Monday, February 9, 2009

A Word About Abe Lincoln, Sort Of

Here we are two days from the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birthday.

As I take a moment while the juniors (mostly) finish their U.S. history quiz, I am thinking about the connections that make history fascinating and that seem to elude too many teenagers. I like to file things like this under There Are Only Eleven People In The World.

For instance, some argue that John Brown's radicalism lit the fuse for the Civil War. In 1859, he and a small band of men, thinking their act would inspire slaves to join their cause and rise up against the scourge of slavery, tried unsuccessfully to commandeer the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. He failed miserably and was hanged for his trouble.

John Brown

What I wish Maine students knew is that it was the murder of an abolitionist, a small publisher originally from Albion, Maine named Elijah Lovejoy, that radicalized Brown and inspired him to "consecrate [himself] against slavery."

In the small world department, it was (then) U.S. General Robert E. Lee who finally removed Brown from his hiding place at the Harpers Ferry armory. Also, Lincoln's eventual murderer, actor John Wilkes Booth, was already so galvanized against Brown and the abolitionists that he borrowed a friend's uniform so as to attend John Brown's military-attendees-only hanging. Imagine his state of mind by athe time the Civil War ended.

John Wilkes Booth

There is much more to say about Maine's connections to slavery, from the rum running, coastal barrel industry, dried cod factories and the economic plunge after the import of slaves was halted in 1808, to the 1820 Missouri Compromise that split Maine from Massachusetts, to Uncle Tom's Cabin written by Brunswick's Harriet Beecher Stowe. Slave-based commerce built much of the New England coast, yet few students in this school, let alone this state, could tell you that.


Andrea said...

Me neither (but I'm not from Maine so that's my excuse)...all very interesting and I think I'll have to add Uncle Tom's Cabin to my "to read" list...the closest I ever got was when Betsy and Tacy did a dramatic re-enactment.

Alna Dem said...

This is way interesting, Snoozetska. I think we should have a Lincoln dinner soon and discuss further.

Thanks for this little slice of history. It gives me the creeps thinking of Wilkes Booth lurking at Brown's funeral