From a capsule review in The New Yorker heard about this book:
What a cool way to bring Lincoln to life. Tell the story of six meetings Lincoln had that someone wrote an account of.
The six encounters:
- Lincoln’s first meeting, in the East Room of the White House, with Army officers, including Robert E. Lee
from that we examine Lincoln’s relationship with the military, and with the guy who’d end up being the leading general trying to defeat him.
- An odd event where Lincoln tried to raise an American flag on the South Lawn of the White House, but accidentally ripped it
from that we examine how Lincoln used humor and a sort of self-effacing charm
- Lincoln’s encounter with an abolitionist cavalry sergeant named Lucian Waters
which brings us to discussions of Lincoln’s views on race and slavery
- Lincoln’s meeting with Cherokee chief John Ross
from which we can examine Lincoln’s relationships with Indians, who got pretty hosed under the Lincoln presidency
- Lincoln’s meetings the powerful Anna E. Dickenson
which opens us up to Lincoln’s weird relationships with powerful women
- a bizarre encounter with this bro:
Duff Green, who wanted to talk to Lincoln about a scheme to help Southerners with their land via a federal bank or something.
from there we consider how Lincoln intended to begin the postwar process, if he hadn’t’ve gotten got a few days later.
Pryor uses these encounters to bring to life the odd, magnetic, awkward, charming, conflicted, pained, intense human man Abraham Lincoln, full of conflict and contradiction.
Here is the first sentence of the author’s introduction:
To look again with open eyes at a subject we think we know is never straightfoward.
Pryor does a fantastic job of bringing Lincoln into focus. Some highlights:
Getting the mitten:
Down to the raisins:
A very impressive, dense work of history. Stunned when I opened the book and learned the author had been tragically killed in a car crash before publication:
Seems like an amazing woman.
Her obituary in the NYT by Margalit Fox speaks also of her work on Lee:
Though Lee is often cast by history as a brilliant general, Ms. Pryor, examining the strategic errors that led to his retreat at Antietam in 1862 and sweeping defeat at Gettysburg the next year, judged him “bright but not brilliant.”
Addressing Lee’s stance on slavery, she acknowledged, with other historians, that he harbored deep misgivings on the subject. However, Ms. Pryor wrote, those misgivings stemmed not from his opposition to the institution itself, but from his resentment of the managerial burdens it could place on white slave owners.
As a slaveholder, Ms. Pryor showed, Lee was a cruel master, once forcing a runaway slave to endure 50 lashes and then have brine poured on the wounds. He routinely sundered slaves’ families if selling a slave was expedient, and by 1860 “he had broken up every family but one” on his Arlington plantation, she wrote.
The Lincoln book my friend the presidential biographer, Lincoln scholar and former rock star Ted Widmer recommends is Herdon’s Informants.
Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner, and after he died he wrote to everyone who’d ever met Lincoln pretty much and asked for what they remembered of him.
Following Lincoln’s assassination, Herndon began to collect stories of Lincoln’s life from those who knew him. Herndon aspired to write a faithful portrait of his friend and law partner, based on his own observations and on hundreds of letters and interviews he had compiled for the purpose. He was determined to present Lincoln as a man, rather than a saint, and to reveal things that the prevailing Victorian era conventions said should be left out of the biography of a great national hero.[nb 2]
In particular, Herndon said of Lincoln’s “official” biographers, John Nicolay and John Hay: “They are aiming, first, to do a superb piece of literary work; second, to make the story with the classes as against the masses.” He felt that this would represent the “real Lincoln about as well as does a wax figure in the museum.”
Particularly damning was the denunciation of the book by Robert Todd Lincoln, whose grudge against Herndon stemmed largely from Herndon’s recounting of Ann Rutledge as the only romantic love of his father’s life.
Herndon didn’t care for Mary Todd, I guess:
Even though she was considered a bit of a catch for a guy like Abe.
When you think about the stuff that happened to Mary Todd, it’d be a wonder if she didn’t go insane. Three of her children died, her husband got assassinated sitting next to her. Her half-sister was married to a Confederate general who died at Chickamauga.
He was a commander of the Orphan Brigade:
At the Battle of Stones River, the brigade suffered heavy casualties in an assault on January 2, 1863, including General Hanson. Breckinridge—who vehemently disputed the order to charge with the army’s commander, General Braxton Bragg—rode among the survivors, crying out repeatedly, “My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans,”
The stuff people go through!
our Chicago correspondent sends us this find:
Strong endorse to an audio only, 1 hour 42 minute semi-memoir by Robert Caro, boiling down the central ideas of The Power Broker and the LBJ series. If you’ve read every single extant interview with Robert Caro, as I have, some of its repetitive but I loved it and loved listening to Caro’s weird New York accent.
Two details: he tells how James Rowe, an aide to FDR, told him that FDR was such a genius about politics that when he discussed it almost no one could even understand him. But Lyndon Johnson understood everything.
Caro tells that when LBJ ran for Congress the first time, he promised to bring electricity. Women had to haul water from the well with a rope. A full bucket of water was heavy. Women would become bent, a Hill Country term for stooped over. LBJ campaigned saying, if you vote for me, you won’t be bent. You won’t look at forty the way your mother looked at forty.
Ordered me two copies of The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen?
Mission accomplished, it’s next up after I finish Tom Ricks:
Hayes D. is back with a look at some legendary ballot cranks of California history:
I took a sick pleasure in writing about Measure S and Michael Weinstein the other day. Thanks to Steve for asking me to do that.
