Meeting Mr. Lincoln

March 4, 2011

It's not every day one gets to spend quality time with Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, in this particular context, it's only one opportunity in a hundred and fifty years—this time at an event at the Unitarian Church in Buffalo.

Before the same congregation (albeit in a different edifice), on February 17, 1861, then president-elect Lincoln appeared, en route to Washington to take the oath of office. From February 11-23 he traveled from Springfield, Illinois, through more than 83 towns and cities—in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland—being greeted with enthusiasm by throngs of supporters. During the same period in 2011, the National Park Service celebrated the sesquicentennial of Lincoln's journey by recreating the historic trip.

My wife, Diana Gawen Harris, and I thoroughly enjoyed the event, with reenactors providing an honor guard; the group, the Hutchinson Family Revival, singing period songs; former president Millard Fillmore (portrayed by Peter Wolfe) introducing the president-elect; Mr. Lincoln addressing us in an authentically nasal and hoarse voice (convincingly done by Fritz Klein); and a young ranger (the daughter of one of the Little Rock Nine) giving closing remarks which helped bridge the gulf between "Civil War and Civil Rights."

As he had done during his trip in 1861, on the verge of civil war, "Lincoln" made an impassioned plea for peace and unity. (As we now know, however, on the day after his visit to the Unitarians on February 18, 1861, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the secessionist Confederate States of America, and on April 12 the rebels began firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The rest, as they say, is history.)

We met with "Lincoln" afterward, and I must say he looked surprisingly fit after one hundred and fifty years (see Diana's photo). He was kind enough to sign for me his "A. Lincoln." As one who has examined numerous questioned Lincoln documents, authenticating many and exposing several spurious ones (see my Detecting Forgeries , 1996, and Real or Fake , 2009), I was able to provide the president-elect with a couple of pointers on his penmanship. In return, he regaled his newfound fans with many insights. What a likeable fellow, that Lincoln!

The National Park Service (and its local co-presenter, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, and cosponsor, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo) should be commended both for the vision to have such a recreated event and for its high quality. Opportunities to so effectively revisit the past can help provide guidance as we move, inexorably, toward our uncertain future.


#1 Pau (Guest) on Sunday March 06, 2011 at 7:58pm

Itnot everybody thiks the same way ia always safe to praise the victor. But not evehymnsame the reybody sings that same tune. Some can see clearly seecan see how Lincoln Trod on the rights of dissenting sates to impose the politics of the north, much as it is still donenatin. today with dissenting nation agendas. It it was certainly not on the agenda of this man when staring the civil war , to end slavery or any other humanitarian causes. Only when the necessities of war itsel demanded it, did he think of think of a good use for the slavery issue

#2 asanta on Monday March 07, 2011 at 2:26am

@Pau, would you please re-write your response so it can be understood. I’m not sure if your problem is ESL or poor spelling skills.

#3 Pau (Guest) on Monday March 07, 2011 at 9:33am

Thanks for the note. Although my spelling is not great, neither is that bad, but my keyboard is making the cursor jump all over, an error made it go out, in that poor state! So, here goes a retry:
“Not everybody thinks the same way but it is always safe to praise the victor. . Some can see clearly how Lincoln Trod on the rights of dissenting sates to impose the politics of the North. . The war did not start so much for humanitarian causes as for economic and political reasons. Only when the necessities of war itsel demanded it, did Lincoln think of a good use for the slavery issue.

#4 gray1 on Tuesday March 08, 2011 at 9:32am

Lincoln was exactly the right man in the right place at the right time that the continuance of the United States of America required.  Perhaps it is that momentous events just happen to align in such a manner but such is also what makes a study of history worthwhile. 

The alternative thought is to suggest that we write our history so as to make it seem great, plus there’s the bit about it always being the victor who writes the history.  That would be called a cynical view as opposed to a skeptical one but some times the distinction between the two gets rather gray.

Did you catch Lincoln’s borrowing of Jesus’ quote about “A house divided cannot stand”?  Perhaps we need that one re-read aloud in Congress today.

#5 Pau (Guest) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 at 11:11am

Your speech seems maily concerned about the grandeur of a nation, a piece of the earth bound by certain more or less artificial lines, sometimes bound by rivers or mountains, sometimes by te lines at which the armies of the contendin powers,had enough. A process by which a voluntary union of states, passed to be a powerful and belicose nation.
Those are not notions that interest me the least bit, rather the contrary; individual happines, freedom and welfare I care more for, even if these are contrary to the possibilities for the attainment of personal or national power.

#6 gray1 on Tuesday March 08, 2011 at 2:36pm

“individual happines, freedom and welfare”

Very well done!

Basically these are words to the U.S. Declaration of Independence which our founders signed on July 4, 1776 which reads along as presented on the following link:

This is provided just in case there’s anyone in another less fortunate country out there that needs to refer to it or any U.S. citizen who might have never learned it.  This predates Mr. Lincoln somewhat but perhaps the digression is warranted.

#7 Pau (Guest) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 at 4:47pm

Yes,  completely out of place since it is precisely that constitution, signed on July 4,1776, that honest Abe ignored, debasing what had been the basic principles of your founding fathers and starting a long series of violations of the same. Today finally reaching the status of one of the nations where human rights (those rights tha according to the constitution signed in 1776 should be preserved) are contrinuosly violated, when murderous dictators are supported when convinient and opposed when they become uncomfortable A nation that sends mercenaries to do their dirty jobs abroad and ignores the resolutions of the rest of the world nations (U.N.).  One that has reached the honourable distinction of being the developed nation with the largest number of violent deaths by fire arms by an astonishing multiple.
Man! Go back to your honourable begginnings!

#8 gray1 on Tuesday March 08, 2011 at 8:18pm

As to such ideals we can agree fully.  Although not a joiner, I suspect the tea party gang at least feels like it is trying to vote in men who will also proclaim those original ideals.  Unfortunately even the Budweiser beer I am currently enjoying is now owned by a foreign national/multinational corporation.  Sign of the times…

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