Archive for November, 2008

Lincoln Humor for the Holiday

November 24, 2008

For all of you loyal blog readers, I am sure you are aware that Lincoln established a day of Thanksgiving in November of 1864 to give thanks for the efforts of the United States soldiers during the Civil War.  Many of you will be at a Thanksgiving Table over the course of the next week and will be in need of some jokes to tell to keep the relatives entertained.  Therefore, this week, I will present ten humorous Lincoln stories from the White House years.  You can give thanks for the hilarity that will surely ensue from these blog stories.  414_jump

10.  A New-Yorker at the White House said to the President taht it seemed strange that the President of the United States and the President of the Confederate States should have been born in the same State.  “Oh, I don’t know about that,” laughed Lincoln.  “Those Kentucky people will tell you taht they raise ‘most anything in their State, and I reckon they’re mighty near right.”

9.  Lincoln was once asked by a man who wanted the a job to be doorkeeper to the White House.  Lincoln did not think much of the man, but decided to interview him.  “So you want to be doorkeeper of the House, eh?”  “Yes, Mr. President.”  “Well, have you ever been a doorkeeper?  Have you ever had any experience of doorkeeping?”  “Well, no-no actual experience, sir.”  “Any theoretical experience?  Any instructions in the duties and ethics of doorkeeping”  “No”  “Have you ever attended lectures on doorkeeping?”  “No, sir.”  “have you read any texts on teh subject?”  “No.”  “Have you conversed with anyone who has read such a book?”  “No sir; I’m afraid not, sir.”  “Well, then, my friend, don’t you see that you haven’t a single qualification for this important post?”  “Yes, I do,” said the man, and quickly departed, almost gratefully.

8.  Lincoln met with a Congressman from New Jersey, who introduced him to two of his constituents.  The Congressman said, “Mr. President, this is Mr. X and Mr. Y, and they are among the weightiest men in Southern New Jersey.”  After they had gone, Lincoln said, “I wonder that end of the State didn’t tip up when they got off it.”

7.  H.C. Whitney was in D.C. and went to see Lincoln about possibly serving in the war.  Due to his military experience, he expected a solid appointment in the army.  Lincoln said to him, “I’m making generals now.  I na few days I’ll be making quartermasters, and then I’ll fix you.”

6.  Lincoln was quite the story teller.  He once told the story of a judge who was rather specific and “held the strongest ideas of rigid government and close construction that was ever met.”  Lincoln said, “It was said of him, on one occasion, that he would hang a man for blowing his nose in the street, but he would quash the indictment if it failed to specify which hand he blew it with!”

5.  Lincoln was also fast and sharp with the one liners.  In a cabinet meeting, William Seward, the Secretary of State and part of his “Team of Rivals” said, “Mr. President, I hear that you turned out (stepped aside) for a colored woman on a muddy crossing the other day.”  Lincoln answered, “I don’t remember, but I think it very likely, for I have always made it a rule that if people won’t turn out for me I will for them.  If I didn’t, there would be a collision.”

4.  Robert Dale Ownen, a spiritualist, once read Lincoln a rather lengthy manuscript.  Lincoln sat and listened quietly and when asked for feedback, yawned and said, “Well, for those who like that sort of thing I should think it is just about the sort of thing they would like.”

3.  Lincoln told the story of a Southern Illinois preacher who gave a sermon and said that the Savior was the only perfect man who ever appeared in the world and that there was no record of a perfect woman having lived on the earth.  At that point, a person in the back of the church rose to take offense.  They said, “I know a perfect woman, and I’ve heard of her every day for the last six years.”  “Who was she?” asked the minister.  “My husband’s first wife,” said the woman.

2.  Senator Charles Sumner came to visit Lincoln at the White House one day and was told he was downstairs.  When he went to see him, he found Lincoln polishing a pair of boots.  Sumner asked, “Why, Mr. President, do you black your own boots?”  The President vigorously polished away and quipped, “Whose boots did you think I blacked?” 

1.  Two final gems:  Lincoln got a letter asking him for a sentiment and his autograph.  He wrote back, “Dear Madam, when you ask a stranger for which is of interest only to yourself, always enclose a stamp.” 

