Such an inquiry as, “What if Abraham Lincoln had survived the assassination,” is the driving force of Stephen L. Carter’s latest novel, “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln” (Knopf, $26.95).
In this thrilling courtroom drama, the 16th president is entangled in an Impeachment trail, charged with several counts of violating his Constitutional authority during the Civil War. The story is fictional, yet Carter uses real life political players of that time who interact with the book’s young, Black female heroine, Abigail Canner. The firm defending Lincoln hires Canner, but the lead counsel is murdered. Canner ambitiously defies racial assumptions and sifts through conspiracies to discover the truth in a divided post-war government.
“My story is told through the eyes of an outsider who wants to be a lawyer,” Carter said. “At this time, there are no female lawyers in America, no more than 10 Black lawyers. I wanted to tell a story in addition of being a thriller and a mystery and in addition to introducing us to these big historical figures, but also to tell us something about how Black people lived in that era. Free Black people, middle class in her case.”
As a professor of law at Yale University and as a bestselling novelist of “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” “New England White” and “Palace Council,” creating Canner’s character was critical to illustrated the existence of a Black middle class and their important perspective on American history.
“It’s funny isn’t it that when we think of the 1860s, we tend to assume that every Black person in America had been a slave just a couple of years ago,” Carter said. “And of course, for most Black people that was the true horrific history, but there were some people who had been free and made lives in freedom. Difficult lives to be sure, but they raised their family, they provided for them, and I wanted to look at it through the eyes of someone like [Abigail]—a real outsider in society. Those are the characters that are more interesting to write about.
“There are a lot of novels you can find about Lincoln where the main character is a senator or cabinet secretary, but I really, in all of my novels, am interested in the outsiders. I’m interested in the people whose lives we don’t know much about. That for me is the fun of writing.”
Carter has written four novels and nine nonfiction books. He acknowledge that this—his fifth novel—was the most challenging.
“The more research I did, the more I realized how complex Lincoln was and how complex his challenges were and how complex his decisions were,” Carter said. “For example, you had someone who is willing to shut down opposition newspapers when he thought they were hurting the war effort. Now someone of today might think that was outrageous, but in the context of time, when Lincoln believed that the survival of the United States was threatened, I think it’s perfectly reasonable that he came to that conclusion. I may have not reached that conclusion, but with the challenges he faced, it was certainly a plausible and interesting conclusion to reach.
Carter is an enthusiast of the president, having four bookshelves full of Lincoln books.
“I’ve always been a big Lincoln fan,” Carter said. “Even as a child, I was always fascinated by his life. I think he’s our greatest president. I’m a great admirer of Lincoln. I’ve always read everything I could get my hands on about him. He really did some things that are really questionable, [but] through all of that my admiration of him only grew.”
Regardless of asking tough questions and thinking of the complexity of post Civil War politics, Cater said he wants to entertain his readers.
“Now, I want to make clear,” Carter said. “I write for fun. I write books that people will enjoy. But, at the same time, I’m quite interested in history and its lessons. On the other hand, I am not saying that I think Lincoln should’ve been impeached. I’m not saying Lincoln would’ve been impeached. I’m just saying it’s an interesting question to wonder what might have happened.”
Carter’s book tour comes to the Philadelphia Free Library, 1901 Vine Street, July 17.
From Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks comes a remarkable story of an African-American man who looks just like Abraham Lincoln and can be shot by would-be John Wilkes Booth for a small fee. “The America Play” sees Lincoln disappear into the “great hole of history” as his wife and son go to find him.
Questions of race, family, legacy and the act of theater itself play out in a surprising and emotionally stunning journey, as the world premiere of two short plays “Other American Cousins,” named for the one Lincoln was watching when he was shot, examine America’s place in today’s world and serve as prologues to “The America Play.” This surrealist depiction of American history lands in Plays & Players Skinner Studio April 4-21.
“The American Play” stars local actor Steven Wright as The Founding Father. A graduate of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, Wright says he’s been planning to become an actor since he was a little boy.
“I was always big on watching everything on television and then imitating what I saw,” he said. “In fact, my mother said I was two when it started and I never left the set, although I think I did make it outside every now and then.”
He must have, because as he grew, he sang in his school choirs, helped build sets, performed in the ensembles of his high school musicals, and even appeared in summer stock.
He headed for New York after college graduation, but soon returned to Philly, where he found work, friendship and a theater scene that keeps growing every day. Today, having appeared in many local productions, he is thrilled to be making his Plays and Players debut, especially in this unique production.
