Honest Abe Savior and Martyr

The chair in which Abraham Lincoln was shot has been on display at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, for 85 years. On April 15, it will be removed from its encasing to be displayed for the 150th anniversary of the assassination

Abraham Lincoln’s iconic silk top hat, which he was wearing the night he was assassinated, is part of the museum display at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.


On April 19, the funeral train left for Springfield. About a million Americans came out to pay their respects along the way, including thousands in Columbus. The grieving was heartfelt. Lincoln saved the Union, what he called “the last, best hope” of republican liberty. Even while waging an all-out war, he knew that the rebels were Americans and would be brought home. He once said: “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”

This was a self-educated man, learned only in the Bible and Shakespeare. He was deeply thoughtful, spoke and wrote with grace and exceptional eloquence. His judgments were spot on and he inspired confidence and trust. When he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he said, “My whole soul is in it.” The Second Inaugural, a meditation on the Divine will, sold briskly at every train depot and state house on the long way home.

The Lincoln biographer, Michael Burlingame, writes that the greatness of Lincoln’s character was the secret weapon in the Civil War. He had a kind of psychological maturity and honesty about him that is truly rare. He was full of moral clarity and unimpeachable integrity. Perhaps we should not wonder why more books have been written about Lincoln than any other person in history, save Christ.

The invitation to bring flowers to the Rotunda in memory of this great American is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves how and why Abraham Lincoln rendered himself worthy of our esteem.


January 29, 2013, 12:51 pm
‘Hurrah for Old Abe’

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, but the immediate reactions for and against it reverberated loudly throughout the following month.

Almost all abolitionists and radical Republicans, even those who had condemned Lincoln’s methods as being too cautious, were thrilled. William Lloyd Garrison, the venerable abolitionist, called the occasion “a great historic event, sublime in its magnitude and beneficent in its far-reaching consequences.” The radical Republican Benjamin Wade proclaimed, “Now, hurrah for Old Abe and the proclamation!”

Black Americans were naturally likewise jubilant. The minister Henry Highland Garnet called Lincoln “the man of our choice and hope” and said that the proclamation was “one of the greatest acts in all history.” Frederick Douglass said much the same thing: the proclamation was “the greatest event in our nation’s history.”

The document had a profound effect on antislavery and pro-Union sentiment in Britain. Charles Francis Adams, Lincoln’s minister to the Court of St. James, had been laboring for months to prevent the recognition of the Confederacy by the British. Now, he wrote, the effect of the definitive proclamation was to “annihilate all agitation for recognition.” Mass meetings in support of Lincoln and the Union were organized throughout England.

Of course, the proclamation elicited expressions of hatred from those Northerners who hated African-Americans. White supremacists in the United States were outraged. Condemning Lincoln, The Cincinnati Enquirer said that the proclamation represented the “complete overthrow of the Constitution he swore to protect and defend.” All over the North white bigots called the proclamation “wicked,” “atrocious” and “impudent.”

Confederates agreed wholeheartedly with Northern racists. Jefferson Davis called Lincoln’s action “the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man.” But he said the proclamation would fail: it was nothing more than a gesture of “impotent rage” for which Confederates should show “contempt.” Other Confederates reacted with greater defiance: insofar as Lincoln’s final proclamation made provision for enlisting freed slaves in the army, the Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard called for the “execution of abolition prisoners. … Let the execution be made with the garrote.”

Lincoln himself was defiant; when warned that the Confederate backlash against the proclamation would double the size of Confederate armies, he replied, “we’ll double ours then.” He told the Republican congressman Schuyler Colfax that “the promise” of emancipation “must now be kept and I shall never recall one word.” He called the proclamation “the central act of my administration,” and even “the great event of the nineteenth century.”

Thanks to such emotions raised on both sides, the Emancipation Proclamation was a turning point in the war. It increased the fervor of the fighting on both sides. It radicalized the cause of the Republicans and increased the determination of Democrats to use the leverage of white supremacy in their effort to regain control of Congress and recapture the White House.

Swing voters were still up for grabs, but the reactions to this proclamation — both pro and con — were a powerful reminder that the clock was ticking and the struggle would continue, perhaps into the election year of 1864.

Among the most disturbing of the negative reactions were legal challenges to the constitutionality of Lincoln’s action. Benjamin Curtis, a former Supreme Court justice who dissented from the pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, nonetheless had doubts about Lincoln’s proclamation. Could it survive a challenge in court? In a pamphlet entitled “Executive Power,” Curtis argued that Lincoln was improperly trying to use an “executive decree” to “repeal and annul valid State laws which regulate the domestic relations of their people.” The president “cannot make a law,” Curtis wrote, and “he cannot repeal one.”

Joel Parker, a Republican judge in Massachusetts, wrote that “there is no sound foundation on which to rest such extreme ‘War Powers’” as Lincoln was claiming. “Nothing in the language of the Constitution,” he continued, linked the “power to make war” to a “power to change Constitutional rights … at the pleasure of the President in time of war.” Besides, he wrote, “martial law … only suspends the municipal law for the time being. It does not subvert it permanently.” Consequently, he concluded, “the right of all persons who held slaves under the State laws … will continue to exist after the first of January.”

Other lawyers defended the proclamation as sound. Solicitor General William Whiting wrote: “The laws of war give the President full belligerent rights; and when the army and navy are once lawfully called out, there are no limits to the war-making power of the President.” Grosvenor Lowrey, a corporate attorney working for the Treasury Department, affirmed that “the Commander-in-chief, in time of war, is authorized and bound to use any and all accessible means not forbidden by the laws of war, which in his judgment may be necessary or useful to subdue the enemy.”

Lincoln himself had his doubts and there were plenty of judges who might have followed the logic of Curtis and Parker if a court challenge to the proclamation had occurred. That was why Lincoln had advised the Republican Congress in December to draft some amendments to the Constitution to address the subject of slavery. One of these amendments would explicitly constitutionalize his emancipation policy. In the months ahead, as he reacted to public opinion and battlefield results, Lincoln turned to more desperate methods to protect his proclamation from challenge.


How President Lincoln’s scrawled note on the back of a telegram saved a disabled boy from the army

  • Teenager discharged on day President was assassinated
  • Rare letter is being offered at auction for $15,000
  • PUBLISHED: 16:32 EST, 23 May 2013 | UPDATED:16:32 EST, 23 May 2013

    A letter from President Lincoln, in which he agrees to let a 14-year-old boy leave the Army, has gone on sale in Philadelphia.

