Wednesday September 22, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Abraham Lincoln
On this Day:
In 1862, US President Abraham Lincoln stated he will free slaves in all states on Jan 1.
Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American lawyer and statesman who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War, and succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy.
Lincoln was born into poverty in a log cabin and was raised on the frontier primarily in Indiana. He was self-educated and became a lawyer, Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator, and U.S. Congressman from Illinois. In 1849, he returned to his law practice but became vexed by the opening of additional lands to slavery as a result of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. He reentered politics in 1854, becoming a leader in the new Republican Party, and he reached a national audience in the 1858 debates against Stephen Douglas. Lincoln ran for President in 1860, sweeping the North in victory. Pro-slavery elements in the South equated his success with the North’s rejection of their right to practice slavery, and southern states began seceding from the Union. To secure its independence, the new Confederate States fired on Fort Sumter, a U.S. fort in the South, and Lincoln called up forces to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union.
Lincoln, a moderate Republican, had to navigate a contentious array of factions with friends and opponents from both the Democratic and Republican parties. His allies, the War Democrats and the Radical Republicans, demanded harsh treatment of the Southern Confederates. Anti-war Democrats (called “Copperheads”) despised Lincoln, and irreconcilable pro-Confederate elements plotted his assassination. He managed the factions by exploiting their mutual enmity, carefully distributing political patronage, and by appealing to the American people. His Gettysburg Address appealed to nationalistic, republican, egalitarian, libertarian, and democratic sentiments. Lincoln scrutinized the strategy and tactics in the war effort, including the selection of generals and the naval blockade of the South’s trade. He suspended habeas corpus in Maryland, and he averted British intervention by defusing the Trent Affair. He engineered the end to slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation, including his order that the Army and Navy liberate, protect, and recruit former slaves. He also encouraged border states to outlaw slavery, and promoted the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery across the country.
Lincoln managed his own successful re-election campaign. He sought to heal the war-torn nation through reconciliation. On April 14, 1865, just days after the war’s end at Appomattox, he was attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., with his wife Mary when he was fatally shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln is remembered as a martyr and hero of the United States and is consistently ranked as one of the greatest presidents in American history.
Lincoln’s redefinition of republican values has been stressed by historians such as John Patrick Diggins, Harry V. Jaffa, Vernon Burton, Eric Foner, and Herman J. Belz. Lincoln called the Declaration of Independence—which emphasized freedom and equality for all—the “sheet anchor” of republicanism beginning in the 1850s. He did this at a time when the Constitution, which “tolerated slavery”, was the focus of most political discourse. Diggins notes, “Lincoln presented Americans a theory of history that offers a profound contribution to the theory and destiny of republicanism itself” in the 1860 Cooper Union speech. Instead of focusing on the legality of an argument, he focused on the moral basis of republicanism.
His position on war was founded on a legal argument regarding the Constitution as essentially a contract among the states, and all parties must agree to pull out of the contract. Furthermore, it was a national duty to ensure the republic stands in every state. Many soldiers and religious leaders from the north, though, felt the fight for liberty and freedom of slaves was ordained by their moral and religious beliefs.
As a Whig activist, Lincoln was a spokesman for business interests, favoring high tariffs, banks, infrastructure improvements, and railroads, in opposition to Jacksonian democrats. William C. Harris found that Lincoln’s “reverence for the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, the laws under it, and the preservation of the Republic and its institutions strengthened his conservatism.” James G. Randall emphasizes his tolerance and moderation “in his preference for orderly progress, his distrust of dangerous agitation, and his reluctance toward ill digested schemes of reform.” Randall concludes that “he was conservative in his complete avoidance of that type of so-called ‘radicalism’ which involved abuse of the South, hatred for the slaveholder, thirst for vengeance, partisan plotting, and ungenerous demands that Southern institutions be transformed overnight by outsiders.”
In Lincoln’s first inaugural address, he explored the nature of democracy. He denounced secession as anarchy, and explained that majority rule had to be balanced by constitutional restraints. He said “A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people.”
The successful reunification of the states had consequences for how people viewed the country. The term “the United States” has historically been used, sometimes in the plural (“these United States”), and other times in the singular. The Civil War was a significant force in the eventual dominance of the singular usage by the end of the 19th century.
“In his company, I was never reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.”— Frederick Douglass
In surveys of U.S. scholars ranking presidents conducted since 1948, the top three presidents are Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, although the order varies. Between 1999 and 2011, Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan have been the top-ranked presidents in eight surveys, according to Gallup. A 2004 study found that scholars in the fields of history and politics ranked Lincoln number one, while legal scholars placed him second after George Washington.
