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tv   The Civil War  CSPAN  January 10, 2015 10:55pm-12:01am EST

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will know if they will interfere with someone else. you put all of these things together, and i have to tell you how much more efficient we would be. not just hundreds of times improved but millions. that is not as crazy as it sounds. we are a trillion times more efficient than we were in the colony -- in marconi full-time. it is not as crazy as it sounds. >> monday at 8 p.m. eastern on the communicators on c-span2. >> historian catherine clinton talks about what she calls " parlor politics" in washington, d.c. during the civil war.
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according to dr. clinton, mary lincoln often drew criticism for keeping up appearances with lavish diplomatic dinners despite the civil war. this was part of a symposium at gettysburg. >> it's my pleasure to introduce your second speaker this morning, dr. catherine clinton. dr. clinton earned her bachelor's degree at harvard and ph.d. at princeton where she studied under dr. james mcpherson. she taught at the citadel, wesleyan wesleyan, brandeis, and queens university in belfast northern ireland. since august of 2014, she's been the denman endowed professor at american history at the university of texas at san antonio. so from northern ireland to texas, that's quite a journey. and 2016 she'll assume the presidency of the southern historical association. purpose tedious -- her
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prestigious post recognizing her standing in the field. she's the author or editor of two dozen books, many focusing on family, gender, or women's issues in the 19th century. i suspect many people in this room have read her 2009 biography of mary todd lincoln. her talk today is titled "teeming with rivals: women's parlor politics during the civil war." please help me welcome dr. clinton. [applause] >> well, thank you. it's so lovely to be here in gettysburg, and, yes, indeed the journey from northern ireland to texas, what would draw me into these arctic temperatures? but i want to credit certainly the quartet of very kind scholars in the field. i was first brought her by gabor and then thanks to harold holzer and chief frank, i have been back again and again, but thank you, jim, of course, for helping this needy student on her
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journey toward civil war history. a powerful woman was at the center of swirling political debates during a re-election campaign of the president. her influence over him, did she or did she not sway him? was a source of parlor games in that most murky of fir bowls washington, d.c. gossip and gender create puerful sparks and reverberations and for those who think such issues don't matter, recall the presidential ambitions of ed muskie, dissolved in the melting snow versus tears debate in february 1972. a well-educated woman with a track record of speaking her mind, a woman who did not mind bumping against the young, shiny palace guard at the white house. the capital remained agog anticipating her every misstep speculating on her motives with intensifying speculation as reporters tracked her every
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move. could it be 2012? or is it 1864? as i suggest in my recent biography of mrs. lincoln, a life, the storm enveloping lincoln's wife could not be matched until we had hillary clinton in the white house as the president's wife, and it was mrs. lincoln who first carvinged out a distinctive role for herself during her white house years. as much by necessity as by choice. several of mary lincoln's immediate family were engaged in military rebellion dedicated to the overthrow of her husband's government. she remained completely loyal to the union and went well beyond what was required having her mail incoming and outgoing read for her. lincoln's wife had perhaps the most challenging time as first lady, a term that was coined before she assumed the role, but became a label embraced by the
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press to designate the president's wife. due to mary's visibility and profile, she took advantage of this new role. as mary lincoln, the todd was only added later by descendants who actually wanted to link mary to her birth family, the todds and also to another president, and that is dolly todd madison was married to a todd, but in her own lifetime, the two-named mary lincoln felt herself at the center of a converging disaster in 1864. for three long years, she had weathered the political storms. she'd endured fearful threats against her husband in 1861, suffered the loss of a child in 1862, and she nearly died herself of an injury following the sabotage of the president's carriage in june 1863 which resulted in an accident intended to have a fatal effect on the president rather than the very severe head trauma it caused his
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wife. in the year 1864 it proved a severely challenged siege for the much maligned mrs. lincoln. rather than serenely reigning, she found her parlor teeming with rivals. mary had worked hard during her husband's first presidential campaign in the summer 1860. she made a favorable impression on john scripps, editor of the chicago tribune who suggested that the lincolns were not the country bumpkins the eastern establishment might expect especially as lincoln's wife was really educated, french speaking, an aristocratic daughter of the bluegrass. a new york herald reporter suggested lincoln's springfield residence resembled longfellow's abode in cambridge. another credited lincoln's wife
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who was an amiable and accomplished lady. these reports were meant to reassure voters along the eastern seaboard that they hadn't really had a wild westerner for a candidate. after lincoln's victory at the ballot box, he had an uphill battle when he arrived in washington, d.c. while the president-elect worked to organize his government, mary launched her own campaigns hosting family and friends greeting diplomats and statesmen, anticipating her new set of duties, and she sought to maneuver the treacherous shoals of secession. the coldness and snobbery of easterners was wearing her down. she confronted one of the most idiosyncratic of american institutions, washington society. at the heart of the city's bow monday, the toughened core of social arbiters were known as cave dwellers. their tenure and tenacity gave them influence over the parade of newcomers who straggled into the city at irregular but
