A Monthly Supplement to Lincarnations, the Biannual Newsletter of the ALP
We welcome our newest member to the Association of Lincoln Presenters – Mr. Lee Lewis, who is a school teacher from Louisville, Ky. Lee is a new Lincoln, having portrayed the 16th president for less than one year. Fellow Kentuckian Jim Sayre has been mentoring him since the Vandalia conference, and he’s also been in touch with Larry Elliott. Find out more about Lee at his website.
Our Members Take the Floor…
Via a recent email, our members were asked to weigh-in on the following question: How are national developments regarding the Confederate flag and/or gay marriage affecting your presentation as Lincoln? What has been your response/reaction?
Thanks to all who shared their thoughts and ideas.
From Robert Brugler, Ohio
“As a Lincoln presenter, the individual should stay in character and not speak of anything beyond April 14, 1865. As historians, we need to stick with what we know (through documentation) of the President.
“Giving our opinion of what Abraham would think is opening up a Pandora’s box. Stating that opinion is not faithful to Abraham.”
(Mr. Brugler also included this link to an article he wrote on “Portraying Abraham Lincoln.”)
From Murray Cox, Indiana
“I have been approached twice about flag issues — once about someone concerned about a Muslim flag and if I considered that a symbol of a terrorist and, most recently, about the Confederate Battle Flag. I answer these (questions) in character, staying in first person and staying in the time period, which means I don’t directly address the question. Instead, I mention that Tad was given a Confederate Battle Flag as a souvenir from soldiers, and he once proudly displayed it from a window at the Executive Mansion, which caused quite a stir. I then mention that what a flag means to one person might be something different from what it means to another.
“Regarding same sex marriage, I have never had that question arise. But in first person, dealing with the time period involved, I would comment that I had never heard of that, but I recall that back in Indiana, Nate Grigsby had no luck with women and took up with another man. Such things are not new, as we know from reading the Scriptures.
“In both instances, by staying in character and the time period of Lincoln, I see no reason to directly address issues of the 21st century.”
From Dean Dorrell, Indiana
“I get questions of this type quite frequently. I posted the comment that appears below on my website back in 2001, after the 2000 election. While I might refine it a little, I still think it reflects my thinking on the subject. My personal views are pretty clear to anyone who follows me on Facebook, but I do my best not to let that color my portrayal of President Lincoln.
“I will not appear at political rallies, or at any event in which my appearance would imply endorsement of a particular political viewpoint.
“Abraham Lincoln was a great man and a great politician. I portray him in order to entertain and to teach people about him, in as historically accurate a manner as I possibly can. When I make a representation as Abraham Lincoln, I believe the historical evidence is that he believed or behaved the way I present him.
“Over the years I have met many people who are quite certain they know how Mr. Lincoln would feel about a particular issue. They almost always assume that BECAUSE he was a great man, he would OBVIOUSLY agree with them. I WILL NOT PRESUME to speak for Mr. Lincoln’s politics beyond those positions he took while he was alive. Both sides in most political debates could learn a lot about Lincoln’s approach to any question.
“I recently had someone send me a question (as Mr. Lincoln), asking who ‘I’ would vote for in the 2000 election. This was my reply:
“‘You have asked a great question. I apologize for the delay in responding to your question, but after a great deal of thought, I simply cannot give you a good answer. I expect and hope that between my time and yours, there will have been many advances in technology and in society. I certainly hope that the attitudes toward Negroes will have changed, and that women will finally be given the right to vote.
“‘I cannot tell simply on the basis of their parties after so many years; as I once said, the parties in MY time reminded me of two young men who had fought and fought so hard that they had fought themselves out of their own coats and right into the other man’s.
