Lincoln and JFK

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JFK and LincolnPBS documentary Lincoln@Gettysburg paints a vivid picture of Lincoln and those close to him in the days surrounding his oration at Gettysburg. Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd begged him not to leave for Gettysburg because their young son Tad was seriously ill. He went anyway. Lincoln’s valet, William Johnson, an African-American free man, accompanied Lincoln to Gettysburg and listened to Lincoln practice his speech that morning. Lincoln left Gettysburg with a fever and came down with smallpox. Johnson died weeks later from smallpox after caring for Lincoln. Lincoln chose the inscription “Citizen” on Johnson’s tombstone, and Johnson was buried at Arlington cemetery.

And, Lincoln knew that his speech, just ten sentences long, would be transmitted by telegraph and printed in newspapers across the nation. Lincoln, in those ten sentences, was reaching out to the people at the Gettysburg ceremony, but he was also reaching out to the nation. It was unusual for presidents to give this type of speech in those days, but Lincoln accepted the invitation to speak at Gettysburg. Lincoln, it could be said, was a (social) media genius.

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Could Lincoln Have Been Defeated in 1860?

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This is another in a series of posts marking the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.

No presidential election in American history has been as pivotal as the election of 1860. Had any one of Abraham Lincoln’s three opponents been elected president in November of 1860, South Carolina would clearly not have seceded from the Union on December 20, and it and its six compatriot Deep South states would not have formed the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861.

(Technically, Texas, one of the seven seceding states, did not join the Confederacy until the first week of March.)

Of course, one of the anomalies of that election was that Abraham Lincoln won a solid majority in the Electoral College, even though he received only 39.7% of the popular vote. The remaining 60+% was divided between the Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas of Illinois (29.5%), the Southern Democrat James Breckenridge of Kentucky (18.2%), and Tennessean John Bell (12.6%), who was the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party, essentially an effort to revive the defunct Whig Party.

While receiving only a plurality of the popular vote, Lincoln nevertheless won a substantial majority in the Electoral College, totaling 180 votes compared to 72 for Breckenridge, 39 for Bell, and only 12 for Douglas. Continue reading “Could Lincoln Have Been Defeated in 1860?”

Was There a Confederate Emancipation Proclamation?

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EmancipationProclamationThis is another in a series of posts on slavery, the Constitution and the Civil War written for the Marquette University celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although the Civil War was, at its core, fought to preserve slavery, during the war concern for the preservation of the Confederate nation led some of the breakaway country’s leaders to contemplate the unthinkable—the emancipation of African-American slaves in exchange for their service in the Confederate military.

Although Confederate diplomats, in their search for support in England and France, somewhat disingenuously implied that the South planned to eventually abandon slavery during the early years of the Civil War, Southern efforts to abolish the “peculiar institution” really began in late 1863 with Confederate general Patrick Cleburne of the Army of the Tennessee. Fearing the worst for his adopted country, the Irish-born Cleburne circulated a written document to his fellow officers that proposed that the Confederacy replenish its ranks with armed black soldiers who would be brought into the Rebel Army with a promise of freedom for themselves and their families. As Cleburne must have realized, the widespread emancipation of black soldiers and their families would make it impossible to keep other African-Americans as slaves once the war was over.

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The Emancipation Proclamation—Sesquicentennial Reflections

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January 1, 2013, marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared the freedom of slaves in rebellious states. The decree was controversial in Lincoln’s time and seems often to be misunderstood in ours. The objective of this blog post, accordingly, is to survey the context, chronology, and consequences of the Proclamation as we observe the sesquicentennial of its issuance.

The Context—Summer 1861 through Fall 1862

Through the latter half of 1861 and well into 1862, it was not at all self-evident that the Union would win the Civil War. Particularly in the east, the most symbolic military theater, the Confederate Army secured numerous victories or military stalemates, the latter of which were essentially as advantageous for it as the former. Despite having superior financial and industrial resources, the Union Army’s deficit of aggressive battlefield leadership, lack of well-trained or seasoned troops, and comparative unfamiliarity with the terrain repeatedly hampered Union military actions.

Lincoln was painfully cognizant of these problems, especially the operational timidity of his top brass, purportedly remarking at one point that if General George B. McClellan was not going to use the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln “would like to borrow it, provided he could see how it could be made to do something.” President Lincoln also knew that popular support for the war, as casualties mounted and the prospect of national conscription loomed, could not long endure without visible Union success in the east. At the same time, the President was aware that the Confederacy was seeking the recognition and material support of European nations such as England and France, and that every Confederate victory appeared to make this objective more attainable.

It was this array of circumstances, among others, that prompted President Lincoln to take the manifestly drastic step of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Only against this political and military backdrop, in fact, can the Proclamation and its timing be fully comprehended. In order to explain why this is so, it is necessary to walk through the events leading up to the Proclamation and then to examine the substance and scope of the Proclamation itself. Continue reading “The Emancipation Proclamation—Sesquicentennial Reflections”

The Roots of Progressivism Lie in . . . the Republican Party?

