Monday, November 8, 2010

The 150th Anniversary of Lincoln's election

This past week the major news story in the country was the midterm elections, and the resulting Republican Party takeover of the House of Representatives.   In some ways, the failure or success of President Obama’s first term as president now weighs heavily on the ability of the president and the new Congress to compromise and cooperate.    As in every election, accompanying the aftermath is the prospect of change and progress, mixed with a tinge of uncertainty of whether that progress will actually materialize.   As an Abraham Lincoln historian, these 2010 elections spurred me to reflect upon two elections in the past: one being the 1860 presidential election 150 years ago this month, and the midterm elections that faced Lincoln as president in 1862.

Indeed, 150 years has now passed since the crucial election of 1860.     A century-and-a-half later, Lincoln’s mark on the presidency is unparalleled, and all subsequent presidents have looked to Lincoln as the example of presidential leadership.    He was a president not without mistakes and examples to avoid, but how he steered the country through its worse constitutional crisis is an example that any aspiring political candidate should examine thoroughly.  150 years since the division began which led to the American Civil War in April 1861.    It is natural for us to question that had Lincoln not been elected in 1860 how our country would have been so much different.    While both Democrats, but especially Republicans, hail the recent election as a landmark achievement, it pales to the stakes 150 years ago.

But even with that victory, Lincoln’s success in forwarding his agenda and in prosecuting the war depended upon a Congress willing to collaborate with his policies.    It could be argued that one of the most important years legislatively for Lincoln was 1862.   After all, the war was not going well for the Union.   Discontent and dissent was rising in Congress against a president they viewed as inadequate to the task of subduing the rebellion.   Along with that, in September of that year he had advanced one of the most controversial and significant presidential decrees ever—the Emancipation Proclamation.    National measures on slavery had always been congressional responsibilities, so needed a Congress to concur with this action.   Additionally, Lincoln faced criticism on his taxing policies, on the draft, and on the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.   In short, Lincoln’s presidency depended upon the midterm elections of 1862.  

While Republicans—who controlled the House before the 1862 election—retained control after the election (unlike the Democrats in 2010), there are striking and fascinating similarities between 1862 and 2010.   In 1862, the Republicans held 59% of the House seats, exactly identical to the Democrats in 2010.   After November 1862, Republicans held only 46% of the seats (but still held control because of Democratic Party unionists who defected their party), a mirror image to the 43% seats Democrats will now face come January.   Interesting!   If 2010 is an electoral landslide for Republicans and an electoral message to President Obama, then certainly 1862 was for Lincoln.    Most presidents do witness their party losing seats in midterm elections, and even though this year and 1862 are similar, it could be argued that ramifications in 1862 were far worse.   Lincoln even lost his own home district, and in the middle of a war, it could have been a clear signal to Lincoln to dramatically alter his course—even to consider abandoning emancipation and pursue peace terms with the South.   For the most part, he stayed true to his principles and his actions.    A lesser president elected 150 years ago may not have done so.    Whether Obama will change course is yet to be seen, but the president might well study lessons from history.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln

In the next two weeks, it will be the 168th anniversary of the marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln.  The couple married November 4, 1862 at the home of the bride’s sister and brother-in-law, Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards.  The Lincoln marriage is frequently written about and debated between historians.  Some argue that Mary was Lincoln’s life miserable while others say her presence was a calming influence on the man and with her help, Lincoln was able to rise to greatness.  I will not state my opinion one way or another.  This post will just tell the story of the Lincoln’s courtship and marriage but feel free to leave your own comments about the Lincoln’s marriage.
Lincoln arrived in Springfield in 1837, the same year as Mary did.  Lincoln came to the city to further his career as a lawyer, becoming the junior partner of John Todd Stuart.  Mary left with hopes of finding a suitor, but also to escape her stepmother who she did not get along with.  Mary moved in with her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Ninian Edwards.  Lincoln lived above Joshua Speed’s store in the city. 
Mary quickly became the belle of Springfield.  One man wrote that Mary “could make a bishop forget his prayers.”  The vivacious, witty twenty-year old quickly grew the attention of many suitors in the city. One suitor was Stephen A. Douglas, who would run against Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.  Lincoln thrived in Springfield as well.  His sense of humor, witty banter, and charismatic personality gained Lincoln many friends.
The two met at a dance at her sister’s home.  Legend has it that Lincoln approached Mary and said “Miss Todd, I want to dance with you in the worst way.”  Mary later commented that Lincoln did dance in the worst way, stepping on her feet throughout the song.  Despite his poor dance skills, Mary and Lincoln began courting.  They found they had many things in common.  Both were born in Kentucky, but to very different backgrounds.  Each had lost their mother at a young age.  Additionally, they shared many common interests – Shakespeare, poetry, and politics, especially the Whig party.  The couple became engaged in 1840.
However, the engagement did not last.  Some historians argue that Mary’s family was appalled that Mary would marry a man below her social class, causing the engagement to be called off.  Others argue that Lincoln broke off the engagement because he realized he did not love Mary.  Regardless, after the engagement, Lincoln wrote that he was the “most miserable man living.”
In 1842, with the help and encouragement of friends, the couple reunited and, once again, became engaged.  This time, the couple did marry.  The couple originally planned to marry at the home of Rev. Charles Dresser.  However, Elizabeth Edwards intervened and the wedding was held in the parlor of the Edward’s home on November 4, 1842.  At the ceremony, Abraham gave Mary a ring engraved with the words “Love is Eternal.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Busy Days at the Lincoln Heritage Museum!