“The character I play has been told all his life he looks jut like Abraham Lincoln, and so one day he decides to go off and try to capitalize on that fact.” Wright explained. “Everything starts from there, and I think there’s something for everybody.”
The play, he continued, “touches on our ideas on how we see ourselves, how we see others, the important points in our lives, and how we should view each other. It’s about being true to yourself and not gong too far astray with lofty ideas.”
Having to identify with Lincoln has created some challenges for this actor, especially because “the way the piece is written makes me have to dig a lot deeper than I normally would to find the common thread between me and the man. In doing a character I try to find certain parallels so that I can breathe life into the character, making him real for the audience.”
Doing that with Lincoln wasn’t always easy, Wright said, “especially because I disagreed with some of the things he did. But I had to find the universality of the piece, something that exists in the real world, something that connects us all.”
Two world premiere 10-minute plays, both titled “Our American Cousin,” will alternate as prologues to “The America Play.” Written by local playwrights Quinn D. Eli and Kimmika L. H. Williams-Witherspoon, the plays will reflect contemporary notions of African-American identity as a response to the original play of the same name.
“All in all, these plays reflect on why we actors do what we do,” Wright concludes. “We start our by wanting to be on stage and entertain people, But then there’s some kind of complete joy that takes over, and we actors have to navigate through the entire process until we are able to tell a story that comes to life and is a joy for everyone.” For times and ticket information call (800) 595-4849.
“ ‘Negro History’ is the missing segment of world history”
-- Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson was right when he essentially said that Black history is the missing pages of world history. Never was such so true than in the movie, “Lincoln.”
While I, as a “weekend historian,” was impressed by Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of the 16th president of the United States, my knowledge of history begged questions: Why were Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman not portrayed or mentioned? Why was the ancient Egyptian mathematical formula attributed to the Greek mathematician, Euclid?
The movie, Lincoln, is politically presidential, yet porous on people who influenced the end of the American Civil War. The holes in the Steven Spielberg’s epic film are rooted in Hollywood’s tendency to omit key historical personalities and events from biopics. History reminds us that Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth all played significant roles in the American Civil War, and thus in the decisions of President Lincoln.
For example, in the summer of 1863, Frederick Douglass was invited to the White House and introduced to President Lincoln by Secretary of State William Henry Seward and Senator Samuel Pomeroy (Kan.).
According to David Blight’s Race and Reunion: Civil War in America Memory, Douglass, said, “I told him I was assisting to raise Colored troops to enlist in the Union Army but was troubled that the United States government would not treat them fairly in three ways. First, Colored troops ought to receive the same wages as those paid to White soldiers. Second, Colored soldiers ought to receive the same protection when taken prisoner. Third, when Colored soldiers perform great and uncommon service on the battlefield they should be rewarded by distinction and promotion as White soldiers are rewarded.”
Moreover, Douglass relieved public pressure on President Lincoln regarding the Civil War in his speech in Philadelphia three weeks after the president dedicated the federal cemetery at Gettysburg.
Douglass did so by saying, “We are not to be saved by the captain, but by the crew. We are not to be saved by Abraham Lincoln but by the power of the throne, greater than the throne itself, the supreme testing of ‘government of the people…’ of which the President spoke at Gettysburg. The ‘Abolition War’ and ensuing peace will never be completed until the Black men of the South and the Black men of the North shall have been admitted, fully and completely into the body politic of America.”
Likewise, in October 1864, Sojourner Truth was invited to the White House to meet with President Lincoln. Following her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at a women’s convention in 1853, she was a renowned abolitionist. The meeting of Truth and President Lincoln at the White House is documented in Berry Horton’s famous painting depicting the president showing Truth his Bible.
Another omission of the movie Lincoln involves Harriet Tubman. Her many trips delivering enslaved Black people from bondage to freedom provided her with knowledge of the terrain of the Confederate states. As such, Tubman contributed mightily to Union strategy in the Civil War.
According to Benjamin Brawley’s Tubman, President Lincoln listened to the ideas of Harriet Tubman. And yet, neither of these significant Black historical figures was portrayed or even mentioned in the movie.
At one critical point in the movie Lincoln justifies his position on passing the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which would outlaw slavery on the basis that “all men are created equal…” cited the Greek mathematician Euclid’s theorem that “things equal to the same are equal to one another.” What was omitted in the movie is that Euclid did not originate the theorem; a Black Egyptian mathematicians at the Library of Alexandria, Egypt trained him in 300 B.C.