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Tonight, when President Barack Obama delivers his third State of the Union address, he is widely expected to channel the progressive rhetoric of Theodore Roosevelt. It was Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech in 1910 (quoted in my previous post here) that called for the federal government to play an active role in regulating the economy. When he speaks to the nation tonight, President Obama is likely to push back against the demand to shrink the federal government – a common refrain among the current crop of Republican presidential candidates — by pointing to Theodore Roosevelt’s call for an active federal government.

It is certainly true that, in his “New Nationalism” speech, Theodore Roosevelt developed the theme that elite special interests had come to dominate government at all levels, thereby turning government into a tool for their own narrow purposes. President Obama is hoping that a return to this theme will resonate with voters today. However, while the connection between President Obama and Theodore Roosevelt has been widely reported, few commentators have recognized that these same ideas actually can be traced back to an earlier Republican president . . . Abraham Lincoln. Continue reading “The Roots of Progressivism Lie in . . . the Republican Party?”

Brevity in Lincoln’s Writing

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Professor Julie Oseid examines Abraham Lincoln’s writing in her article The Power of Brevity:  Adopt Abraham Lincoln’s Habits, 6 J. ALWD 28 (2009).  Based on her review of Lincoln’s writing, Oseid recommends that lawyers use his “habits of writing early, visualizing audience, and ruthlessly editing.”  (page 29)

Oseid starts with the premise that “[t]he goal of brevity should be clarity.” (29)  Lincoln, she says, described the opposite of brevity when he said that another lawyer could “’compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.’”  (29)  Brevity does not sacrifice precision, however, and a writer must be aware of concepts like the rhythm and sound in phrases like “’[f]our score and seven years ago.’”  (30)

Brevity has persuasive power.  (30)  Oseid quotes Justice Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner on brevity in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges:  “’Judges often associate the brevity of the brief with the quality of the lawyer.  Many judges we’ve spoken with say that good lawyers often come in far below the page limits—and that bad lawyers almost never do.’”  (30) Continue reading “Brevity in Lincoln’s Writing”

Lincoln Foreword and Painting

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The just-released issue of the Marquette Law Review includes nine articles and essays growing out of (and comprising the written version of) last fall’s “Legacies of Lincoln Conference.” It was a great privilege for Professor Daniel D. Blinka and me to work with Marvin C. Bynum III, the editor-in-chief of Volume 93 of the journal, and his (our) colleagues to present this symposium. Some time ago we posted one of the papers from the symposium, the remarkable Klement Lecture delivered by Gettysburg College’s Allen C. Guelzo, which led off the conference. The Foreword of the symposium describes briefly each of the contributions and contains as well an observation on the substantive link that the Lincoln Conference provided from Sensenbrenner Hall, our historic home where the bulk of the conference occurred, to Eckstein Hall and its Aitken Reading Room, whose impressive commissioned painting, Laying the Foundation by Don Pollack, the conference helped to inspire; it also includes a reflection of sorts on broader matters. A link to the Foreword, which includes an image of Pollack’s painting, can be found here. Posts in the near future will describe and contain links to the individual articles and essays.

Why Did Lincoln Try to Buy a Slave? (One of Lincoln’s More Troublesome Legacies)

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The Legacies of Lincoln Conference held on October 1 and 2, 2009 was, as Dean Joseph Kearney reported earlier, a terrifically successful program by any measure – attendance, audience response, and, most certainly, engaging presentations.  Jointly sponsored by the Law School and the History Department, the Conference featured lectures and comments by influential historians and lawyers which will appear later next year in the Marquette Law Review, yet another measure of the Conference’s success.  This is the first in a series of blog posts by Dean Kearney and me that will highlight each of these submissions, together with links to the audio of the Conference itself.

We begin most appropriately with the draft article of the Klement Lecture delivered by the distinguished historian Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College, entitled “Colonel Utley’s Emancipation; or, How Abraham Lincoln Offered to Pay For a Slave.”  The provocative title reveals the subtlety of Guelzo’s analysis and historical judgment.  Continue reading “Why Did Lincoln Try to Buy a Slave? (One of Lincoln’s More Troublesome Legacies)”

Legacies of Lincoln

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legacies-of-lincolnThe Legacies of Lincoln Conference, a joint undertaking of the Law School and the Department of History, was an impressive event last week. It began on Thursday evening, with Allen Guelzo, Gettysburg College’s renowned Lincoln historian, delivering the History Department’s annual Klement Lecture. There then followed on Friday three panels, variously addressing “Lincoln and Politics,” “Lincoln and the Constitution,” and “Lincoln as Lawyer,” and respectively led by Heather Cox Richardson of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Michael Les Benedict of The Ohio State University, and Mark E. Steiner of the South Texas College of Law. The other panelists were James Marten and Alison Clark Efford of Marquette’s History Department (politics panel), Stephen Kantrowitz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kate Masur of Northwestern University (Constitution panel), and two of our part-time faculty (for the Lincoln-as-lawyer panel): Joseph S. Ranney, III, of Dewitt Ross & Stevens and Thomas L. Shriner, Jr., or Foley & Lardner. Audio of the three panels is available on the Law School’s webcast page.  A number of the participants will permit the Law School to publish papers reflecting their remarks, and I expect that, as the different papers are ready over the course of the time to come, Dan Blinka or I will use this blog to share them with interested readers. A special thanks to Jim Marten and to Dan Blinka for their roles in putting this conference together.