Friday, September 30, 2016
At one point during the Civil War the body of a dead Yankee, pierced with a pitchfork, was propped up at a Mississippi crossroads for weeks for all to view. Not to be outdone, as it were, a Yankee burial party following the battle of Antietam shortened their work by dumping the bodies of 57 dead Rebels down the well of a Southern sympathizer.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
On December 20, 1860 the Electoral College met formally to elect Abraham Lincoln President of the United States. On that very same day a special convention was convened in South Carolina to consider and then approve the following Ordinance of Secession: ‘That the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the United States of America is hereby dissolved.’ This bold move – one state out, with maybe more to follow [but no guarantee!], and 33 states in – passed by a vote of 169 to 0.
Monday, September 26, 2016
The following editorial appeared in The Atlanta Confederacy just before the election of 1860, just before what looked like the formation of a thing called the Confederate States of America; 'let the consequences be what they may - whether the Potomac is crimsoned in human gore, and Pennsylvania Avenue is paved ten fathoms deep with mangled bodies, or whether the last vestige of liberty is swept from the face of the American continent, the South will never submit to such humiliation and degradation as the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.'
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016
‘The country during the run-up to the Civil War seemed to have completely lost all capacity to listen. Perhaps the most striking example occurred in 1856 when Senator Charles Sumner delivered a rousing anti-slavery speech in the US Senate that played well among his abolitionist supporters in his home state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately that speech infuriated the South – and induced a relative of the Southerner whose honor Sumner had besmirched to enter an almost empty senate chamber and attack Sumner as he sat at his desk, beating him with his walking stick with sufficient vehemence that Sumner took years of recuperating before he could return to his senatorial duties. And while Sumner was recuperating, his assailant received any number of replacement walking sticks from well-wishing fellow Southerners – to be used again in case any other Yankee hypocrite stepped out of line!’
- Arnold Kunst
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
The story takes a most curious turn with Lincoln’s accession to the Presidency. His first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron from the pivotal state of Pennsylvania, had to be replaced for certain contract improprieties, and in January, 1862 Lincoln appointed Edwin Stanton Secretary of War. Everyone, including Stanton, was astonished at his appointment. After all, in the years since that 1855 trial Stanton had repeatedly vilified this “imbecilic” President, this “original gorilla” [Darwin’s 'Origin of Species' had just been published in 1859].
Lincoln knew all this, of course, but had put that aside. He never carried a grudge, he said later, because it didn't pay. Although irascible Stanton was thoroughly honest – unlike Cameron he couldn’t be bought. Also, Stanton was a Union man through and through. Finally, he was a prodigious worker and a wizard as an administrator - and those skills impelled Lincoln to promote him. With time it was clear the appointment was a stroke of genius.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Legend - or perhaps ugly political rumor - has it that after the trial Stanton referred to Lincoln as a giraffe, monkey, or some other equally unflattering pejorative. Whether or not that was true, there is no doubt that Stanton (and the other counsel) not only treated Lincoln with disdain, they clearly did not regard him as a great trial lawyer as of September 1855.
But a funny thing happened to Lincoln the lawyer on the way home from the Cincinnati courthouse. Ralph Emerson—at the time a young partner of Manny—had also been in attendance. Emerson had known Lincoln before the trial, and he asserted that it was he who insisted that Lincoln be hired for the case. Emerson contended that the trial had an “immediate effect” upon Lincoln. He then quoted Lincoln as follows: ‘I am going home to study law! I am going home to study law!’ he exclaimed repeatedly, as he and Emerson walked from the court room down to the river when the hearing had ended. Emerson said that that was what he had been doing. ‘No,’ Lincoln replied, ‘not as these college bred men study it. I have learned my lesson. These college bred fellows have reached Ohio, they will soon be in Illinois, and when they come, Emerson, I will be ready for them.’
From that time on, insists Emerson, who often heard Lincoln thereafter, his style and manner of speech and argument improved greatly and steadily — the result, as the old manufacturer stoutly contended throughout his long life,
of Lincoln’s connection with the celebrated patent case of McCormick vs Manny et al.
Friday, September 16, 2016
From the moment Lincoln arrived he was not only ignored, he was actively shunned by the other members of the Manny trial team. Without question Stanton was rude, snobbish, and supercilious toward the unknown Lincoln. But so was everyone else connected with the case. Harding, for example, never even opened the lengthy manuscript which Lincoln had prepared as his contribution. When one of the presiding jurists entertained the counsel on both sides, Lincoln was not even invited. Although all the lawyers were staying at the same hotel, none asked Lincoln to share their table, to visit them in their rooms, or to join them on the daily walks to and from the court. Lincoln, nevertheless, stayed for the duration of the trial. He was entranced, mesmerized, and seated at the back of the courtroom. He was not asked to say a word, and he did not do so. He offered to return his retainer, but that was declined.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
It transpired, however, that the venue for the trial was changed from Chicago to Cincinnati and as Harding put it, that “removed the one object we had in employing Lincoln.”