Things have been very busy at the Museum lately! As some of you may know, we are getting ready for our annual fundraiser, the Grand Soire᷄e, which is on October 30.  With the help of our dedicated Soire᷄e committee and our advancement officer, Cindy, the event will be a great night out!  The event will be held in the Lincoln Center, which soon will be home to the museum.  The event will include a night of dinner, dancing, and a silent and live auction.  All of the auction items are very cool.  For our sports fans out there, we have a baseball signed by Hall of Famer Ryan Sandberg, four field box tickets to the St. Louis Cardinals, and season tickets for Lincoln College sporting events, just to name a few.  They also will be auctioning off an introductory flying lesson, six months of singing lessons, spa certificates, tickets to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a lot more! Entertainment will include Lincoln College Jazz Band and the Lincoln College choir.    If you are interested in attending or just donating to the event, contact 217-391-3221 ext.  219.  I'll post pictures of the event after it happens.

In the past two weeks, we have had two big bus groups visit the museum.  The Lincoln Land Community College Elderhostel/Road Scholar group visited as part of the Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln tour.  In the next week, we had Mark MacDonald from PBS bring a group to the museum.  Unknown to Ron, director, and Melissa, assistant director, Mark was planning on taping the visit.  Melissa was filmed introducing the group to the museum and discussing some of the museum's artifacts.  In the next few months, the episode will air on Illinois Stories on PBS.   You can find more pictures of the visits on the museum's facebook page -

The museum also installed a new temporary exhibit in the entrance way to the Museum.  Remembering Lincoln features souvenirs that commemorate Abraham Lincoln.  They range from the traditional busts and pictures to the unusual, such as Lincoln dolls, Lincoln top hat toilet paper holders, and medicine ads that feature Lincoln. This Abraham Lincoln doll is featured in the exhibit and is one of the favorites of the curators.  Come and Check it out!

We will update later this week, so keep checking back.  Leave any comments or questions that you have and we will make sure to address them.  Thanks!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Welcome to the Lincoln Heritage Museum blog! In this blog, we'll keep all of our followers updated on the happenings of the museum, provide information about our artifacts, and just give some information about what it is like working at the museum. 

But first.....let me tell you a little about the history of Lincoln, Illinois, Lincoln College, and our museum!  Many might not know about the city of Lincoln but it has a long history with Abraham Lincoln.  The town has the distinction of being the first town named after Abraham Lincoln before he became President.  In 1853, Lincoln, a local lawyer from Springfield, assisted with the platting of the town.  In honor of his assistance, town leaders named the city after their friend, Abraham Lincoln.  On August 27, 1853, Lincoln participated in the naming ceremony for the city.  During the ceremony, Lincoln took a watermelon from a covered wagon, broke the watermelon, and poured its' juices on the ground, christening the city. 

Lincoln College, home of the Lincoln Heritage Museum, also has a long history with Abraham Lincoln.  The college was established by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  Due to the Civil War, the denomination wanted a school in the North since all of the other schools were located in the South.  The college received its charter on February 6, 1865.  College founders decided to name the school after their friend and President, Abraham Lincoln.  The groundbreaking for the first building, University Hall, which still stands, was held on February 12, 1865, Lincoln's last living birthday.  The college became the first and only institution named after Lincoln before his death.

The Lincoln Heritage Museum was founded in 1942.  Originally known as the Lincoln College Museum, it began when an 1887 alumnus, Judge Lawrence Stringer, donated his collection of Lincoln documents and statues to Lincoln College, on the stipulation that a museum be founded.  Initially, the collection was placed in “The Lincoln Room”, dedicated on February 11, 1944.  The entire collection moved to the McKinstry Memorial Building in 1971 when the collections became part of the Lincoln College Museum.  The collection continued to grow with donations from Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, the last surviving direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln, James Hickey, Ralph Newman, and John Gehlbach, among others. In October, 2008, the museum officially changed its name to the Lincoln Heritage Museum to better reflect the museum’s mission of preserving the legacy and heritage of Abraham Lincoln.  In coming years, the museum will move from its current location in the McKinstry Memorial Building to the new Lincoln Center, located on the north side of the Lincoln College campus.