Lincoln’s Way


Lincoln Highway: Austin, Nevada. August 1, 2007.

So, looking for a little something to say about our sixteenth president on his 200th birthday, I’ve come up a little short. For tonight, just this: You run into him everywhere. I remembered earlier this evening that the summer before last, when Kate and I drove across the country, we encountered Lincoln Highway markers on U.S. 50 in the middle of Nevada (above). That was news to me, because our Lincoln Highway in the south suburbs of Chicago was U.S. 30. The next day, we came upon more markers east of Salt Lake City, in a hamlet just off Interstate 80 (below). It turns out both places were on the route of the original Lincoln Highway route. (Check out Lincoln Highway, a simple but excellent site on the route and its history.) lincoln080207.jpg

Lincoln Highway: Wanship, Utah. August 2, 2007.

On and Off the Campaign Trail

[All items from The New York Times]

Reception of the Election News at Mr. Lincoln’s Home.

A letter from Springfield (Ill.) to the Chicago Press and Tribune tells how Mr. Lincoln’s friends received the news of the victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. [Oct. 17. 1860]

The Wide-Awakes were out early in the evening, and went to Mr. Lincoln’s house. Arriving there they gave three cheers for Mr. Lincoln, three for Senator Trumbull, who chanced to be his guest, and three each for Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. In response to repeated calls Mr. Trumbull made a brief speech, predicting that Illinois would follow up the victory in Indiana with a majority of at least 20,000 for Mr. Lincoln, and then the Wide-Awakes repaired to the wigwam, where addresses were made by Judge Logan and others. During the proceedings an excellent photograph of the cabin in Kentucky in which Mr. Lincoln was born was presented to the Springfield Wide-Awakes on behalf of Mr. Van Meter, of Kentucky. The enthusiasm could not be repressed until a late hour of the night.


Movements of Senator Douglas

Jefferson City, Saturday, Oct. 20 [1860]

Judge Douglas’ trip from St. Louis to Jefferson was a continued ovation. He was hailed with shouts of welcome all along the road, and the eager multitudes assembled at the principal station would not let him pass without speaking.

He is now addressing a vast crowd at the state capitol. Immense enthusiasm prevails.


Police Reports [October 22, 1860]

… Yesterday morning, about 3 o’clock, a quarrel occurred at the coffee and cake saloon No. 36 Bowery, between John Kelly, residing at No. 54 Mott-street, and a young man named Moses Bunyon, and, as Kelly was making his way out of the place, it is said that Bunyon stepped behind him and cut him severely in the neck with a penknife. He then ran away, but was pursued by Officer Carr, of the Sixth Ward, and yesterday, he was held by Justice Kelly to answer for the assault in $1,000 bail.

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Just One Thing About That

And now a word about The Campaign: John McCain has decided that our economy is so strong that he needs to leave the campaign trail to make it stronger. It would be unseemly to put Country Second and indulge in something so vulgar as politics by debating his opponent. Stop for a moment and admire McCain for trying to execute a clever political gambit by trying to haul himself above the muck of politics for a moment. Then consider the election-year crises that the country has come through while candidates carried on their campaigns:

2004: The whole Iraq endeavor coming undone.

1992: Economic recession.

1980: The Iran hostage crisis.

1968: Intensified fighting in Vietnam, assassination of leading national figures.

1964: Nation in turmoil over civil rights campaign in the South.

1952: Korean War.

1944: World War II.

1940: World War II.

1936: The Depression.

1932: The Depression.

1916: World War I.

1864: Civil War.

1860: Slavery/disunion crisis.

1856: National coming apart at seams over slavery.

1812: War with Britain.

Gee, we managed to have an uninterrupted campaign during 1864? When the nation was sufferiing through an appallingly bloody series of battles? You mean Lincoln didn’t try to put a hold on politics while trying to fulfill his duties as commander-in-chief? Neither world wars nor economic calamity put campaigns off the rails? Stunning.

The history shows what an empty gesture McCain’s move is. Obama got it right when he said that this is exactly the moment when the candidates need to be in front of the people.

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Guest Observation

By way of the Writer’s Almanac, which notes that this is the anniversary of Lincoln’s 1862 State of the Union address (actually, it appears to be a long, written report rather than a speech). Anyway, he had a way of summing things up. He closed his message this way:

“The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. … In giving freedom to the slave, we ensure freedom to the free, honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth.”


