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).

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A Dust-Up Over Lincoln and Colonization

For some time most Lincoln scholars have taken for granted the notion that the sixteenth president abandoned his notions about colonization with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. One Lincoln scholar, Mark Neely, took great pains to dismiss an account by Benjamin F. Butler that detailed Lincoln’s continuing interest in colonization as late as April 1865.

Philip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page have asserted that Lincoln continued to press for colonization after he issued the proclamation. Magness went so far as to challenge Neely’s treatment of Butler’s account, leaving the door open to the possibility that Lincoln did meet with Butler in a conversation where the subject of colonization might have come up. Magness also pursued the issue of James Mitchell’s role in Lincoln’s post-proclamation activities.

I found Magness’s work to be provocative, and I invited him to speak at the 2013 Benjamin P. Thomas Symposium of the Abraham Lincoln Association. At about the same time, Allen Guelzo offered a review of Magness and Page’s book to which Magness has taken exception. Basically, Guelzo dismisses a good deal of the book’s argument, while Magness suggests that certain documents whose existence are questioned by Guelzo do indeed exist.

As Magness has charged Guelzo with “professional misconduct” in offering a “willfully mendacious portrayal” of Magness and Page’s findings, this disagreement does not promise to fade away quickly. One hopes that those fireworks do not distract from the more important implication of Magness and Page’s work: that while Lincoln may have gone silent in public about colonization, he remained committed to it as an option (if no longer the only one) behind the scenes.

Dr. Thomas P. Lowry Responds

It’s been exactly a month since the National Archives announced that Thomas P. Lowry had confessed to altering the date on a Lincoln document so as to make it appear that the president signed the document on April 14, 1865, hours before John Wilkes Booth shot him at Ford’s Theater.  You’ll remember that Lowry recanted his confession.  The story would have gone away had it not been for a certain historian’s commentary on the piece in the New York Times.  There were people who were astonished by the report of Lowry’s behavior, and there were some people who stood up for him.

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Gettysburg College’s New Journal: A Personal Note

Gettysburg College has long been known as a center of Civil War scholarship, and not just because of the faculty who teach there.  The college’s Civil War Institute sponsors an annual summer seminar, and undergraduates can come to Gettysburg to be a part of the Gettysburg Semester.  Now the college has gone a step further in promotion undergraduate research in the field of Civil War studies.  The first issue of The Gettysburg College Journal of Civil War Studies has just appeared: you can download it here.

I confess to being particularly interested in this inaugural issue because of the lead article, “The Visual Documentation of Antietam,” by Kristilyn Baldwin.  That’s because Ms. Baldwin happens to be my student, and this article was one product of her work under my supervision.  Congratulations to her!


Another Arizona oops … Is that really Lincoln’s autograph?

You know, history news just won’t let me alone to write history these days.  So much for that break from blogging.

This morning I arose at a reasonable hour to have breakfast while I perused our local newspaper, The Arizona Republic.  You can imaging what pleasant reading that can be, between our governor’s desire to cut funding for transplant patients (talk about health care death panels … where are Obama’s health care critics on this issue?) and the continuing saga of the NFL Cardinals (thank goodness I’m a Giants fan).

There, in the Valley & State section, I came across a feature article on a display of documents related to Arizona’s territorial organization and push for statehood.  The original state constitution and other documents had been set out for public viewing at the state capitol.  One of the other documents was “a portion of the Arizona Organic Act of 1863.”  As the article tells us: “The document, which former President Abraham Lincoln signed, was fragile: Several pieces of clear tape, which yellowed over time, held the paper together.”

Hmmm, I thought, that’s a remarkable sentence.  I had never seen Lincoln referred to as “former President Abraham Lincoln,” but, given the condition of funding for public education in this state, perhaps readers needed that reminder.  I could also imagine preservationists and others wincing as they found out that the document was being held together by clear tape.  Obviously the state spares no expense or expertise in preserving essential documents.

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