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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’


Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

–NOT Abraham Lincoln


I was thinking about character this morning and came across the quote above, which has been used on occasion by political organizations in recent times and is usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

Great words and most likely the truth.

But it turns out that the words were actually not from Lincoln but instead were spoken about Lincoln.  The words actually come from my new hero of words, Robert Green Ingersoll, who I briefly profiled in a blog post this past week.

In 1883, at an event in Washington DC, Ingersoll was introducing a speaker who was going to lecture on the late President Lincoln. During his introduction Ingersoll said of Lincoln’s prowess as an orator, comparing Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburgwith that of the speaker, Edward Everett, who followed him and rambled on for a very long time :

“… If you want to know the difference between an orator and a speaker, read the oration of Lincoln at Gettysburg, and then read the speech of Everett at the same place. One came from the heart, the other was born only of the voice. Lincoln’s speech will be remembered forever. Everett’s no man will read. It was like plucked flowers.

After a round of applause, Ingersoll then added:

If you want to find out what a man is to the bottom, give him power. Any man can stand adversity — only a great man can stand prosperity. It is the glory of Abraham Lincoln that he never abused power only on the side of mercy. [Applause]. He was a perfectly honest man. When he had power, he used it in mercy …”

Ingersoll modified these comments for a later lecture on Lincoln:

“Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.”

Over the years, Ingersoll’s words were used often in many newspapers and magazines and correctly attributed to him. But as time wore on, his words were condensed down to the form you see at the top with Ingersoll’s name being forgotten, instead replaced by the very man of which he spoke.

As great and lauded as he was, Bob Ingersoll was just destined to be overlooked by history, I guess.

But his observation on character certainly holds true today.

We have a man who holds what is most likely the most powerful position in the world, the president*** of the USA, who has been given ( and has taken) almost absolute power. It has certainly revealed his true character.

And it ain’t pretty.

A multitude of revelations have come out in recent days, all painting him (almost always with his own words) as the soulless, selfish, ugly creature, something that seems so obvious to me and many others by the simple witnessing of his actions. Yet, reading through the reactions of his ardent followers on social media, it is portrayed as some sort of character assassination.

My question is: Can it be character assassination when the character of the person ( I am giving him the benefit of a doubt here, folks) in question is fully revealed as it truly is?

His actions and his words– spoken in his recorded voice— all reveal a character that is lacking any positive attributes. It is a character that shows itself as being small in scale and weak in practice.

It is a character that would let tens of thousands–maybe even hundreds of thousands– of the citizens he was entrusted to protect die, suffer and lose their livelihoods so that he might protect his political and financial aspirations.

He has told us who he is with his own words and he has demonstrated his character day after day for the past four years.

If at this point, you still believe that he has a reverence for or loyalty to this country, a respect for its citizens, or any interests beyond his own, you, my friend, are a fool.

I am going to condense that for you, probably not in a way that would please the great Robert G. Ingersoll:

If you still support this goddamn creep, you’re a fucking idiot.

Apologies to my less profane friends out there but this a time for plain speaking. Just my opinion.

Try to have a good day.

 

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“Approaching Storm”- Now at the Principle Gallery


Lately, I have been reading bits and pieces from a book of Carl Sandburg poems called The People, Yes. Published in 1936, it is an deep reflection on the American people at that time, in the midst of the upheaval of  the Great Depression. It is a broad work that attempts to span the multitudes, much like Whitman and his Leaves of Grass.

As I say, I have been reading it piecemeal, picking it up at loose moments. Each time I am struck how relative it is to this time even though it is nearly 85 years old. For all the technological and societal changes that have occurred, for all the progress and sophistication we assume took place, we are still pretty much the same and pretty much in the same place. Still maintaining many of the same conceptions and misconceptions, still as biased and still as vulnerable to being manipulated.

One verse from this book that I keep coming back to is shown above, at least its beginning, #102.

It begins with bits from President Lincoln’s July 4, 1961 speech to Congress, one in which he justified his actions in the aftermath of the Confederate’s attack on Fort Sumter. In it, he outlined how the leaders of the Southern rebellion stoked the enthusiasm for conflict among the people living there through the dispersal of misinformation and fallacies. Some things never change, eh?