Finally, Lincoln was visiting with a visitor from the west who told him about a river in Nebraska, but could not remember the Indian name for it, knowing it signified Weeping Water.  Lincoln said, “As Laughing Water, according to Mr. Longfellow, is Minnehaha, this must be Minneboohoo.”


Lincoln and Veterans

November 10, 2008

I am a current resident of Emporia, Kansas and Veterans Day remains an important day for our community.  Our university shuts its doors, the town holds parades and events and many of the city merchants close their doors in honor of those who serve our country.  The date, November 11, emerges as a significant day, for Congress declared that as a day to remember “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”  In 1953, the city of Emporia, under the leadership of shoe salesman Al King, wanted Armistice Day to expand to recognize anyone who was a veteran.  The Chamber of Commerce took a survey and discovered that the city was willing to suspend business for a day to honor our veterans.  The board of education followed suit, announcing that schools would not hold classes as well.  Congressman Ed Rees of Emporia helped author and pass a bill that created Veterans Day and recognized Emporia as the founding city of the holiday.  Pres. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954. 

What did Lincoln have to say about veterans?  When he arrived in Gettysburg, PA on November 19, 1863, the President was not invited as the keynote speaker, but someone who could offer a few remarks.  The great orator, Edward Everett, spoke for nearly two hours, discussing the history of the battle of Gettysburg and even used maps.  When Lincoln arose, he spoke 277 words in under 5 minutes and offered the most poignant words offered about the sacrifice men make in war. 


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln starts his address with a biblical reference (in terms of numerology) and connects the nation not to the Constitution, but to the Declaration of Independence.  Lincoln saw the conception of the nation in 1776, not 1787, and thus Jefferson’s words, that spoke of all men being created equal and that those men are endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuite of happiness, as the foundation of the country.  The Constitution specifically ignored African Americans, Native Americans and women.  The language of the Declaration seems to be on a higher moral and ideological plane, which is where Lincoln wanted to take his address. 
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
Lincoln saw that the Civil War would test not just the citizens, but the very idea of the United States and how it was constructed in 1776.  Could the nation survive a war that ripped it in half?  Lincoln then reminded his audience of where they were, the largest battle of the Civil War, that had over 50,000 casualties in the course of three days, making it the bloodiest of the war for the United States.  He then reminded the audience why they were there, to honor the veterans and what they had done, given their lives so that the country would survive. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

In this portion, Lincoln argues that while the recognition of Union soldiers and their sacrifice is a fitting thing, nothing that can be said or done that November day in Pennsylvania could do more than what the men who gave their lives have done.  In fact, Lincoln pointed out that the world would probably forget what was said that day (they haven’t) but that the sacrifice given by the Union soldiers would last as long as the nation lasted.  So what could the public do to make sure the men did not die in vain?  Lincoln argues that the war must continue, that the United States must persevere and succeed in the war effort in order to make the sacrifices of the Union families worth the struggle. 

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s resounding conclusion talks of “these” honored dead.  Lincoln is standing in a United States cemetery, where the Union dead lie in rows.  Of note, the Confederate dead lie in trenches on the fields where they fell.  Thus, Lincoln offers a partisan speech.  Yet, he is President of the United States of America and his goal that day was to recognize what sacrifices U.S. soldiers had made.  Now, it was up to the nation to take up the cause, to re-unify the nation under a new birth of freedom.  By November  1863, that new nation would be a free nation, that upheld Jefferson’s ideology by abolishing slavery, allowing all men to be perceived as being created Lincoln.  Lincoln certainly set out a lofty vision for the country.  He knew that the scars of slavery would take generations to heal.  He knew that the pain and sacrifice of war would take a generation to heal, as well.  Yet, the war had to continue, the pain would have to continue because the nation owed it to its veterans and their sacrifice. 

As we pause as a nation to remember our veterans tomorrow, November 11, let us remember that the wars we fight have lasting ramifications well beyond this generation.  Our wars should always be noble in their cause, scope and reasoning and that we always should have a plan to execute an end to the conflict that honors the sacrifice of those who fall in battle.  Lincoln knew that the U.S. would do that after the Civil War and woudl expect future generations to do the same. 


