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June 8, 2009 / howardmestas


In Living Color

In Living Color


Liking Lincoln

Today was a fun day and one filled with new insights and ideas. First off, I have never been to a presidential library before, so why not start off with the one dedicated to the best president in our history. Erin Bishop got things started with some interesting new lessons and ideas about the historiography of Lincoln, with many facts that I had never heard before. Just when you thought you knew it all! I had known before that Lincoln got his start as part of the Whig Party, but I didn’t know it had shaped his political philosophy so much. Bishop’s plans on how to use and evaluate primary and secondary sources was something I will find useful in making future presentations to my students. Her message was that we should evaluate not only the location and the moment when a primary source occurred, but also the circumstances in which it was created. For example, when we read the words, “I love you,” at the end of a letters the meanings are quite different when the message was to someone’s grandma instead of to their sweetheart.

Most intriguing were the exchange of letters between Lincoln and his step brother John D. Johnston, who by most accounts was quite the “lollygagger” compared to his more ambitious sibling. Basically, Johnston was trying to borrow eighty dollars from Lincoln, a request that was not only denied but accompanied with a scolding letter in return. When summarizing the predicament, Lincoln quipped, “Your thousand pretences for not getting along better, are all non-sense – they deceive no body but yourself. Go to work is the only cure for your case.” The letter is tersely and signed, A. Lincoln. This was a side of Lincoln that no one in the class had ever seen before.

The morning’s prep at the library was great conveyance to what was to follow at the Lincoln Museum in the afternoon. I have to say that the entire museum experience was somewhat of a religious pilgrimage to a history geek. I wished we would have had more time…I could have spent the entire day there. Most stunning to me was that it was the first time I had ever seen Lincoln and his family in something other than black and white! To see these very lifelike figures in “living color” was moment of revelation in my personal connection to Lincoln as a human being, and not just some mythological hero whose incredible story had been invented. The most touching moment for me was the bedroom scene where Mary and Abe were leaving the presidential ball to look after their ailing son Willie, who sadly as it would turn out, was on his death bed. The lifelike figurines and the sound of music coming from the dance floor of the White House were so realistic that I could feel the grandeur and the grief of the moment. There is so much I have already learned about the greatness of our sixteenth president, but I have only scratched the surface. Today was a giant step for me.



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  1. Darlene Derbigny / Jun 8 2009 4:36 am

    I enjoyed learning more about the very human side of Lincoln. I read one scene when he was giving his last speech on April 11, 1865 and he was advocating voting rights for Blacks. If Lincoln had lived longer he would have made huge changes and challenged this country to even greater heights.

    • howardmestas / Jun 8 2009 11:49 pm

      I agree Darlene. The whole Reconstruction would have been done better…especially the promise of 40 acres and a mule. When the Reconstruction ended, the Freedmen had no land, money, or priviledges. This set Black people back for generations until the 1960’s. Who know’s how much differently the country would have developed if he hadn’t been shot. Of course, if he wasn’t killed, he may not have ended up as popular in our history.

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