Tag Archives: abraham lincoln

July Stories

(Before July 2011 passes into the history books, I want to highlight some of the “Deadwrite’s Dailies” type of anniversaries that take place over the last half of the month.)

Ginger Rogers – b. 7/16/1911

Happy 100th birthday to the late, dancing great Ginger Rogers. Born Virginia McMath in Independence, Missouri, she was said to be able to dance before she could walk. She teamed up for the first of nearly a dozen films with Fred Astaire in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio. In death they’re still partnered: both are buried in Oakwood Memorial Cemetery in Chatsworth.

Ty Cobb – d. July 17, 1961

Hell got a bit more crowded 50 years ago this month when Ty Cobb died. Cobb – one of America’s greatest baseballers and most rabid haters – was also the game’s first millionaire. He tried to use some of his fortune to rehabilitate his reputation before his death, but it just didn’t take.

Bobby Fuller d. July 18,1966

23-year-old musical sensation Bobby Fuller (I Fought the Law) was found dead in his car in Los Angeles 45 years ago on this date. His death was ruled a suicide, but questions remain. some have speculated that Fuller was murdered by the LAPD and possibly even by Charles Manson.

Lizzie Borden b. July 19, 1860

We all know the gruesome rhyme about hatchet-wielding Lizzie Borden’s naughty night when she delivered 40 whacks to her father and 41 to her mother. (In truth, the number was 11 and 19, respectively.) Lizzie may not actually have been the “whacker.” Some have speculated that she took the fall for a younger sister. Another theory claims that Lizzie did the deed, but was unaware of it as she was in a PMS-induced “fugue.” BTW, the house where the killings took place in Fall River, Massachusetts is now a bed-and-breakfast.

(An additional shout out to our pals Martin Sheen and Melissa Fitzgerald, who were in Washington on the 19th to rally in support of Drug Courts, which focuses on rehabilitation rather than incarceration for drug-addicted offenders.)

Bruce Lee d. July 20, 1973

32-year-old martial arts movie master Bruce Lee died suddenly on this date in 1973, just six days before the release of Enter the Dragon, a worldwide box office hit. His son Brandon would follow him into films and a premature death when he was killed on the set of The Crow nearly twenty years later.

Basil Rathbone d. July 21, 1967

Most famous for his series of Sherlock Holmes films in the 30s and 40s, Basil Rathbone served as a British intelligence officer in WWI and later put his proficiency in fencing to work in swashbucklers like The Adventures of Robin Hood.

John Dillinger d. July 22, 1934

Depression-era bad guy John Dillinger was gunned down by G-men on this date in 1934 outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Famous for his numerous breakouts, he once got out of the Crown Point (Indiana) jail with a wooden gun that was smuggled in by his attorney. Dillinger was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, near the grave of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, who also died on July 22nd, eighteen years previously.

U.S. Grant/D.W. Griffith/Vic Morrow d. July 23

Savior of the Union and two-time president Ulysses S. Grant died on this date in 1885, having finished his memoirs just a few days earlier. Film pioneer D.W. Griffith passed away on this date in 1948, and screen actor Vic Morrow was tragically killed on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie on this date in 1982.

Peter Sellers d. July 24, 1980

Eccentric funny guy Peter Sellers died on this date in 1980 at the age of 54. July 24th also marks the 65th anniversary of the creation of the popular comic team of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in 1946. Ten years to the day later, they would split up.

Harry Warner d. July 25, 1958

One-quarter of the four brothers who founded the media empire where Kimi and I are currently employed, Harry Warner was for decades the president of Warner Bros. until losing control of the company to his brother Jack. The inter-familial shenanigans caused Harry to have a stroke, which eventually killed him on this date in 1958.

Robert Todd Lincoln d. July 26, 1926

Son of President Abraham Lincoln, Robert had the misfortune of having a father assassinated and then being nearby when two other American presidents were murdered. He lived long enough be present at the dedication of the Lincoln Monument – a tribute to his dad.