While I was at it, I dug into some of the other rich, angry men who took advantage of the California ballot system: guys like Weinstein who spent a ton of money and made pretty extreme changes to the law without ever actually being elected to office.
Here are two!
Jarvis was a millionaire from LA who got rich making airplane parts and garbage disposals and other stuff. Your classic 1950’s generic “businessman.” What separated him from his peers was how much he hated taxes.
So after he retired in 1962, he ran for office a few times on an anti-tax platform. Lost every time. Then he discovered the ballot initiative route, and in 1979 he wrote up Proposition 13: a rule that the property tax could only be about 1% of the appraised value of the property, and it couldn’t go up unless the property was sold.
With the help of the base he built from his other campaigns, he and his wife gathered 1.5 million signatures to get it on the ballot. Then Jarvis went on a barnstorming tour of California and riled everybody up so good that the measure passed with 65 percent of the vote.
“When I have three, four, five thousand people, I really pour it on,” he said in his gravelly voice. “Like a goddamn Baptist preacher. I tell ’em how government is clobbering them. I rev ’em up. I talk about basic human rights.”Jarvis was quick to admit that playing on the public’s fears was one of the trump cards that made Proposition 13 a big winner.
When he got excited, Jarvis would puff harder on his pipe, and this created a lot of excess “tobacco juice.” During one unfriendly interview with a reporter, Jarvis got agitated and started puffing hard. At one point, sitting behind his big, false desk with no drawers, Jarvis leaned forward and spit some of the excess tobacco juice into a waste can. Jerry Carroll, on the other side of the desk without benefit of a full view, wrote in a 1994 San Francisco Chronicle story that at one point in an interview Jarvis, “jerked opened a drawer in his desk, spit into it and slammed it shut.”
FARYON: Well let’s go back to prior 1978, back in the day when schools needed money. More money to hire students, to pay for classrooms, supplies, and so on. They basically looked to the local taxpayer for money in the form of property taxes. And in fact, they set their budgets, went to the county assessor, the property tax rate was set, and then they collected enough money. As much money as they needed. After 1978, what happened was we couldn’t do that anymore. It was a statewide cap. One percent – that’s all the money that you got. So as a result, before 1978, before Prop 13, statewide the schools had a $9 billion budget. After Prop 13 they lost $3 billion – a third of that – overnight.
Here’s a look at California’s per-pupil spending for the past four decades in comparison to other states. The last time California was at the top of the heap was 1965, when it ranked 5th. In 1978 – the year Prop 13 passed –California was 14th out of 50. The next year, the state fell to 22nd place. In 1988, California fell below the national average for the first time and never recovered. The state now ranks 43rd.
When Ron Unz’s mother, a politically active left-wing schoolteacher from Los Angeles, was in her mid-20s, she met an older professor from the Midwest on a flight to Israel. He seemed odd, eccentric even, but clearly brilliant, too, and Esther-Laio Avrutin decided, after he‘d visited her several times when she’d returned to L.A., that she would a have a child with him. When Esther-Laio wrote to her lover to let him know about her pregnancy, the letter was opened by the professor‘s wife — the existence of this wife came as startling news to Esther-Laio — and that ended any possibility that, her sister says, they would be married.
The results show that while students in English immersion programs perform better in the short term, over the long term students in classrooms taught in two languages not only catch up to their English immersion counterparts, but they eventually surpass them, both academically and linguistically.
So: no, not really. Forcing kids who didn’t speak English to be taught exclusively in English was, it turned out, not a great idea.
Last night in my dream Dwight Eisenhower appeared. What would he make of all this? We didn’t have a chance to discuss it.
A golfer. A university president. Chosen over other generals to command the Allied Expeditionary Force because of his understanding of and gift for diplomacy.
100% white men around him. What would’ve been his view on trans bathrooms?
A Republican who invested the government in big projects, like the interstate highway system, and warned against defense spending in his farewell speech, which is thought-provoking:
Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
The current president like a clown version of him, a grotesque vision from a nightmare.
Eisenhower was from Abilene, Kansas.
First president to ride in a helicopter.
From the Heritage Foundation, about as conservative as it gets:
Similarly, the Framers intended the Emoluments Clause to protect the republican character of American political institutions. “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.” The Federalist No. 22 (Alexander Hamilton). The delegates at the Constitutional Convention specifically designed the clause as an antidote to potentially corrupting foreign practices of a kind that the Framers had observed during the period of the Confederation. Louis XVI had the custom of presenting expensive gifts to departing ministers who had signed treaties with France, including American diplomats. In 1780, the King gave Arthur Lee a portrait of the King set in diamonds above a gold snuff box; and in 1785, he gave Benjamin Franklin a similar miniature portrait, also set in diamonds. Likewise, the King of Spain presented John Jay (during negotiations with Spain) with the gift of a horse. All these gifts were reported to Congress, which in each case accorded permission to the recipients to accept them. Wary, however, of the possibility that such gestures might unduly influence American officials in their dealings with foreign states, the Framers institutionalized the practice of requiring the consent of Congress before one could accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from…[a] foreign State.”
Meanwhile I read the news:
(A fun aspect to the Trump deal is: feels like every Joe and Josephine on Twitter is rapidly presenting themselves as a self-taught expert on like intelligence practices and the Ninth Circuit and what “emoluments” means.)
A thing I don’t understand: there must be at least one or two of the 248 Republican congressmen who’ve fantasized since youth about a chance to go full Profiles In Courage.
Here’s your chance bro! Take on your scumbag President, go down for it, live on! Are they all too lame? (Update: a possible candidate)
Anyway. A chance to revisit famous mills of my youth: