2014.06.12

When he needed a particular piece of correspondence, Lincoln had to rifle through disorderly stacks of paper, rummaging, as a last resort, in the lining of his old plug hat, where he often put stray letters or notes. (23)

Americans are always moving on. Stephen Vincent Benét, quoted in Team of Rivals.

This is one of the things I find so fascinating, and something I think uniquely defines America and Americans. Canadians look in, while Americans are looking out and moving on.

As the historian Donald Yacovone writes in his study of the fiercely expressed love and devotion among several abolitionist leaders in the same era, the “preoccupation with elemental sex” reveals more about later centuries “than about the nineteenth.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin says, get your minds out of the gutter; Lincoln and Speed were “just friends”.

Frances could not endure to continue the journey. “Sick of slavery and the South,” she wrote in her diary; “the evil effects constantly coming before me and marring everything.” She begged her husband to cancel the rest of their tour, and he complied. Instead of continuing south to Richmond, they “turned their horses’ heads northward and homeward.” (107)

I’ve always wondered how Virginia could be considered the South when, geographically, it’s so far north. In 1835, William Henry Seward and his wife, Frances, travelled from Auburn, New York, for a tour of the southern states, but once they entered Virginia (which, and I just looked on a map, is not that far!), they could go no further. It was a completely different world.

See here Lincoln, if you can throw this Cannon ball further than we Can, We’ll vote for you.” Lincoln picked up the large Cannon ball–felt it–swung it around and said, “Well, boys, if thats all I have to do I’ll get your votes.” He then proceeded to swing the cannonball “four or Six feet further than any one Could throw it. (118)

Let’s do elections like this again.

To Lincoln’s mind, the fundamental test of a democracy was its capacity to “elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all.” (120)

“He would burst into a ball,” recalled a friend, “with his big heavy Conestoga boots on, and exclaim aloud–‘Oh–boys, how clean those girls look.” This was undoubtedly not the compliment the girls were looking for. (122)

Abe was such a dork.

The question for debate was whether the first president was perfect, or whether, being human, he was fallible. According to [Henry] Whitney, Lincoln thought there was merit in retaining the notion of a Washington without blemish that they had all been taught as children. “It makes human nature better to believe that one human being was perfect,” Lincoln argued, “that human perfection is possible.” (189)

Doctors could not pinpoint the physical origin of the various ailments that conspired to leave Frances a semi-invalid. A brilliant woman, Frances once speculated whether the “various nervous afflictions & morbid habits of thought” that plagued so many women she knew had their origin in the frustrations of an educated woman’s life in the mid-nineteenth century. Among her papers is a draft of an unpublished essay on the plight of woman: “To share in any kind of household work is to demean herself, and she would be thought mad, to run, leap, or engage in active sports.” She was permitted to dance all night in ballrooms, but it “would be deemed unwomanly” and “imprudent” for her to race with her children “on the common, or to search the cliff for flowers.” Reflecting on “the number of invalids that exist among women exempted from Labour,” she suggested that the “want of fitting employment–real purpose in their life” was responsible. (193)

Frances Seward was a smart woman. Let’s be grateful her husband is deemed important enough that her papers have been saved by proxy.

They meant to set up a standard maximum for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. Abraham Lincoln (250)

This is the real American Dream. You don’t get everything you want just because; you get the possibility and potential.

In mid-October, he replied to eleven-year-old Grace Bedell, who had recommended that he grow a beard, “for your face is so thin” and “all the ladies like whiskers.” After lamenting the fact that he had no daughter of his own, he wondered: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?” Nonetheless, he proceeded to grow beard. (324)

All the ladies like whiskers.

If I live I’m coming back some time, and then we’ll go right on practising law as if nothing had ever happened. Abraham Lincoln, to William Herndon, his partner of 16 years, before leaving Springfield for the White House, (363)

Way to spoil the plot, Abe.

In Westfield, New York, he kissed Grace Bedell, the little girl who had encouraged him to grow a beard. (367) Important follow-up!

At Fort Corcoran, on the Virginia side of the Potomac, he asked Colonel William T. Sherman if he could address the troops. Sherman was delighted, though he asked Lincoln to “discourage all cheering.” (442)

On many nights, while her husband worked late in his office, the first lady held soirées in the Blue Room, to which she invited a mostly male circle of guests. Her frequent visitors included Daniel Sickles, the New York congressman who recently had murdered the son of the composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Philip Barton Key, who was having an affair with Sickles’s wife. Defended by a team of lawyers including Edwin Stanton, Sickles had been found innocent by reason of “temporary insanity.” (452)

There’s a whole book in this anecdote.