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certainly every four-year intervals. the inner city of d.c. society was surrounded by the money bags whose rung on the ladder was bought, and then there were the high brows, whose station was secured by talent regardless of wealth although it was considered felicitous when the two went together. three outer rings applied steady social pressure jockeying for improved position, the diplomats, the army and navy crowd, and the politicos, but clearly it is the cave dwellers, particularly women like mary clemor and laura holloway who influenced the pecking order among the capital's society. fanny ems, mrs. charles, maintained an eclectic sunday salon at her 14th and 8th street home, while her sister marion campbell was embedded when -- within several knickerbocker
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circles. mrs. eames reigned in d.c. and she would later befriend mary lincoln. the physical attributes of the district did not recommend it. noah brooks described the streets as canals of liquid mud. it would be difficult to could be receive of a meaner street in architectural adornments than pennsylvania avenue, and as we just heard maybe the architect architectureal recommendations of real estate on pennsylvania avenue remain there. there were, of course, areas of the city which boasted palatial homes, the fine estate of stephen douglass near i street and jersey avenue where his wife adelle, a legendary beauty nearly 25 years his junior held equally sumptuous was the mansion built by senator william gwynn from california who spent
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$75,000 to furnish his home. gwen harbor was arrested on charges of disloyalty when the war began, was imprisoned until 1863. then he went off to paris and became involved in a scheme for the colonization of southerners of the state of sonora in mexico. in consequence, he was sometimes called the duke of sonora. the retiring president james buchanan supplemented his white house entertainment budget with personal funds as he needed more than his salary to keep up with demands. the buchanan white house had undergone extensive renovations and run with great efficiencies. ten servants took care of the household needs. the butler was belgian, but all other servants were irish or british because buchanan believed that british-trained servants were preferable. by the way, he was an ulsterman. you can go to belfast and find the only i believe james buchanan mural in the world.
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harriet lane, buchanan's niece who assumed the role of white house hostess, left the lincolns a very detailed list on how to manage the executive mansion. she met with mrs. lincoln in advance and arranged a meal for the newcomers on inaugural day. but she was not impressed, and she wrote cattily that lincoln lincoln resembled the irish door keeper. while mrs. lincoln is awfully western and loud and unrefined. araving into town with such rigid social snobbery, mrs. lincoln immediately placed a addressmaking order with mrs. keckley. elizabeth keckley was a prominent mixed race seamstress favored by the washington elite. it was perhaps no accident that one of her former clients was varina davis. assuming the role herself soon of first lady of the confederacy. however, mary lincoln's first battleground would be the inaugural ball. this invitational ball was held in a large tent dubbed the white muslin palace of aladdin where 5,000 would be on hand to rub
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shoulders and inspect the lincoln entourage. mrs. lincoln glided into view wearing silk bedecked with gold and diamonds and pearls while lincoln left at midnight his wife stayed on dancing into the night. she surprised the washington snobs. they commented on her exquisite toilette. the new york herald weighed in again, that's the newspaper, not our harold, she is more self-possessed than lincoln and is accommodated more readily than her taller half to the exalted station to which she has so strangely advanced from the simple social life of the little inland capital of illinois. she wore the pearls that her husband had bought her at tiffany's that night and shortly thereafter we find copies being made by washington jewelers for
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the hoi polloi. like the proverbial cinderella after the ball she had wicked stepsisters with whom she had to contend, sometimes literally with confederate kin. the republicans were flocking into town in droves, but they were slow to roll out the welcome wagon. elizabeth blair lee, daughter of frances presson blair suggested the women kind are giving mrs. lincoln the cold shoulder and the republicans ought to rally. developments in southern states created department rifts. -- deep rifts. washingtonians had weathered many crises, particularly during the 1850s, who could forget bully brooks and sumner's empty
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seat in the senate well. however, by april 1861, the atmosphere was intense and in the extreme. one society lady said, i went to early service at st. john's to avoid my many friends who do not think as i do about states' rights. so church going even became a divided enterprise. lincoln's election, like andrew jackson's decades before represented a seismic social shift in the district of columbia. mainline washington elites treated the lincolns like pariahs and one observer complained both the president and his wife were mercilessly lampooned, yet mrs. lincoln was the peer of any woman in washington in education and character. mary might have likened herself to a bird in a gilded cage denied the social butterfly role that she had long aspired to but the cage was not exactly gilded.
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visitors were quite shocked by the shabby, run down condition of the president's residence. the furnishing in the red room which the lincolns claims for private callers had pieces left over from the madison era. there were only ten matching place settings in the white house china collection. springfield friends commented that the executive mansion really resembled a second rate hotel with its threadbare carpets and chopped up drapes. mary was determined to set a very high standard and prove her refinement to the washington social arbiters. her increasing isolation might have hastened her plans. london journalist william howard russell discovered that even after a month, the washington ladies had not yet made up their minds that mrs. lincoln is the fashion. they missed their southern friends and constantly draw comparisons between them and the vulgar yankee women who are now in power. mary decided she would have to make a splash to prove herself and was looking forward to the summer when she might regroup and redecorate hoping once congress recessed, the crowd
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will be gradually leaving the city and we may hope for more leisure. but events intervened. and following the attack on ft. sumter and lincoln's call to arm, her new home became the nerve center of the divided nation. white house drawing rooms were open to soldiers who marched into the east room where, quote, under the gorgeous gas chandeliers, they disposed themselves in picturesque biv ouac on the brilliant patterned velvet carpet. a remarkable vortex of events kept the lincoln white house under the microscope and within crosshairs. mary wanted to serve her husband's cause by allowing the white house to maintain business as usual. in the past, especially during the buchanan administration, the white house offered weekly dinners with 40 or more guests
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which forced lincoln's predecessor to dip into his own pocket. once mrs. lincoln saw what the cost would be to maintain the elegant style to which she aspired, she decided to revise protocol. she suggested they stop the customary state dinners. she suggested they substitute large receptions because it would be more in keeping with the institutions of our country. when she first broached the subject, her husband was skeptical, but her arguments and i'm sure her persuasive nagging won out. one of lincoln's secretaries, john nicolet, proclaimed le wren has determined to abrogate dinners and she got her way. while sher husband concentrated on holding the union together, mary lincoln demonstrated that the united states remained open for business despite the rebellion. she would continue her own at homes on saturday afternoons and the newspapers announced levees will be held in the mansion every tuesday evening during the
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remainder of the session of congress. they were obligatory and staff found them wearying. nicolet confided they are both novel and pleasant to the hundreds of mere passersby who linger a day or two to, quote, do washington, but for us who have to surf the infliction once -- suffer the infliction once a week, they get to be intolerable bores. a congressional wife complained to the president, looking more and more gaunt and care worn. to relieve the tedium, mrs. lincoln introduced the program of bringing artists and performers into the executive mansion. lincoln's favorite singers actors, and others might be singled out for recognition when one of p.t. barnum's most famous acts colonel tom thumb would be extended an invitation as mrs. lincoln recognized the power of a white house request. first lady decided to throw a very large ball in february of 1862 and was in the thick of her plans by the end of january. her lavish gestures and grand manners invited criticism.
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mary decided to issue 700 invitations and planned to funnel all these guests into the east room, not only the labor required for such an event, but the worries associated with such an enterprise became immediate and acute to the lincoln secretaries, who by now had nicknamed her hell cat. while the president they dubbed the tycoon. mary was firmly convinced that diversion was an absolute necessity. she ignored senator benjamin wade who wrote indignantly, are the president and mrs. lincoln aware that there is a civil war? if they are not, mr. and mrs. wade are and for that reason decline to participate in dancing and feasting. but feast they did. as heaping plates of partridge quail, duck, turkey, foie gras beef, and the president's favorite, oysters, greeted guests as well as an elegantly appointed abraham lincoln with his wife mary at his side.