Lincoln didn’t know about the change of venue, and when he arrived at the Cincinnati train depot he was met by his soon-to-be colleagues, the other members of the Manny legal team. Harding’s description of how Lincoln appeared upon his arrival in Cincinnati in September 1855 has to be quoted: He looked like ‘a tall, rawly boned, ungainly backwoodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle. ‘When introduced, we barely exchanged salutations with him, and I proposed to Stanton that he and I go up to the court. ‘“Let’s go up in a gang,” remarked Lincoln.
Stanton was having none of this country bumpkin. ‘“Let that fellow go up with his gang. We’ll walk up together,”‘ said Stanton, aside, to Harding. And ‘we did,’ Harding relates.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Manny chose Lincoln because he had built up a solid reputation over the past 20 years or so of dazzling both juries and judges with his distinctive blend of wry humor, shrewd insight, and dogged, methodical dedication to all things legal. In short, Lincoln was the best trial lawyer Illinois had to offer. Frankly, in the mid 1850’s that wasn’t saying much - maybe Lincoln was merely a big frog in a little pond and not up to the task when pitted against the best legal minds in the country. But since the trial was to take place in front of an Illinois jury Lincoln just might prove invaluable, possibly in providing the summation at the end. In any event when Harding visited Lincoln in his home in Springfield he paid him a $2,000 retainer on the spot, a sizeable sum of money indeed. But then money was no object.
Lincoln of course was elated. It was his first crack at the big time. He enthusiastically researched the two brands of reapers writing up a brief based on a meticulous analysis of their respective characteristics. However, it was a brief that, as we shall soon see, never saw the light of day.
Saturday, September 10, 2016
It all began with a court case between two manufacturers of reapers. In 1855, the same year the Manny reaper beat the McCormick reaper at the Paris Exposition, Cyrus McCormick filed suit against John Manny for patent infringement [McCormick argued that the Manny reaper was a copy; Manny denied this.] The stakes were enormous: if Manny lost, not only had he to cease production but he would be forced to pay McCormick $400,000 in damages. In 1855, $400,000 was a lot of money.
Both sides lawyered up with the biggest legal names in the 19th century.
Manny’s team was headed up by George Harding of Philadelphia arguably the pre-eminent patent lawyer in the country. Also on Manning’s team was the formidable Edwin Stanton of Pittsburg. Since the trial was to be held out West in Illinois, Harding sought to shore up his team by hiring the best trial lawyer Illinois had to offer, and that proved to be Abraham Lincoln.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Finally, this man was not doctrinaire – all the more remarkable because he lived at a time – rather like our own? - when being doctrinaire was automatically taken to mean being a man of conviction. Others had the answers, all the answers, and had them easily. And this was an age profligate with examples of just this seductive tendency. Thus, at the very outset of Lincoln’s term, Northern editorial writers in the winter-spring of 1860-61 who wrote [pontificated?] that if South Carolina wanted to leave the Union, good riddance to bad rubbish; they’ve been nothing but trouble from the beginning anyway. Those editorial writers also had all the answers. Similarly, those South Carolinians manning artillery aimed at Fort Sumter knew exactly what to do; we gonna kill us some Yankees! What could be cleaner? The examples go on and on. And against all that is this new man in the White House who said, more than once, “My policy is to have no policy.”
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
If we are to understand this man we have to put him in the context we know, that of a contemporary president. To put it mildly, he was different from them, and different from what is currently successful translates as, well, the opposite of success.
Even so, can any of the Presidents who came after him match Lincoln’s unassailable sense of self assurance? Consider this: Lincoln had made what from an outsider’s point of view was a huge leap from a sleepy little two-man law firm in Podunk, USA to President of the United States, and he did it without missing a beat. The only explanation for such an apparently unexplainable leap is that he was supremely confident in himself. Lincoln never seems to have thought the following thought: “I wonder if I’ve gone too far, attempted too much, moved too swiftly? I wonder if this or that decision is warranted?”
That isn’t to say, of course, that he never made any mistakes. One thinks of his over-estimation of pro-Unionist sentiment in the South in late 1860/early 1861, or his often-repeated proposal – no blacks would take him up on it since it was fraught with vast impracticalities - that freed blacks choose to be sent out of the country. The key for a man who said, “my policy is to have no policy” is that he merely changed directions, like some martial arts practitioner who absorbs the energy of his opponent’s blows, and in the process turns that energy against that same opponent. Lincoln gives boundless luster to that term we in the 21st century consider the ultimate sin for any politician: flip-flopping.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
If truth be told, we Americans have been known to elect to public office tawdry, media-construct leaders who, because they are not all that comfortable living inside their own skin, end up choosing people in their immediate circle who are inclined to agree with him/her more than, perhaps, is good for the country.
Not so Lincoln.
An old friend of Lincoln advised him not to take Salmon Chase into his cabinet “because Chase thinks he’s a great deal bigger than you are.” “Well,” asked Lincoln, “do you know of any other men who think they are bigger than I am?” “I don’t know that I do,” the man replied, “but why do you ask?” “Because,” answered Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my Cabinet.”
Glib of tongue though our current politicians may be, they are left speechless in the presence of the master.
Friday, September 2, 2016
Lincoln proves equally distinctive. For example, “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”