Lincoln’s assassination left him a national martyr. He was viewed by abolitionists as a champion of human liberty. Republicans linked Lincoln’s name to their party. Many, though not all, in the South considered Lincoln as a man of outstanding ability. Historians have said he was “a classical liberal” in the 19th-century sense. Allen C. Guelzo states that Lincoln was a “classical liberal democrat—an enemy of artificial hierarchy, a friend to trade and business as ennobling and enabling, and an American counterpart to Mill, Cobden, and Bright”, whose portrait Lincoln hung in his White House office.
Schwartz argues that Lincoln’s American reputation grew slowly from the late 19th century until the Progressive Era (1900–1920s), when he emerged as one of America’s most venerated heroes, even among white Southerners. The high point came in 1922 with the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Union nationalism, as envisioned by Lincoln, “helped lead America to the nationalism of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” In the New Deal era, liberals honored Lincoln not so much as the self-made man or the great war president, but as the advocate of the common man who they claimed would have supported the welfare state.
Sociologist Barry Schwartz argues that in the 1930s and 1940s the memory of Abraham Lincoln was practically sacred and provided the nation with “a moral symbol inspiring and guiding American life.” During the Great Depression, he argues, Lincoln served “as a means for seeing the world’s disappointments, for making its sufferings not so much explicable as meaningful”. Franklin D. Roosevelt, preparing America for war, used the words of the Civil War president to clarify the threat posed by Germany and Japan. Americans asked, “What would Lincoln do?” However, Schwartz also finds that since World War II Lincoln’s symbolic power has lost relevance, and this “fading hero is symptomatic of fading confidence in national greatness.” He suggested that postmodernism and multiculturalism have diluted greatness as a concept.
In the Cold War years, Lincoln’s image shifted to a symbol of freedom who brought hope to those oppressed by Communist regimes. By the late 1960s, some African-American intellectuals, led by Lerone Bennett Jr., rejected Lincoln’s role as the Great Emancipator. Bennett won wide attention when he called Lincoln a white supremacist in 1968. He noted that Lincoln used ethnic slurs and told jokes that ridiculed blacks. Bennett argued that Lincoln opposed social equality, and proposed sending freed slaves to another country. Defenders, such as authors Dirck and Cashin, retorted that he was not as bad as most politicians of his day; and that he was a “moral visionary” who deftly advanced the abolitionist cause, as fast as politically possible. The emphasis shifted away from Lincoln the emancipator to an argument that blacks had freed themselves from slavery, or at least were responsible for pressuring the government on emancipation.
By the 1970s, Lincoln had become a hero to political conservatives, apart from neo-Confederates such as Mel Bradford who denounced his treatment of the white South, for his intense nationalism, support for business, his insistence on stopping the spread of human bondage, his acting in terms of Lockean and Burkean principles on behalf of both liberty and tradition, and his devotion to the principles of the Founding Fathers. Lincoln became a favorite exemplar for liberal intellectuals across the world.
Historian Barry Schwartz wrote in 2009 that Lincoln’s image suffered “erosion, fading prestige, benign ridicule” in the late 20th century. On the other hand, Donald opined in his 1996 biography that Lincoln was distinctly endowed with the personality trait of negative capability, defined by the poet John Keats and attributed to extraordinary leaders who were “content in the midst of uncertainties and doubts, and not compelled toward fact or reason”.
In the 21st century, President Barack Obama named Lincoln his favorite president and insisted on using the Lincoln Bible for his inaugural ceremonies. Lincoln has often been portrayed by Hollywood, almost always in a flattering light.
Lincoln’s portrait appears on two denominations of United States currency, the penny and the $5 bill. His likeness also appears on many postage stamps. While he is usually portrayed bearded, he didn’t grow a beard until 1860 at the suggestion of 11-year-old Grace Bedell. He was the first of 16 presidents to do so.
He has been memorialized in many town, city, and county names, including the capital of Nebraska. The United States Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) is named after Lincoln, the second Navy ship to bear his name.
Lincoln Memorial is one of the most visited monuments in the nation’s capital, and is one of the top five visited National Park Service sites in the country. Ford’s Theatre, among the top sites in Washington, D.C., is across the street from Petersen House (where he died). Memorials in Springfield, Illinois include Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln’s home, as well as his tomb. A portrait carving of Lincoln appears with those of three other presidents on Mount Rushmore, which receives about 3 million visitors a year (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Always remember what Abraham Lincoln once said: “Don’t trust everything you read on the internet”.
