Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

The First Reading of The Emancipation Proclamation: July 22nd, 1862

By Scott Ackerman

As we move through the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, 2012 has already seen the anniversary of the bloodbath at Shiloh, and of the meat-grinder known as the Seven Days Battles. This fall, Antietam and Fredericksburg will effect commemorations worthy of the soldiers who fought and died there 150 years ago. Inextricably linked to the events at Antietam and Fredericksburg will be the commemoration of Emancipation, as Antietam provided the victory Lincoln needed to announce his proclamation to the public, while the disaster at Fredericksburg led many to wonder if Lincoln would follow through with his redefinition of the war. Amid all the celebration and thoughtful reflection, the anniversary of Lincoln’s first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet on July 22nd should not be overlooked. Although it marked neither the beginning, nor the end, of a profound revolution in American society, it was nonetheless a critical moment in the translation of slave agency into federal emancipation policy.

As we pause to remember what this mid-summer moment meant for the slaves still toiling on Southern fields, for the soldiers who would provide much of the Emancipations Proclamation enforcement, and for generations who struggled with the meaning of freedom in the war of the Civil War, let us also reflect on why Soldier’s Home proved so critical to the Emancipation saga. Gaining a respite from the crush of office seekers and social obligations of the White House, while enjoying the cool hillside breezes gave Lincoln the opportunity during those critical summer months of 1862 to fully consider the breadth, scope, and ultimately, the entire meaning of the Union war effort. Consequently, as you (hopefully) visit our site this weekend, this summer, or even this year, take a moment to picture Lincoln wandering these same rooms and grounds exactly 150 years ago, contemplating and crafting a document that would change the nature of the Union war effort, and ultimately, the nation as a whole.

Mr. Ackerman is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
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Lincoln 2012: Vampire Hunter and (international) Box Office Slayer

By Catherine Clinton

My obsession with action adventure films and my status as a Lincoln scholar, I decided, would make me a perfect candidate to enjoy Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

The fractional truth — a concept Lincoln alludes to in the film’s voiceover — can become a dangerous thing, but it also allows for complex, entertaining eccentricities. Especially in this souped-up digital age, it’s nice to have a nod to the past: like the animated television series Clone High (2002) as the teenaged Lincoln struggles with his rival JFK for the attentions of Cleopatra, and more recently the 2010 Drunk History episode on YouTube with Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle. I had my heart set on loving this new high concept mash-up of the slasher-horror with a true red, white and blue biopic. Yet I was somewhat disappointed, especially as a fan of the book.

I found Seth Graham-Smith’s vampire hunter volume an engaging tongue-in-cheek novel cleverly exploiting Lincoln’s mythic status, revisionist views on race and slavery, not to mention the current craze for vampires. For Lincolnistas the volume presents a parlor game of catching the errors or sorting out the real from fake quotes. The film is even more mind blowing, and for the uninitiated, a fairly unbelievable introduction. But from his law partner William Herndon forward, Lincoln has been a commodity — thus liberties will be taken and outrageous claims made. It would’ve been nicer for Graham-Smith to have been more faithful to his own text with his screenplay adaptation, but as any member of the Screenwriter’s Guild knows, being faithful to the text is a fantasy no producer will buy.

Aficionados of horror films revel in the cheesy comfort of the fantastic directly competing with the familiar which produces hairs rising on the back of the neck. The book and film both raise a series of improbable questions, even if you believe in these fanged creatures of the night.

Like what if Lincoln’s mother died at the hands of some dastardly vampire rather than the milk sickness to which her death has been attributed for a century and a half? What if Abraham Lincoln had used his skills as an axman to kill these monsters in a campaign of just revenge? (But the film seems to miss a trick to not have him whittle some stakes!) What if slaves shipped downriver are being consumed literally, rather than just being worked to death in the fields?

But questions and dialogue aside, this is a dazzling spectacle with epic and operatic features.
The balletic slo-mo special effects of the strapping railsplitter being trained as a vampire hunter attract a special crowd of filmgoers; not just the fans of Tim Burton  (producer) or Timur Bekmametov (director, whose 2008 Wanted, was a critical and box-office hit), but also legions within the newly emerging youth market seeking 3-D action adventure. Viewers get a screen soaked in blood and irony. My favorite cynicism was the vampire leader Adam’s plea that his people be allowed their own nation. Thus paving the way for a sequel: Vampire Nation — back to the “what if the Confederates had won” parlor game of the Civil War centennial era!