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a cake in the shape of a fort as well as elegant spun sugar deserts amused the throng. the marine band played mary lincoln's polka and the washington star pronounced it the most superb affair of its kind ever seen. mary had taken nearly a year hoping to banish the memory of her predecessors reign in the white house. hair yet lane had been both a popular socialite and an impeccable style setter. mary clemor, one of the dragon ladies of d.c., gave lane very high marks and remarked her superb physique gave the impression of intense, harmonious vitality. her eyes of deep violet shed a constant steady light as they could flash with rebuke, kindle with humor, or soften with tenderness. her classic head was crowned with masses of golden hair. mary's gold when she took over
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the executive mansion focused on erasure of memories of when this blond younger model made washington society dance to her tune. clemor suggested that mary had an impossible task to fulfill and further she was doomed at the outset. in reviewing the character of presidents' wives, we shall see that there was never one who entered the white house with such a feeling of self-satisfaction. to her it was the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition and mary lincoln made her jurn why i to -- journey to washington a triumphant passage. with all of mary's faults as margaret leech has argued, in her first years in the white house, mrs. lincoln received more personal publicity in the northern press than the president. and most of it was unfavorable. mary's poor relations with the press form a mainstay of my by
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iographical treatment. she and her husband were unforgiving of what they felt was an abusive fourth estate. lincoln had his battles with journalists and these contests considerably cooled white house press relations. william howard russell of "the times" recalled running into the couple while on a carriage ride and the president was not so good humored nor mrs. lincoln affable. my unpopularity is spreading because i will not bow my knee to the degraded creatures who have made the very name of a free press odious to honorable men. mrs. lincoln claimed to be immune to newspaper attacks but she was acutely aware of the power of political gossip, and the washington pecking order. she longed to rule uncontested and win over the public. her social ambitions were at best extravagant, at worst ludicrous. but she carried on her parlor
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campaign as fervently as a statesman wheeling in and out of her husband's office. she felt frustrated when harriet lane's vacuum was filled by kate chase, the devoted daughter of lincoln's republican rival. the senator from ohio was appointed secretary of the treasury, yet his daughter continued to harbor presidential ambitions for her father. she set up a rival court just ten blocks from the white house in the chase home at 6th and e. quite a good place this clara barton, mathew brady nexus. this contest began even before lincoln's assumption of office and the two women sparred dramatically throughout wartime washington. more of kate's story can be gleaned from john aller's new book, american queen, the rise and fall of kate chase sprague which tells us as much about society in 19th century america as it does about this woman's fascinating life.
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rumors in washington suggest that the chase/lincoln feud had its roots in the earliest days of the lincoln administration. the lincolns made their way slowly to washington via train in the early weeks of 1861. the couple visited at the home of governor william dennison of ohio on february 13th, the day after lincoln's 52nd birthday. the president-elect enjoyed a speech at the capitol and then they spent the eke being entertained, including a military ball. some have suggested the ohio stopover initiated this battle between the women as rumors circulated that mrs. lincoln was angered by her husband's dancing with a beguiling 20-year-old beauty that night, which, of course was impossible because she wasn't in town. and so the counter story was that mary lincoln was angry that the chases were not in attendance, but both fanciful
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tales seem manufactured, lylely in retrospect and for effect. chase certainly played on mary lincoln's vindictiveness in her rendition of the rivalry in later years particularly when mrs. lincoln's unpopularity peaked in the post-war years. kate chase and miry lincoln were introduced at the first white house levee in 1861. kate was escorted by charles sumner who later became a favorite and a confidant of mrs. lincoln. this young, eligible daughter of a wealthy cabinet member enjoyed a wide circle of admirers. anne richardson french, wife of sculptor daniel chester french described kate as a professional beauty. she was tall and slim with an unusually long white neck and a
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slow, deliberate way of turning it when she glanced about. french concluded both chase's striking appearance and her distinctive manner demanded that when she appeared, people dropped back in order to watch her. when she returned to the white house for the lincolns first state dinner on march 28th battle lines were clearly being drawn as the story is repeated that mrs. lincoln said to her as she left, i shall be glad to see you anytime, miss chase, and chase allegedly replied, mrs. lincoln, i shall be glad to have you call on me anytime. this might be mistaken as a polite or genteel interaction, but i think we know that both parties were giving thinly veiled signals of the rough seas ahead. lincoln knew that the gauntlet had been thrown down. her white house receptions and levees were by tradition open to the public. meanwhile kate chase hosted exclusive breakfasts four or five times a week to lure a coterie of power brokers to keep her father's reputation in the forefront. mr. lincoln may have won in 1960