    The note, written two months before Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, has been valued at $15,000.

    In a twist of fate, Perry Harris was discharged from the army on the day John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, Washington, and less than a week after the civil war came to an end.

    Compassion: The President’s handwritten note agrees to release a disabled teenager from the Union Army

    ‘It shows the type of person [Lincoln] was and how he was defined by clemency,’ Nathan Raab, of the Raab Collection, said.

    ‘When you see it’s involving a father and his son, it strikes a personal chord and likely did for Lincoln. He was a father of four who lost all but one of his sons,’ Mr Raab told Fox News.

    The short message, signed by the President and saying ‘Let this boy be discharged’, was written on the back of a telegram from Colonel Thomas W. Harris.

    Before being offered for sale, the note was part of a private collection and was not widely known about. It is considered rare because there are so few documents written by Lincoln about children.

    The telegram from Harris was sent to the Illinois senator Lyman Trumbull and General John M. Palmer, on February 6, 1865.

    In it, he makes an emotional plea for his disabled son to be released from duty, saying: ’My son Perry Harris 14 years old insane crippled has been mustered in 55th Kentucky regiment. Please have Secretary of War order him discharged. Col. Thos. W. Harris of Shelbyville, Ill.’

    Good listener: President Lincoln regularly responded to letters from his constituents and accepted visitors

    Union Army recruits had to be 18 to enlist during the Civil War, but many boys, like Perry, lied about their age.

    The nature of Perry’s disability is not known, but he had joined the Union Army the previous month, without his parent’s consent.

    After receiving the plea, General Palmer forwarded it to Lincoln, stating: ‘I have no doubt of the truth of this statement.’

    ‘Lincoln’s compassion during the Civil War is legendary, as are stories about him showing it toward soldiers, many of whom were little more than children,’ Mr Raab, whose auction house is selling the note, said.

    ‘Nowhere is Lincoln’s character on more vivid display than in his leniency toward the boys who had enlisted in the war.’

    While there is little chance of a letter directly reaching Barack Obama, or any of the recent presidents, Lincoln had made himself accessible to his constituents.

    ‘Letters often reached Lincoln’s desk. He also had office hours and the people could go right in and see him. They were different times,’ Mr Raeb said.

    The civil war began in the same year Lincoln became president.

    In his inaugural address he delivered a warning to the South, saying: You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.’

    The war continued until the surrender of Confederate General Robert E Lee on April 9, 1865, which in effect, ended the struggle.

    Less than a week later Lincoln was assassinated.

    The President’s values were unusual for a leader in wartime, according to historian Edward Steers Jr.

    ‘Compassion in a leader is a rare quality, especially during a horrific war,’ Mr Steers Jr. told Fox News.

    ‘Feeling grief so many times, Lincoln came to understand it better than most people,’ he added.

    The President had lost his mother when he was a child, as well as his only sister. Only one of the sixteenth President’s four sons survived to adulthood.


    March 25, 2013, 10:57 am

    Was Lincoln a Tyrant?


    When Abraham Lincoln took office in March 1861, the executive branch was small and relatively limited in its power. By the time of his assassination, he had claimed more prerogatives than any president before him, and the executive branch had grown enormously.

    Lincoln’s critics witnessed his expanding power with alarm. They accused him of becoming a tyrant and warned that his assertions of authority under the guise of “commander in chief” threatened the viability of a constitutional democracy.

    Lincoln ignored his foes and kept moving. And, despite lingering discomfort with some of his actions – particularly around the issue of civil liberties – history has largely vindicated him. Why?

    Lincoln was elected in November 1860 with no ambition to expand presidential powers. But after Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, he quickly called for 75,000 militia troops and ordered a blockade of Southern ports, even though a blockade suggests a declaration of a state of war, which only Congress can declare. Then he issued a call for more than 40,000 three-year volunteers, even though Congress has the constitutional responsibility to raise armies.

    When Union troops were assaulted in Baltimore on April 19 en route to Washington, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus along the Philadelphia to Washington line, the most dramatic of all his actions to that point. Besides the political problem connected with suspending one of the most hallowed concepts in Anglo-American law, Lincoln faced the legal question of whether he had the authority to do this. The founders placed the suspension of habeas corpus in Article I, the section that lays out Congressional powers, but muddied the waters by using the passive voice: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”

    So who has the right to suspend, Congress or the president? Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled in Congress’s favor. Lincoln ignored Taney and expanded the area of suspension to Bangor, Me. Lincoln questioned whether the nation should be so attached to a law that “the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated”?

    Lincoln believed that with the country in a state of rebellion, he had certain “war powers” – a concept not in the Constitution. Representative Clement Vallandigham of Ohio, Lincoln’s most vituperative critic, accused the president of “executive usurpation” and sought to censure Lincoln for “unconstitutional acts.” The effort failed.

    Lincoln was willing to do anything he thought was right to win the war. He favored “the most vigorous and active measures to bring the war to a speedy close, and totally opposed … any compromise of any kind or character,” a friend said. Lincoln acted with certainty and was disinclined to reverse major decisions.

    His process tended to be incremental, though, which kept him from overreaching or overreacting. He repeatedly expanded the suspension of habeas corpus, finally, in 1862, declaring martial law nationwide for the rest of the war. In 1863, Congress authorized the president to suspend habeas corpus in any case necessary.

    Habeas corpus is, for many historians, a serious blemish on Lincoln’s record. Further complicating his reputation is an 1862 choice that cleared the way for military tribunals to hear cases involving civilians. After the war, the Supreme Court ruled that if civil courts were operational, civilians had to be tried there, not in military courts.

    Still, the evidence suggests that Lincoln’s decisions were rational. In the most comprehensive study on the matter, the historian Mark Neely Jr. concludes that most of the arrests in which habeas corpus was suspended would have taken place even had those protections been in place. Very few detentions were politically motivated. Most cases involved fraudulent contracting, draft dodging, espionage or treason.

    Most important, the vast majority of arrests and military trials were in the border states, where civilian loyalties were uncertain. There is a logic during a civil war to putting a defendant before a jury of uniformed loyalists rather than in a court where the judge and jury may rule against the government not on the evidence, but because they support the enemy.

    Unlike Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lincoln did not invoke war powers to target specific groups of people in a wholesale fashion, including political enemies. The level of his response was proportional to the situation that confronted him.

    Lincoln’s willingness to expand the limits of executive power also led him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln knew that his critics would quickly attack this as unconstitutional, so he wrote the proclamation as a legal argument, emphasizing that he was taking this step out of militarily necessity and could do so as commander in chief.

