Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lincoln and Hawaiʻi

Last Wednesday night before his lecture on the “meaning and memory of emancipation” and the “paradoxical legacies of Lincoln,” David Blight, an award winning scholar on slavery and the Civil War, speaking before a capacity crowd on the campus of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa said: “I know Lincoln played well out West, but not this far West.” Although said in jest, Blight was right on the money.

Almost no one writing or speaking about Lincoln thinks about making a connection to Hawaiʻi. Usually the first mention of Hawaiʻi in US history books is the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the annexation of Hawaiʻi (or prolonged military occupation, as Keanu Sai has recently argued in his dissertation and forthcoming book) by the United States. The Lincoln nexus to Hawaiʻi is certainly not as robust as it was with the Western states and territories of the United States (Richard Etulain intriguingly suggests in an April 2009 issue of Wild West that Lincoln could be seen as a “Founding Father of the Political West”). Nevertheless, Lincoln and Hawaiʻi is a topic worth looking into.

Lincoln was not the first US President to make contact with the Hawaiian Kingdom. That honor instead went to John Tyler (1841-1845) who recognized Hawaiian independence. It was also Tyler who extended the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaiʻi, noting among other things, the extent to which American vessels were involved in whaling in the Pacific. This industry would become directly affected by the Civil War. The CSS Shenandoah sunk many of the New England whaling ships in the Pacific and also the Harvest, a Hawaiian whaling vessel.

Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward had been advocating for the annexation of Hawaiʻi as early as 1852 (which also had some favor in the islands and with King Kamehameha III) and he continued to push for annexation after Lincoln’s Presidency. Lincoln for his part never seemed interested in this Pacific expansionism. In 1863, his nonchalant manner of appointing a new US commissioner to Hawaiʻi had been followed by the ineffectiveness of the man appointed and the problem of a possible French intervention in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi because of a lack of religious freedom for Catholics—this situation had already resulted in tensions with the French in 1839 and 1849. Luckily for Lincoln and Hawaiʻi, the French only intervened in Mexico.

Lincoln did not have an opportunity to negotiate a reciprocity treaty with Hawaiʻi in 1864 (Seward advised against it). He did however write to King Kamehameha V (pictured above), addressing him as Lincoln did with other monarchs whom he had never met, “Great and Good Friend,” to express his condolences about the death of King Kamehameha IV who died in November 1863. Lincoln’s interest in the islands had clearly grown by the middle of 1864 when he met the Hawaiian envoy, Elisha H. Allen. Lincoln stated:

“In every light in which the state of the Hawaiian Islands can be contemplated, it is an object of profound interest to the United States. Virtually it was once a colony.

It is now a near and intimate neighbor. It is a haven of shelter and refreshment for our merchant fishermen, seamen, and other citizens, when on their lawful occasions they are navigating the eastern seas and oceans. Its people are free, and its laws, language and religion are largely the fruits of our own teaching and example.

The distinguished part which you, Mr. Minister, have acted in the history of that interesting country is well known here. It gives me pleasure to assure you of my sincere desire to do what I can to render now your sojourn in the United States agreeable to yourself, satisfactory to your sovereign, and beneficial to the Hawaiian people.”

As James Horton, historian and Lincoln Bicentennial Commission member, pointed out in a Hawaiʻi and Lincoln article, Americans living in Hawaiʻi had great interest in Lincoln and the Civil War—most supported the Union. After Lincoln’s assassination this engagement continued. The May 11, 1865, issue of the Ka Nupepa Kūʻokoʻa (The Independent Newspaper), an American missionary organ which printed articles in Hawaiian and English, was dominated by Lincoln articles. A letter to the editor written in English reported a “Jubilee in Wailuku” after learning about the surrender of Lee at Appomattox. The festivities in Wailuku were attended by 500 people including Native Hawaiians in attendance. Some of the legacies of Lincoln which David Blight talked about (and some he didn’t) could already be found in the Ka Nupepa Kūʻokoʻa. Lincoln as savior of the Union, as emancipator, as martyr, as man of the people, as a healer and so on. The newspaper’s brief statement about Lincoln’s assassination, for example, participated in the deification of Lincoln which was occurring in the United States by stating: “No parallel for this great crime can be found in the world's history since the Crucifixion.” To top this, a short piece which consisted mostly of an unattributed excerpt from an Isaac E. Carey sermon (which in turn was based on an apocryphal story from “a gentleman having recently visited Washington”) attempted to prove that after visiting Gettysburg, “Lincoln loved Jesus.” This is one of the less outlandish posthumous baptizing efforts. In covering some of the details of Lincoln’s religious life and a supposed secret baptism in the Sangamon River, Edward Steers, Jr., in his book Lincoln Legends describes some of the holes in the story: “a dead minister, a frozen river, a train connection that did not exist, and too many ministers with their hands in the water” (p. 78).