An appealing contemporary “what if” is posed with slavery in league with the darkest of horrors, vampirism. Bondage is portrayed with striking imagery; gore and bloodlust dominate in scenes where slavery appears, with the tip of the lash extending itself 3D nearly to the viewer’s own goose-bumped flesh. Most weirdly apt within this sectional fantasia: Jefferson Davis calling on Adam for military assistance from vampire troops!  How the Lincolns plot and prevail to defeat Confederate vampires at Gettysburg forms the movie’s dramatic and sensational climax.
Hats off to the sexy youthful actors who provide viewers with more than just pretty faces. Dominic Cooper’s Henry–a man with a secret, who’s also a man with a mission–provides an interesting foil for the young man from Pigeon Creek. This tension between means, desires and a higher morality has a spiritual dimension which at times lifts the script out of its blood-soaked, grimy depths. But the higher ground is too seldom sought and even more rarely reached.

At times the continuity coordinator seems to have lost the thread – as do some of the viewers – but what the hell was Harrison Ford trying to find/accused of/ running from in The Fugitive? Thus often it’s not about the plot — and in this film, the moralistic streak for Lincoln comes shining through, manufactured by 150 years of scholarly hagiography, iconic cultural motifs, and just plain pop fiction. Babraham– as he has been affectionately labeled–comes off as an “aw shucks” superhuman figure in Bakmametov’s twisted tribute.

The filmmakers demonize racism, championing the heroics of abolitionism, giving Lincoln an African-American ally to fight bloodsucking bats on a train! At least the auteurs have given this central black character (William Johnson) agency, as well as the name of an African-American servant who accompanied the Lincolns from Springfield to Washington.  Anthony Mackie provides a charismatic performance, which detracts from his role in plot absurdity. Harriet Tubman is also provided a cameo–in yet another portrait with 99% inaccuracy (similar to Stephen Douglas & Joshua Speed). Yet Tubman’s genuine one percent also triumphs as a plot device–power to the Underground Railroad and who has the final taste of victory and freedom.

Lincoln’s life and legendary status makes him a perfect star–to promote his own destiny, as he clearly does in this offbeat film epic. Benjamin Walker (so effective on Broadway in the role of Andrew Jackson in the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” that he may want to specialize in playing Presidents!) is relatively unknown to film audiences– which gives him an advantage. Who is this, if not our man Lincoln?

The general public’s ignorance about Mary Lincoln– played by the fetching Mary Elizabeth Winstead, allows viewers to shoehorn the Lincoln-Todd romance into a formulaic cliché about boy meeting girl. The writer and director throw in enough authentic emotive touches to create chemistry on screen. But I recognize that only Mary Lincoln biographers will be satisfied by this saccharine rendition of Lincoln’s romance and marriage. And even I wouldn’t try to sell an audience on such an heroic Mrs. Lincoln…who leans toward anti-slavery and braves the open road at night with a black woman. The audience is roused nearly to applause when Mary avenges her child’s death, and puts an end to the phantasmagoric creature played by Erin Wasson–a female vampire with such slither and style that she conjures up Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain crossed with Catwoman. Although most cinematic vampires have been men–and the sexualized undertones are far from subtle in these portraits–perhaps the most effective vampire within this saga is the enigmatic Vadoma–who struts and connives until she meets her match (no spoilers). Her voracious demonization of womanhood harks back to Philip Burne- Jones’ painting of a female leaning over a supine man, which scandalized London when exhibited in the 1890s. In a film dominated by male fantasy, women do not fare as poorly as your average Hollywood vehicle.

When Mary, in a witch-like fury, pummels her husband’s chest angrily after the death of their son, Willie, Graham-Smith may or may not be aware of the historical debate surrounding Abe’s marriage. One prominent Lincoln historian has labeled him an “abused spouse,” claiming Abraham was a victim of Mary’s domestic violence. In any case, intellectual malapropos abound and overshadow the earnestness with which these filmmakers pursue their political message about Lincoln’s “magical properties.” But this nevertheless may work magic globally, as Lincoln the Vampire Hunter topped the charts during its opening summer weekend in the U.K.