    Again, this was one of a series of steps, the last being the 13th Amendment. In the first year or so of the war, two generals had tried to emancipate slaves in their areas of command. Lincoln overturned each. He acted as he did partly because he was a moderate by nature, partly because he did not think he had the constitutional power to emancipate and partly because he worried about keeping the border states in the Union.

    In the spring and early summer of 1862, Lincoln spent considerable time meeting with Kentuckians, urging them to agree to compensated emancipation. Their resistance led Lincoln to write the preliminary proclamation in July. Only after the nominal victory at Antietam in September did Lincoln make it public.

    Power accrued not only to Lincoln, but also to the executive branch. In March 1863, for instance, Congress imposed the first draft in American history and created a new agency, the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau, to enforce and administer it. The bureau had unprecedented power. By law, it was in every Congressional district in the North, and in practice it had agents and spies reaching farther into the countryside than any government agency ever had before. Although its main role was to raise men for the Army, it kept tabs on anything or anyone it identified who might interfere with that mission. In hindsight, we would say that the bureau was the nation’s first domestic intelligence agency.

    The Civil War ended with a more powerful and centralized government than the country had ever known. Lincoln always maintained that the powers he claimed were war measures, and as soon as the war was over he would relinquish them. And he and his successor, Andrew Johnson did, along with much of the state apparatus that had developed to support Lincoln’s expanded authority.

    The United States would not fight another major war for more than 50 years. In 1917 Wilson established the Committee on Public Information. Initially a propaganda organization to build support for American participation in World War I, by 1918 it was encouraging civilians to report anyone they suspected of undermining the war effort. Immigrants were often targets. The Espionage, Sabotage and Sedition Acts allowed the administration to crack down on anyone who wrote or said anything against the government, the flag, the military or the Constitution. Dissidents went to prison. Though he tried to block some legislation he deemed too repressive, Wilson stood by while the authorities and even mobs targeted such groups as the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World. Free speech was an empty letter. Unlike Lincoln, Wilson did not respond proportionally to the challenge, and many historians believe his decisions were too heavy-handed for the circumstances.

    Roosevelt was responsible for the most egregious incursions on civil liberties, however. His Executive Order 9066, issued three months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, forced nearly 130,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast into internment camps. There were no investigations into disloyalty, much less trials. The Supreme Court upheld Executive Order 9066 while the war was still raging but later shifted slightly, ruling that the government had the right to evacuate Japanese-Americans but had overstepped that right when it detained them with no evidence of wrongdoing.

    Lincoln’s reputation is less marred because his accrual of power was equal to the threat facing the nation. His authority grew incrementally and his administration tended not to overreach. The obvious exceptions are a handful of high-profile cases involving politicians and newspapermen. Still, we should keep some perspective. Neely concludes that most of the arrests and detainments involved people who were actually breaking the law, not those merely speaking out against the government.

    By contrast, Wilson’s administration systematically pursued leftists, immigrants and political dissidents not because of their actions but because of their political beliefs. Roosevelt incarcerated an entire class of people based on their ethnicity. Like Wilson, Roosevelt’s action was methodical.

    The closest the Lincoln administration came to a systematic abuse of power was in its reliance on military courts. The Supreme Court struck down this practice after the war was over, but there is an argument to be made that using military courts in border states was a sensible alternative to civil courts that were unreliable in their loyalty to the government. Lincoln’s fundamental moderation and his go-slow approach saved him from the embarrassing excesses of his successors and spared his reputation the stains that mar their legacies.


    The lure of Lincoln
    As a new film about the assassinated president packs cinemas across the States, we ask why he holds such enduring appeal for the American people

    When Abraham Lincoln breathed his last on the morning of Easter Saturday 1865, at 7.22am, his friend, the war secretary Edwin M Stanton, stood before the roomful of mourners who had gathered in a vigil at his bedside and declared: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

    People tend to say these portentous kinds of things about departing US presidents, especially if they have just been assassinated, but in the case of “Honest” Abe Lincoln, those words turned out to be truly prophetic. From the moment of his death, right up to the present day when Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln has packed out cinemas across America and looks likely to pick up a pile of awards, the 16th president of the United States has been lionised and loved like no other.

    The sanctification of Lincoln’s memory began almost immediately. That Easter Sunday in 1865, according to the Lincoln historian Jennifer L Weber, “preachers took to their pulpits and talked about Lincoln as the ‘American Jesus’ ”. Writing 45 years later, Leo Tolstoy was still making comparisons almost as lofty, declaring that “The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln”, and predicting that “his example is universal and will last thousands of years”.

    As Spielberg’s film shows, the fascination with – or, more accurately, the deep-seated affection for – Lincoln among Americans has never dimmed. As a relatively recent arrival to the US, with primary school-age children in tow, it is striking to me that the Lincoln picture books far outnumber those on, say, Washington, Jefferson or FDR in my local library and in the children’s school satchels. The love of Lincoln is implanted early in the DNA of every American schoolchild.

    There has, of late, been much plumbing the depths of why Americans feel such an emotional connection with him. His achievements alone, while monumental – winning the Civil War, emancipating the slaves, building the transcontinental railroad – cannot explain it all.

    America has what Frank J Williams – author of 14 books on Lincoln and founder of the Lincoln Forum, which meets every year in Gettysburg to discuss his legacy – describes as a “thirst” for the man. “When the film first came out last November, there were long lines to get in,” he recalls. “People watched it very quiet and engaged. There was applause at the end of the movie. Not to use hyperbole, but Americans thirst for that kind of leadership, or the leadership we think he represents.”

    One obvious part of Lincoln’s attraction is that his life story is also the American dream. The other great presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Madison, FDR or Teddy Roosevelt – were all born into privilege. Lincoln, by contrast, disparaged as a “rail-splitter” and a self-taught hick, was the original rags-to-riches story. “Here’s a guy who grew up in a log cabin, with less than a year of formal education, yet he rose to the greatest heights of power that we have in this country and he did it entirely on his own merits,” Prof Weber says. “He is the embodiment of the American dream.”

    He was also, like many great American politicians, blessed with the ability to “connect”. As Mitt Romney discovered, Americans have an instinctive preference – think Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton – for men of the world. Lincoln resonates with Americans because his wisdom was forged through often bitter real-world experience – he lost his mother at nine, and two of his children – and expressed in simple, homespun language.