Various reasons can be given about the motivations for going to such lengths to baptize Lincoln following his death (it was needed for apotheosis, for ars moriendi, for identifying with Lincoln, etc.), but he has lived on in Hawaiʻi, especially for school children. There is an annual Lincoln Day at ʻEwa Elementary which was first held February 12, 1944, to unveil a Lincoln statute on the campus which depicts Lincoln as a frontiersman. There is also a President Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Honolulu. Lincoln even appears on the cover of a US history text assigned at a Honolulu high school.

It is this last legacy of Lincoln, President of Hawaiʻi, which could not be conjured up by a newspaper or even Lincoln himself in 1865, which gives pause here. When Lincoln said in 1864 that Hawaiʻi’s “laws, language and religion are largely the fruits of our own teaching and example,” he could have never imagined that on the 200th year after his birth that Hawaiʻi would be operating under US laws and that a Governor in Hawaiʻi could refer to him as the “greatest President” of a nation he never even visited.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lincoln and The World's Fair-A Great Triumph

A “Great Triumph” was how Steinway & Sons advertised in Harper’s Weekly for their Grand and Square pianos which had won first prize medals at the London International Exhibition of 1862 (Unfortunately, as most Americans are unaware, the ivory keys of these pianos were intertwined with an American trade in ivory which came at a cost of destroyed African elephant herds and eventually, the lives 2 million Africans, see “Plunder for Pianos” chapter in Complicity). Considering that Steinway & Sons was founded in 1853 in New York, winning these prizes over long established firms such as Chickering & Sons was a great triumph. United States participation in the 1862 World Expo can be seen in the same light.

Undoubtedly the President most associated with the World’s Fair is McKinley who was shot in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901. However, Lincoln’s role in the 1862 World’s Fair in London has been underappreciated. The constant vilification of Lincoln from some corners of the press extended even to his handling the 1862 Expo. A descriptive line for a report on the London Exhibition in the New York Times for July 26, 1862, read: “A Handful of American Exhibitors Bear off Eighty Prizes—Great Triumph of the United States Department.” The Times’ correspondent in London reported that the United States had around 86 exhibitors present—quite more than a handful. It was also misleading for the correspondent to write “this handful of patriotic men have won for the country, in spite of Government discouragement and official (I mean American official) neglect. It is only right to state, as a preliminary, that if the English authorities had been as churlish as the American, the exhibitors would have had but cold cheer, for it was from the first expressly stated that where a country refused to appoint a Commissioner no awards would be made.”

It is sometimes easy to forget that while Lincoln’s entire presidency was consumed by Civil War (interestingly, the war or the recently strained relations with Britain is not mentioned at all in the Times’ piece), he was concurrently trying to put forth a good face to show to the country and the world about the state of the Union. Despite the best intentions of Queen Victoria’s husband (Prince Albert) who helped create the 1851 Great Exhibition, the World’s Fair did not entice nations to embrace a shared humanity and promote peace. In fact, the Empires which hosted the first two World’s Fairs were at war (Britain was fighting the 8th Xhosa War in Southern Africa in 1851; France was heavily engaged in the Crimean War in 1855). According to Arnold Donald Innes, the British were involved in a “small war” with Japan in 1862, but it is the potential war with the USA following the Trent affair that the British did not fight during the 1862 World’s Fair which is important.