And by the film’s end the weight of the evils of vampires, not to mention his secret life as a vampire hunter, mark Lincoln’s face and seal his fate. Anything that awakens curiosity about the Civil War during this sesquicentennial era must be applauded, even if we wince through fiction and pop projects. My only reservation is if the Vampire Hunter image spawns other less intentional horror depictions; with the announcement of a documentary adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln, I shudder. But clearly, Americans hunger for Lincoln, and filmmakers will slake this thirst for a new generation, as well as that of their parents and grandparents. Lincoln’s star power goes 3D, vampires and all!

**

Catherine Clinton holds a chair in U.S. history at Queen’s University Belfast and
is the author of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life (2009) and Harriet Tubman: The Road to
Freedom
(2004). She serves as a member of President Lincoln’s Cottage Scholarly Advisor Group.

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Juneteenth: The Emancipation of Texas Slaves

By Curtis Harris

As a nation we can celebrate January 1, 1863, as the day Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect and declared freedom for 3.5 million of America’s slaves held in rebellious areas. December 6, 1865 is an occasion worthy of celebration, too. That is the day Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment thereby making this measure of abolition a part of our Constitution. These twin federal death knells for slavery are only part of the story, though. Emancipation had been an ongoing process in the United States since the Declaration of Independence.

Pennsylvania passed its Gradual Abolition Act in 1780 while the Revolutionary War was still raging. Under the Articles of Confederation, slavery was banned from the Northwest Territory. New York celebrated the final emancipation of slaves within its borders on July 4, 1827. During the Civil War, Missouri and Maryland abolished slavery via state action.

In Texas, the celebration of emancipation takes place on June 19th.

Far removed from most of the major action of the Civil War, Texas and its population were little affected by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during the war. In a curious coincidence, one of the few pitched battles of the war in Texas took place on January 1, 1863.

While Abraham Lincoln was signing the Emancipation Proclamation, the prized port of Galveston was the scene of a desperate engagement in the war. The day ended with rebel victory thus ending federal occupation of the city that had been ongoing since October of 1862.

However, with the surrender of the major rebel armies in the eastern theaters of the war in the spring of 1865, federal forces once again landed in Galveston and finally re-established constitutional authority in the Lone Star State on June 18th, 1865.

The next day, Major-General Gordon Granger stepped out on the balcony of the Ashton Villa, a home that served as the headquarters for the rebel army in the region during the war, and read General Orders No. 3:

Gordon Granger

Major-General Gordon Granger, Library of Congress (1860s)

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Ever since this momentous declaration, June 19th has been celebrated as Emancipation Day in Texas with the unique and distinctive moniker of “Juneteenth”.

Along with readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, Juneteenth, like any good summer holiday, also serves as a time for barbecue and a day spent with friends and family. Dancing, singing, poetry recitations and even beauty pageants are held as the day has grown into a wider celebration of black culture in Texas. After over a century of observance by the state’s black population, the Texas legislature officially made Juneteenth a state holiday in 1979 and remains one of the many reminders of emancipation and freedom in the United States.

Mr. Harris is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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Lincoln’s Own Flag Day

By Zachary Klitzman

Let’s face it: Flag Day — which commemorates the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777 — is not the most widely celebrated holiday in America. An informal survey of the staff calendars at President Lincoln’s Cottage revealed that only 50% of the calendars listed the “holiday” (Father’s Day, Hallmark would be happy to know, appeared on all six calendars). In fact, in a 1998 survey, only 27 percent of Americans who participated said they knew when Flag Day is and what it means, whereas 18 percent were unaware of both the meaning and timing of the holiday. (The majority of those polled could name either the date or the meaning of the celebration, but not both.)

The holiday first came to national prominence when 19-year old Wisconsin school teacher Bernard J. Cigrand had his kids celebrate the “flag’s birthday” on June 14, 1885 by writing essays on what the flag meant to them. In subsequent years he traveled around the country promoting a June 14th Flag Day.  On May 30, 1916, Cigrand’s dream became officially recognized, as President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day June 14th. Subsequently, in 1949 President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating the 14th day of June every year as National Flag Day. (Despite the legislation, Flag Day is not an officially observed U.S. Federal Holiday, and only one state, Pennsylvania, celebrates it as an official State Holiday.)

