Lincoln's Life as Depicted in the Exhibits
As a part of the restoration, museum experts of the National Park Service have prepared a modern exhibit of contemporary design for the Lincoln Museum. The exhibits interpret the varied facets of Lincoln's life and career. One area of three alcoves deals with Lincoln as a lawyer and politician, as President, and as a family man, philosopher, and humanitarian. Another area is devoted to statues and pictorial renderings of Lincoln. Items relating directly to the assassination are displayed separately. Several notable items, such as the Leonard Volk life mask of Lincoln and casts of his hands, and Lincoln's boots, shawl, and clothes, are displayed in specially designed glass cases in the central section of the museum.
In the Speech Lounge beyond the exhibits area, visitors can hear, in a voice characteristic of Lincoln's, passages from his most famous speeches, including the House Divided Speech, June 16, 1858; the Cooper Union Speech, February 27, 1860; the Farewell Address to his neighbors in Springfield, February 11,1861; the First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861; the Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863; and the Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.
Although much of the material in the museum is pictorial, there are many original objects and documents as well as photostats of originals among the exhibits. Several pieces of furniture associated with the early life of Lincoln, his law practice, and his home in Springfield, are also on view.
BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE OF LINCOLN. Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin at the "Sinking Spring" farm, near Hodgenville, Ky., on February 12, 1809. When Abraham was 2 years old, his father, Thomas Lincoln, moved the family to a farm at Knob Creek, 10 miles north of the birthplace. In the autumn of 1815, Lincoln and his sister Sarah were sent for short periods to the school of Zachariah Riney, 2 miles from the Knob Creek home. One hundred years after the departure of the Lincoln family from the Hodgenville farm, the traditional birth cabin was enshrined in a marble memorial at the "Sinking Spring" farm.
In 1816, the Lincoln family ferried the Ohio River and settled on a farm near Gentryville, Ind. Here young Lincoln worked on a farm for 25 cents a day. In 1827 he was hired to run a ferry across the Ohio River at the mouth of Anderson's Creek. In 1828, Lincoln helped to take a boatload of produce to New Orleans. On a second trip in 1831, Lincoln viewed the slave market there. His sentiments against the enslavement of humans are said to have originated with this visit.
On the trip to New Orleans in 1831, the flatboat stuck on the mill dam at New Salem, Ill. The boat was unloaded, shoved over the dam, and the journey resumed. Reflecting upon this experience, he devised a scheme for lightening grounded vessels by inflating air chambers near the waterline. A model embodying the idea was whittled out in his law office, and on May 22, 1849, a patent was granted for the device. The model may be seen in the museum.
The inventive capacity of Lincoln is also shown in the model of a wagon which he made in 1840. The front wheels of the wagon turn instead of the axle, employing the same principle as the modern automobile. No patent was ever issued for the model which was acquired by Oldroyd for his collection.
MIGRATION TO ILLINOIS, 1830. In 1830, when Lincoln was 21 years of age, his family migrated to Decatur, Ill. After assisting in the building of a new cabin, Lincoln left home for New Salem to make his own way in the world. Here he received employment clerking in a store, and later entered the service of his country during the Black Hawk War. He was elected captain of his company and served 3 months without seeing action. Returning from the war, Lincoln became a partner in the Lincoln-Berry store, a venture which proved unsuccessful and left him in debt. In May 1833, he was appointed postmaster at New Salem, and also served as Deputy Surveyor, for which he was paid $3 per day. An original document executed by Lincoln as surveyor, and the staff which he used as a rest for his surveyor's instrument, are shown in one of the museum cases.
A rail taken from the fence of Thomas Lincoln's farm near Decatur, Ill., one of some 3,000 split by Lincoln and his cousin John Hanks, is preserved in the Lincoln Museum. Decorated with streamers and bearing the inscription "Abraham Lincoln, the Rail Candidate for President in 1860 it was carried by John Hanks to the Illinois Republican Convention in May 1860. This incident provided an effective slogan for the campaign of 1860.