It is easy enough to write off the glib criticism in the New York Times of US Government support for the London exhibitors in 1862. If the correspondent had bothered to consult the Rapport from the 1855 Exposition Universelle held in Paris, he would have found that the United States even while not fighting a Civil War had only 131 exhibitors in attendance. The Times’ correspondent was also unaware that Lincoln had written a message to Congress in July 1861, stating that “As citizens of the United States may justly pride themselves upon their proficiency in industrial arts, it is desirable that they should have proper facilities towards taking part in the Exhibition. With this view, I recommend such legislation by Congress at this session as may be necessary for that purpose.” Congress listened and appropriated $2,000 for the Exhibition and granted Lincoln a free hand in determining how best to represent the United States through the Exhibition. Lincoln then writes to William Seward and Caleb Smith on October 7, 1861, about granting a place at the Exhibition to John W. Hoyt, who was later not appointed Commissioner for the United States, but only for Wisconsin. Decisions concerning participation in the Expo were not made by Lincoln who apologized in his December 1861 Annual Message for being “unable to give personal attention to this subject.” He wrote a note to the Congress in early January 1862, on the subject of a ship to carry the exhibitors to London. He recommended that “authority be given to charter a suitable merchant vessel, in order that facilities similar to those afforded by the Government for the exhibition of 1851, may also be extended to those citizens of the United States who may desire to contribute to the exhibition of this year.” This recommendation was not followed: The Great Exhibition was much better attended by the United States than either the 1855 Exposition Universelle or the 1862 London Exhibition.

However, the real coup achieved by Lincoln’s support of participation in the World’s Fair lies in a simple fact that escaped the Times’ correspondent: the Confederate States of America sent no exhibitors and were unable to become recognized as a country. Last minute planning, the aforementioned notes for instance, for the London Exhibition took place while Lincoln was carefully settling the Trent affair. Even before the outrage and war fervor in Britain caused by US Navy Captain Charles Wilkes having a British mail packet, the Trent, boarded and two Confederate emissaries (James Mason and John Slidell) to Europe removed and taken captive, there was the issue of British “neutrality.” Queen Victoria had announced in May 1861 that Britain was to be neutral and would avoid getting involved in the hostile actions between the American North and South. Britain did recognize the Confederates as a “belligerent power.” In response, Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward penned a set of instructions for the US Ambassador to Britain, Charles Francis Adams which was quite belligerent in its own right. Lincoln, though inexperienced in foreign policy, knew it was best not to fight more than one war at a time and revised Seward’s letter to omit such lines as “British recognition [of the Confederacy] would be British intervention to create within our own territory a hostile State by overthrowing this Republic itself.” Seward had also warned that such intervention would make the US an enemy of Britain for the third time. On account of Lincoln’s scrupulous handling of the Trent affair and also his reining in of Seward, war with Britain/recognition of the CSA was averted and the London Expo of 1862 became a great triumph for Lincoln as it allowed the Times’ correspondent to note “an ample vindication, not only of national ingenuity and skill, but of English fair play” rather than some other outcome, namely, an entrance on the world’s stage for the Confederacy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold?

Back in October I came across a Discovery News item about a new Lincoln letter which was found and up for auction which showed an “angry Lincoln” writing to a Mrs. V.C.K. Neagle who wanted a pardon for her husband. Due to common conceptions of Lincoln it is easy to forget that as a human he could become irate as the rest of us do from time to time. Lincoln had a habit of venting his frustrations by writing out letters that he then never sent. An unsent letter to General George G. Meade after the Battle of Gettysburg is perhaps the most famous of these missives. The July 14, 1863, letter contains these choice words:

“Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not attack Lee last monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am innumerably distressed because of it.”

The Neagle letter, from what I can tell, is accurately transcribed here . I was not able to find any critical analyses of the content of the letter or the note Lincoln wrote to himself on the back (which was not pictured in the Discovery story). I can only assume that the presence of the note on the back of the letter means that it was not sent. How and where this letter was discovered was not discussed in the news story. Having read Lincoln’s Collected Works (CW) and the Neagle letter, it became quickly evident to me that this letter was quite a find and could draw the estimated sum of $250,000-$350,000 at a December 2008 Southeby’s auction. Consider the following:

The last line of the letter reads: “There is certainly room enough North of the Susquehanna for a great variety of honest occupations.” The key part of the sentence is the reference to the river. In consulting the Lincoln CW, I found only one instance of the Susquehanna River (which Lincoln spelled Susquehannah) in a June 30, 1863, telegram to Major General Darius N. Couch. The telegram reads: “I judge by absence of news that the enemy is not crossing, or pressing up to the Susquehannah. Please tell me what you know of his movements. A. LINCOLN.” Further, an earlier line in the Neagle letter which starts: “As I understand it…” struck me as a rare construction. Out of 16 instances of the phrase “as I understand it,” only once did it begin a sentence. In that same sentence of the Neagle letter which begins “as I understand it,” Lincoln uses the word “wilfully.” This word appears thrice in the CW. Another word, “knowingly,” which is also in the sentence, shows up only 14 times in the CW. To my knowledge, the words knowingly and willingly are together in only one Lincoln document in the CW, the Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas. In Lincoln’s Rejoinder the words knowingly and willingly are not even on the same page together. To have all of these rarities (considering the thousands of pages comprising the CW) appear in one letter seemed strange to me.

However, concerning the pardon of Mr. Neagle and the connections to Senator Harlan (on the back of the letter), the wording used in the Discovery story appears to be very similar to the Feb. 22, 1864, message to Edwin Stanton: “I propose that the husband’s parole be enlarged so that he may occasionally visit Washington.” The annotation for this entry in the Lincoln Collected Works reads: “Secretary of War, Letters Received, P 123, Register notation. Although the letter bearing Lincoln's endorsement is missing, a notation on the register quotes the above as appearing on the application of Mrs. V.C.K. Neagle”. This is the only mention of Neagle in the CW. How much more intriguing can this story get that that both the angry letter to Neagle and the letter concerning her husband’s pardon were missing from the CW?

Well, the auction in December came and went without the letter being sold, not unlike some of the other items in that auction. In exchanging e-mails with Selby Kiffer, Senior Vice President of the Books and Manuscript Division at Southeby’s and appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow, he told me that he is confident that the Neagle letter is authentic based on the letter's physical characteristics and provenance. He also graciously offered to let me take a look at the letter if I am in New York. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to the Big Apple anytime soon. I was informed by Mr. Kiffer that the letter will be included in a future auction so good luck to the so-and-sos with enough cash to bid on this interesting Neagle letter.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lincoln, Sun Yat-sen and the Gettysburg Address (and Theodore Parker)

Following a talk on Lincoln at the William S. Richardson School of Law here in Honolulu, I had a discussion with Lincoln scholar, collector and Bicentennial Commission member Justice Frank J. Williams about Lincoln and Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China. Williams wrote about the nexus between Sun and Lincoln in his book and mentioned that it was in school in Honolulu where Sun came across Lincoln.

Sun, probably the most notable Punahou graduate until President Obama, was very taken by Lincoln’s formulation (more on this below) from the Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, for the people, by the people” and used it as inspiration for his “Three People’s Principles:” minzu: nationalism, minquan: democracy, minsheng: people’s welfare/livelihood (Thanks to Professor Oliver Lee for the transliterations/translations). As one can see from the stamp above (see more about it here), Lincoln paired with Sun was marshaled in symbolic support of the Republic of China against Imperial Japan in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. A set of Taiwanese stamps produced in 1959 featured Sun Yat-sen and Lincoln in honor of the Lincoln Centennial.

On Lincoln’s formulation “government of the people, for the people, by the people,” it is not Lincoln’s but John Wycliffe’s. Or at least the political philosopher Eric Voegelin was sure of as much when he wrote in 1970 to the conservative Lincoln critic M.E. Bradford: “Lincoln’s government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ is even more than a millenarian blasphemy than becomes apparent from your paper. The formula is taken from the prologue to the Bible translation, where Wycliffe speaks of the Bible as the book of wisdom ‘of the people, for the people, for the people’ (I am quoting from memory—I am sure you will find the exact reference in Bartlett’s Quotations).” Although Voegelin did not mention Lincoln, he effectively retracted this statement three years later in responding to Lincoln scholar Harry Jaffa who had asked about the source of the supposed Wycliffe quote. In any event, Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon leaves no ambiguity as to where the Lincoln formulation in the Gettysburg Address came from. In his Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, Herndon states that Lincoln read and underlined a phrase in Theodore Parker’s speech “The Effect of Slavery on the American People” (July 4, 1858) which Herndon had borrowed and gave to Lincoln to read. This is the line Lincoln underlined: “Democracy is self-government, over all the people, by all the people, for all the people.” John White Chadwick, a clergyman who had written a book about Theodore Parker, had already seemingly decided the matter in 1901 in a letter to the Review of Reviews. Res ipsa loquitur.