Lincoln & Darwin Day: Lincoln, born the same date and year as Charles Darwin. “Happy birthday” doesn’t fit Lincoln. Too much tragedy, too much gravity there. As I’ve said before, I don’t know whether it’s the Illinoisan in me or not, but there’s no other figure in history who seems so close in every day life; and also so distant, always receding and unknowable. As to Darwin, there’s probably no single person who has more to do with how we–must I define “we”?–see our world, though he’s far from the palpable presence for me that his birthday-mate is.

Comic Nurse Day: An informant reminds me that it’s the Comic Nurse’s fortieth birthday. Happy birthday, Comic Nurse!

Nap Day:Study: Napping might help heart

“CHICAGO – New research on napping provides the perfect excuse for office slackers, finding that a little midday snooze seems to reduce risks for fatal heart problems, especially among men.

“In the largest study to date on the health effects of napping, researchers tracked 23,681 healthy Greek adults for an average of about six years. Those who napped at least three times weekly for about half an hour had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from heart attacks or other heart problems than those who did not nap. …”


Best Lincoln Piece of the Day (sez me): “Lincoln Online,” by Tom Wheeler, in the Washington Post. Wheeler’s book, “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails,” is an examination of Lincoln’s voluminous trove of … telegraph messages. Excerpt:

“Consider this glimpse into how Lincoln dealt with the war’s grinding pressures. The peripatetic Mary Todd Lincoln had wired from New York seeking cash. Her note’s perfunctory ‘Hope you are well’ was followed with instructions on where to send a check. Then she tacked on without punctuation a last-second message from their son, ‘Tad says are the goats well.’

The president promptly responded that the check would go in the mail, then seized on the query about the White House pets to comment on his own well-being: ‘Tell Tad the goats and father are very well — especially the goats.’ The few words speak volumes about Lincoln’s spirits and the refuge he found in wit.

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Engaged in a Great Verbal War

The PBS NewsHour this evening featured another round of “Iraq: Is It a Civil War or Not? And If It Is, What Difference Does It Make?” (The game will never take off with a title like that.)

On hand was Donald Kagan, a history professor from Yale. He started out by saying that he felt the discussion–is it or isn’t it?–is “frivolous.” Check.

Then he went on to say he feels the debate over what to call the conflict is “a calculated effort on the part of those people who would like to see the United States flee from its responsibilities in Iraq to use a term that is more frightening, more dangerous-sounding than simply the kind of uprising that they’ve been dealing with and decide that it’s a civil war in order to make it a more frightening prospect to try to win this thing and persuade Americans that it’s hopeless and they should go away.”

A “civil war” is more frightening than what we’ve been dealing with? The discussion has been ginned up by people who want the United States to flee its responsibilities? Here’s an alternative theory, respectfully submitted to Dr. Kagan: Maybe people are just trying to understand what the heck it is we are involved in. The people who were putatively responsible for knowing what they were getting us all into have demonstrated they had less than no idea what to expect in Iraq and have been incapable of telling the truth about it for going on four years now. Maybe once we have some understanding of the situation–if it’s not too late for that–maybe we can decide whether the instinct to pack up and leave is sound or not.

Eventually, the “NewsHour” interviewer got around to lobbing Kagan a real softball. Something along the lines of, “Professor, does this kind of semantic argument happen in every war?” Kagan’s answer:

“The best historical example that jumps into my mind is the American Civil War, which I don’t remember anyone calling it that during the time. The South referred to it as the War Between the States to suggest they were within their rights in breaking away from the other states, and up here in Connecticut we referred to it as the rebellion of 1861. And it’s that sort of thing that’s characterized this kind of issue throughout history.”

What jumped into my mind when I heard Kagan say that was the phrase, “We are now engaged in a great civil war.” He’s right that “anyone” did not say that. Lincoln did, in the Gettysburg Address, which he sure enough made “during the time.” Somewhere or other, someone can tell us the very first time the term civil war was used to describe that conflict; it’s doubtful Lincoln was the first.

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Today’s Time Waster

[By way of Marie:]

Blufr: I can see this getting old very fast, but it’s a semi-addictive social trivia site. I say “social” because apparently visitors submit the true/false statements that you’re asked to vote “way” or “no way” on (some of the questions are pretty lame, I admit. Mine, of course, was brilliant: Of the four assassinated U.S. presidents, only Abraham Lincoln died in Washington, D.C.” Way? Or Now way? The answer at the “read more” link below).

I said I can see this getting old. But ‘m embarrassed to say how long I spent on this and how many questions I clicked on. Ridiculous.