When people erroneously condemn “Black History” as a separatists scholarly pursuit, we need to look no further than movies made by Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and other Hollywood directors who—consciously or unconsciously—omit the contributions of Black people to world history and, thus, give un-earned credit to White scholars as the progenitors of higher thought.
We must re-insert Black History in the pages of world history.
Gary L. Flowers is executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
WASHINGTON — President Abraham Lincoln's initial proclamation to free U.S. Southern slaves, issued 150 years ago this week, is enjoying a public showcase to match its rising profile among historians.
Lincoln released his lesser-known preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862 — 100 days before the more famous final version. The first of the two documents has gained importance among scholars as a turning point in the Civil War, where northern and southern states clashed over fundamental questions over the power of the federal government and the power of states. It was the deadliest war in U.S. history.
Slavery and its abolition were once treated by historians as minor parts of the story behind the Civil War, but that began to change after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, said historian Edward Ayers, president of the University of Richmond. That turbulent era featured marches and landmark court cases as Blacks fought for equal access in voting, education and other major parts of everyday life.
"All our thinking about this has undergone remarkable recasting over the last 50 years," Ayers said. "People begin now with slavery as the fundamental fact and emancipation and less with union as being the sole focus of attention."
Commemorations began Monday at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Meanwhile, the only surviving version of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln's handwriting will make an eight-city tour this fall.
The preliminary proclamation served as a warning that if the Confederacy of southern states did not end its "rebellion" against the United States and voluntarily abolish slavery, then Lincoln would order the slaves freed on the first day of 1863. Lincoln believed it was a way to use his military powers to push to end slavery.
Even before the preliminary emancipation, Lincoln floated several ideas about how to end slavery. He even studied ideas about encouraging slaves to return to Africa or Central America to separate the races, historian Eric Foner of Columbia University said.
The government issued miniature copies of the preliminary emancipation that were distributed widely to soldiers in the field. Some survive and have been traded by collectors.
Views on the history and impact of emancipation continue to evolve, Ayers said, while many people still separate Black history and white history.
"What historians have shown us over the past 50 years is that these are all part of the same history," Ayers said. "Listening to just one of those stories is like listening to half a conversation." -- (AP)
Almost 150 years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, the fascination with the 16th president is as strong as ever. Award-winning author Harold Holzer’s “Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America: A Companion Book for Young Readers to the Steven Spielberg Film” (Newmarket for It Books, $16.99) traces how Lincoln came to view slavery and to end it.
Invited by the filmmakers to write a special Lincoln book as an accompaniment to the film, Holzer (a distinguished historian and consultant on the movie), explores Lincoln’s life and times, his evolving personal and political beliefs about slavery — and his genius that led to his ending the Civil War, reuniting the country and ensuring passage of the 13th Amendment that ended slavery.
When the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865 — less than three months before he was assassinated — it was the crowning achievement of Lincoln’s life, and the undisputed testament to his political genius. Drawing from letters, speeches, memoirs, and documents by Lincoln and others, Holzer masterfully and dramatically recreates Lincoln’s life story as he came to recognize that slavery was “morally wrong” and needed to be legally abolished.
The book makes history come alive for readers of all ages, and includes 30 historical photographs, a chronology, a historical cast of characters, texts of selected Lincoln writings, a bibliography and notes.
My family went to see “Lincoln,” the much advertised and critically acclaimed new film by Steven Spielberg. The plot centered on one particular phase of the president’s legacy. That was the abolition of slavery and how he got it done. All of us were taught the Emancipation Proclamation was the vehicle that abolished slavery in America. That just is not true and Spielberg brilliantly showed us the real story. That’s right it was not the Emancipation Proclamation.
Wikipedia: “The Emancipation Proclamation is a military order issued to the Army and Navy of the United States by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War. It was based on the president’s constitutional authority as commander in chief of the armed forces; it was not a law passed by Congress. It proclaimed all slaves in Confederate territory to be forever free; that is, it ordered the Army to treat as free men the slaves in ten states that were still in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S.”
Lincoln knew that this was flimsy and would probably fall apart at the end of the war. The Confederacy certainly would use this as a condition of surrender (to keep slavery) and the American people were so weary of the war that terribly affected every household with death and misery. This was simply an Executive Order implemented under the War Powers Act. It didn’t even apply to non-Confederate states and the Confederate states paid no attention to it at all. What he needed was an amendment to the Constitution. Thus, he had his Republican Party sponsor the bill which would become the Thirteenth Amendment. This amendment would outlaw slavery within the United States forever.