    Lincoln grew up reading Aesop’s fables and went on to become a brilliant raconteur, honing his skills by entertaining judges and fellow lawyers in long evenings on the Illinois circuit. As Spielberg’s film shows, he loved to tell a good story, a skill that didn’t always win him plaudits at the time. When Lincoln won the Republican nomination for president, beating establishment favourites like William Seward, who would go on to be his Secretary of State, the commentariat of the day openly held their noses. The New York Herald described him as “a fourth-rate lecturer who cannot speak good grammar”, while the Times (of London) sniffed that he was merely a “village Lawyer”.

    This, of course, was the man who would go on to write the Gettysburg Address and a second inaugural speech that, more than 150 years later, are still the most quoted speeches in American politics. “He was our most eloquent president,” reckons Dr Ronald White, the author of a host of Lincoln books, including the biography A. Lincoln, “and that is another reason why he is so loved. It was a case of the humble being sent to show up the wise.”

    And there, perhaps, lies part of Lincoln’s deeper attraction to contemporary America. He appeals because of his manifest honesty and integrity – virtues that seem in short supply at a time when politicians are popularly held to be a self-serving elite who, unlike Lincoln, seem to have forgotten who they are and where they come from. “Today, as we look at the gridlock in Washington, we’re searching for someone with integrity, someone who can get something done,” says Dr White, when asked why Lincoln’s appeal so endures. “Someone who has a voice that we can listen to, and that’s why Lincoln is still so important today.”

    An ability to “get things done” was another of Lincoln’s virtues that seems to shine particularly brightly in 2013, when the US Congress has just completed the least productive legislative term in its history. Comparisons are often drawn between Lincoln and Obama, and not just because the current president is another Illinois politician with a talent for making speeches, who also declared his candidacy for president on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield. When Obama talks about giving Americans a “fair shake”, he is echoing Lincoln’s own commitment to the idea that the glory of the American democratic experiment was that it promised every American “an unfettered start in life, and a fair chance, in the race of life”.

    But where the comparison falls apart, says Mr Williams of the Lincoln Forum, is that “Old Abe” knew how to make things happen. “Lincoln was not just about the words – the difference with Mr Obama is getting things done. Winning the war, saving the Union, freeing slaves, choosing the right generals like Grant and Sherman, pushing through the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act and the Homestead Act to encourage settlement in the West. Lincoln was an essentially effectual man.”

    That is another key part of Lincoln’s attraction. He might be a revered figure – a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Martin Luther-King – but to truly appeal as an American hero, he also needs a rough touch as an antidote to all that saintly high-mindedness.

    The same man who used his soaring second inaugural address to urge forgiveness and healing after four years of war – “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds” – was also a hard-bitten political street-fighter.

    “Lincoln knew postmasters he had appointed, he knew everyone in the area, and even papers people subscribed to,” says Dr Thomas F Schwartz, a former state historian for Illinois who set up the Lincoln Museum in Springfield and who was among a group of scholars consulted by Spielberg in 2006. “Postmasters controlled the delivery of mail, so if someone wanted to send out political mailing, a postmaster could sit on it. This was the stuff that occupied Lincoln on a daily basis.

    “Lincoln came from Illinois, which was a world of bare-knuckled politics. His hands were greasy. President Obama had some experience in the political realm, but he doesn’t have the breadth of that network that Lincoln enjoyed.”

    The Spielberg film – which focuses on the four months of Congressional wheeler-dealing required to ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery – revels in Lincoln’s grittier side as he works the “machine”, using somewhat dubious and underhand methods to achieve a higher purpose. If the film has a contemporary message, Dr Schwartz concludes, it is that, at times, ugly and difficult compromises – as much as, if not more than, soaring rhetoric – are the real engine of progress.

    And that is how Lincoln still lives and breathes in the American public mind. Not as a saintly cipher, but as a figure whom Doris Kearns Goodwin describes in her book Team of Rivals as a “plain and complex, shrewd and transparent, tender and iron-willed leader” whose qualities are not simply admired nearly 160 years after his death, but sorely missed.


    A Lincoln for Our Time

    ‘Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism,’ by John Burt

    Published: February 14, 2013

    There have been many ways to think about Abraham Lincoln, our most enigmatic president, but the image of him as a moral philosopher is not the most obvious. We have “Honest Abe,” the great rail-splitter of American legend, Lincoln the political operative and architect of the Republican Party, and Lincoln the savvy wielder of executive power as portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s recent film.

    Yet several works have put the issue of Lincoln’s language, rhetoric and political thought front and center. Among them, Garry Wills’s “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” Ronald C. White Jr.’s “Lincoln’s Greatest Speech” and Allen Guelzo’s “Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas”all deserve honorable mention. But the first and still best effort to advance a philosophical reading of Lincoln was Harry V. Jaffa’s “Crisis of the House Divided,” published in 1959.

    A student of the philosopher Leo Strauss, Jaffa argued that the issue between Lincoln and Douglas during the 1850s was the clash between Lincoln’s doctrine of natural right and Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty. This was, as Jaffa declared, identical to the conflict between Socrates and Thrasymachus in Plato’s “Republic.” Douglas argued that whatever the people of a state or territory wanted made it right for them. For Lincoln, however, only a prior commitment to the moral law could make a free people.

    The originality of Jaffa’s book was his ability to make what seemed a purely historical debate address the deepest themes of the Western philosophic tradition. At issue were two contending conceptions of justice. Lincoln’s appeal to the “self-­evident truth” of equality in the Declaration of Independence provided the moral touchstone of the American republic. Douglas’s affirmation of popular sovereignty was a statement of sheer power politics in which questions of justice are ultimately decided by the will of the majority. For Jaffa, any falling away from the transcendent doctrine of pure natural law was tantamount to a slide into relativism, historicism and ultimately nihilism.

    For the first time in over half a century, Jaffa’s book has a serious rival. John Burt, a professor of English at Brandeis University, has written a work that every serious student of Lincoln will have to read, although its sheer bulk alone — more than 800 pages — as well as the density of its prose may deter all but the most intrepid Lincolnophiles. It is a work of history presented as an argument about moral conflict, and a work of philosophy presented as a rhetorical analysis of Lincoln’s most famous speeches. Unlike Jaffa, who projected Lincoln through the long history of natural law from Plato and Cicero through Aquinas, Locke and the American framers, Burt refracts Lincoln through the philosophy of Kant, Rawls and contemporary liberal political theory. His is very much a Lincoln for our time.

