View Full Version : THC program concerning Lincoln

06-22-2004, 03:01 AM

Touch of insomnia tonight--sitting here surfin' and checking out The History Channel's 'Investigating History' installment regarding Abraham Lincoln. Pretty interesting, just wondering if anyone else caught it (hopefully at a healthier hour :confused_ ) and what they thought of it. Particularly one certain segment which interested me and which I thought was rather well-handled--the question of Lincoln the Emancipator. I found it a rather well-balanced approach to that particular subject. Lincoln is certainly removed from his traditional box marked 'abolitionist', which I found refreshing. An African-American writer who apparently was of some prominence during the 1960's and is now an editor for 'Ebony' magazine, counterbalanced by 'traditionalist' Lincoln scholars. The Emancipation Proclamation is portrayed as the weapon of war that I feel Lincoln intended it to be, rather than the manifestation of Lincoln's personal beliefs that it has come to be portrayed as in popular 'schoolbook' history. His interest in the colonization of freed African-Americans is addressed rather than glossed over, while at the same time making it plain that this idea was presented by the President simply in the interest of resolving conflict, rather than as the 'send 'em back to Africa!' proposal that some anti-Lincoln people seem to think it was. All in all, as I said, it appeared to be a fairly well-balanced approach to Lincoln's personal views on race, neither canonizing him nor condemning him. I was just wondering if anyone else saw it yet and has any thoughts.

A caveat: yes, as it shows in my signature, I belong to a Confederate outfit, but it is not my intent to start a 'flame-fest'. I'm stirring no political pot here. I usually wear grey but I'm a just a hill-hoppin' Hoosier whose mother is descended from an NCO in Co.G of the 80th Indiana. I enjoy programs/books that refrain from portraying Lincoln as a plaster saint NOT because of any personal animosity toward the man or any race of men, but because I think Lincoln was a good president, who deserves to be represented honestly. I see him as a man who felt that his greatest and most urgent duty as President was to preserve the Union whatever the cost, and he brought a singleminded sense of purpose to bear on the work at hand and accomplished that task through means both fair and foul. I wouldn't want to have faced him in a courtroom or across a poker table. Given what he felt his duty to be, he was, by that definition, a good president and deserved better treatment than to be portrayed unrealistically. Lincoln the man is much more interesting than Lincoln the icon.

06-22-2004, 07:33 AM
My own personal belief is that one of the great things about this country is that we can produce leaders of the stature of Abraham Lincoln when our survival as a nation demands that we do. Lincoln usually appears as one of the top 3 Presidents in our history, if not the top. He deserves it.

Leadership in a crisis, especially a crisis in which there is no historical example, is the most difficult challenge one can face. The price of failure was disunion and the end of the greatest experiment in government the world had yet seen. The price of victory was the resumption of that experiment. In the beginning that was the goal. Considering that the Constitution itself and the best efforts of the greatest minds in the country had not solved the problem of slavery in the previous 72 years, I am reasonably certain at the beginning Abe considered it be a secondary goal, to be accomplished after reunification. But he quickly realized that the war was the answer to both goals...and he had the guts and good leadership to use both to support the attainment of each. No war - no clear mechanism to free the slaves. No slavery - no reason to fight a war. He figured that out.

He alone among 35 million Americans was thrust into a position no one else has faced, and he had the vision, leadership and political acumen to chart and stay the course. He was a man and not perfect, but in looking at his record, it is remarkable just how few misteps he made. He incrementalized the conflict in the beginning, as we do in most conflicts - but who among us then could envision the conflagration the CW became? But great leaders see a better future and can lead you there, despite the seemingly impossible task. I believe Lincoln saw far ahead and was always working on the end game of how to bring two halves back together after the war was over.

A pity he never got the chance.

06-22-2004, 07:57 AM
William Safire covers essentially the same change in Lincoln and explores this and a million other issues in 1,152 pages: "Freedom: A novel of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War." While styled as a novel, it's really Safire's version of the documentary form of narrative journalism. He's reporting facts, but hanging it from the framework of storytelling. While he covers the ground, and you can see the change in Lincoln through his actions and writings, the "why" is not very well done, since it is subject to the same lack of insider information every other Lincoln "insight" book suffers from. We don't have any Lincoln memoirs, we don't have any record at all of some meetings with his cabinet people at which the changing policy was discussed, and it very much appears that while Lincoln did change, he never explained the change to anyone, that is, he never apparently had a conversation that said, clearly, "I personally believe thusly and such but I also as president see a need for a policy that goes this far and no farther" or whatever.
It's an interesting book because of the huge amount of information it contains, but give yourself a month or so to read it, it's not Tom Clancy. :-)

06-22-2004, 08:29 AM
"Investigating History" has the makings of being a great show, but the first few episodes don't prove it to me. Jenn and I watched about 40 minutes of it last night, then opted for sleep instead.

I turned it off right after they started beating up on Lincoln for using the "N" word. Now, in my 34 years on this planet I've never used that word, but I bet if I had been born in 1870 instead of 1970 things would be different. Hell, even Frederick Douglas said the "N" word!

In Douglas' own words he spoke about “the house nigger and the field nigger”

Even one of the slave songs he publishes in his book in 1853 (My Bondage and My Freedom)has the word in it:

“We raise de wheat, Dey giv us de corn.
We bake de bread, Dey giv us de crust.
We sif de meal, Dey gib us de huss.
We peel de meat, Dey giv us de skin.
And dat’s de way Dey take us in:
We skim de pot, Dey gib us de liquor ,
And say dat’s good enough for nigger .

