Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Rude Republic: How They Saw Abraham Lincoln

Candidate Lincoln

Some regard the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the least qualified and most divisive president in United States history, but oddly enough the honor actually goes to the man considered by most historians as the greatest U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was a dark horse candidate to become the nominee of the Republican Party in 1860.  Although one of the highest paid lawyers in America, with a gift for connecting with the common man in his speeches, Lincoln had little formal education or political experience, having been largely self-educated and having served only two years in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Lincoln defeated an impressive line-up of opponents for the nomination which included four Senators and a Governor.  Lincoln won on the third ballot.  His principal opponent William H. Seward was aghast, but fell in behind the party’s nominee.

Lincoln won the presidency by convincingly winning the Electoral College vote.  However, Lincoln won less than forty percent (39.8%) of the popular vote, with the balance being spread amongst three other candidates.  In the original #NotMyPresident movement, seven southern states seceded from the United States between Election Day and Lincoln’s inauguration.  Shortly after his inauguration four more states seceded and the nation was plunged into four years of bloody civil war.  That was "resistance" with a capital R.

Although now universally beloved and acclaimed, throughout the Civil War Lincoln was derided as unqualified for office by prominent Northerners.  George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.”  The abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher blasted Lincoln’s lack of refinement.  Some Northern newspapers called for Lincoln’s immediate assassination.  General George B. McCllellan called Lincoln “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla.”  ElizabethCady Stanton, the famous abolitionist, called Lincoln “Dishonest Abe” and bemoaned the “incapacity and rottenness” of his administration.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton vowed that if Lincoln “is reelected (1864) I shall immediately leave the country for the Fijee Islands.” Lincoln was re-elected.  Stanton did not move to the Fiji Islands (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

Although we now regard Lincoln as the original “Great Communicator”, during his own lifetime editorial writers sometimes described Lincoln’s speeches as, “… involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of ease and grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.”

A Pennsylvania newspaper had this to say about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” A correspondent for the Times (London) wrote, “Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce.”

This is what media savants had to say about Lincoln’s words now carved in marble at the Lincoln Memorial ("With malice toward none, with charity for all …"), contained in the second inaugural address, “a little speech of ‘glittering generalities’ used only to fill in the program.”(The New York Herald), and “We did not conceive it possible that even Mr. Lincoln could produce a paper so slip-shod, so loose-jointed, so puerile, not alone in literary construction, but in its ideas, its sentiments, its grasp.” (The Chicago Tribune).

Democracy is rowdy and has not become less so with the passage of time.

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Gifts for Dogs and Dog Lovers

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Civil War "Marrying Craze"

Esther Alden expressed the attitude of many young women in the South as the war progressed, “One looks at a man so differently when you think he may be killed tomorrow. Men whom up to this time I had thought dull and commonplace . . . seemed charming.” The famous diarist, Mary Chestnut of South Carolina, was appalled when she saw women of her own class flirting openly with strangers in public.  The diaries of hundreds of women of the time attest to the “marrying craze” sweeping the South.  “Every girl in Richmond is engaged or about to be”, wrote Phoebe Pember Yates in February 1864.  Fear of spinsterhood and natural desire heightened by the immediacy of war led to many unconventional matches, many reflecting the truth of a phrase common to the time, “The blockade don’t keep out babies.”  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Kings of Haiti

From 1791-1859, the island of Haiti made three separate attempts at establishing monarchical government.

Slaves rose against their French masters on the colony of St. Dominique in 1791.  After a pro-longed period of struggle, the French abandoned the colony.  On January 1, 1804, the ancient Carib name of Haiti was restored to the colony and French rule renounced forever.  Haiti became the first nation in Latin America and the second in the New World to win its independence.  The decision to make Haiti an empire came in July after Napoleon Bonaparte was offered the Imperial crown of France.  A proposal that General Jean Jacques Dessalines should be nominated as Emperor of the Haitians circulated among the leading generals.  Thus, on October 8, a Breton missionary anointed Jean Jacques Dessalines as “The Avenger and Deliverer of his fellow citizens”, Emperor of Haiti.  Dessalines’ reign lasted two years and ended in his murder.

The establishment of two separate republics, in the north and south, followed the collapse of the empire.  By 1811 the northern republic had turned into the Kingdom of Haiti, ruled over by King Henri I.  (“Henri, by the Grace of God and the Constitutional law of the state, King of Haiti, Ruler of the islands of La Tortue and Gonave, and other adjacent, Destroyer of Tyranny, Regenerator and Benefactor of the Haitian nation, Creator of its moral, political and military institutions, First crowned monarch of the New World, Defender of the Faith, Founder of the Royal and Military Order of St. Henry.”)

Many of the institutions of the new kingdom were copied from the monarchies of Europe.  The court ceremonial was designed to exalt the person of majesty in the style of Louis XIV.  Of the numerous royal castles and palaces, the palace of Sans Souci, at Millot, near the foot of the Pic de la Ferrier, was the favorite residence of Henri I.  It was at the palace of Sans Souci, named in honor of Frederick the Great’s palace, that Haitian opulence reached its apex.  San Souci, the Versailles of Haiti, with its delicately carved cornices, dancing fountains, marble floors, arcades, terraces, sumptuous furnishings and perfectly drilled troops, was the king’s crowning glory.

The ruins of Sans Souci

The ruins of San Souci

Henri I struggled for a decade to modernize the country, while simultaneously fending off the encroachments of his neighbor to the south.  In 1820 the king suffered a stroke and was soon battling his own ambitious generals.  As a rebel army and thousands of scavengers descended on the Palace of San Souci, the king killed himself.  The kingdom collapsed and was incorporated into the Republic of Haiti.

Haiti’s last experience with monarchy came in the person of General Faustin Soulouque.  After seizing power in a bloody coup, Soulouque invaded the neighboring Dominican Republic in 1849, where his army was totally routed.  To distract attention from this military fiasco, Soulouque decided to create the second Haitian Empire.  On August 26, 1849 Soulouque proclaimed himself Faustin I, Emperor of Haiti.  The second empire lasted ten years before Faustin I was overthrown and forced into exile.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

United States Colored Troops (USCT)

Arlington National Cemetery was segregated until 1948.  Veterans of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) were buried in Section 27.  The 175 regiments of the USCT made up some ten percent of the Union Army.  The unit seen here was stationed near Arlington. Frederick Douglass, the most prominent African-American intellectual of the Civil War era, wrote, “[He] who would be free must himself strike the blow.” The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was the answer to that call.  Some 40,000 gave their lives for the cause.  Douglass wrote, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”After the Civil War, soldiers in the USCT fought in the Indian Wars in the American West. 

The Civil War Wedding, an entertaining look at the customs and superstitions of weddings during the Civil War era.

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.