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Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter:

in 3D!

Partly for fun, partly to make a point, I’m writing this post without referring to any texts, either online or on paper. Which should explain, if not excuse, any paraphrases or errors. The point may or may not become clear by the end of the post. This is not going to be an “FDR is better than Lincoln” post; you have been warned.
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…but it’s spelled Douglas, with one “s”. Which is to say, this is filled with wrong:

Gingrich has been selling GOP primary voters on the value of Lincon-Douglass style debates for a long while now. On Saturday as other days he also promised to pick up Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 tactic of following Stephen Douglass around and speaking the day after him until, Gingrich explained, Douglass agreed to debate him. (Lincoln went on to lose the Senate election against Douglass, but it’s assumed Gingrich expects a different outcome if he’s the GOP nominee and chases Obama across the country.)

Frederick Douglass had the spare “s”. Senator Stephen Douglas, the guy who debated America’s greatest president, had only the one. Anyway, like I said, I know I’m being obnoxious. But in a case like this, I really can’t help myself. Sorry.

Also, probably nobody cares, but Stephen Douglas spelled his name with a second “s” until around 1846, when he first won a Senate seat. He apparently became Stephen “Single S” Douglas in part to distinguish himself from Frederick Douglass.

Is anybody other than me interested in this? No? That’s what I thought. Okay, then.

Herman Cain, among his many insane ramblings over the past few days, apparently suggested that his face should be on Mt. Rushmore. Well, fair enough. (Though, having visited the monument last summer, I have to admit that I found it more affecting than I expected. I mean, it’s very big. And by the way, Lincoln but no FDR, amiright? No, seriously, there was something about the scale of the president’s faces, the setting in which they’re carved, and the history of dispossession surrounding the place that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by the power of the state to shape the landscape of American memory.)

Anyway, Michelle Bachmann picked up the ball and ran with it. To her credit, she didn’t suggest that she should join Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy — aka, “The Real Man’s Roosevelt”), and Lincoln. Her pick? James Garfield. Wait, what? Garfield? My colleague, Kathy Olmsted, replied to this news by asking, “Is that the only president she could think of?” Yes, apparently so. And while I don’t think this disqualifies Ms. Bachmann from the presidency, it should disqualify her from tenure in one of the better history departments near you. Which is to say, don’t worry, Newt! You’re still the only serious scholar in the Republican field!

UPDATE: post updated with more Ericness.

I know Wordles are so last week, but I just decided to Wordleize Lincoln’s First and Second Inaugurals. I’d like to say the results are stunning or at least interesting. They aren’t. Still, if you’d care to see for yourself, you can peek below the fold.

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The older boy’s second grade class is apparently doing a unit on Lincoln this week. So, after finishing his homework, which I have to say is pretty onerous, the boy just explained to me that if he becomes president when he grows up, he’ll “emulate [emulate?] Lincoln in some ways but not in others.” “Oh, in what ways will you emulate him?” I asked. He answered that “if there are slaves then I’ll emancipate [emancipate?] them.” “Good idea,” I said. “But in what ways won’t you emulate our greatest president [it’s never too soon to begin indoctrinating them].” He paused as he thought about it and then replied, “I won’t go to any plays.” Fair enough.

No matter how hard I try, I always struggle to get a clear sense of Abe Lincoln’s views on race, which often appear inconsistent, to say the least. So it was with great pleasure that I read Jim Oakes’s chapter in this book. Oakes’s essay offers by far the best summary I’ve read of the issue. Here’s the key paragraph:

Lincoln believed that race relations were regulated at three different levels. At the highest level, the natural rights guaranteed by the Constitution, Lincoln consistently favored the equality of blacks and whites. Below natural rights were the privileges and immunities of citizenship, sometimes called citizenship rights, and at this level Lincoln was cautiously egalitarian during the 1850s and unambiguously so during his presidency. Finally, there were aspects of race relations that fell solely within the purview of the states – laws regulating marriage, voting, and jury duty, for example. These matters were determined by state legislatures elected by people at large. Virtually every concession Lincoln made to racial prejudice concerned the third level.

That’s an extremely helpful formulation, I think, even though I’m not sure there’s anything new there. Still, it’s concise and clear. Oakes goes on:

Lincoln shared many, though by no means all, of the racial prejudices of his fellow Americans. He instinctively thought of the United States as a white man’s country, agreed that the founders had imagined their new nation the same way, believed that the western territories existed for the benefit of whites, and said on various occasions that it would be best if blacks and whites permanently separated.

Yup, that about sums it up. And Oakes’s explanation of the above is interesting:

But when he bothered to justify these views Lincoln usually referred not to any notion of innate racial inequality but to the clearly expressed will of a racist white majority. Lincoln’s democratic deference to popular opinion explains his perplexing inconsistencies at least as much as his own racial prejudices. He resisted the idea that either natural rights or the privileges and immunities of citizenship were subject to majority rule, and on those matters he was a racial egalitarian. But on issues that were distinctly the prerogative of elected officials in state legislatures Lincoln deferred. As was so often the case in antebellum America, Lincoln’s prejudicial views had as much to do with democracy as racism.

Hmm. About some of that I’ve got lingering doubts. For example, Lincoln on occasion granted that racial pseudoscientists were right: that there were inherent differences between blacks and whites, immutable markers indicating the latter’s superiority. I’m not sure how, even given the schema outlined in the first paragraph above, Oakes would explain evidence that Lincoln accepted the existence of “natural” differences between the races. Perhaps with his “virtually every concession” caveat? And maybe that’s all there is to it. Still, pro-slavery forces used scientific racism to undercut claims that slaves and free people of color enjoyed natural rights. I don’t know; maybe I’m overthinking this. Regardless, the Oakes is worth your time — as is the case with everything the man writes.

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