Even though the abolition of slavery was part of the main platform of the new Republican Party, it wasn’t going to be easy. An amendment to the Constitution must have two-thirds of the House votes to pass and go onto the president’s desk. The Republicans had a majority but were not even close to a two-thirds majority. In addition, the Democratic Party was very much against the thought of slavery abolition. They certainly were going to dig in and try to defeat the amendment. The GOP needed 22 Democratic votes to pass the bill and so the plot thickens. Time was “ticking” because the amendment needed to be passed before the end of the war. Congress would be in no mood to stir up things again with a new initiative against slavery.
Lincoln and various GOP House leaders had to come up with a political scheme to rid America of slavery. Spielberg did more than clearly show how ugly politics can be. Lincoln, the Congressmen, Cabinet officials, General Grant, lobbyists, press, etc. were all involved in this ebb and flow struggle. Patronage jobs, earmarks, bribery, etc. were some of the “ammunition” used to persuade certain Democrats. “Honest Abe” was not totally honest in this struggle to make his dream a reality – the abolition of slavery. But he got the job done.
Most interesting was the role of a Black female who appeared with First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln just about all the time. When I returned home I researched this. This sister was not a slave or a domestic. She was actually a very good friend of the first lady and an entrepreneur and fashion designer. In fact, Elizabeth Keckley bought her own and her son’s freedom in St. Louis and moved to Washington, D.C. Her dresses were in high demand among the ladies of the Washington elite. Being a confidant of the first lady made her well respected. Later, she would own boarding houses in Philadelphia and D.C. She actually owned one across the street from the Willard Hotel and two blocks from the White House. She was also a philanthropist and donated to historically Black Wilberforce University.
Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee was Thaddeus Stevens. He was a pure abolitionist and played his part in the victory. It was apparent that he had a relationship with a sister. I researched her and found Lydia Hamilton Smith, a widow and supposedly the housekeeper for the Congressman. Actually, it was well known that she was his common law wife for more than 20 years. She ran his business affairs when he was in session. When Stevens died, he left her $5,000 which was a handsome sum back then. She bought his home and office and invested the rest in other things and became a prosperous entrepreneur in her own right.
Spielberg also noted that Blacks were on the battlefield in great numbers (unlike his denial in “Band of Brothers”). In fact, more than 200,000 Blacks served admirably. Go see this movie. You are going to love it.
No slavery is quite as pernicious as that which we impose on ourselves.
That lofty point is brought to mind by two recent events that might seem to have no relationship to each other. I wish.
One occurred on New Year’s Day. Although you might have missed it amid news about the fiscal cliff, it was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
That proclamation, which freed slaves in states that had seceded from the Union, gave a human rights mission to the Civil War. It also led to the 13th Amendment, a courageous political battle that Steven Spielberg reproduces in his Oscar-worthy “Lincoln.”
Lincoln’s moves also freed several of my own ancestors, for which I thank him.
But, sad to say, today we have newer forms of slavery that we impose on ourselves. That brings me to the second recent event that I have in mind:
The Oxygen cable television network has announced production of a new one-hour reality-based special that makes TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” sound like PBS’ “Masterpiece Theater.”
The program, as the press release puts, reveals “the complicated lives” of Atlanta-based rap star and music entrepreneur Carlos “Shawty Lo” Walker and his household family of 10 — yes, 10 — women and the 11 children to whom they have given birth and are raising without the benefit of marriage.
And the program’s title? Brace yourself. It is “All My Babies’ Mamas.”
My reaction after watching a 13-minute preview on YouTube? “What were they thinking?”
And, “Lincoln freed us for this?”
Leave it to Oxygen to bring out the culture warrior in me. Oxygen’s news release says the program will “give fans an intimate look at unconventional families with larger than life personalities.” But, judging by its title and preview, the program shamelessly promotes a harem-like lifestyle as if it were a practical childrearing option.
My concern is for the kids, of whom I saw suspiciously little in the preview reel. Childbearing outside of marriage has soared in recent decades. It doesn’t need be promoted, especially with mounting evidence that it is not good for children.
“A lifestyle once associated with poverty has become mainstream,” Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow and family research specialist at Brookings Institution, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in June. “The only group of parents for whom marriage continues to be the norm is the college-educated.”
The proportion of children born outside marriage has risen from roughly 30 percent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2009, Sawhill found. For women under age 30, more than half of their babies are born out of wedlock. Among African Americans, the rate soars to more than 65 percent.