    Burt begins from the problem of how to resolve conflict in an open society. Does liberalism presuppose agreement around a common moral core — all men are created equal — or is it merely a modus vivendi for people with different values and interests who consent to work together for purely opportunistic reasons? James Madison, in The Federalist No. 10, thought it was the second. He saw a vast republic of competing factions that would cooperate because none could muster the resources to exercise a permanent dominance over the others. But what happens, as in the case of slavery during the 1850s, when these factions cease to pursue interests that can be negotiated and become wedded to principles central to identity? Compromise over interests is possible; compromise over principles is far more difficult.

    The problem of moral compromise is at the center of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. At the time of the founding, as Lincoln told the story, slavery had been treated as a regrettable evil and one that would slowly be put on the path to “ultimate extinction.” There was even a certain shame over slavery, which accounts for why the word is not mentioned in the Constitution. But in the succeeding generations this view radically changed, and what was once seen as merely a peculiar institution came to be regarded by John C. Calhoun and others as a “positive good,” crucial to the Southern way of life. Lincoln’s barb that if slavery is a good, it is a good that no one has ever chosen for himself made no difference.

    A welcome aspect of Burt’s study is that it presents the debate between Lincoln and Douglas as a real debate between two principled political actors struggling to make sense of their time. Douglas’s defense of popular sovereignty was not the first step down the slippery slope to nihilism; it was an effort to defuse the slavery issue by returning it to the state and territorial legislatures. Douglas remained loyal to the Madisonian vision of politics that seeks to find some reasonable middle ground in which differences can be accommodated. His claim that he was indifferent as to whether slavery was voted up or down was not simply a piece of callous value neutrality, but an effort to prove to Southern slave owners as well as to Northern anti-abolitionists that he was a man with whom all of them could do business.

    Lincoln came to regard slavery as a unique moral evil, something beyond the limits of a consensual society. There are some things — like taxes — that are subject to deal-making, and others — human dignity, for one — that are not. On slavery as an institution, Lincoln was prepared to negotiate; on slavery as a principle, he would not. This is not to say that Lincoln ever crossed into the territory of William Lloyd Garrison and the New England abolitionists, who regarded the Constitution’s compromises on slavery as a treaty with the Devil. This kind of higher-law idealism — think of Thaddeus Stevens as played by Tommy Lee Jones — may be rhetorically attractive but contains its own hidden dangers. The most obvious danger of a politics of conscience is the ever-present threat of violence and war. For those who cannot or will not see things our way, there may be no other recourse but to force of arms.

    Lincoln never succumbed to the narcissism of the Emersonian beautiful soul, putting the purity of his own convictions above the law. He retained a statesmanlike ability to treat his opponents not as enemies to be conquered but as rational agents who might be persuaded through reasoned argument. As he told his audience in Peoria, Ill., in 1854: “I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation.” Democracy meant for him more than a Madisonian modus vivendi; it represented a commitment to a structure of fairness that respected the moral autonomy of free men and women.

    If Burt’s Lincoln is a Rawlsian liberal seeking something like the basic requirements of justice, he is also someone with a tragic sense of “negative capability.” By this Burt means that our moral concepts remain so deeply embedded in our lives and histories that we can never fully understand what they entail except retrospectively. Our moral commitments unfold over time and cannot be rendered intelligible on the basis of first principles alone.

    For example, when, in Peoria, Lincoln called slavery a “monstrous injustice,” could he have imagined that this would later commit him to securing the passage of the 13th Amendment? Or was it conceivable that his position would eventually lead to the election of our first African-American president? Probably not. Burt’s Lincoln sounds like a Hegelian philosopher for whom our moral conceptions become known to us only in the fullness of time and under the force of circumstances that no one — not even a Lincoln — can imagine.

    It is at this point that Burt’s reading offers a powerful challenge to Jaffa. For Jaffa, Lincoln was a philosophical rationalist whose commitment to natural law proceeded from almost geometric logic; its consequences can be known to all on the basis of unaided reason. Think of the scene in Spielberg’s “Lincoln”in which he deduces the necessity for equality from the same axiomatic premises he recalls from reading Euclid’s “Elements” as a young man.

    But Burt sees Lincoln as a historicist for whom our moral conceptions emerge only over time and in ways that we can never fully comprehend. We are always viewing our lives as through a glass darkly. “The story of democracy, in Lincoln’s view,” Burt writes, “is the story of something with a destiny, but it is a destiny never fully understood either by the founders or by Lincoln himself.” But where will this destiny take us? American democracy remains a work in progress. The unanswered question is whether destiny — the obscure and mysterious workings of fate — will issue in a new birth of freedom or a new dark age.

    Burt argues that Lincoln’s decision to pursue a politics of principle over deal-­making was ultimately an act of faith, something beyond the limits of reason alone. Like the biblical Abraham, told to sacrifice his only son, he could not possibly have known where the consequences of his acts might lead. This does not mean Lincoln bade farewell to reason, but his decisions to fight a war, emancipate slaves and push for racial equality were choices that only history could make clear.

    Burt suggests, but never directly asks, the W.W.L.D. question — what would Lincoln do? What are the conditions for compromise in our own intensely polarized age? He admits that after giving the question long consideration, he has been unable to come up with anyone who managed this as well as Lincoln. Let me only suggest the names of Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel.

    Lincoln’s example was rare, though not unique. The problem with making Lincoln so absolutely singular is that it puts him outside of history. Those who invoke Lincoln’s legacy today tend to see him either as a Machiavellian wielder of political power or as a secular saint of modern democracy. Each of these views is false. Lincoln reminds us that statecraft requires an attention to both principle and compromise. Principle without compromise is empty; compromise without principle is blind. This is a valuable lesson for our politicians even today.


    February 20, 2013, 12:11 pm
    Harriet Jacobs’s War


    By early 1863, the former slave Harriet Jacobs was in better health than she’d been in years. Nearly two decades earlier, she had escaped to freedom after years hidden away in the garret above her grandmother’s home in Edenton, N.C. The confinement – within a crawlspace 9 feet long, 7 feet wide and 3 feet high – had been physically punishing, she noted in her narrative, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.”

    Jacobs had written the book in the 1850s, but in fits and starts, slowed not only by her responsibilities as a nursemaid in the Hudson Valley home of the magazine editor Nathaniel Parker Willis but also at one point by “a severe attack of Rheumatism” that kept her from raising her hands even to her head. The following year, once again suffering from an “old complaint,” Jacobs was given the diagnosis of what may have been uterine fibroids: “The Doct examined me this summer an say that I have a Tumer on my womb and that my womb have become hard as stone.”