Lincoln’s Sexuality and The Simpsons

November 3, 2008

Much to my horror last evening, the latest BCS standings appeared on Fox Television. As I was watching the results scroll on the screen, I became infuriated that my beloved Nittany Lions had been jumped by the Texas Tech Red Raiders.  After calling my brother to claim the BCS was horse pooh, I decided that my blog topic today would be what Lincoln would say about the BCS (that is Bowl Championship Series, which determines the national champion in college football Division I-A).  The comfort that my brother and I had was that the Simpsons annual Halloween special was about to begin and I had seen a preview that they were going to lampoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Much to my surprise, the episode returned to Abraham Lincoln.

The Simpsons have always had fun with the Civil War in two previous episodes.  One, the city of Springfield was re-enacting a Civil War battle between the East and West forces.  The re-enactment spills over to a WWII veterans meeting, where Abe (Grandpa) Simpson, and fellow WWII vets are listening to Tom Brokaw and demanding that he owes them.  As the chaos of the Civil War re-enactment disturbs the WWII meeting, the WWII vets get into tanks and crush the Civil War forces.  In another episode, the famed anchor for the local news, Kent Brockman, reports that a squirrel has been discovered that looks like Abraham Lincoln.  Brockman reports this with a graphic of a squirrel that bears Lincoln’s profile.  Later, in the episode, Brockman has a breaking story:  the Lincoln squirrel has been assassinated.

Last evening, the Simpsons did a parody of the brilliant AMC show Mad Men.  In the episode, Homer was working for an ad agency and realized that he could use dead celebrities to hock whatever items he wanted, because they could not respond.  This idea comes into fruition with the brutal murder of Krusty the Clown (a la the movie Fargo).  Halfway through the skit, we are taken to heaven where many of the celebrities, whose likeness has been used to sell products in a distasteful manner, are gathered together to complain.  Gathered amongst the celebrities are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  We are then shown a new commercial for the Springfield Wedding Chapel that will hold a President’s Day Marriage-a-thon.  At the chapel, Lincoln and Washington elope and kiss in the commercial.  Washington responds, in heaven. “That ad portrays that Mr. Lincoln and I are betraying familiarities.  It’s an outrage.”  Lincoln blushes and responds, “Yes …(nervous chuckle)… an outrage.”

The celebrities decide to break out of heaven and go exact their revenge on Homer, running over Jimmy Stewart.  The celebrities murder Homer Simpson (it is the Halloween episode) and ride back to heaven, only to find that Homer has beaten them back and locks the gates to keep them out.  The only two seen now are Homer and Lincoln.  Lincoln tells Homer about a poker game at the Rec Center and Homer finds that a fun thing to do in heaven.  Homer calls Lincoln “Mr. Penny Face” and then asks if his wife is there.  Lincoln responds with a chuckle and tells Homer, “We have an understanding.”  He then proceeds to grab Homer’s buttocks as the scene fades to black.  As my friend Mike Upton pointed out, The Simpsons must be thinking Lincoln was a Homer-sexual! 

The humor utilized by the Simpsons reveals a very real, interesting, and some would argue, disturbing question about Lincoln:  Was he gay?  Since Lincoln married and had children, was he bisexual?  In recent years, some writers have taken up the task to explore the sexuality of our chief executives in the Civil War Era.  James Loewen, the celebrated sociologist but sloppy historian, triumphantly proclaimed he had outted James Buchanan.  Larry Kremer claimed at a recent conference that he had proof that Lincoln and his best friend, Joshua Speed, were lovers.  He said Speed had written in his diary of Lincoln, “He often kisses me when I tease him, often to shut me up.  He would grab me in his long arms and hug and hug. . . our Abe is like a school diary.”  Carl Sandburg, the eminent Lincoln historian, wrote in 1926 that Speed and Lincoln had a relationship that was “a streak of lavender and spots soft as May violets.”  As noted in a article, in 1996, the log-cabin Republicans, after being rejected by Bob Dole, denounced it, arguing that the founder of the Republican party was just like them:  gay.