Yet marriage still has its advantages for the children. As Sawhill points out, it is a commitment made before family and other witnesses that cohabitation is not. Married parents split up before their fifth anniversary at only half the rate of unmarried parents.
Children who live with their biological parents perform better in school, have lower rates of suicide, earn more as adults and are less likely to have unwanted pregnancies or be arrested, various studies have found. Marriage also brings economic benefits, such as two breadwinners or a full-time stay-at-home parent, that offer more time and resources to support good parenting.
Of course, as a married parent who was raised by married parents, I know that traditional parenting does not guarantee success at raising genius kids. But it helps — and parents need all the help they can get.
Nor does Shawty Lo’s nontraditional household mean his kids will all turn out to be failures. Fortunately for him, he also has the money, as long as he and his record company keep making hits, to provide more for his children than most families have.
But my concern is the grand advertisement the show provides, intentionally or not, for the idea that traditional parenting is no big deal. In reality, mimicking his lifestyle — especially without his financial resources — is a good way to chain yourself and your children to a life of dependency, which is slavery by another name.
Most troubling was Shawty’s seemingly clueless attitude as to how he got into this multi-kid, multi-mama situation. Earth to Shawty: Let me tell you about condoms.
What a coincidence. It is intriguing to watch Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" biopic about Abraham Lincoln at a time when the current president is receiving secession petitions via the Internet.
I wonder, how far would the 13th Amendment have gotten in today's age of Twitter and cable TV news-talk shows? Would Black folks still be in slavery? Would John Wilkes Booth have skipped Ford's Theater if he had his own talk show?
The odd parallels between the two eras illustrate Karl Marx's point about how history repeats itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
The movie recounts in a bracing and yet thoroughly entertaining fashion how the newly re-elected President Lincoln hunted for votes, one lame-duck congressman at a time. His goal: to end slavery with the 13th Amendment even as the last battles of the Civil War raged on. His means: beg, borrow or buy as many votes as he needs for passage.
To avoid getting his own hands dirty, Lincoln employs a crew of political hacks whom we follow through the often-amusing chores of trading patronage jobs and other "gifts," to use a famous Mitt Romney word for political offerings.
Since crucial support for the anti-slavery amendment will evaporate if the South surrenders first, we see in scenes of Hitchcock-like suspense Lincoln and his allies pushing for a vote while he secretly stalls the approach of Confederate representatives from Richmond who are seeking to talk peace. In today's world, one text message from a Virginia rebel could have blown the whole deal.
One can easily imagine how, in today's fevered political media environment ol' Honest Abe would be ripped by conservative commentators for his "Illinois-style politics."
Yet politics in Illinois, like elsewhere, have more than one style, as illustrated by a story from "Team of Rivals," Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on which Spielberg based the movie. One of Lincoln's most loyal supporters was Joseph Medill, co-owner and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, where I now work. Medill asked the president why he appointed former opponents like Secretary of State William Henry Seward, who figures prominently in the movie, to top cabinet positions. Lincoln responded that, since the cabinet "needed the strongest men of the party" and "these were the very strongest men." He added, "I had no right to deprive the country of their services."
Lincoln's ability to surround himself with "strong men" yet emerge, as Goodwin notes, "as the strongest of them all" contrasts sharply with today's deep Washington divide in which such prosaic issues as raising marginal tax rates are fought as epic battles between good and evil.
Such is the heated atmosphere that gives birth to today's secession fever. It started in Texas, which was the first to reach the 25,000 signatures required for the White House to give a response. The Lone Star State has since gathered more than 100,000.
One of the more eloquent (and printable in family newspaper) expressions of support for secession can be found on Rep. Ron Paul's website. "Secession is a deeply American principle," says the outgoing libertarian Republican Texan. "There is nothing treasonous or unpatriotic about wanting a federal government that is more responsive to the people it represents."
No, but we already have a mechanism for making government accountable. It's called an election. Paul had ample opportunities to present his grievances, and I support some of his views, such as his opposition to federal intrusion in states that have decriminalized marijuana.
Nevertheless, even his own party rejected the popular congressman and his agenda after he enjoyed a brief spell as its frontrunner in some polls.
Besides, even most Texans oppose secession, judging by a 2009 Rasmussen Reports poll that found only 18 percent would vote to secede. More recently, the secession petitions have been joined by anti-secession petitions of various sorts. Perhaps the secessionists should consider self-deportation.
The big lesson of "Lincoln" is that democratic governance of a large, diverse republic requires compromises. You can't always get what you want, but we can work together across partisan lines to get what we need.
And if at first you don't secede, wait until the next election.