Reading Sandburg’s take on this is a bit scary. It seems to reflect what has happened here so well. The public has been barraged with lies and hateful, divisive rhetoric for the last three or so years to the point that we are without moorings. And now, in this unsteady state, we are experiencing the convergence of events that have been precipitated by these actions.

We are reaping the whirlwind.

And, unfortunately, the man and his accomplices who have done this, who have unleashed this awful power, can no longer control its direction or the scope and range of its destructive power.

As Sandburg put it:

 Is there a time to repeat,
“The living passions of millions can rise
into a whirlwind: the storm once loose
who can ride it? You? Or you? Or you?
        only history, only tomorrow, knows
        for every revolution breaks
as a child of its own convulsive hour
shooting patterns never told of beforehand”?

As I say, some things never change. There will always be those who try to benefit from inciting chaos and division upon the people. But, as it has always been, these devious people have never been able to reliably predict or control the whirlwind they let loose.

The public mind generally has the final word in such matters.

And it is speaking now.

 

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Aaron Shikler-  John F Kennedy -Official PortraitHistory often turns on certain points in time, with dramatic  events that send us on a course that seem drastically different than the one we imagined ourselves to be on beforehand.  Perhaps it’s an exercise in futility to wonder what the world might look like had these events not taken place but one can’t help but imagine, if only for a moment,  an alternative history.  For instance, how would our country look today had Lincoln not been assassinated or if the events of 9/11 had been averted?  Pearl Harbor?

Of course, I’m writing this today on the day marking the 50th year since President John F. Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas back in 1963.  That day seemed to mark a swing in our consciousness from which I don’t think we’ve ever fully recovered, leaving me to wonder how the last 50 years would have differed had not JFK been killed.  Where would we be now?

The ripples from this event are many.  How would Viet Nam proceeded?  Would there have been the same escalation and would there have been the same sense of outrage from the youthful protesters of that era?  Would the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy taken place?  Did JFK’s killing somehow enable these other assassinations?

I find my head swimming with what-ifs and coulda-beens when I ponder this.  More than my simple mind can handle.  But sitting here this morning, fifty years after that day in Dallas, I can’t imagine a scenario where our world is better now than it would have been had that day not taken place.  I know there is no room for such regrets, that we are where we are and no amount of despairing  will change the course of history we’ve followed to this point.  But, if only for a moment on this single morning, I would like to think of what might have been.  Perhaps, if string theory somehow applies, there is a parallel reality where the events of that day never happened and our arc through history was much different.  I know that I would like to see that …

 

 

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Civil War Dogs- Dog JackI’ve been cat-sitting in the studio for a few days, bringing the total of felines ( all strays or discards) around here to four.  While I love and appreciate these cats with their distinct personalities, having four around has made me yearn for a dog once more.  While zipping through images, anything resembling a dog makes me stop, including this old cabinet card for a mascot, Jack,  for the 102nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers from the Civil War.  The card lists the battles that jack took part in with the regiment as well as listing his capture by the Confederates and his subsequent exchange for opposing troops.  Quite a resume and the fact that the regiment made the effort to have the photo and card made speaks to Jack’s rank in the regiment.  

I knew that dogs have been used in combat for ages, in modern times serving as detectors of bombs and corpses.  But the mascots of the Civil War intrigued me.  Jack here, for instance, was a stray who wandered into a Pittsburgh firehouse and , through his tenacity, eventually worked his way into the firefighter’s hearts, joining them as they enlisted as a unit for the war.  He would march with the troops and would stand at the end of the firing line during combat, barking furiously at the opposing troops.  Jack served for over three years, including six months in a Confederate prison camp where it is said he gave great comfort to the Union prisoners there .  He was wounded a number of times and finally disappeared in December of 1864 near Frederick, MD.  Jack was never found but it is thought he was probably killed for the expensive silver collar his comrades had awarded him.