“‘I have always believed in the principle that men should be responsible for their own advancement in life, but that the government should help where it can effectively do so. I believed in the rights of the states to govern themselves, but also that the Federal Government had a duty to protect the individual citizens from the states when necessary. I believed in the rights of business and property owners, but I also believed in the rights of the laborers, and that in most instances, strikers were justified in their actions. My political beliefs are based on long, careful analysis of the situation. Above all I believed in the sacred duty to work toward an ideal government that is based on the principle that ‘all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’
“‘I suspect that in your time there will be many who believe they know who I would vote for. For myself, I do not know.’
“That was my response. I have my own ideas of how Mr. Lincoln would think on particular topics, but those ideas are, by their nature, biased.”
From Fred Priebe, Michigan
“I did a presentation after this thing hit and this was my response:
“‘The flag in question is a rally flag to let the soldiers know where their men were to report or regroup. This flag is like many used by units on both sides in this great struggle. Now that the war is nearly over, I would expect those soldiers to take those flags home and, perhaps, display them in their homes or community halls as a reminder of their efforts to support the cause they fought for. I can think of no reason to fly them over a government building. The war is over.’
“As for the same sex marriage issue, that has not yet come up, but I frequently deal with the question of whether or not Lincoln was a homosexual. I remind my audience that it is common for men on the circuit to sleep two to three to a bed. Travelers did this kind of thing regularly. ‘May I remind you that all the men in question are married with families. You can be assured that my opponents would trump up this charge if it were actually true.’”
From Peter M. Small, California
“When I have performed my other historical figures, whether it is Thomas Jefferson or Theodore Roosevelt, my answer to gay marriage is, ‘We should all be happy and gay in our marriages.’”
From John Walther, Illinois
“You asked me about the so-called Confederate flag. I cannot say I liked it. I have the most solemn oath registered in Heaven to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ the Union. The so-called Confederacy represents a violent effort to destroy it.
“There was not one Confederate flag. They could not only not get along with me and the North, but they also had a lot of trouble getting along with each other. They made attempts at a flag. The first looked so much liked the Union flag (that) it was a disaster on the battlefield. The second one, ‘the stainless banner,’ looked very much like a flag of truce. Near the very end of the war, they tried a third.
“What do you think a Confederate flag looks like? Is it a big blue X with white stars? That sounds like the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. They struck their colors on April 9, 1865. That was Palm Sunday. When the news reached Washington City the next day, despite the rain there was great celebration and a demand for me to talk. I did.
“‘FELLOW CITIZENS: I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of a formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, tomorrow night. If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. I see you have a band of music with you. I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune, which I will name.’
“‘Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize.’
“I would say the flags are also ours.
“Do you recall what Eli Parker told Robert E. Lee? Eli Parker was a Union officer and a Seneca Indian chief. When General Lee shook his hand at Appomattox Courthouse, Lee said, ’I am glad to see one real American here.’ Parker shook his hand and replied, ‘We are all Americans.’
“I hope that we avoid malice and remember that we are all Americans.”
From Stan Wernz, Ohio
John Cooper inquired about Lincoln’s position on the Confederate flag and on gay marriage, having had inquiries to him at an event. I agree with John that we should research the topics and be prepared to respond in character. If you go out of character to respond, please assure people that you are not in character.
“One thought that came to mind when considering the Confederate flags, is the context of surrender. In directions at City Point, Lincoln promoted offering the most generous terms to ‘get the deluded men of the rebel armies disarmed and back to their homes.’
“‘Let them once surrender and reach their homes [and] they won’t take up arms again! Let them all go, officers and all. I want submission, and no more bloodshed… I want no one punished; treat them liberally all round. We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.’” (Donald. Lincoln, p. 574).
From Kevin Wood, Illinois
Regarding the same-sex marriage ruling, I actually wrote about this subject on my blog. I don’t directly say what I think Lincoln would have thought about it (personally, I think he would have been opposed, even as a 21st century Lincoln), but I do give it some context in terms (of) how he and others of his time might have viewed a controversial Supreme Court decision.
(Click on this link to read his blog entry.)