LIFE IN SPRINGFIELD. Lincoln soon began the study of law, and was granted a license in 1836. Moving to Springfield in 1837, he began active practice. Items in the museum illustrating this period of Lincoln's life include a legal document written by Lincoln in 1841 when a member of the firm of Lincoln and Logan. Also in the collection is a chair used by Lincoln in his law office at Springfield presented to Oldroyd by William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner from 1844 to 1861. Several law books and other volumes once owned by Lincoln may be seen in an adjoining case.
On November 4,1842, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd were married and began housekeeping in Springfield. In 1844, he bought the house at Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield where he lived until he became President. Early in 1861, before leaving for Washington, the President-elect and Mrs. Lincoln sold some of their furniture to neighbors. Several of these articles were acquired by Oldroyd when his collection was in the Lincoln home in Springfield and are now exhibited in the Lincoln Museum.
Among these furnishings are the cradle used by the four Lincoln children, and a dining room chair. A desk used by Lincoln at his home in Springfield is also exhibited. It has a sloping, hinged top and eight pigeonholes at the back. A black walnut whatnot with three shelves was made from an old bedstead by a carpenter in Springfield. Richly carved, the lower part could be used as a desk or table. It stood in the Lincoln parlor for many years. There is also an oak stand from the Lincoln home.
A long wooden bench, or settee, made to order for Lincoln to accommodate his great height, is another object from the Lincoln home. Returning from his law office, the tired attorney would stretch his tall form on this bench placed on the south porch of his home.
LINCOLN, THE POLITICIAN. Entering politics, Lincoln was first elected to the Illinois Legislature in 1834, and served four terms. In the election of 1840, he actively participated in national politics for the first time, campaigning vigorously for the Whig nominee, William Henry Harrison. As Presidential elector of the Whig Party in 1844, Lincoln canvassed Illinois and Indiana for Henry Clay, whom he greatly admired. Again, in 1848, he campaigned for the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor.
Lincoln, now prominent in Whig politics, was elected to Congress in 1846 and served for a single term. Lincoln's proposed bill of January 10, 1849, for the gradual emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia was tabled and never acted upon. When his term was completed, Lincoln returned to his law practice in Springfield. From 1849 to 1854, he traveled with the court in the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois. He rode the circuit in the spring and autumn, allowing him only 6 months for practice in Springfield.
THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which reopened the issue of admitting slavery into the territories, aroused Lincoln to a new interest in politics. On October 16, 1854, at Peoria, Ill., Lincoln delivered the first of his great speeches on slavery. In reply to a speech by Stephen A. Douglas, the sponsor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln reviewed the history of slavery and argued against its extension.
In accepting the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator in 1858, Lincoln renewed his offensive against slavery in his famous "House Divided Speech." Douglas accepted Lincoln's challenge to argue the great issue of the day in a series of seven debates. As a result of these debates, Lincoln emerged from a somewhat obscure politician to a figure of national importance, even though he lost the subsequent senatorial election in the State Legislature to Douglas. His prestige was further enhanced by a masterful address on the slavery question which he delivered before a capacity audience of important citizens at the Cooper Union in New York on February 27, 1860. This speech was one of the greatest of Lincoln's career and so impressed the North that party leaders now considered him as a possible Presidential candidate.
LINCOLN ELECTED PRESIDENT. The Republican National Convention was held at the "Wigwam" in Chicago, in May 1860. On the first ballot William H. Seward was leading, but the third ballot resulted in a landslide for Lincoln. The candidate declined to take the stump and took no active part in the campaign beyond keeping in touch with his political leaders. Torchlight processions organized by Republican "Wide Awake" clubs in cities throughout the North provided the most picturesque feature of the spirited campaign of 1860. A "Wide Awake" torch carried by a resident of Springfield, Ill., in a demonstration in that city on August 8, 1860, and in all political campaigns until 1884, is among the exhibits of the Lincoln Museum. The torch was presented to the Oldroyd collection after the defeat of the Republican Party in 1884. Also of interest is a collection of rare Currier and Ives lithographs and cartoons on the elections of 1860 and 1864.