Though the holiday commemorates an event that took place during the War of Independence, the Civil War played a role in the history of the Flag. Nearly 30 years before Cigrand celebrated the flag’s birthday, Hartford, Connecticut observed Flag Day on June 14, 1861, using the commemoration to pray for the Union army and its goal of saving the country. However, the holiday did not catch on elsewhere in the country nor was it celebrated again in Hartford in subsequent years.

Lincoln himself never celebrated the holiday. Yet he made a very important decision in the Flag’s history as President. As he journeyed to Washington, D.C. for his 1861 inauguration, Lincoln spoke at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on February 22. Inside the historical building, Lincoln talked about how he was determined to uphold the legacy of the Founders and the Declaration, saying “all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn … from the sentiments which originated, and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand.” He even went so far as to say that if he could not save the Union while adhering to the principles of the Declaration, “I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender” the document.

Abraham Lincoln raising a flag at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, in honor of the admission of Kansas to the Union on Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1861. Library of Congress

After giving his patriotic speech, Lincoln participated in a flag-raising ceremony outside the building to honor Kansas’ recent admission to the Union on January 29, 1861. Giving brief remarks before raising the new 34-starred flag (see image), Lincoln started by mentioning that though the flag the Founders originally raised at Independence Hall “had but 13 stars,” “each additional star added to that flag has given additional prosperity and happiness to this country.” Therefore, “cultivating the spirit that animated our fathers, who gave renown and celebrity to this Hall, cherishing that fraternal feeling which has so long characterized us as a nation … I think we may promise ourselves that not only the new star placed upon that flag shall be permitted to remain there to our permanent prosperity for years to come, but additional ones shall from time to time be placed there.” In these few words, Lincoln stated his policy that despite Southern states succeeding from the Union, their symbolic representation on the Flag of the United States would not be removed. Instead, they would continue to adorn the national symbol of unity.

Mr. Klitzman is Executive Assistant at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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The Lincolns’ First Move to the Cottage

Detail of Mary Lincoln’s letter to a friend in May 1862.

President Lincoln and his family moved to the cottage at the Soldiers’ Home for the first time 150 years ago this week. The family decided to move for a number of reasons – to mourn the loss of their second son, Willie, to escape the unhealthy conditions of downtown Washington, DC , and to try to find some solitude from the chaos of the city.

Mary Lincoln wrote a letter to a friend, Julia Ann Sprigg, on May 29, 1862 about their expected move in the coming weeks – “The 1st of July, we go out to the ‘Soldiers’ Home,’ a very charming place 2 ½ miles from the city, several hundred feet, above, our present situation, to pass the summer.” The family would move before July, however, based on two separate accounts that indicate the family moved at some point between June 8 and 13, 1862.

The article, “A Very Charming Place,” written by Cottage staff member Zachary Klitzman for our latest edition of the Cottage Courier, discusses the Lincolns’ move to the Cottage. You can read the entire article here – http://lincolncottage.org/news/Newsletter-Spring2012-article.pdf

To learn more about President Lincoln’s Cottage, visit our website: www.lincolncottage.org

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Girl Scouts at President Lincoln’s Cottage

President Lincoln’s Cottage would like to give a special welcome to all of the Girl Scouts from around the country that have traveled to Washington, D.C. for Rock The Mall starting June 1. There are so many fun and engaging places to visit in this city and President Lincoln’s Cottage is one of them! When scouts visit the Cottage with their families, they learn about President Lincoln’s leadership during one of the most tumultuous times in American History – the Civil War. The Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home served as a great place of solitude from downtown Washington for Lincoln and was where he developed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Cottage offers a special admission price just for Girl Scouts! Included with the Girl Scout Ticket scouts receive a President Lincoln’s Cottage patch and an activity sheet that help scouts earn one of the following badges: Listening to the Past, Communication, Folk Arts or Building Art.

CLICK HERE to purchase your ticket. Advanced ticket purchase is strongly recommended, we cannot guarantee a spot on a tour without a reservation.

For more information about President Lincoln’s Cottage, visit our website at www.lincolncottage.org. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

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A Beautiful Spring at President Lincoln’s Cottage

We couldn’t resist sharing some photos of the Cottage on this beautiful (and hot!) day. We hope you will follow in Lincoln’s footsteps and escape the heat and humidity of downtown DC by visiting the Cottage and enjoying the cool breezes and beautiful grounds – it is lovely at this time of year!

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Don’t forget about our Memorial Day activities this Monday. Will we see you there?

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