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Lincoln Again

I should probably wait until I finish the Lincoln book I’m in the middle of now — “Team of Rivals” — before embarking on another one. But The New York Times Book Review today writes up a volume by British historian Richard Carwardine, “Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power.” The review, by novelist Kevin Baker, is worth a read (it’s available on the Times site for a week):

“In dissecting Lincoln’s triumph, Carwardine has provided us with a democratic version of Machiavelli’s ‘Prince,’ a primer on how power can and should be won and used in a free society. Lincoln, he shows us, expertly employed both the machinery of his new party and the authority of his office. He preferred peaceful and lawful means to his ends, but he did not hesitate to press constitutional bounds to the breaking point — for instance, suspending habeas corpus, shutting down the occasional newspaper and detaining thousands of Southern sympathizers — in the desperate struggle to keep the nation together.”

A Lifetime of Lincoln


(Lincoln marker in Tolono, Illinois; September 2004)

Growing up in the adopted land of Lincoln, and growing up in the ’60s, when Civil War echoes were loud, reminders of the 16th president were everywhere — license plates, highway and street names, and parks. Oh, yeah: And log-cabin-type toys. So on his birthday, I’m thinking of all the places I’ve run into Lincoln.


I’m born 145 years after Lincoln. The Lincoln connection: This is the year Illinois began printing “Land of Lincoln” on its license plates.


During two weeks when I was out of school with first the chicken pox, then the mumps, my dad gets me a Fletcher Pratt history of the Civil War. Words like “Potomac” enter my vocabulary (pronounced “POT-o-mac”).


Mom and Dad bundled the three of us kids (me and sibling costars John and Chris; my sister Ann joined the cast in ’62) into our red-and-white Ford stationwagon early one Saturday evening for a sudden road trip. I think it was a Saturday, anyway. That night, we wound up in a motel in Jeffersonville, Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, where Mom’s brother Tom was serving as a Carmelite priest. We spent the next day doing north-central Kentucky sight-seeing. The two stops I remember: The Cistercian monastery at Gethsemane and Lincoln’s birthplace near Elizabethtown. The cabin in which he was said to have been born — and later, I came to the disappointing realization that the cabin is a reconstruction — was tiny and dark.

c. 1960-62.

I see Carl Sandburg’s multivolume biography, “Lincoln, the Prairie Years and the War Years,” on my parents’ bookshelf. I don’t think I ever cracked it. On the other hand, I did open “The Day Lincoln Was Shot,” by Jim Bishop. My mom liked to tell the story of how I came to her after reading the book. She said that I was crying and told her, “They killed him.” I’d love to be able to say I remember all this like it was yesterday, but I don’t recall it.

c. 1962-63

Another semi-literary encounter with Lincoln: Another book that wound up in my hands thanks to my parents was a sort of abridged kid’s editions of notable American Heritage magazine articles. The book’s long lost now, but it seems like I spent years poring over it. It had stories about a colonial siege of a French fort, the naval exploits of Oliver Hazard Perry and James Lawrence (the latter credited with coining the phrase “don’t give up the ship), a star-crossed early Navy ship called the USS Constellation, the country’s first oil boom (Titusville, Pennsylvania), and the art of Gilded Age valentines. The book also had a piece on how when the Lincoln Memorial opened, the lighting on the statue of Lincoln was all wrong and had to be fixed (an unabridged, pictureless version of the article is online: “Light for Lincoln’s Statue“).


Lincolnian Nixon: In the midst of the antiwar upheaval, right after Nixon had sent U.S. forces into Cambodia and four students had been killed by National Guard troops at Kent State University in Ohio, a big march was called in Washington. Very early the morning of the demonstration, Nixon went out to the Lincoln Memorial, where many protesters had already gathered. Getting out among the people — it was a positively Lincolnian gesture when viewed from an era in which the president systematically excludes critics from his audiences. (A second Nixon/Lincoln Memorial memory: Ask me and maybe I’ll tell you about the time I dreamed I assassinated Nixon on the steps of the memorial. Really.)


My dad and my brother Chris and I drove out to Gettysburg (John was sick with pneumonia and I guess Ann didn’t come because it was a guy trip or something. I’m sure she’ll set me straight). History will little note nor long remember my visit, unlike Lincoln’s in 1863.


On a whim, I hitchhiked to Washington to see the Watergate hearings. It was tough getting rides and I wound up taking a long detour to Watkins Glen, New York, where The Band, Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead were playing a one-day concert at the racetrack there. I eventually made it to Washington, but without enough money to get a motel room anywhere. I wound up at the Lincoln Memorial after dark — the first time I’d ever been there. I was so tired from the trip that I sat down, leaning against one of the columns outside, and fell asleep. It was a very warm night, and eventually I stirred myself, strolled out toward the Washington Monument, found a spot that seemed inconspicuous, and went to sleep. I got into the hearings the next day. Richard Helms, the former director of the CIA, was testifying. Dick Cavett was in the audience, wearing a blue workshirt and a kerchief around his neck.