    But in February 1863, energized by President Lincoln’s promise of emancipation and her own public role as an abolitionist, these troubles seemed finally behind her. The previous six months, she admitted to her friend Amy Post, had been the happiest of her life. This was almost certainly the result, in part, of her beginning a career as an activist newspaper correspondent.

    Jacobs’s first piece of journalism, coming on the heels of a celebrated slave narrative and based on her reporting in the capital, had appeared in September. Writing in William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, she’d called on abolitionists in the North to provide clothing and other goods to black refugees filling the “contraband” camps in Washington and Alexandria, Va. She did more than report: she’d sought homes for orphans and appealed for Northern teachers to travel South to help; women especially were needed. Jacobs made a special plea to the young Charlotte Forten, an abolitionist poet, who would move to the freedman settlement at Port Royal, S.C., as one of its first black teachers.

    Jacobs, who was nearly 50, returned to Alexandria in mid-January as a relief worker. It was for her a religious calling. “I have often read the sentence – they are God’s poor,” she had written to Post, almost certainly referring to a line in William Andrew Smith’s 1856 proslavery lecture “The Duty of Masters to Slaves”: “They are God’s poor, committed to us. We must control and protect them for their profit as well as work them for our mutual profit.” Jacobs, of course, saw her commitment to God’s poor differently than Smith. Of that particular line, she added to Post, “I have learned its comprehensions.” She would be committed to them, not the other way around.

    Cabinet photograph by Gilbert Studios, Washington, D.C. Gold-toned albumen print
    Harriet Jacobs in 1894.

    Indeed, for the work at hand, Jacobs believed she’d been spared – from slavery, from her confinement, from disease. Now she came wielding credentials from New York Yearly Meeting of Friends, a religious group, which read, “to aid the Colored Refugees as matron.”

    On hand to receive Jacobs’s letter of introduction was Julia Ann Wilbur, a Quaker from upstate New York who’d come to Alexandria in 1862 as a relief agent with the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. Wilbur, an avid diarist and feisty letter writer, first noted meeting Jacobs in 1849 at the antislavery reading room founded in Rochester by Jacobs’s brother John. (In late 1838, John had freed himself from his master, the congressman Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, father to Harriet’s children, after leaving behind this note: “Sir – I have left you, not to return; when I have got settled, I will give you further satisfaction. No longer yours, JOHN S. JACOB.”) This later meeting in Alexandria struck Wilbur as not entirely pleasant.

    Jacobs herself seemed nice enough, “well calculated to give personal attention to those people, to nurse the sick & care for them in various ways,” Wilbur wrote in a report to Anna M.C. Barnes, the secretary of the antislavery society. “She can do these things much better than I can, & I am glad she has come, & we want such a person here. I welcome her with all my heart.”

    But the letter announcing Jacobs in Alexandria and laying out her responsibilities also seemed to Wilbur a slap in the face – “almost like an insult to us.” According to Wilbur’s own New York Quakers, Jacobs was “to appropriate the clothing & other things wh. they have sent & may send for those people. She is to keep a record of the names of all the persons & a list of the articles furnished to them to prevent fraud or mistakes.” Given what Jacobs had written of her previous chaotic experiences in Alexandria, the sick and dying tucked away in dark rooms, to say nothing of the limited space, Wilbur found the implications of Jacobs’s task absolutely untenable.

    Wilbur had a different vision for the work being done. The situation Jacobs arrived into called for much more flexibility. Wilbur would be content, she insisted to Barnes, “as far as we can satisfy ourselves that persons are needy & deserving before we give them any thing, & give them what is adapted to their wants if we have it. Nothing further has been required of me by those who have sent goods to me.” And that list was growing. Donations had come in from Homer, Wheatland, Rochester, and Niagara County, in New York. A large box had arrived from Boston, directed to her by a nurse at work in the hospital. Separating out and keeping perfect records of the goods sent to Jacobs, Wilbur surmised, would “take the whole time of one person.” They were now only two.

    Still, it wasn’t just the added work Jacobs’s arrival would require that set Wilbur off. Nor was it simply the New York Society’s apparent obliviousness to the conditions on the ground in Alexandria. Of the town’s poorest, mainly black, neighborhoods along the water, Wilbur had noted in her diary: “I saw many C’s [contrabands] in dreadful places – no chimneys – no floors – Unfit for brutes. No windows – no beds – but rags! It made me sick!” Government barracks to house the refugees were still under construction, and already under threat: “Some of the Soldiers act very meanly towards the colored folks, & one was heard to say he would burn the barracks when they are finished.”

    But in the end, Wilbur took the letter Jacobs presented, written by the prominent Quaker Benjamin Tatham, quite personally. Given what she was up against, she explained to Barnes, “If the N.Y. folks do not think us trusty & honest why, then, I wish they wd. send no goods to us.” And to add further insult to this injury, Tatham had sent Jacobs with boxes addressed to the acting superintendent, the Baptist minister Albert Gladwin, who was away from Alexandria when she arrived. Those boxes would go unopened and their goods undistributed until he could receive them himself, five days later.

    In a letter to Wilbur written a week after Jacobs arrived, Jonathan Dennis Jr., the Washington Quaker serving as liaison between the New York Society and their new agent in the South, asked after her – unable to reach Jacobs directly, and apparently not certain even of her name: “Unsure of Hannah Jacobs’ Address will thou please to see her and ascertain if she has a safe place to receive and keep the goods until she can distribute them. Please to see – what kind of place she has, and write me what thou thinks of it.”

    This letter from Dennis, and Wilbur’s reply, apparently led to an invitation for Jacobs to pay him a visit. In a follow-up letter to Barnes, Wilbur described what she’d learned of the Dennises: “I am told he has a southern wife, she is a gay lady & wants to shoot every nigger, one of the real explosive kind of women. … Mrs. Jacobs went there. Mrs. D. didn’t kick her out of doors, but she might about as well have done it.” Jacobs’s bravery appears to have endeared her to Wilbur, and soon they developed a working partnership. Before long they’d have a friendship.

    Touring the town they found smallpox around every corner. This threatened not only Jacobs’s own good health, but also both women’s ability to maintain secure rooming in the city. Writing to Amy Post, Wilbur described the predicament she and Jacobs found themselves in throughout January:

    There is so much small pox here we cannot go to many places. – I mean to keep out of the rooms where it is. – If Mr. K’s [Benjamin Kimball, who ran Wilbur’s boarding house] folks thought I ever came into contact with it they wd not board me. Mrs. Jacobs got into a dark room to day where a man had it, – & when she went to her boarding place (a colored family), she was told that if she went where small pox was they could’nt board her. – It is hard work to keep away from these people for we want to know all about them & attend to the sick.

