Thursday, May 7, 2009

What’s so great about Lincoln? I’ll tell you what’s so great about Lincoln!

May 7, 2009
Posted by Noah

First of all, that awesome beard. Second of all, that awesome stove pipe hat. Third, The Emancipation Proclamation. Fourth, the fortitude and foresight to see – and say – that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Fifth, the fact that almost 145 years after his assassination on April 14, 2009 – that’s Ruination Day, if you know your obscure references – he is far and away the most beloved American president.

He also had very neat handwriting.

How do I know? It just so happens that I’ve been doing a little more of that thing I so love to do in this job, which is to write about the crazy, cool and utterly historic pieces of material culture that make their way through Heritage every day. I hope that I am never cynical enough to be jaded about the awesome things I am privileged to see, because that would be a sad sad day. I have spent much of the last two days thinking and writing about a single page of longhand text, 23 lines in all, written by Abraham Lincoln himself for his 1864 State of the Union message. It was written just after he had won re-election in a difficult campaign, was on his way toward a resolute victory in the Civil War and was just five months shy of that fateful night at Ford’s Theater. It’s a crazy thing, really, if you think about it too much.

It is, btw, part of our June 16-17 Historical Manuscripts auction, if I may plug the company a bit.

This particular stretch of text finds Lincoln hardened and unyielding. He would settle for no less than total surrender from the Rebels, and complete preservation of the nation. He writes:

“... We are not exhausted, nor in process of exhaustion… We are gaining strength, and may, if need be, maintain the contest indefinitely.”

In other words, the jig is up. The Civil War was hugely bloody, fraught with a million and one tragedies and is still the war that inspires the most in American imaginations. The Revolutionary War may have provided us with a mythos and a pantheon of heroes, but The War Between The States provided us with our seasoning and character. No form or manner of wartime memorabilia is more visceral and tangible than Civil War relics, and no wartime memorabilia can give you the feeling of battle better than Civil war artifacts. It’s the truth. As Scatman Cruthers said in The Shining, this stuff simply shines, and nothing more so than those things directly linked to the man who bore the greatest burden, and the judgment of history, Abraham Lincoln.

Yes, this is an exciting, well-documented lot, and it will bring a pretty penny from a very erudite collector, likely upwards of $100,000+.

The kicker with this thing, actually, is that it was – literally – plucked from the dustbin of history by Superintendent of Public Printing in 1864, J. D. Defrees, who would have been given the original handwritten manuscript to typeset, make copies and distribute. Nothing was ever thought of handwritten copies, except on the day this one went to print. Defrees reckoned the pages would make neat gifts for some friends. He gave them out and hence to posterity. Only 11 very well documented fragments exist to this day, and this is one of them.

It’s a very cool, and very humbling, thing. Here’s another look if you haven’t yet clicked.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Noah Fleisher

No comments:

Post a Comment