The Lincoln – Douglas Debates & Abolition

Today in History, August 21, 1858:

The first of seven debates between two candidates for an Illinois Senate seat begins.

Now famous as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, former Congressman Lincoln, a former Whig and member of the infant Republican Party, tried for incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ Senate seat.

The primary focus of the debates was Lincoln’s desire to curtail the spread of slavery to midwest and western states, and Douglas’ belief that each state should be able to decide for itself.

It is “debatable” who won the debates, but Lincoln lost the election.

Yet the debates launched this little known lawyer onto the national stage. Two years later he would face Douglas and others for the Presidency and would win.

It is important to note that while Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart, he was not yet arguing for complete abolition, only restrictions on slavery. Each of the debates lasted for hours. Here is one telling quote from Lincoln,

“This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

Lincoln did not have all of the answers. He had little choice but to play politics and compromise to achieve his goals. I personally do not see how an analysis of his speeches, writings, and actions can lead to any conclusion other than he was an abolitionist.

An Emergency…”Temporary” Tax

Today in History, August 5, 1861:

“This bill is a most unpleasant one. But we perceive no way in which we can avoid it and sustain the government. The rebels, who are now destroying or attempting to destroy this Government, have thrust upon the country many disagreeable things.”

— Thaddeus Stevens, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means speaking on the Revenue Act of 1861, the nation’s first income tax, which was signed into law by President Lincoln on this date.

The law also provided for certain property taxes and levies on imports, which Lincoln feared would be impeded in the Southern ports by seceding states.

The tax was by intent and design temporary, meant to fund the fight to restore the Union in the Civil War. Changes would be made in 1862, and the law would be repealed in 1871.

But the dye had been cast, and the 16th Amendment of 1909/1913 would bring the ever increasing tax back for good.

General of the Army of the United States

Today in History, July 25, 1866:

Congress creates the new rank of “General of the Army of the United States” specifically for the US Army’s commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant.

Typical of Grant’s unpretentious nature, he chose to signify the honor with a simple 4 star should board on his basic uniform.

Grant would hold the rank until elected President, at which time he was succeeded by William Tecumseh Sherman, who was succeeded by Phillip Sheridan. The rank died when Sheridan did in 1888, until WWII, when it was signified with 5 stars.

Sam Finishes his Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885:

Raison D’etre – Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

I am fortunate to have what appears to be a 1st Edition of volume 1. Would love to find the matching volume 2! I’ve listened to the audible book.

“A House Divided Cannot Stand”

Today in History, June 16, 1858:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

Unsuccessful Senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln delivers his “house divided” speech when he is nominated as the Republican candidate for the Illinois senatorial seat.

It would be one of his most notable speeches, perhaps only second to the Gettysburg Address.

His message about a house divided…still stands.

A.S.P.C.A. is Born

Today in History, April 10, 1866:

Philanthropist Henry Bergh begins the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City.

While a diplomat in Russia, Bergh had been horrified by the mistreatment of horses by their Russian owners.

On his way back home, he spent time in London, and learned of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Inspired, he lobbied for the creation of a similar group at home.

New York gave the ASPCA authority to investigate and arrest for cruelty to animals, including horses and dog and rat fighting.

Eight years later Bergh and others would create the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

By 1888 thirty-seven of thirty-eight states had created versions of the ASPCA.

Savannah Falls…

Today in History, December 29, 1778:

It appears Christmas time is not lucky for Savannah, Georgia in war time. On this date in 1778 British forces over powered the Colonials and took the city; they would hold the city, despite a seige by American and French forces, until the end of the Revolutionary War.

86 years later on Dec. 22, 1864, Union forces under William T. Sherman would take Savannah again, presenting it as a “Christmas gift” to President Lincloln during the American Civil War.

The Thirteenth Amendment & The House of Representatives

Today in History, December 18, 1865:

The US House of Representatives passes the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The issue had divided the nation from its inception due to its inherent disagreement with our founding principles….

The Republican Party had been founded by break-away former members of the Whig party, who had formed the new party in the 1850’s because of their abolitionist beliefs. The Civil War had begun because of the election of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln; the largely Democrat South believed abolition was eminent due to his election and seceded from the Union rather than give up their slaves. Republican Lincoln did in fact enact the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing slaves in southern states, an admittedly partial measure. For his efforts a Democrat radical assassinated him in 1865 before he could see the realization of the 13th Amendment. Lincoln had wanted the measure to be bi-partisan in an effort to re-unite the nation. Although he wouldn’t live to see it, he got his wish, to an extent. 7 Democrats abstained from voting rather that be a part of freeing the slaves, but the measure still passed due to a Republican majority and partial Democrat support. Angry southern Democrats would go on to form the KKK, resulting in another century of violence before civil rights measures were finally passed.

Where Have the “Tough as Nails” Presidents Gone?

There have been several courageous or (I dislike the term) “Badass” Presidents in our history.

They are missed.

January 30, 1835:

Outside the Capitol building in DC a man with two pistols approached President Andrew Jackson…and fired both pistols. Fortunately both misfired and war-hero Jackson, not knowing if the would-be assassin had other weapons, proceeded to use his heavy cane to beat the laundry off of the bad guy until other arrived to secure him.

August, 1864:

President Lincoln had a habit of relaxing at the “Soldier’s Home” to get away from the madhouse. One night he was riding back to the Executive Mansion, by himself, when someone took a shot at him, putting a hole through his hat.

As Lincoln loped up to a young sentry, the sentry noticed the President was missing his trademark hat. Lincoln explained what happened…and then swore the youth to secrecy. No point working the people (and I’m sure the excitable Mary Lincoln) up and causing a panic.

October 14, 1912:

Theodore Roosevelt is running for a third term in Milwaukee. As he enters his car in front of his hotel, the madman pointed a pistol and shot TR in the chest.

Wounded, TR had the where-with-all to save the Assassin from lynching by the angry supporters who captured him. Then TR inspected his injuries…a thick manuscript and glasses case slowed down the bullet, but it still entered his chest. Being a hunter and combat vet, he took note that he wasn’t coughing up blood. Thus assured he wasn’t shot through the lung, he insisted on finishing a lengthy speech before going to the hospital. “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”

February 15, 1933:

The President-elect Franklin Roosevelt is in Miami riding with the Chicago mayor (Cermak) when a man fires numerous shots at them. FDR is not hit. However, though handicapped he emulated his cousin, seeing to the care of the assassin and staying by the side of the dying Cermak.

March 30, 1981:

Ronald Reagan is in DC when an assassin approached and began shooting, striking the elderly enigmatic Chief Executive and others. Seriously wounded, Reagan is rushed to George Washington hospital where he entertains the medical staff with one-liners. “Honey, I forgot to duck!” And “I hope there aren’t any Democrats in the operating room”. The chief surgeon assured him, “Mr. President, today we are ALL Republicans.”

Where have such men gone? I believe they are out there. We just have to advance them.

A General Above All Others

Today in History, October 11, 1976:

Lt. Gen. George Washington is promoted to General of the Armies.

No, that is not a typo.

After leading all American Continental forces to victory in the Revolutionary War and serving two terms as our first President, George Washington maintained his rank as Lieutenant General.

In the interim, other men were promoted to Gen. of the Army…Grant, Sherman, Sheridan (4-star), Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Arnold and Bradley 5-star.). Admirals Leahy, King and Nimitz became 5-star Fleet Admirals. And John “Back Jack” Pershing.

At our Bicentenial, Congress decided, and rightly so, that no General should ever outrank the father of our nation.

So they created the rank of General of the Armies (not to be confused with Gen. of the Army), and posthumously promoted General Washington and declared none should ever exceed his rank.

——————————————–

Hereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and

Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list;

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That

(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.

Public Law 94-479