Second, a Song:
The Gettysburg Address is a speech that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered during the American Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. It is one of the best-known speeches in American history.
Not even that day’s primary speech, Lincoln’s carefully crafted address came to be seen as one of the greatest and most influential statements of American national purpose. In just 271 words, beginning with the now famous phrase “Four score and seven years ago,” referring to the signing of the Declaration of Independence 87 years earlier, Lincoln described the US as a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and represented the Civil War as a test that would determine whether such a nation, the Union sundered by the secession crisis, could endure. He extolled the sacrifices of those who died at Gettysburg in defense of those principles, and exhorted his listeners to resolve
that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Despite the prominent place of the speech in the history and popular culture of the United States, its exact wording is disputed. The five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s hand differ in a number of details, and also differ from contemporary newspaper reprints of the speech. Neither is it clear where stood the platform from which Lincoln delivered the address. Modern scholarship locates the speakers’ platform 40 yards (or more) away from the traditional site in Soldiers’ National Cemetery at the Soldiers’ National Monument, such that it stood entirely within the private, adjacent Evergreen Cemetery.
The importance of the Gettysburg Address in the history of the United States is underscored by its enduring presence in American culture. In addition to its prominent place carved into a stone cella on the south wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Gettysburg Address is frequently referred to in works of popular culture, with the implicit expectation that contemporary audiences will be familiar with Lincoln’s words.
In the many generations that have passed since the Address, it has remained among the most famous speeches in American history, and is often taught in classes about history or civics. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is itself referenced in another of those famed orations, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, King began with a reference, by the style of his opening phrase, to President Lincoln and his enduring words: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”
Phrases from the Address are often used or referenced in other works. The current Constitution of France states that the principle of the French Republic is “gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple” (“government of the people, by the people, and for the people”), a literal translation of Lincoln’s words. Sun Yat-Sen’s “Three Principles of the People” as well as the preamble for the 1947 Constitution of Japan were also inspired from that phrase. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln has as its ship’s motto the phrase “shall not perish”.
U.S. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts wrote of the address and its enduring presence in American culture after Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865: “That speech, uttered at the field of Gettysburg … and now sanctified by the martyrdom of its author, is a monumental act. In the modesty of his nature he said ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.’ He was mistaken. The world at once noted what he said, and will never cease to remember it.”
U.S. President John F. Kennedy stated in July 1963 about the battle and Lincoln’s speech: “Five score years ago the ground on which we here stand shuddered under the clash of arms and was consecrated for all time by the blood of American manhood. Abraham Lincoln, in dedicating this great battlefield, has expressed, in words too eloquent for paraphrase or summary, why this sacrifice was necessary.”
In 2015, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation compiled Gettysburg Replies: The World Responds to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The work challenges leaders to craft 272 word responses to celebrate Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, or a related topic. One of the replies was by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in which he made the point that one of Lincoln’s greatest legacies was establishing, in the same year of the Gettysburg Address, the National Academy of Sciences, which had the long term effect of “setting our Nation on a course of scientifically enlightened governance, without which we all may perish from this Earth” (per Wikipedia).
Lincoln is a 2012 American biographical historical drama film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as United States President Abraham Lincoln. The film also features Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, and Tommy Lee Jones in supporting roles.
The screenplay by Tony Kushner was loosely based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and covers the final four months of Lincoln’s life, focusing on his efforts in January 1865 to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude by having the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the United States House of Representatives.
The film was produced by Spielberg and frequent collaborator Kathleen Kennedy, through their respective production companies, Amblin Entertainment and the Kennedy/Marshall Company. Filming began October 17, 2011, and ended on December 19, 2011. Lincoln premiered on October 8, 2012 at the New York Film Festival. The film was co-produced by American companies DreamWorks Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Participant Media, with Indian company Reliance Entertainment, and released theatrically by Touchstone Pictures in North America on November 9, 2012. The film was distributed by Fox in international territories.
Lincoln was acclaimed by critics, who lauded the acting (especially from Day-Lewis), as well as Spielberg’s direction and the production values. In December 2012, the film was nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director for Spielberg and winning Best Actor (Motion Picture – Drama) for Day-Lewis. At the 85th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director; it won for Best Production Design and Best Actor for Day-Lewis. The film was also a commercial success, grossing over $275 million at the box office (per Wikipedia).
Here is Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg speech from the film Lincoln starring Jeff Daniels as Abraham Lincoln, set to images by TheNitrocars (per YouTube.com). I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” – Abraham Lincoln
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky