Lincoln’s Two (or Four) Cents

In 2009, the U.S. Treasury has announced that they will redesign the penny.  The penny (which costs more to make than it is worth) will bear a striking change, both in terms of Lincoln’s profile on the front (which will now resemble the Jefferson image on the new nickel) and on the back, as the penny will now bear four different images.

The first image will represent Lincoln’s birth and humble beginnings with the image of the log cabin.  I have been to the Lincoln birthplace site in Hodgenville, KY.  The site includes the grand monument to the site of his birth, with steps equal to the number of years Lincoln lived (which can make the walk to the top on a cold, winter morning exhilarating!)  Inside, you will find a cabin that Lincoln was born in.  There is no doubt that Lincoln was born in that area in a log cabin, but it is hard to know that the cabin was located in the exact spot that the monument now stands.  Furthermore, the cabin on display is probably not the cabin Lincoln was born in.  It was a cabin probably extracted from the area several years after his birth.  Of note, during a historical celebration, Lincoln and Jefferson Davis’s cabins toured the country (Davis was also born in a cabin about 100 miles from Lincoln).  The cabins were dismantled for easier travel.  Thus, it stands a real possibility that some of the Lincoln logs on display today are actually Davis Logs.  Makes those childhood memories a bit less adoring- Look mom- I built a house out of Davis logs!  Doesn’t seem to ring as true as-Look mom- I dug these Lincoln logs out and built a cabin!  (A Side Note:  My friend Jacob, an expert on the cabin, told me over lunch last week in Clarksville, Tennessee, that the Lincoln and Davis cabins are exact fit cabins, so it is highly unlikely that the logs could be interchangeable!  Kudos to Jacob for helping debunk the cabin mythology)

The second image represents Lincoln’s years in Indiana, as he worked as a rail splitter.  It is clear that Lincoln working on the farm in Indiana would have had to split rails.  However, during his run for the presidency in 1860, the Republican Party utilized the image of the rail-splitter to portray Lincoln as a man of the people.  The image propelled Lincoln to a unique place that people considered his only profession to be rail-splitting, rather than the self-educated lawyer that came to dominate local courthouses in Illinois and the political consciousness of slavery on a national level.

The third image is meant to represent Lincoln’s years as a State Legislator in Illinois, where he served in the House from 1834–41 and eventually ran and won one term in the U.S. House of Representatives (1847–49).  The people of Illinois sent the one-term Whig Congressman home, mostly due to his questioning of intelligence pertaining to the Mexican-American War and his opposition to the war, because, as he argued, he did not believe that President Polk had shown sufficient evidence that Mexico had weapons of mass destruction Mexico had indeed attacked American troops on American soil.  I find the choice of Lincoln at the state house here interesting for the penny design.  While Lincoln did have a reputable career as a legislator, the political speeches of the 1850s, particularly those in Peoria, during the debates with Douglas and at Cooper Union in 1860, seem to have more of a profound impact on his political career before the presidency.

The final image is meant to represent the years of the Presidency.  I find this to be the most interesting of the four.  Lincoln is not here- just the construction of the dome of the capital building that was completed during Lincoln’s term.  The image, to me, represents the nation unfinished, in the process of being re-built or finished during his term of office.  Despite the horrific and destructive nature of the Civil War, the nation utilized the war to re-build itself in a different manner, that began to apply the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence to the nation.  Even after the war, the nation still had a long ways to go, as they had to work tirelessly to include African Americans, women, Asians, Native Americans, and in recent years, Muslim and gay Americans, into the fold of the American family.  I am glad to see that the Treasury decided to show the capital as still under construction, rather than completed.  Lincoln, as president, certainly helped push the construction of the nation forward, but it was far from complete by the time of his tragic death in April of 1865.  It probably still is under construction today, as the nation works to form that more perfect union.

For fun, here are some rejected penny designs:  

I found the inclusion of a persistent Lincoln myth (Lincoln living as a gay man), Lincoln acting as if he were black and the assassination to be particularly amusing.  However, I think all three of them deserve their own blog, which I will address at a later date.  For now, be sure to get your pennies when they arrive next year.  And that is my four cents worth!

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4 Responses to “Lincoln’s Two (or Four) Cents”

  1. Michael Says:

    In the clip, do you think they were trying to portray Lincoln “acting as if he were black” or perhaps were they trying to reference the Lincoln Navigator?

    Also, if they went with the Theatre Night design, I know someone who would collect enough of them to bail the US Treasury out of all our current problems.

  2. Katie McClain Says:

    I wanted to let you know that although, sadly, I am not taking the Abraham Lincoln class next semester (I’m already taking 20 hours), I will still be checking back regularly on your blog. So far, your viewpoints and knowledge about Lincoln has been interesting. Keep it up.

    And, the Phillies are now up 3-0.

  3. Michael Says:

    Simpsons Halloween Special

    Did you catch the Simpsons Hallowen Special last night? They had a skit that blatenly showed Lincoln as gay.

  4. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    If you ever want to read a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this article for four from five. Decent info, but I just have to go to that damn msn to find the missed parts. Thanks, anyway!

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