Trouble in the Land of Lincoln?

As a former member of the board of directors of the Abraham Lincoln Association as well as a researcher, I’ve visited Springfield, Illinois, many times since I first stopped by Roger Bridges’s office in March 1985. As part of my position I’ve had dealings with The Papers of Abraham Lincoln under various editors (in fact, in 1985 I was contacted about heading a Lincoln legal papers project in Springfield, but that job went to a far more capable editor; it was the forerunner of the current project). Just last month the project announced that it had secured a valuable grant to assist in its operations.

Thus it was with some surprise that I read that the project may have become a pawn in various political disputes (although, truth be told, even in 1985 I understood that any such project would have some political strings attached).

At this time the reports coming out of Springfield conflict. At first there was a story that Illinois Governor¬†Bruce Rauner was going to shut the project down, period. That soon was slightly modified to a claim that what was at stake was the status of a dozen employees who were part of an agreement between the papers and the University of Illinois at Springfield. At the same time, readers gathered that there was going to be an investigation of various financial arrangements because the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency wasn’t quite sure what was going on, which may say more about the poor oversight exercised by the IHPA than it does about any alleged financial improprieties (which strikes me as nonsense from what I know). You can sense the exasperation in the comments of Bob Lenz, former president of the Abraham Lincoln Association, who is a rather smart fellow.

Let’s just say that Illinois politics, especially in Springfield, have always been troubling and entertaining at the same time, and never more so than when it comes to matters of interest to historians. It will be interesting to see whether certain bureaucrats will set their petty power games aside and let the project do its work under proper supervision.

8 thoughts on “Trouble in the Land of Lincoln?

  1. Sandi Saunders September 8, 2015 / 2:56 pm

    Having stumbled onto a forum that I thought was about Lincoln and finding it was more of a secesh and John Wilkes Booth admiration society, and seeing the “wanted” posters for Lincoln that are prominent at re-enactments, I think that this is just par for the course of studying Lincoln (who IMO is second only to Washington in important Presidents of this nation).

    • Rosieo September 10, 2015 / 4:28 am

      I always wonder why deciders cannot put humanity ahead of profit (and lack of profit)… Education and communication/information will save the world – sounds trite but people armed with knowledge make better decisions ,.. well, at least on how to boost profits (ha ha)…. but I want more than the “least”….. I experienced the Lincoln discussion site Sandi mentions in post above and having hung around in blogs like this one I was shocked by what I found there. I was naive, turns out. Closing or slowing down truth/fact finding research only gives myth spinners more space. And they’ll take it.

  2. Bob Nelson September 8, 2015 / 4:47 pm

    Of course Rauner is “pinching pennies.” If you were governor of Illinois, you’d be pinching pennies, too. The state is hemorrhaging money. In 2016, something like 40% of total state tax revenue will go just to pay the retirements of former state employees including teachers, highway workers, judges, state police, legislators and others. In 2017 it’s going to be more than 50%. Like many states, former Illinois governors (three of whom are now in prison) and legislators raped the retirement system — once one of the most secure and well financed in the country — to pay the bills. Now it’s time to pay the piper. Granted, the Lincoln digitalization project is a drop in the bucket. But if you add up all the spending for similar “drops in the bucket,” the total $$$ value is staggering. Michigan was in the same boat six years ago. Rick Snyder took a real “hard line” approach to finances and Michigan, which once was one of the worst states economically, is now No. 1 in a lot of polls. He’s done a fantastic job. Pissed a lot of people off to be sure, especially public schools which got cut big time. Illinois will have to do the same. Times are tough and I applaud Rauner for trying to fix the situation even if it pinches some folks toes.

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 8, 2015 / 5:05 pm

      This looks like something other than a simple effort to trim budgets, Bob. And while Michigan may be doing well, Detroit’s another story.

      • Bob Nelson September 9, 2015 / 5:36 pm

        You’re right. Detroit is a mess. We’re trying to trade Detroit to Canada for cash and a future draft choice. On a more serious note, if it’s not a budget-trimming thing, what do you think it is?

        • John Foskett September 10, 2015 / 7:19 am

          If you can drag Windsor into the $$$$ dumpster, I’m all for it. Maybe then they’ll stop stealing college hockey recruits.

    • Cotton Boll Conspiracy September 10, 2015 / 6:57 am

      Often, attempts to cut these types of projects under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” are nothing more than political posturing. They nearly always make up a miniscule portion of a state’s budget – even if you add a number of them together. Still, such posturing enables elected officials to show that they are “doing something.” Whether Illinois goes forward with its digitization project or not, these documents aren’t going to stop aging. Better to preserve what they have rather than potentially lose some papers to time.

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