Bob Hope d. July 27, 2003

Comedian Bob Hope triumphed in every medium available to him – film, television, radio, theater – and had an amazing run at longevity as well, living past 100. July 27th also marks the 15th anniversary of the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Jackie O b. July 28, 1929

Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born on this date in 1929. July 28th is also the anniversary of the founding of the city of Miami in 1896 when it was incorporated with a population of 300 – roughly the same average attendance figure for Florida Marlins games.

Cass Elliot d. July 29, 1974

Yes, singer “Mama” Cass Elliot died on this date in 1974. And no, it wasn’t because she choked on a ham sandwich (it was a heart attack). Born Ellen Naomi Cohen in Baltimore in 1941, Cass was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 along with the rest of The Mamas and the Papas.

Claudette Colbert d. July 30, 1996

Saturday marks the 15th anniversary of the passing of French-born actress Claudette Colbert. After a 60-plus year career, which included a Best Actress Oscar for 1934’s It Happened One Night, Colbert passed away at the age of 92 at her retirement home on the island of Barbados.

Andrew Johnson d. July 31, 1875

Andrew Johnson was the first man to ascend to the presidency because of an assassin’s bullet, and the first to be impeached. He was also the first man (presumably) to be sworn in as Vice-President while falling-down drunk.

(See you in August!)

 

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The Firebrand

By the time Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President, seven Southern slaveholding states had already seceded from the Union and formed a new national government.

One of the new Confederacy’s first acts was to seize most Federal arsenals that were located within their territory.

One such facility that remained in Northern hands was located at Ft. Sumter, South Carolina,  on an island in Charleston harbor.

Lincoln had barely finished taking the oath of office when he was informed that a crisis was imminent at Ft. Sumter, which was badly in need of supplies.

Lincoln chose to resupply the troops rather than to capitulate to Southern demands for surrender of the fort. After an ultimatum was rejected by U.S. Major Robert Anderson, the Union commander at Ft. Sumter, the Confederate bombardment began at 4:30 AM on April 12, 1861 – 150 years ago today.

The war was on.

Just as someone squeezed off “the shot heard ‘round the world” that kicked off the Revolutionary War, somebody also fired the first shot of the Civil War. Who was it?

History credits many people as having had the “honor” of firing the first shot. One such individual was named Edmund Ruffin, a slaveholder and poster child for state’s rights, who was hanging around South Carolina because he was angered that his native Virginia hadn’t yet left the Union. (Something the state would do a few days later.)

When he wasn’t busy preaching secessionism, Ruffian was a noted agronomist who made valuable contributions to agricultural productivity in the South.

The first return shot fired from the fort came from Union Capt. Abner Doubleday – the same guy who somehow got woven into baseball’s creation myth.

The outgunned Union forces were pummeled from artillery batteries located on shore for 34 hours before surrendering. Miraculously, not a single Union life was lost during the shelling. Two soldiers did die later when a cannon exploded firing a volley during the surrender ceremonies. (Within months, formalities like “surrender ceremonies” would be forgotten in the war as chivalry quickly gave way to carnage.)

Four years to the day after Anderson lowered the American flag over Ft. Sumter, he was back to raise it again over the recaptured fort.

The defeat of the Confederacy didn’t sit well with firebrand Ruffin. Two months after Lee’s defeat at Appomattox Court House, Ruffin wrapped himself in a Confederate flag and blew his brains out with a shotgun.

 


Just Another Day?

Abraham Lincoln ...

February 12, 1809 arrived like every other day before it, with the turning of the Earth to accept the rays of the early morning sun.

But on this particular day, two men were born who would both later find themselves mentioned on the list of the world’s all-time most influential people.

Their names were Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

The men could not have had more dissimilar origins.

Charles Darwin was born that day in Shropshire, England to a wealthy doctor and financier. His mother was descended from the wealthy Wedgwood lineage (of Wedgwood China fame) and his paternal grandfather was the famous scientist Erasmus Darwin. He attended the University of Edinburgh Medical School, but found more interest in taxidermy, which he learned from a freed slave.