    Feeling the same insecurity, the refugees would often hide those among them who showed signs of the disease. In time whole families would be exposed. Wilbur advised her antislavery society against sending more relief workers.

    In her first report to the New York Friends, Jacobs described these conditions among the refugees in Alexandria as “pitiable.” Doing what was requested of her, she had kept as accurate an accounting of the donated goods as possible. (Jacobs would report distributing 2,620 garments – “large and small, this includes stockings” – during her first four months in Alexandria; of these, she calculated, 920 articles were sold, “from five cents to two dollars, the amount of money received five hundred and thirteen dollars.”) Many of those who had found government work in the fall still hadn’t been paid. For months, the government hospital would be supplied entirely with donations.

    Through all this, Jacobs would make no mention of whatever abuse she faced in the Dennis household, or the other challenges she must have encountered settling in among Alexandria’s largely secessionist population. The fiery Wilbur, though, was never so inclined to hold her tongue. “Oh! what a city this is,” she complained to Barnes days after Jacobs had arrived. “There is a very bad spirit abroad here at present. – Many of the soldiers are angry because they have been so long without pay, & they lay every thing to the nigger, he has caused the war, & now he is free, & government is helping them & the soldiers are mad, & they take every opportunity to insult & abuse the negroes.” (Wilbur would add to this in the margin of the letter’s first page: “I have written this in a disturbed state of mind. Please excuse what seems strange.”)

    So much for such good health. Small pox aside, Alexandria’s bad spirit alone must have been sickening. Still, with Wilbur, Jacobs would make it her home for the duration of the war. Such was her commitment to God’s poor.


    Britain’s colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition
    David Cameron’s ancestors were among the wealthy families who received generous reparation payments that would be worth millions of pounds in today’s money


    The true scale of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade has been laid bare in documents revealing how the country’s wealthiest families received the modern equivalent of billions of pounds in compensation after slavery was abolished.

    The previously unseen records show exactly who received what in payouts from the Government when slave ownership was abolished by Britain – much to the potential embarrassment of their descendants. Dr Nick Draper from University College London, who has studied the compensation papers, says as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.

    As a result, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery where it has been passed on to them. Dr Draper said: “There was a feeding frenzy around the compensation.” A John Austin, for instance, owned 415 slaves, and got compensation of £20,511, a sum worth nearly £17m today. And there were many who received far more.

    Academics from UCL, led by Dr Draper, spent three years drawing together 46,000 records of compensation given to British slave-owners into an internet database to be launched for public use on Wednesday. But he emphasised that the claims set to be unveiled were not just from rich families but included many “very ordinary men and women” and covered the entire spectrum of society.

    Dr Draper added that the database’s findings may have implications for the “reparations debate”. Barbados is currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families.

    Among those revealed to have benefited from slavery are ancestors of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. Other prominent names which feature in the records include scions of one of the nation’s oldest banking families, the Barings, and the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen’s cousin. Some families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution; others bought or maintained their country houses, and some used the money for philanthropy. George Orwell’s great-grandfather, Charles Blair, received £4,442, equal to £3m today, for the 218 slaves he owned.

    The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their “property” when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833. This figure represented a staggering 40 per cent of the Treasury’s annual spending budget and, in today’s terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn.

    A total of £10m went to slave-owning families in the Caribbean and Africa, while the other half went to absentee owners living in Britain. The biggest single payout went to James Blair (no relation to Orwell), an MP who had homes in Marylebone, central London, and Scotland. He was awarded £83,530, the equivalent of £65m today, for 1,598 slaves he owned on the plantation he had inherited in British Guyana.

    But this amount was dwarfed by the amount paid to John Gladstone, the father of 19th-century prime minister William Gladstone. He received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations. His son, who served as prime minister four times during his 60-year career, was heavily involved in his father’s claim.

    Mr Cameron, too, is revealed to have slave owners in his family background on his father’s side. The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Mr Cameron’s first cousin six times removed. Sir James, who was the son of one of Mr Cameron’s great-grand-uncle’s, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica.

    Another illustrious political family that it appears still carries the name of a major slave owner is the Hogg dynasty, which includes the former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg. They are the descendants of Charles McGarel, a merchant who made a fortune from slave ownership. Between 1835 and 1837 he received £129,464, about £101m in today’s terms, for the 2,489 slaves he owned. McGarel later went on to bring his younger brother-in-law Quintin Hogg into his hugely successful sugar firm, which still used indentured labour on plantations in British Guyana established under slavery. And it was Quintin’s descendants that continued to keep the family name in the limelight, with both his son, Douglas McGarel Hogg, and his grandson, Quintin McGarel Hogg, becoming Lord Chancellor.

    Dr Draper said: “Seeing the names of the slave-owners repeated in 20th‑century family naming practices is a very stark reminder about where those families saw their origins being from. In this case I’m thinking about the Hogg family. To have two Lord Chancellors in Britain in the 20th century bearing the name of a slave-owner from British Guyana, who went penniless to British Guyana, came back a very wealthy man and contributed to the formation of this political dynasty, which incorporated his name into their children in recognition – it seems to me to be an illuminating story and a potent example.”

    Mr Hogg refused to comment yesterday, saying he “didn’t know anything about it”. Mr Cameron declined to comment after a request was made to the No 10 press office.

    Another demonstration of the extent to which slavery links stretch into modern Britain is Evelyn Bazalgette, the uncle of one of the giants of Victorian engineering, Sir Joseph Bazalgette and ancestor of Arts Council boss Sir Peter Bazalgette. He was paid £7,352 (£5.7m in today’s money) for 420 slaves from two estates in Jamaica. Sir Peter said yesterday: “It had always been rumoured that his father had some interests in the Caribbean and I suspect Evelyn inherited that. So I heard rumours but this confirms it, and guess it’s the sort of thing wealthy people on the make did in the 1800s. He could have put his money elsewhere but regrettably he put it in the Caribbean.”

    The TV chef Ainsley Harriott, who had slave-owners in his family on his grandfather’s side, said yesterday he was shocked by the amount paid out by the government to the slave-owners. “You would think the government would have given at least some money to the freed slaves who need to find homes and start new lives,” he said. “It seems a bit barbaric. It’s like the rich protecting the rich.”
    The database is available from Wednesday at: .