Getting past Douglas, other white abolitionists used the word as well as thousands of northern soldiers.

Caveat: I know use of 19th Century terminology in first person is appropriate, but I gotta say, it makes my skin crawl when guys use first person as an excuse to sling the word around. Appropriate use yes, but I’ve seen guys at events on sulter row claim they were in first person while talking about ‘darkies’ and ‘niggers’.

06-22-2004, 08:45 AM
I did not watch the show in question (no cable/dish/etc) but have read Safire's book/tome and it is impressive. Bill makes a good point in that we have little in the way of inside writings/memoires. No White House Tapes in those days.

As an aside though, I have always been amazed at the lack of staff - not sure we could get a simple errand done at the White House today with the same size staff Lincoln used.

06-22-2004, 10:58 AM
The photgraphs and handwritng analysis about the 6th copy of the Gettyburg address was the most interesting point for me, I fell asleep before they could talk about the log cabin, I also couldn't endure 50 more commericals.

Again some "collector"; with more money than morals wants to sell the earliest pictue of A. Lincoln for $200,000 to $500,000. If so many people aren't interested in the war (as I am often told by non-historians) then why are simple collectibles like photos, canteens, flags and uniforms fetching 6 figures? I can by a 3000 y/o Roman coin for $40, I can't afford any actual ACW relics under $700. Except for the Military Channel and the History channel, there aren't too many television programs on the war, so it can't all be media driven. Most ACW films aren't box office smashes and we still don't have the same type of "celebration" that the WW II crowd enjoys. Liberating Europe from tyranny was a cause to rejoice. We don't "celebrate" the ACW because Americans fought and killed Americans; however it would seem logical that collectibles from this dark chapter of our history would be less in value. It's easier to celebrate when the war involves a vanquished foreign enemy. As living historians, I undertsand our obsession with the war, I can't figure out why everyone else is hypnotized by the war. What drives this insane passion for everthing ACW for people who have never walked the battlefield, visited the monuments, cemeteries and museums, or had any real tangible connection to it?

06-22-2004, 12:00 PM
What drives this insane passion for everthing ACW for people who have never walked the battlefield, visited the monuments, cemeteries and museums, or had any real tangible connection to it?

A few do it for profit. CW artifacts are a good investment. If you buy high end, top condition items there will always be a market for them. I have watched folks walk in a show with a so called "expert" in tow to advise them on which items to buy.

Others just want a connection to the past and that is enough. Walking the battlefields is too much work.

06-22-2004, 11:28 PM
I too thought that the part about 'nigger' could have been left out...in addressing the question of a mid-19th-Century man's views on race, his use of a common vernacular term seems at best a non-issue, at worst unfair. It was a word he very likely grew up hearing in reference to African-Americans, and a very commonly used word at that, as Mr. Daley illustrates. Good Lord, my father is a preacher and one of the most moral and unbiased men I have known, as was his father, and when he was a boy here in southern Indiana neither he nor his buddies carried slingshots, they carried 'n____r-killers'. There were no firecrackers, there were 'n____r-chasers'. True, the word has no respectable or even viable place in a 21st Century man's vocabulary, but to a man born in the early 19th Century it was as common as grass in the cracks of a sidewalk. Hardly an indicator of which direction the needle of his moral compass pointed.

Like Mr. Daley, I understand the use of that particular piece of vernacular in a 1st-person format and have done so myself on occasion but find it a grate on the nerves when some a__clown uses a 19th Century uniform as a license to be offensive. There's a fellow who falls in with us from time to time who makes rather profligate use of the word/s when in uniform, and that loudly. A lot of us find an excuse to go visit the sutlers/sinks/whatever when he gets started with his little floor show, as he seems to make a point of doing so when there are spectators near. We're going to have a word with him probably the next time he asks to fall in.

06-22-2004, 11:52 PM
I actually found the photographs to be the most interesting. To me niether of them looked like Lincoln to begin with, but they did begin to share some charecteristics as the investiagtion progressed.

And hey, remember this; http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1600&highlight=Lincoln

Jeffrey Przewozniak
06-23-2004, 12:36 AM
Sorry to pile on the discussion away from the main point, but it is interesting to see how many reenactors use not just the n-word, but everything else considered vulgar under the sun at events and justify themselves by claiming they were in first-person.

This is by no means limited to language (although it does make up a large chunk of it), I have seen reenactors conduct themselves like animals more than a few times. Granted, vulgar language and behavior were in use during our time period, but they were NOT the norm. Don’t we strive for the norm in most aspects of this hobby? It boggles my mind that something as poignant as socially unacceptable behavior (In modern or 1860s) can be tolerated in the ranks of reenactors who are trying to improve.

There is a very fine line between an accurate portrayal and twisting history to allow one to happily carry on like a degenerate. Okay, sorry, back to the Lincoln documentary... I am in earnest,

marlin teat
06-23-2004, 06:54 AM
I grew up in a rural area of the deep south in the 1950's and 60's so of course I heard the "N" word but it was not as common as one would assume. The nicer folk never used the word and looked down upon those who did as rednecks and hicks.

Before African-American, before Black, the common word was Negro. In the local dialect this was most often pronounced Nigra and was used by both races. This spelling is also used in many period accounts. (Old-timers also pronounced Marietta, Ga. as May-retta). I do not believe that the majority meant it as a derogotory term, it was simply the way it was pronounced and they had never heard it pronounced differently.

I wonder how many of our misconceptions are based on what we hear through 21st century ears instead of what was said though 19th century mouths.