In 1831, young Charles embarked on a five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle to help chart the coastline of South America. Charles spent much of his time on the journey collecting specimens of plant and animal life. His studies eventually led to the formulation of his Theory of Natural Selection many years later, which brought the concept of vast eons of time and the mutability of species into the discussion of life on Earth. His writings still stir up controversy 150 years after they were first published.

... and Charles Darwin. Both born on February 12, 1809.

Lincoln was born that same day in a log cabin in central Kentucky, 5,000 miles away. Not having the luxury of wealth, he was largely self-educated. Lincoln possessed a sharp mind and a keen sense of humor, which enabled him to become a successful attorney. Unlike Darwin, he never ventured much farther from his home than the White House.

Shortly after Darwin published his landmark treatise On The Origin of Species in 1859, Lincoln found himself the leader of a divided nation: one where many citizens believed that the ownership of other humans was not only proper, but divinely ordained. Lincoln spent the last years of his life waging a war partly to insure that slavery would never again be permissible on the North American continent.

While their contributions came in far different arenas – Lincoln’s primarily political, and Darwin’s in the field of biology – both men ended up bringing about far-reaching change by making people question whether the conclusions reached by the majority were correct and by suggesting that it was time for humanity to embrace new modes of thinking.


Seven Score and Seven Years Ago

Today is the 147th anniversary of the delivery of the “Gettysburg Address,” which was presented at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four-and-a-half months after the conclusion of the titanic battle which took place around the town. The address starts out in the following manner:

“Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature.”

Not familiar with this version of the speech, eh? That’s because the featured speaker that day was not Abraham Lincoln, but a politician named Edward Everett who was famous for his oration skills. His 13,000-word speech (a short novel is about 50,000 words) lasted for over two hours. When he concluded, Lincoln rose and delivered his two-minute “address,” which redefined the war aims of the North by elevating the goal of freedom for all Americans to the same level as the preservation of the Union; not an easy task in only ten sentences and 272 words:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Contrary to legend, Lincoln did not write this speech at the last minute on the back of an envelope. Who could? It was actually first drafted in the White House and went through several revisions.

Everett’s words are universally forgotten, while Lincoln’s get memorized by American school children and carved into monuments. When you tweak the wording of one line in the speech to say, “The world will little note, nor long remember what Everett said here, but it can never forget what Lincoln did here,” you get a better view of how things turned out.

Which goes to show, brevity is not only the soul of wit, but of oratory as well.


A New Birth of Freedom

There are some ugly realities littering American history that I just can’t wrap my mind around – one being that less than 100 years before I was born, certain people could legally own other people.

That’s why I find it curious that September 22 isn’t a national holiday, because it was on this day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that began the official process of freeing America’s four million slaves.

When the nation was founded roughly “four-score and seven years” earlier, the Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal,” but the economic and prejudicial forces of the time kept these words from applying to the African-Americans that were toiling in forced servitude in the country. The Civil War came about in the 1860s largely to decide whether or not slavery would remain on the North American continent.

The Executive Order that Lincoln signed on this date was more symbolic than binding, as it only freed slaves in areas outside of Federal control. The wording of the document gave the Confederacy a way to re-enter the Union without losing their “peculiar institution.” It was a shrewd move for Lincoln, because he knew the South would never go for it, and by their refusal, he could change the purpose of the war in the eyes of the world. It also set the framework for the official proclamation that was signed by Lincoln 100 days later on January 1, 1863.

The proclamation was largely unpopular in the North where most soldiers were fighting to restore the Union rather than to end the practice of slavery. But internationally, the move doomed the Confederacy’s chance to gain badly needed international recognition.

The advancing Union armies freed more and more slaves after the Proclamation was put into effect, and 200,000 former slaves eventually served in the Union forces.

The shameful practice of slavery was officially ended in America with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, which came seven months after Lincoln’s assassination.