Lincoln and the 4th of July ( Article 3)

Abraham Lincoln celebrated the 4th of July much as we do. He enjoyed fireworks, flags, parades, band concerts,and social gatherings with family, friends, and neighbors. The food was more likely to be hams, biscuits, and apples rather than barbecue, hot dogs, and hamburgers, but pies and even ice cream were favorites too. However, the 4th of July was more commemorative than  we see today. Although it was not declared a National holiday until 1870 and only became a paid holiday in 1938 for federal employees, in Lincoln’s day the country was only a few generations removed from its beginnings and there was a deep appreciation for the date. Before the Civil War, and even during the war, both North and South celebrated the day and the founding fathers, especially George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

For Lincoln, however, after about 1846, the day also became a time to reflect on the meaning of equality as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the disassociation he saw between that noble document and the constitutionally protected institution of slavery. He wrote letters and articles for newspapers, gave speeches and made statements in the Illinois Legislature and the U.S. Congress condemning slavery, while admitting it was permitted by the Constitution. He proposed plans to gradually eliminate the “ownership of one human being by another” and to compensate slave owners who would voluntarily free the men, women, and children they held in bondage. By 1850 he felt he had to confront a new wave of pro-slavery activism, primarily from Southern states, which attempted to re-enforce slavery and to justify its expansion to other states and territories. He called slavery “this national abomination” and “our national shame.” He thought the country was “losing its way” and called for a return to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence; and he used the 4th of July as a focal time to express his views against any measure that might perpetuate slavery.

On July 4, 1861, his first as President, and at a time when Confederate military forces had given the Union several early defeats, Lincoln gave an impassioned speech against secession with a call for national sovereignty and unity. He stated that “a few Southern leaders had been drugging the public mind in their section for thirty years”  to assure that the slave owners, not the larger public, would benefit from secession, which was intended to keep slavery in perpetuity.

Then in 1863, as the President of a country still divided and embroiled in a devastating Civil War, he wrote a 4th of July speech as a message to Congress and the American people; but, he did not deliver the speech until July 7th!  A major battle was raging near Gettysburg between large armies of the Union and the Confederacy and the long siege at Vicksburg was ongoing, with the outcome of both of these epic engagements not yet known. So, Lincoln waited several days until it became clear that the Union would prevail in both areas. For the first time since the War began, Lincoln had reason to be optimistic about the eventual outcome; and his speech reflected his belief that the Union would be perpetual, but secession and slavery would not.  Also, unknown to any except a few members of his Cabinet, at the same time he was  drafting what would become the Emancipation Proclamation.

Unfortunately, Lincoln was murdered in April 1865 so we can only speculate about a speech he might have written for that 4th of July. The Civil War was over and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery had passed the Senate and the House and was in the ratification process by the states; so can you imagine his message? I personally think it would have been astounding!

I hope you have a wonderful, and reflective, 4th of July.

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Abraham Lincoln, Dad (Article 2)

    Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, had four sons. They suffered together through the the deaths of two of the boys; Eddie in 1852 at three years old and Willie in 1862 at eleven. Mary also survived Tad, who died in 1871, six years after President Lincoln’s assassination. Only their first son, Robert, lived through adulthood..

    But those are only basic historical facts. Lincoln relished his role as a father. Of course both he and Mary were devastated by the deaths of Eddie and Willie and grieved for some time. But Abraham knew he had to still be a caring father to Robert, Willie and Tad after little Eddie’s death; and then especially to young Tad after Willie’s death ( Robert was already seventeen and away at school). Mary, however, experienced incapacitating grief for much longer than Abraham and one contemporary, speaking of Tad,  noted that Abraham was now  the only parent for the little boy.

    There is a modern saying that almost any man can become a father, but not all become a dad. So, how was Lincoln as a dad?

    In my book, “Abraham Lincoln-An Uncommon, Common Man”, I explain that Lincoln did not have a close relationship with his father, Thomas, who was very strict and showed no support for young Lincoln’s determination for self-improvement, including his desire to become better educated. Perhaps as a result of the restraints his father placed upon him, Lincoln became a very supportive, and permissive, father to his sons. As is common with most parents, Lincoln seemed to become even more lenient with each boy born after Robert. To be fair to Lincoln regarding his relationship with Robert, he was often traveling  for weeks at a time throughout central Illinois as part of the legal circuit during Robert’s early years; however, he was at home much more as the other boys were growing up. Robert acknowledged that he knew his father loved him, but their relationship, while supportive and kind, was more formal. The younger boys certainly enjoyed more “rollicking” time with their father,

    And rollick they did!

   The boys were almost always welcome in Lincoln’s law offices, sometimes to the consternation of his partners. Most of them commented that Lincoln would happily sit by while his sons had the run of the office, frequently leaving a mess in their wake. Then, when the Lincolns occupied the White House, Willie and Tad had almost complete run of the place; with one Cabinet member remarking that the boys “rambunctiousness” did not bother Lincoln a bit. In fact, after Willie’s death in 1862, Tad had even fewer limitations and would frequently enter Cabinet meetings and perch on his father’s lap. Unlike his own father, Lincoln encouraged his children’s education, including reading at a very early age, aided by Mary who was, herself, very well educated.

    Stories were told by neighbors in Springfield that Lincoln was often met by the “exuberant” boys in the street as he walked home from work; they could not wait to spend time with him. Once, when  three sons were clamoring over him, a neighbor asked what the “ruckus” was about this time and Lincoln laughingly replied that he only had two coins and all three boys wanted one. In his Lincoln biographies, Carl Sandburg includes  many such anecdotes and recollections by family, friends and neighbors illustrating Lincoln’s deep love for, and his relationships with, all of his sons.

   So, I believe Abraham Lincoln was a dad, in the best sense of the word..

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