During a family visit to New Jersey, my brother John and I rented a car and with my older son Eamon (who was going on 9) took the Garden State Parkway down to Cape May, where we got on the ferry to Lewes, Delaware. We decided to drive into Washington along U.S. 50, from the east. The day had been blistering, and it didn’t cool down much after dark. We got a room at the first motel we saw, the Day’s Inn on New York Avenue, as I recall, and then went out to explore a little. We made it to Georgetown, called our Illinois friends the McCrohons about 10 o’clock, and went over to their place, on Connecticut a few blocks above DuPont Circle. We got to talking, the natural state of affairs, and didn’t leave until about 2. Eamon was asleep in the back seat, so John and I decided we should do a little more landmark reconnoitering. We wound up down at the Lincoln Memorial around 3. I’m having a hard time believing I did this — maybe we took turns getting out of the car or something, or maybe I trusted that since we were parked nearby it would be OK to leave Eamon in the car — but we spent half an hour or so at the Vietnam Memorial. We spent the next day in Washington with the McCrohons. The following day, we returned to New Jersey by way of a sweeping detour to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and the Antietam battlefield. Antietam: Lincoln went there, too, to try to prod his commanding general into action (he wound up having to fire him).


I went back to Illinois in September 2004 to take a driving trip with my dad. We weighed a couple long road trips — out to western Kansas on two lane roads, for instance — and settled on a trip down to the southern tip of Illinois. Headed down Interstate 57, we rolled through Champaign and then saw a sign for Tolono, a place I wanted to see because an old Utah Phillips railroad song carries the name of the town. Our first improbable sighting after deparing the interstate: an inline skater in the oncoming lane, wearing shorts and a backpack but no shirt. The second was in town: A historical marker commemorating Lincoln’s stop at the railroad junction there on February 11, 1861, as he headed east for his inauguration. The marker, on the grounds of a gas station, reported that Lincoln made his last speech in Illinois in Tolono (reporters on the train with him said he made “remarks” in Danville, a little further east, as well as at the Indiana-Illinois border). Dad and I drove on south to Cairo and a little beyond, then doubled back north along the Mississippi, crossing the river several times on car ferries. On the way back to Chicago after stopping to see Mother Jones’s grave in Mount Olive, we got off the highway in Springfield to see the important public buildings there. Then we found our way to the cemetery in a pleasant, leafy neighborhood north of downtown where Lincoln is buried. The tomb is heroic in scale and much more martial than I expected with statues of Union soldiers in a variety of vigllant, fighting poses. We left as the sun started to set and drove back to Chicago in the dark.

The News from Equality

By way of Lydell, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press, news from Little Egypt:

“EQUALITY, Ill. — No major damage was reported after a minor earthquake shook areas around this small town in southern Illinois on Monday.

“The quake struck at 3:48 p.m. and registered magnitude 3.6, according to Rafael Abreu, a geologist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Denver. It was centered near Equality, which is about 120 miles southeast of St. Louis.

“Abreu said calls from people who felt tremors came from Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, but the quake was unlikely to have caused any damage.

” ‘There might have been some rattling of objects, but not much more,’ Abreu said.

An earthquake in Southern Illinois? Not too shocking, if for no other reason than the greater Equality area is only 100 miles or so as the crow flies from New Madrid, Missouri, near the center of some of the most powerful earthquakes in U.S. history.

But Equality‘s another matter. Just the name: There’s got to be a story behind that. If a local school district page is to be believed, the town was known as Saline Lick. In the 1820s, the name was changed to honor the settlement’s French heritage; Equality refers to the Egalité of the French revolutionary motto. But neither the name nor the school’s Web page hints at the town’s historical notoriety: A local landowner, John Crenshaw (said in one article to be a grandson of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence), is remembered for his part in a sort of reverse Underground Railroad. He and his many cohorts kidnapped free blacks in the north and sell them into slavery. Crenshaw also made a fortune from salt processing, an operation that depended on hundreds of “leased” slaves. (Yes — slavery in the Land of Lincoln; in fact, Lincoln is reported to have been Crenshaw’s guest during a visit to the area in 1840). A tangible piece of this legacy survives: Crenshaw’s place, now called the Old Slave House, still stands a few miles from Equality.