Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
National Archivists discovered the Lincoln letter being sold online in 2006. It originally had been torn or fallen from an 1880 bound volume of government correspondence to the Treasury Department. There is no evidence that the letter was ever stolen, and how it went missing remains a mystery.
When contacted by Archivists, the letter's owner, Lawrence Cutler, a private collector in Tempe, Arizona decided to donate it during the bicentennial of Lincoln's birthday. Cutler would not disclose what he paid for the letter at auction three years ago, but said a similar Lincoln letter sold for $78,000.
Lincoln's note concerns the misfortunes of Robert Stevens, the son-in-law of Lincoln's old friend, Oregon Sen. Edward Baker. Baker, a fellow Republican, died in battle in 1861. That year, Lincoln had appointed Stevens to a patronage job as head of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. However, in April, 1863 Treasury Secretary Chase fired Stevens based on an investigative report listing six charges against Stevens:
1) the hiring of bad men
2) partiality as to the wages of clerks and laborers
3) encouragement of insubordination and contempt for authority
4) "Sponges and Barnacles" on the payroll
5) purchase of inferior supplies at exorbitant rates
6) being arrogant and discourteous to his managers.
Stevens protested his firing, finally resorting to writing to President Lincoln. While Lincoln was not willing to override Chase's decision, he did feel that Stevens deserved to see the charges againt him, and that prompted the President to write this newly returned letter:
Hon. Sec. of Treasury
My Dear Sir,
Mr. Stevens, late Superintendent of the Mint at San Francisco, asks to have a copy, or be permitted to examine, and take extracts, of the evidence upon which he was removed. Please oblige him in one way or the other.
Yours truly, A.Lincoln
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Presidents who cheat at golf? What's next? A Washington correspondent for the New York Times, Van Natta has the inside scoop on presidential golfers both then and now: who has game, who doesn't and who should lay down his clubs in deference to those who appreciate fair play. From the best (John Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt) to the worst (Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan), to the cheaters (Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson), Van Natta shares insights about our nation's leaders and their passion for the game. Lyndon Johnson used golf to intimidate political opponents. Woodrow Wilson played every day, often during political crises. JFK feared the implications of public knowledge of his prowess. The public had not appreciated Eisenhnower's obsession (played as many as 100 times per year), since golf was still seen as a "rich man's game," and not an appropriate activity for the "champion of the people." Van Natta's research is impressive and his writing style is engaging, but the text feels a bit like a one-trick pony. Filled with anecdotal bits and pieces, there is more of interest here to historians than to serious golfers.
For the record Obama has a 16 handicap.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Gintaras and others:
How do you feel about having an ongoing meander corner where we can initiate other conversations? Seems like there will always be book-related conversations that meander beyond the boundaries of American history, biography, and literature. That said, I can take it down, if there's no interest.
"The danger of a conflict between the white and the black inhabitants of the Southern states of the Union (a danger which, however remote it may be, is inevitable) perpetually haunts the imagination of the Americans, like a painful dream. The inhabitants of the North make it a common topic of conversation, although directly they have nothing to fear from it; but they vainly endeavor to devise some means of obviating the misfortunes which they foresee. In the Southern states the subject is not discussed: the planter does not allude to the future in conversing with strangers; he does not communicate his apprehensions to his friends; he seeks to conceal them from himself. But there is something more alarming in the tacit forebodings of the South than in the clamorous fears of the North."
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
But it is a drama in which Brogan is mostly at odds with his subject. Tocqueville’s goal as a deputy during the 1848 revolution was to protect both liberty and order. In Brogan’s view, he did a poor job of distinguishing between the two. Brogan blames conservative property owners for the excesses of the socialist revolutionaries. “The notables,” he writes, “Tocqueville among them, projected their own violent hatred and panic onto the urban workers, and in doing so created the very monster which they feared.” Brogan faults Tocqueville for “impudence,” “blindly prejudiced” views, an “obsessive cult of property” and a “ruthless hostility” to lower-class Parisians. That Tocqueville now considered himself a republican meant little. “Whatever he called himself,” Brogan writes, “the nobles knew that he was one of them.”
I was seduced into enlisting here by an "almost promise" that we might all read and discuss
Tocqueville's Democracy in America one of these days.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Right now my biggest "to-be-read" is a book on Jefferson (sorry Chartres) that Bisbanes highly recommended during the cspan tour of his library: Road to Monticello, about Jefferson's intellectual development and the books he read. I also have The Last Indian War by Elliott West about the Nez Perce waiting, highly recommended by Bo -- or at least referenced by Bo, which I take as a recommendation.
I'm sure I have some fiction around here somewhere, too, but I don't see any other than The March, which I think I'll try this week.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.
From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?
and here's more by Marx on the Civil War.
Also, reviews of recent and upcoming books in Forthcoming Books.
The Lincoln Bicentennial site is up and running again.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Faust shows [in This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War] how American institutions adapted to the staggering burden of this new kind of war and wholesale death with a blend of can-do humanitarianism, pragmatic improvisation, mawkish sentimentality, political cant, commercial hucksterism and downright fraud. Freelance embalmers flocked to battlefields in the aftermath of the fighting. "Bodies taken from Antietam Battle Field and delivered to Cars or Express Office at short notice and low rates," read the business card of one entrepreneur. "Bodies Embalmed by us NEVER TURN BLACK! But retain their natural color and appearance," boasted another. In 1863, a Washington undertaker was imprisoned on charges of making a practice of recovering and embalming dead soldiers without permission and then extorting payment from families that wanted the bodies returned.
Faust convincingly demonstrates that the trauma of the Civil War revolutionized the American military's approach to caring for the dead and notifying families. After the war, a massive and superbly organized effort by the War Department to recover, identify and rebury Union dead in newly established national cemeteries was an act of atonement for the nation's failings during the war itself.
In this lively history, author Matthew Algeo meticulously details how Truman’s plan to blend in went wonderfully awry. Fellow diners, bellhops, cabbies, squealing teenagers at a Future Homemakers of America convention, and one very by-the-book Pennsylvania state trooper--all unknowingly conspired to blow his cover. Algeo revisits the Trumans’ route, staying at the same hotels and eating at the same diners, and takes readers on brief detours into topics such as the postwar American auto industry, McCarthyism, the nation’s highway system, and the decline of Main Street America. By the end of the 2,500-mile journey, you will have a new and heartfelt appreciation for America’s last citizen-president.
Frances Perkins knew exactly what she wanted when President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered her the post of secretary of Labor in February 1933. The goals she outlined on that chilly winter night constituted the most sweepingly ambitious to-do list any public official had ever presented: direct federal aid for unemployment relief, a massive public works program, minimum wage and maximum work-hours legislation, compensation for workers injured on the job, workplace safety regulations, a ban on child labor and, finally -- and most radically -- a national pension system as well as one for health insurance. "Are you sure you want this done?" she asked FDR.
It was not an idle question, as journalist Kirstin Downey makes clear in the prologue to her shrewd, appreciative biography of Perkins. "She was proposing a fundamental and radical restructuring of American society," Downey writes, adding: "To succeed, she would have to overcome opposition from courts, business, labor unions, conservatives."
Friday, May 8, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Mr Perlstein's biggest contribution to his subject is to set Nixon's private resentments in the context of a broader culture of resentment. (sound familiar) “Nixonland” is a study of how the consensus of the early 1960s turned into the cacophony of the late 1960s, when “regular” white Americans found everything they held dear thrown into question: threatened by black activists, looked down upon by pointy-headed intellectuals, vilified by student radicals, corroded by a rising tide of lawlessness and vulgarity and fatally challenged not just by the anti-war movement but also by America's failure to achieve its aims in Vietnam. As far as Nixon's supporters were concerned, the swinging sixties were the seething sixties. Mr Perlstein rightly points out that many people supported Nixon not in spite of his boiling rage but precisely because of it.
Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek and author of “Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship,” discerns a similar democratic dignity in the seventh president of the United States. But he underplays the consequences of his subject’s darker qualities, especially the fact that, like Captain Ahab, Jackson was willing to destroy everything in order to exact revenge.
American Lion seems appropriate. It was interesting reading how Lincoln early on set himself apart from the Jackson Democrats, siding himself with the Whigs on the leading issues facing America at the time.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
There are books devoted exclusively to the Cooper Union Address by Harold Holzer and John Corry.
The heading provides a link to a review written in 1922 for Herndon's Life of Lincoln, published in the New York Times. The biography had first been supressed by Lincoln family members when the book was originally published in 1889. William Lee Miller refers extensively to Herndon's biography in Lincoln's Virtues. The first printing is very hard to find, but an 1890 second edition sells for about $400 at Shotwell Antiques where I took this image.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
A California doctor believes so -- and he hoped to prove his theory by testing the 16th president's DNA.
Dr. John Sotos asked a small Philadelphia museum for blood-stained threads from a scrap of the pillow that cradled Lincoln's head as he lay dying.
On Monday night, the board of the Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library denied his request but left the door open for a possible DNA test that could shed light on Lincoln's last days.
The museum plans to convene a forum of Lincoln scholars and forensic pathologists to decide how to proceed.
"We want complete control over this," said Eric Schmincke, the board's president. "We don't want to take the chance of losing the artifact."
I've updated this piece with a longer article on Lincoln's DNA.
"Team of Rivals" (an apt but uninspiring title) opens in May 1860 with four men awaiting news from the national convention of the Republican Party in Chicago. Thousands of supporters were gathered in Auburn, N.Y., where a cannon was primed to fire a salute to the expected nomination of Senator William Henry Seward for president. In Columbus, Ohio, Gov. Salmon P. Chase hoped that if Seward faltered, the mantle would fall on his shoulders. In St. Louis, 66-year-old Edward Bates, a judge who still called himself a Whig, hoped the convention might turn to him as the only candidate who could carry the conservative free states, whose electoral votes were necessary for a Republican victory. In Springfield, Ill., a former one-term congressman who had been twice defeated for election to the Senate waited with resigned expectation that his long-shot candidacy would be flattened by the Seward steamroller.