    Cruel trade

    Slavery on an industrial scale was a major source of the wealth of the British empire, being the exploitation upon which the West Indies sugar trade and cotton crop in North America was based. Those who made money from it were not only the slave-owners, but also the investors in those who transported Africans to enslavement. In the century to 1810, British ships carried about three million to a life of forced labour.

    Campaigning against slavery began in the late 18th century as revulsion against the trade spread. This led, first, to the abolition of the trade in slaves, which came into law in 1808, and then, some 26 years later, to the Act of Parliament that would emancipate slaves. This legislation made provision for the staggering levels of compensation for slave-owners, but gave the former slaves not a penny in reparation.

    More than that, it said that only children under six would be immediately free; the rest being regarded as “apprentices” who would, in exchange for free board and lodging, have to work for their “owners” 40 and a half hours for nothing until 1840. Several large disturbances meant that the deadline was brought forward and so, in 1838, 700,000 slaves in the West Indies, 40,000 in South Africa and 20,000 in Mauritius were finally liberated.


    Lincoln funeral train mystery solved

    Anne Ryman, The Arizona Republic | 10:11 p.m. EDT May 1, 2013

    For years, scholars have puzzled over the precise color of train car that carried the body President Abraham Lincoln back to Illinois after his assassination.

    PHOENIX — The man from Minnesota had something that model train enthusiast Wayne Wesolowski deeply desired.

    The Minnesota man inherited a window frame from the historic train car that carried President Abraham Lincoln’s body back to his hometown in Springfield, Ill., after the 1865 assassination.

    Wesolowski, who now teaches chemistry at the University of Arizona, needed the frame to solve a historical mystery. Lincoln scholars were uncertain of the funeral car’s precise color. Fire destroyed the car in the early 1900s. No color photographs exist. Eyewitness accounts in newspapers were unreliable; the car was variously described as chocolate brown or claret red.

    Wesolowski had been allowed to photograph and even hold the window frame. But the man refused to lend it for analysis. Wesolowski kept in touch with the man, on and off, for a decade.

    As time passed, solving the mystery took on an urgency. With the 150th anniversary of the president’s death approaching in 2015, a historical group planned to create a replica of the funeral train. The group asked Wesolowski to be a consultant.

    Wesolowski didn’t want to guess on something as important as color.

    He decided to make one more appeal — for the sake of history.

    Wesolowski is a walking encyclopedia on the Lincoln train. He was a chemistry professor at Benedictine University near Chicago in the 1990s when the university’s president called him into his office. The president had a keen interest in Lincoln. He wanted Wesolowski to create a traveling exhibit of the funeral train. Within days, he had a $100,000 grant from the Chicago Tribune.

    Nowhere is Lincoln’s legend greater than in his home state of Illinois. Monuments and memorabilia abound. Lincoln’s funeral train holds a special significance. Lincoln scholars call the presidential car the equivalent to Air Force One. The 16th president never used the railroad car during his lifetime, though. Historians estimate that millions of Americans turned out to see the car carrying the president’s body as it made the 12-day trip over 1,600 miles from Washington, D.C.

    It had a profound effect on the Northern and border states, according to William C. Harris, an emeritus history professor at North Carolina State University who has written several books on Lincoln. The train produced a unity and appreciation of Lincoln’s leadership and character that had not existed earlier. Even critics of Lincoln expressed sorrow at his death, he said.

    As part of the traveling train exhibit, Wesolowski finished a 15-foot miniature of Lincoln’s funeral train in 1995. He had to guess at the color, though, based on written descriptions. He picked a reddish maroon.

    To get the precise color, he needed to find a paint sample of the car’s exterior. One evening, a few years later, he mentioned his interest in the Lincoln train to his dining companions at a charity dinner.

    “We’re from Minnesota,” someone said. “There’s someone there with Lincoln train stuff.”

    They gave him a name. Wesolowski later met up with the man, whose identity he is protecting. The man had inherited the car window from a relative. The window had been removed after 1877 but before fire destroyed the car in 1911.

    The man refused to let the window out of his sight. Ever hopeful, Wesolowski stayed in touch. He sent the man the latest research he found on the funeral train.

    Six months ago, Wesolowski decided to try again. He called the man, explained the car replica project and the historical importance of getting the paint color correct. This time, he sweetened the offer. He would trade another Lincoln artifact in his possession: A piece of black bunting that draped the funeral car.

    “Would you be willing to loan a piece of the (window) trim?” Wesolowski asked.

    “Sure,” the man said.

    Wesolowski had another question. And it was an important one. Could he scrape the trim to get a paint sample?

    The man agreed.

    Wesolowski was afraid to open the box when it arrived in early March. Inside, a sample of the window trim the size of a pencil rested in foam. After all these years, he finally had what he needed.

    He enlisted the help of three labs on the University of Arizona campus, including the Arizona State Museum, where conservator Nancy Odegaard has experience in a color-matching procedure known as the Munsell Color System.

    “Hi Nancy,” he wrote in an email. “Haven’t talked in a while but I’m looking for a favor.”

    The two gathered in the museum’s lab on March 27. Hunched over a microscope and using lamps to replicate daylight, Odegaard sprinkled specs of paint chips against the paint samples. After about an hour and a half of comparing, she had the answer.

    “Can you see them?” Odegaard asked as the paint chips disappeared against the sample.

    “Those are really hard to see now,” Wesolowski said.

    “That means they match!” Odegaard said.

    The color is a deep maroon —16 parts black and four parts red.

    Wesolowski had closure. There was no more guessing.

    Mystery solved.


    About the Lincoln funeral train

    The Arizona Republic

    The funeral car was originally Abraham Lincoln’s presidential railroad car. But he never rode in the car until after his death in 1865. Lincoln’s widow, Mary, wanted the president’s body sent straight to Chicago for burial but later agreed to having a train carry Lincoln’s coffin along portions of what had been his inaugural train route in 1861.

    The funeral car carried the president and the coffin of his son, Willie, who died in 1862. The train traveled about 1,600 miles from Washington, D.C., to the president’s hometown of Springfield, Ill. Millions of mourners turned out in cold, rainy weather. Ten funerals were planned along the way.

    The car was later sold to the Union Pacific Railroad for $6,850 and then to private owners. One of the owners put the car on exhibit. A Minnesota prairie fire destroyed the car while it was in storage on March 18, 1911.


    About Jerry Frey

    Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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