Kramer claimed that the diary had been found hidden in a general store, under the floorboards, that had been owned by Speed, where he and Lincoln first met.  However, Kramer never produced the diary or further proof that Lincoln was gay.  In 2004, C.A. Tripp produced a book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, that attempted to again look at the issue.  What is fascinating about this book is what Tripp says and does not say.  He looks at seven relationships that Lincoln had with men throughout his life.  Tripp utilizes the often criticized studies of Kinsey, which said that adolescent boys experienced same sex activity and thus, clearly the young Lincoln did the same thing.  Tripp also claimed that Lincoln hit puberty at age 9, giving him PLENTY of time to engage in many gay relationships.  Yet, just because someone hits sexual maturity at an early age does not mean they would sexually experiment.  Keep in mind:  Lincoln grew up in an age before gay identity, which did not come into America until well after the Civil War.  Self-identification as a homosexual is a post-Lincoln phenomenon.  Thus, Tripp is playing fast and loose here with puberty and identity and the implication does not hold water.

Next, Tripp turns to Lincoln as the storyteller, which included many off-color stories and some poetry with a homosexual twist, including a poem intended as a joke about two men who got married by accident.  I think this does nothing to prove Lincoln was gay:  it only proves he might vote against Prop. 8 in Califormia.  Yet, Tripp uses the poem as evidence that Lincoln had to be gay, when combined with his early maturity.  Tripp then catalogues Lincoln’s friends, including Billy Greene, who Lincoln helped when his boat became stuck (Greene would write in a letter later in life, describing Lincoln has having perfect thighs and the two men shared a bed when they spent time together).  Although Tripp sees this as the proof, its problematic for two reasons:  First, the language of the nineteenth century greatly differs from the modern era and many men would describe other men in these romantic, flowery tones that have nothing to do with sexual orientation.  Secondly, it was routine for men to share a bed.  Lincoln, when traveling the circuit as a lawyer, shared beds with his law partners all the time at local inns.  Tripp forgets that this is before there are 93 hotels in one area- many communities had one tavern with beds and the men had to share if they wanted a good night’s rest. 

I know what you are thinking:  Lincoln married Mary Todd and courted Ann Rutledge.  Tripp says that the marriage to Mary Todd was for political convenience and that he stayed away working as a lawyer (for you see, Tripp cannot acknowledge Lincoln as bi-sexual- he has to be gay for his argument to stand).  Even though Lincoln was married, Tripp claims he had a sexual relationship during that time with Elmer Ellsworth (who was murdered in an incident in Alexandria, Virginia in the early years of the war when he took down a Confederate flag).  Granted, Lincoln did call their relationship “intimate” but in modern terminology, that would be Lincoln saying that he was his B.F.F. (best friend forever).  Ellsworth’s death did shake Lincoln to his core and the body laid in state in the East Room of the White House.  But Ellsworth was the first officer killed in the Civil War for the United States and died in such a horrific manner that the nation outpoured their grief. 

Lincoln with his bodyguards, including DericksonFinally, Tripp talks about Captain David Derickson, who joined Lincoln as a bodyguard in 1862.  The two men became friends, as Lincoln invited him to ride around Washington and enjoy meals.  Tripp sees this relationship like Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard.  In Tripp’s favor is some evidence that Lincoln invited Derickson to share his bed while Mary was away (which is different from the necessity argument like on the circuit courts) and apparently, Derickson wore Lincoln’s night shirt.  Tripp uses this incident to conclude “Let there be no mistake.  From any point of view Lincoln was highly peculiar from the start.  His homosexual side, while not unusual in itself, was connected with an early puberty of such extremity-fully four years sooner than verage-as to make even it extraordinary.” 

So here we are:  Tripp’s book, which gave him major press and reviews in major publications and appearances on television programs, has seeped into the Simpsons.  So I beg the question again:  Was Lincoln gay?  Does the evidence hold up?  My answer is no, for the reasons I noted above, plus the fact that NO ONE wrote of a sexual relationship.  Sexual scandal was all over the papers before the Civil War and if someone revealed that detail, it would have made news, especially in that era of vicious campaigning. 

And, quite frankly, should we care?  If Lincoln is gay, does it diminish his standing as our nation’s greatest executive?  There are those who take pleasure in denigrating the great men of history or denigrating Lincoln scholars for ignoring this “truth.”  Yet, I think we are a bit too obsessed to get to know the real Lincoln.  We are simply imposing our 21st century ideals and values on the men of the 19th century.  We are mis-reading their affectionate language to one another, their friendships and their time spent sharing a  bed.  I think the gay Lincoln myth belongs right where we started:  on the Simpsons Halloween Special, because anyone who buys into it is simply spooky!