that were trying to form a new state, that was okay. If you were a slave owner in Missouri, Kentucky, Deleware or Maryland - states where slavery was legal, but which did not secede - then you were okay, too.

    The Emancipation Proclamation freed ZERO slaves. It would similar to trump announcing that on such and such a date, all citizens of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine would no longer be dominated by Putin's Russia; or telling the North Koreans that on such and such a date, they would not longer live under the rule of a despotic kewpie doll.

    As a piece of political prose, it was great! England and France were on the verge of recognizing the southern secession, since their economies were heavily dependent on raw good exported from the southern states. Had that occurred, Lincoln would have faced to choice of ending the blockade of the southern ports, or risking a naval war with England and France, which were still the two most powerful navies in the world.

    But, France and England had both outlawed slavery. By making the war about slavery, rather than simply southern secession, Lincoln ensured that public opinion in Europe would be with the Federal cause; making it highly impolitic for the governments of England or France to recognize southern independence.

    Let's give Lincoln credit for shrewd politics. But, let's not forget that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one.

  2. For the thoughtful insights above, many thanks to the erudite Silence Dogood (aka my twin brother Bruce Carriker, featured many a time on this blog).

    Quick question for Bruce -- could you say the same thing about the Declaration of Independence? I was thinking, in relation to what you said -- "the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one" -- was it also true that the Declaration itself didn't make the States Independent? Just thinking about the connection between thought / action. That sort of thing.

  3. Answer from the esteemed Mr. Silence Dogood:

    When we consider the Declaration, we get all caught up in the flowery prose of the second paragraph. But, but that's not the meat and potatoes of the Declaration.

    Consider the language of the first paragraph:

    "When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

    The Declaration was a statement, to the rest of the world, and to England, WHY the colonies felt compelled to declare their independence from the British crown.

    Then you get all that nice Jeffersonian prose, which we'll omit for now. THEN you get to the most important part:

    "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

    "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

    "He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

    "He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

    "He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

    "He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

    "He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

    "He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. . . .

  4. Cont.

    "He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

    "He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

    "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

    "He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

    "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

    "He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

    "For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

    "For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

    "For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

    "For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

    "For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

    "For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

    "For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

    "For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

    "For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

    "He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

    "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

    "He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

    "He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

    "He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

    "In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people...
    We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crownes..."

  5. In conclusion:

    The Declaration of Independence absolutely established that the colonies were free from Great Britain. True, there was still a war to be fought to secure that freedom. But, unlike the Emancipation Proclamation, which was nothing but political prose, with no practical impact whatsoever, as regards freeing the slaves; the Declaration of Independence established that the colonies were a new nation, prepared to fight for their independence if need be; ready to take their station in the world as a sovereign power in their oown right.

    It's kind of like the difference in saying, "If you don't change your behavior, I'm going to divorce you on behalf of your spouse," and your spouse telling you, "I filed for divorce today."

    Many thanks to Unknown / Silence / Bruce for his expertise in Constitutional History and for ensuring that I learn something (or old) new every day!