The Democratic Party, hopelessly split on the slavery controversy, divided into Northern and Southern factions in 1860. Douglas was the candidate of the Northern Democrats while John C. Brecken ridge, of Kentucky, was selected by the Southern Democrats. John Bell, of Tennessee, was chosen by the new Constitutional Union Party. The split in the Democratic Party led to the election of Lincoln in November.
FIRST INAUGURATION, MARCH 4, 1861. On the morning of February 11, a large crowd gathered at the Great Western Railway Station in Springfield to see Lincoln depart for Washington. Despite a drizzling rain, his neighbors listened attentively to Lincoln's eloquent farewell words. Along the way, he spoke briefly at large cities and made a few remarks at smaller places. Upon receiving a report that an attempt might be made on Lincoln's life in Baltimore, those responsible for his safety hurriedly transported him on to Washington without stopping in Baltimore. Arriving at the Capital at 6 a.m. on February 23, the President-elect went to the Willard Hotel where he remained until after the inauguration.
Shortly before noon on March 4, 1861, the President-elect was driven in President Buchanan's open carriage down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. The inaugural ceremonies were held on the east portico before a crowd of 30,000. Lincoln read his carefully prepared address slowly and with deep feeling. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, then administered the oath of office.
THE WAR, 1861-65. As the leader of the North in the Civil War, Lincoln was beset from the beginning by the clamors of an impatient Congress, press, and people for a quick conclusion of hostilities. In their repeated cry "On to Richmond," during the spring of 1861, the people of the North did not consider or understand the long preparation, the seemingly endless training of raw recruits, the hard fighting, the bitter disappointments that must be endured before victory could be realized. Though the public gradually came to realize that the war was not an easy game to be quickly ended, political pressure for action unjustified on military grounds was always a problem confronting Lincoln. Military men regarded with irritation these popular demands for precipitate action, and Lincoln himself at first partly shared the popular point of view. He realized, moreover, as generals often did not, that there were occasions on which political expediency might be as important as military considerations. He therefore emphasized the defense of Washington, sometimes to the detriment of strategic plans, as during Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsular Campaign. Yet, like the public, Lincoln was eager for quick results and sanctioned the premature movement into Virginia in the summer of 1861 that was to culminate in a panicky rout after the First Battle of Manassas.
Unable always to accept the designs of his generals and harassed by the inability of some technically competent officers like McClellan to adopt a sufficiently energetic plan of campaign, Lincoln at times interfered with strategy. Since he was not trained in military matters, his interference was occasionally unfortunate in its results. He was also sometimes influenced excessively by the easy victories of mediocre generals over inferior opposition and placed such officers in posts to which their capacities proved unequal. At the end, however, Lincoln had the wisdom to recognize his own deficiencies in military matters and the prime necessity for the guidance of military affairs by military men. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1864 he therefore supported Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the face of widespread denunciation of that general.
In spite of his limitations in military affairs, Lincoln was an outstanding war President. Defeat in the field, however bitter, never shook his determination to win the war or his confidence in ultimate victory. Although the great loss of life bore heavily upon him, he never shared the hysterical willingness of Horace Greeley to stop "these rivers of human blood" when Grant's Virginia campaign seemed stalled with heavy casualties in the summer of 1864. He had set for himself an undeviating road to victory and that goal he pursued to Appomattox in spite of discouragements that would have given pause to a lesser man.
On July 11-12,1864, the city of Washington was threatened by Confederate forces under Jubal A. Early. The defenses of the Capital were stripped of experienced soldiers, as all available aid had been sent to General Grant in a determined effort to capture Richmond. Early's attack was directed against Fort Stevens, north of the city. Only the arrival of veteran reinforcements from the Richmond front saved Washington from capture. The engagement, on July 12, was witnessed by President Lincoln. who stood exposed on the parapet until a surgeon at his side was wounded by a Minie ball. Only when ordered to do so by Maj. Gen Horatio Wright did the President take a position behind the parapet.
THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION. On the issue of emancipation, Lincoln's policy, in contrast to that of the radicals, was moderate, aiming at gradual freeing of the slaves by voluntary action on the part of the States, with Federal compensation to slaveholders. He knew that emancipation without compensation would mean ruin to the economy of the South. He recognized, moreover, that the North shared the responsibility for the existence of slavery and that it was therefore only just that it should participate in the cost of compensation. Hoping against hope that the South would rejoin the Union voluntarily, Lincoln stressed the restoration of the Union as his major war aim, and at first left the question of slavery in abeyance. The desirability of preventing the secession of border States likewise made a policy of emancipation inopportune at the beginning of the war. By the middle of 1862, however, it had become obvious that the enthusiasm of many Northerners for the war was being dampened by the failure to enunciate a definite policy in the controversial matter. Abroad, too, the cause of the Union was suffering for the same reason.
A draft emancipation proclamation was read by Lincoln to the Cabinet on July 22, but it was decided to defer announcement until a major victory had been won by the Union forces. Accordingly, after the Confederate reverse at Antietam, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, announcing that all slaves in States still in rebellion on January 1 would be declared free. The way was thus still left open for any Confederate State to return to the Union with the institution of slavery unimpaired if they desired to do so. No State availed itself of this opportunity, and on January 1, 1 863, the historic Emancipation Proclamation was issued. With its promulgation, congressional and popular interest in compensated emancipation, never strong, almost disappeared. Thus the policy governing the freedom of slaves as actually carried out did not embody Lincoln's ideal of voluntary and compensated emancipation.
THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. At Gettysburg, on July 1-3, 1863, in one of the greatest battles ever fought on American soil, the invading Confederate Army under Gen. Robert E. Lee was defeated by the Army of the Potomac under Gen. George G. Meade and forced to return southward. The name of Gettysburg is remembered not only because of the great battle fought there, but also because of the famous address which Abraham Lincoln delivered there. On November 2,1863, Lincoln received an invitation to make a few appropriate remarks at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The first draft was carefully prepared by Lincoln in Washington several days before the occasion. It was not written on a scrap of paper or on the back of an envelope on the journey to Gettysburg as has sometimes been said. Certain revisions in the wording were made by Lincoln on November 18, soon after his arrival at the home of Judge David Wills.
The dedication of the cemetery was preceded by an elaborate parade which moved at 11 a.m., November 19, from the public square, on which the Wills home was located. At least 15,000 people were on Cemetery Hill for the exercises. Lincoln's address followed a 2-hour oration by Edward Everett, the principal speaker of the day. The President rose slowly and in a clear voice delivered his immortal words, glancing only occasionally at the pages in his hand. There was little applause at the finish, and Lincoln felt his speech had been a failure. The famous address contains only 272 words and was spoken in less than 3 minutes. It has been accepted as a masterpiece of English eloquence.
ELECTION OF 1864 AND THE SECOND INAUGURATION. In an appeal to win the votes of all parties, the Republicans used the name Union Party in the election of 1 864. The Democrats ran George B. McClellan on a peace platform. The election resulted in an overwhelming electoral vote for Lincoln. His Second Inaugural Address was delivered from the east front of the Capitol on March 4, 1865, with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase administering the oath of office. The Second Inaugural Address, containing only 600 words, stands with the Gettysburg Address as one of the great examples of forceful and stimulating use of the English language.
On March 23, Lincoln boarded the steamer River Queen for a visit to City Point, Va., where General Grant had his headquarters. Petersburg fell on April 2, and Richmond was evacuated by Lee's forces and occupied by Federal forces on the following day. Lincoln visited the abandoned Confederate capital on April 4, being almost unattended as he walked through the streets. The President returned to Washington on April 9, the day General Lee surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va. Five days later he was assassinated.