Frances took an immediate liking to the president, whom she described as “a plain unassuming farmer–not awkward or ungainly,” who talked with equal ease about “the war & the crops.” Fanny was captivated. “I liked him very much,” she recorded in her diary. She was especially delighted when the president showed her the kittens her father had given to Willie and Tad and told her that “they climb all over him.” (454)

I feel certain Lincoln would get along well in the Internet Age.

[W]ord circulated in “high places” that Seward hoped “to provoke a war with England for the purpose of getting Canada.” (468)

At 2 p.m., Lincoln, wearily finished with his own reception, returned to his office. Seward and Fred soon joined him, carrying the corrected proclamation in a large portfolio. Not wishing to delay any longer, Lincoln commenced the signing. As the parchment was unrolled before him, he “took a pen, dipped it in ink, moved his hand to the place for the signature,” but then, his hand trembling, he stopped and put the pen down. “I never, in my life, felt more certain that was doing right,” he said. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” His arm was “stiff and numb” from shaking hands for three hours, however. “If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation,” Lincoln said, “all who examine the document hereafter will say, ‘He hesitated.’” So the president waited a moment and then took up the pen once more, “slowly and carefully” writing his name. “The signature proved to be unusually bold, clear, and firm, even for him,” Fred Seward recalled, “and a laugh followed at his apprehensions.” The secretary of state added his own name and carried it back to the State Department, where the great seal of the United States was affixed before copies were sent out to the press. (585)

There’s a bit of ego in this story. That’s why Lincoln was a great president. Not that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but the very human way he did it.

Encountering him at a number of parties, Fanny Seward found him to be a delightful young man, “much shorter than his father,” with “a good, strong face,” though not an especially handsome one. (595)

(Robert Todd Lincoln, you’ll remember, was played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the 2012 film.)

What I want is an audience. Nothing sounds the same when there isn’t anybody to hear it and find fault with it. Abraham Lincoln, working on a speech, (648)

Marine lieutenant Henry Clay Cochrane recalled that Seward, riding to Lincoln’s right, was “entirely unconscious” that his trousers had pulled up above his shoes, revealing “homemade gray socks” unbefitting the occasion> (685)

The occasion, of course, was the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln explained that [James] Speed was “a man I know well, though not so well as I know his brother Joshua. That, however, is not strange, for I slept with Joshua for four years, and I suppose I ought to know him well.” Lincoln’s ease in referring to his sleeping arrangement with Joshua Speed is further evidence that theirs was not a sexual relationship. Had it been, historian David Donald suggests, the president would not have spoken of it “so freely and publicly. (789).

While troubled at the start by Lincoln’s “never-failing fund of anecdotes,” he had come to realize that storytelling played a central role in the president’s ability to communicate with the public. “The character of the President’s mind is such,” Bates remarked, “that his thought habitually takes on this form of illustration, by which the point he wishes to enforce is invariably brought home with a strength and clearness impossible in hours of abstract argument. (787).

We are as certain of two-thirds of that [soldier] vote for General McClellan as that the sun shines.

Manton Marble, in TEAM OF RIVALS (774), ahead of the 1864 election, which, if you remember, saw McClellan win 3 states to Lincoln’s 24. Smug never wins.

Chase is, on the whole, a pretty good fellow and a very able man. His only trouble is that he has “the White House fever” a little too bad, but I hope this may cure him and that he will be satisfied.

Lincoln, on nominating Chase as Chief Justice (793). I could tell you how much I hate Salmon P. Chase, but I’ll save it for my book.

If he had been alive he would have been the first to call on me…but he has not been here, nor has he sent to know how I am, and there’s the flag at halfmast.

William Seward, recovering after his own assassination attempt, wasn’t told of Lincoln’s death. He figured it out for himself when he saw through his bedroom window that the flag was flying at half-mast. (866)

I finally finished “the Lincoln book” last night. That’s TEAM OF RIVALS by Doris Kearns Goodwin, for anyone who has forgotten along the way. I don’t blame you–I started posting quotes in October.