Monthly Archives: July 2012

Harold Holzer spotlighted in New York Times

The prolific Lincoln author was the subject of a profile published Sunday:

Mr. Holzer, who uses summer vacations to research and weekends to write, has been hooked on Lincoln for over a half-century, ever since a composition assignment in the fifth grade found him randomly picking the president’s name from a hat. His buddy picked Genghis Khan and eventually became a rock ’n’ roll promoter. (“Whatever you are, be a good one” is bromide advice attributed to Lincoln.)

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Yet another new Lincoln document turns up

This time it’s a brief authorization for a prisoner discharge, from the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum in Michigan.

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Carpenter’s Lincoln

The Civil War Sesquicentennial blog of The New York Times has an interesting post on Francis Carpenter and Lincoln.  Carpenter stayed at the White House while working on his painting of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to members of his cabinet.  The painting itself got mixed reviews, but Carpenter’s book about the time he spent in the Executive Mansion has been a gold mine for historians.

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What does Lincoln have to do with Batman?

Jerry Bowyer argues that the Great Emancipator and the Caped Crusader are linked by a willingness to take extreme measures in times of crisis:

The parallel with Lincoln comes from the idea of bending the law in order to preserve its spirit. During the Civil War Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus to preserve the Union, and people argue to this day about the constitutionality of this action (even though the Constitution clearly allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in times of “rebellion or invasion,” and one would think that half the country taking up arms against the other meets that threshold). It was, like the very existence of Batman, a temporary measure in response to a crisis, not a long-term solution. The same goes for Batman’s lie about Harvey Dent, whose two faces amusingly—but probably unintentionally—echo Lincoln’s famous rejoinder “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

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Lincoln movie updates

Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited Lincoln movie finally has a release date.  It will open in select theaters on November 9th and in theaters everywhere one week later.

Spielberg isn’t the only filmmaker who’s working on a Lincoln project.  Acclaimed director Terrence Malick is producing a film about Lincoln’s early years.  Diane Kruger broke the news when she told an interviewer that she’ll be playing Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln.

Finally, a television film based on the book Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard is in the works.  Produced by the same filmmakers who made last year’s Emmy-winning documentary Gettysburg, it will star Billy Campbell as Lincoln and will air on the National Geographic Channel in 2013.


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The Chicago Tribune on Lincoln’s legacy

Kevin Nance offers some thoughts on our ongoing fascination with Lincoln.  He suggests that the current Lincoln craze in pop culture owes a lot to the election of our first African-American president.

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“The key thing is what he did”

Stephen Carter, a professor at Yale Law and author of the new alternate history novel The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, shared some observations on Lincoln’s restrictions of civil liberties and his racial attitudes for a recent article:

“My admiration for Lincoln is undiminished, in part because I don’t try to judge him by the standards of the 21st century,” Carter says. “He was not above telling the occasional racial joke, and he made it very clear more than once, leading up to the Civil War, that he thought black people were, as a group, inferior to white people. What’s striking about Lincoln isn’t so much that he was originally trapped in the racial attitudes of his day but, rather, that he was able to do so much to transcend those attitudes as time went on. He went on quite an intellectual and, I suppose one could say, moral journey over those years in the White House, and evolved enormously. But the key thing is what he did, not why he did it.”

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Lincoln and the people’s poet

By Michael Lynch

A few days ago I paid a visit to Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, NC.  Sandburg was born in Galesburg, IL, site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate—one of the reasons he was so interested in Lincoln is because he grew up in Lincoln country, among people who remembered Lincoln firsthand—but he moved to the North Carolina mountains in 1945, where his wife could raise the dairy goats for which she was famous.  Ironically, the Sandburgs’ farm, “Connemara,” once belonged to Christopher Memminger, Secretary of the Treasury for the Confederate States of America.

The main house at Connemara

I owe one of my first encounters with Lincoln to Sandburg.  When I was a kid, my teacher assigned Abe Lincoln Grows Up to the whole class as a required book.  I read part of it in the anteroom of an office in Duke Hall, the former home of LMU’s Lincoln collection, while waiting for my mom to get out of a meeting.  (The collection itself had long since been moved to the museum by then, so I didn’t make the Lincoln-Duke Hall connection until years later, when I was enrolled as a student.)

Abe Lincoln Grows Up consists of material drawn from Sandburg’s two-volume work Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years.  That book and its four-volume sequel, The War Years, are the result of extensive research, and volumes on Lincoln and the Civil War are still prominent among the 11,000 books still sitting on the shelves of his North Carolina home.

Some of Sandburg’s books on Lincoln and the Civil War

But Sandburg was hardly scrupulous when it came to setting down all the material he collected.  Like Parson Weems, the early biographer of Washington, he loved colorful anecdotes whether he could substantiate them or not.  He didn’t distinguish between Lincoln fact and Lincoln legend because he was not writing a conventional biography.  His Lincoln books are as much populist prose poems as anything else.

Lincoln’s humble origins, his abiding faith in democratic government, and his monumental achievements on behalf of freedom made it easy for Sandburg to turn him into a hero of the common man.  Both he and Lincoln, Sandburg believed, had sprouted from the same soil; Sandburg noted that he, too, was “a son of the prairie, a poor boy.”  Perhaps because of this sense of kinship, Sandburg felt free to crawl inside his subject’s head, as in this passage:

Maybe he would grow up; his feet would be farther away from his head and his chin if he grew up; he could pick apples without climbing a tree or throwing clubs—if he grew up.  Maybe then, after growing up, he would know more about those words he heard men saying, “in-de-pend-ent,” “pre-des-ti-na-tion.”  Daniel Boone—yes, he could understand about Daniel Boone—wearing moccasins and a buckskin shirt.  But George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and the President in Washington, James Madison—they were far off; they were sort of like God; it was hard to make pictures of their faces.

Some critics found the books to be nothing more than a mish-mash of anecdotes, legends, and history.  One historian referred to Sandburg’s work as “a literary grab bag,” while Edmund Wilson called it “an album of Lincoln clippings” and “the cruellest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth.”  Certainly no one would consider The Prairie Years or The War Years to be examples of careful scholarship.

And yet Sandburg’s is possibly the oldest Lincoln biography which still finds a wide readership, at least in its distilled one-volume form.  (Sandburg worked on this abridged version while living at Connemara.)  The shelf life of historical scholarship is usually short, lasting only until some new synthesis comes along, but genuine works of literature endure as long as people find beauty in the language and meaning in the themes.  Sandburg’s populist myth doesn’t always offer us an accurately reconstructed Lincoln, but it does offer us a living one, and one who reflects what Americans want to believe about themselves.

—Michael Lynch graduated from LMU with a degree in history, worked at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum as an assistant curator, and now teaches survey-level history courses on campus. He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Tennessee and blogs about historical topics at

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Musharraf compares himself to Lincoln

A few days ago Pervez Musharraf, the former President of Pakistan, gave an interview in which he likened himself to the 16th President of the United States.

His main message was to defend his actions and those of the Pakistani military over the decades as in the interest of the Pakistani people and the survival of Pakistani democracy.

“When the state is going down, people run to the Army to save the state,” he said. “We had a dilemma: save the state in order to save the Constitution. Unfortunately, the military takes over to save the state, in order to save the Constitution.”

“This was the view of even President Abraham Lincoln,” Musharraf continued. “I know that he had violated the Constitution because his responsibility was to protect the state and therefore protect the Constitution. So this has been the dilemma of Pakistan all through its history.”

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How might cable news have covered the Gettysburg Address?

Robert Brustein has a tongue-in-cheek take on this question.

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