The only known photo of Sallie

The only known photo of Sallie

Jack was one of the more famous of the Civil War dogs, having portraits painted of him that still hang today as well as a recent movie giving a fictionalized account of his life.  But my favorite is undoubtedly the story of Sallie, the mascot of the 11th PA Volunteers from around West Chester, PA.  Given to the regiment’s captain as a four or five week old pup, Sallie (named after one of the local beauties) became the apple of the regiment’s collective eye.  She trained with the men, responding to reveille and roll calls with great discipline.  She was affectionate with her troops, who she knew even out of uniform, and proved to be fearless when they entered the fray.

Her combat record was remarkable.  She served for nearly the duration of the war, receiving wounds including a severe shoulder wound that did not deter her from her duty to her comrades.  It is said that after the surgeon was unsuccessful in removing the  gun’s ball from her shoulder (it later emerged after working itself to the surface), Sallie was back on duty , tearing the seat out of the pants of a soldier who was trying to flee the battle.  After the battles, including Gettysburg, , Sallie would lick the hands and faces of the wounded and would guard the dead until their comrades would come for them.  It is said that during a review of the troops in Fredericksburg, VA, Abraham Lincoln even doffed his stovepipe hat to Sallie as she passed, much to the delight of her fellow troops.

Sallie's Place at the Foot of the 11th PA's Monument

Sallie’s Place at the Foot of the 11th PA’s Monument

But, like most war stories, there was no happy ending.  In February of 1865, two months before the war’s end, Sallie was killed in combat at Petersburg.  While the battle raged around them, her regiment took on the task of burying her on the battlefield.  The affection that these troops had for this canine warrior was so strong that when they erected a regimental monument at the Gettysburg battlefield in 1890, they chose have a likeness of Sallie watchfully laying at the foot of the larger monument.  I think it’s telling that when the regiment had a reunion at the battlefield in 1910, the group photo was shot so that there was space so that the statue of Sallie was among them.

I can only imagine the value of the affection and warmth Sallie  and other less known canine mascots offered these men while they struggled to get through the war.  A dog’s unconditional love is a wonder.

11th PA Volunteers with Sallie among them 1910

11th PA Volunteers with Sallie among them 1910


Civil War Dogs- Sallie Monument detail 1 Civil War Dogs- Sallie Monument detail

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Abraham Lincoln Tintype Medallion  1860I’m always intrigued whenever I come across images of Abraham Lincoln.  There aren’t many I haven’t seen  as his image has remained in the public eye on a regular basis throughout my life.  Growing up, in our family photos there was a small image of Lincoln that was mixed in with a handful of early photos from my great-grandmother.  I didn’t yet understand the place that Lincoln held in the heart of the American people   and wondered why it was there.  I actually felt more related to his image in that I at least recognized who he was which was something I couldn’t say for some of the folks in those old photos of people standing in front of what appears to be 1920’s automobiles in some totally unfamiliar rural farm setting .  Maybe that’s why I am drawn to his image even now.

So when I come across an image that doesn’t seem familiar, I take notice.  It’s part of trying to capture another part of the prism of the man, to fill him out as a human rather than as the icon he has become.  The token shown above, obviously a souvenir from the 1860 campaign, is new to me.  Lincoln is still youngish in appearance, not yet showing effects that the ravages of the weight of a nation at war would  appear  in later photos.

Abraham Lincoln- Early with Wild hairThis photo on the right brings up questions.  Why was his hair so wild?  Would he not have been aware of that when he agreed to sit for the photo?  It’s not like there was a paparazzi at that point snapping candid shots at every turn or a White House photographer documenting every moment.  You had to more or less pose for most photos.  But I like it.  Again, it fills out the man.  And it makes me feel a little better about my own crazy professor hair as I sit here.

There are a few more images below and some of them are a bit more familiar.  The first one seems to be a shot from the same sitting as the wild-haired one above.  Maybe the photographer noticed and offered up a comb.  I don’t know.  The second is from the War years and he has began to age.  But it’s a noble and strong image with that steely look of determination staring directly into the camera. The last is an earlier image when he is obviously not as consumed by the tasks before him.   But all are interesting in their own way and give us more insight into this most compelling character.

Abraham Lincoln George Ayres 1861

Abraham Lincoln- Alexander Gardner 1860s

Abraham  Lincoln-attributed to Nicholas H Shepherd

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