From the CivilWarPADigest, and the Inquirer
Lincoln rarities given a 21st-century peek
By Edward Colimore
Inquirer Staff Writer
Abraham Lincoln obviously labored over the three-page speech. Some words
are underlined for emphasis; others are crossed out. A few are marked by
ink blotches, where Lincoln's pen rested too long on the paper.
It's enough to make a history lover shiver.
"The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the
American people, just now, are much in want of one," Lincoln wrote in his
Baltimore address of 1864.
"We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word," he continued, "we
do not all mean the same thing."
His remarks on the conflicting North-South definitions of liberty during
the Civil War are part of a rare collection of Lincoln documents and images
to be posted online by Thursday - the bicentennial of the 16th president's
birth - by three museums and archives in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
The Rosenbach Museum and Library and the Historical Society of
Pennsylvania, both in Center City, and the New Jersey State Archives in
Trenton said some of the historic treasures would be seen on their Web
sites for the first time.
Other institutions across the nation are placing Lincoln materials online,
too, at a time when public interest also has been stirred by President
Barack Obama's numerous references to Lincoln, his personal hero.
The Rosenbach plans to post 31 items for Thursday's bicentennial and about
80 others on another Web site by Saturday. The historical society already
has put at least seven on its site and may add more by Thursday. The New
Jersey archives will post at least a dozen by this week's anniversary.
Some of the faded documents can be enlarged for better viewing. Many are
accompanied by transcriptions and, on one of the Rosenbach-fed sites, by
"We want people to think of what Lincoln means today - to see a 21st-
century connection," said Katherine Haas, curator for "Finding Lincoln:
21st-Century Abe," an exhibit to open May 27 at the Rosenbach, 2008-2010
"Why are we still interested in him? He's been dead nearly 144 years, but
he's everywhere in American culture. What makes him so enduring?"
Among the Rosenbach manuscripts are excerpts of two speeches in Lincoln's
hand: his famous 1858 "House Divided" address and one from 1859, the year
before he was elected, in which Lincoln condemned slavery.
The museum also will post an 1839 missive in which Lincoln and others
invited a female friend to Springfield, Ill., and an 1849 letter about
political patronage. In some correspondence, penned while he was president,
Lincoln offers strategies to his generals during the war and orders the
release of Confederate prisoners.
In one unusual 1848 letter, Lincoln answers a query about his family
history: "Owing to my father being left an orphan at the age of six years,
in poverty, and in a new country, he became a wholly uneducated man; which
I suppose is the reason why I know so little of our family."
Some pieces of correspondence were written by British actress Ellen Kean,
who described the gloom shrouding the country after the president's
assassination in April 1865, and by Confederate President Jefferson Davis,
who wondered whether Lincoln's murder would encourage the South to fight on.
But Haas said one of her favorite pieces is the 145-year-old Baltimore
speech, in which Lincoln used his folksy eloquence to drive home his view
of liberty. "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for
which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf
denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as
the sheep was a black one," he wrote.
"Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the
word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us
human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty.
"Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from
under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and
bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty."
The brief address was one of the few public speeches that Lincoln made
while president, historian and author Douglas Wilson wrote in commentary
accompanying the document.
"A hotbed of secessionist sympathizers at the outset of the war," Wilson
said, "Baltimore had gradually become more and more attached to the Union
The three pages were donated by the president and sold in Philadelphia in
1864 at a fund-raiser to help Union troops.
"Lincoln is mythical. He's looked at as a very stately figure, like
Washington," said Michael Ryan, coordinator of exhibits at the Historical
Society of Pennsylvania. "Washington was the father of the republic;
Lincoln put things back together. It's worthwhile to now look at his life
on the bicentennial of his birth."
The historical society, which has a special exhibition running through May
1 at 1300 Locust St., has posted an early image of a beardless Lincoln, a
political cartoon showing him and Davis fighting over a map of the country,
a striking image of Lincoln's funeral procession on Tasker Street in
Philadelphia, and other ephemera.
In New Jersey, the archives trace Lincoln's connection to the Garden State
through a letter he sent to the governor, accepting an invitation to speak
before the Legislature. The president-elect added a postscript: "Please
arrange no ceremonies that will waste time."
The archives will display Lincoln's remarks to the legislators and the
original minutes of the Assembly and Senate, which contain unflattering
resolutions proposed before Lincoln's arrival. One describes him as "the
ugliest man in the country"; another ridicules him for his height.
Like him or not, Lincoln had an "uncommon ability to express himself, in
almost poetic language, the vision and promise America holds for the
people," said Karl Niederer, director of the New Jersey State Division of
Archives and Records Management.
"He wrote in clear and concise language, sometimes pulling metaphors out of
the Bible that people could identify with," Niederer said.
Lincoln "could say the most powerful things in the fewest number of words,"
added Nathan Raab, vice president of the Raab Collection, a Center City
firm that curates and sells historic documents. "His words spoke worlds of
him as a person."
"There is so much about him we want to call our own," Raab said. "We want
to associate with some principle, attach ourselves to his sentiments."
Abraham Lincoln Online
Rosenbach Museum and Library
www.21stcenturyabe.org Fully available by Thursday.
www.philadelphiabuildings.org:8080 Fully available by Saturday.
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=12 More items may be added by Thursday.
New Jersey State Archives
www.njarchives.org/links/lincoln.html Available by Thursday.
Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or