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-- 1860, but kate was looking ahead to '64. jay cook was a frequent vil for and many other wealthy financier financiers financiers. she held receptions every wednesday afternoon. afternoon gathers would drift in evening meals and entertainments to lure and lull the wheeler dealers who might advance her father's career. kate chase's charm offensive targeted several eligible bachelors as she flirted with the unattached ambassador from england apparently leading him on a very merry chase. and she was not shy about worming her way into lincoln's inner circle, attending the theater with john hey and extending him invitations to pry out of him lincoln office gossip, and he could report back all the lavish parties going on at the chases. he stayed in the picture and was manipulated by kate after her marriage to the political wunder
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kind william sprague who was by all accounts a bounder when he clamped his eyes on kate. but as one of the richest men in america, the youngest man elected at 29 to lead a state, sprague cut a dashing figure and these were his credentials before his house was -- his horse was shot out from under him at bull run and he became a war hero. sprague was a favorite of lincoln's and lincoln surmised kate chase was a worthy challenger to his wife's title as most likely to commit mayhem to ruthlessly advance her true love's career. trying to keep the peace in the parlor politics of washington, the president was extraordinarily kind, even solicitous of kate. this was to acknowledge her influence as chase's daughter or perhaps as sprague's future wife, but in any case she remained a force with which to contend. lincoln would demonstrate his spy glass to her during washington receptions.
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he even invited her to meet with the delegation of american indians coming to the white house. mrs. lincoln was so irritated by these attentions that elizabeth keckley repeated in her memoir that mary forbade her husband to speak to kate at a white house reception, something to which he did not accede her wishes. as the reigning belle of d.c. society, kate indulged in her passion for finery, accepting perhaps inappropriate gifts from jay cook, including a handsome coach which set the tongues wagging. when she was romanced by william sprague, salmon p. chase at first disapproved as sprague was rumored to be a libertine with a well-known weakness for alcohol. chase did not care that sprague had more money than sense and was pleased when the courtship cooled after many months of speculation. when chase's protege james garfield came to washington from
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ohio in the autumn of 1862, he stayed with the chases and became a stimulating companion for kate. he escorted her everywhere, so much so that back in ohio lucretia crete garfield his wife wrote inquisitively. you and miss kate are taking dinners out. is miss kate a very charming interesting young lady? i may be jealous if she is. garfield's wife was right to be suspicious because whether or not he crossed the line with kate chase during this period we have evidence he was involved in an extramarital affair with a new york tribune reporter, lucia gilbert calhoun, a widow one year kate chase's junior and a decade younger than garfield. as for kate, perhaps being scire squired in public was meant to spark jealousy in sprague which seemed to work because thereafter they became involved and eventually engaged. sprague paid close attention to
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the extravagance his fiancee craved and overspent to satisfy her girlish gluttony. kate's campaign to advance her father's career never wavered but once lincoln trumped with the emancipation proclamation it was hard for kate to use the abolitionist card within washington political circles. at the same time the rivalry between chase and lincoln became notorious. one ohio paper lampooned, the lincoln/chase contest has extended into the women's department. mrs. lincoln has a new french rig with all the posies costing $4,000. miss kate chase sees her and goes her one better by ordering her a nice little $6,000 arrangement, including a $3,000 shawl.
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go to it, greenbacks, while it is yet today. who knew carriage wars were all the rage. if you read a washington paper of the era, sarah austin chanced to drive alongside a carriage which had two professional rivals. one called out the austin equipage contained a tub of guts. they were fined $2.50 each. newspapers might treat female rivalry satirically while in reality chase and lincoln worked with deadly dedication, whether high brow or low brow, hi jinxes or low blows, all part of the washington merry go round. in 1864 kate chase feverishly hoped her father's talents could replace lincoln at the helm of the party. her marriage to sprague on the 12th of november, 1863, had been hailed as the social event of the eason. -- the season.
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the bride was resplendent in a white velvet wedding dress sporting a beautiful diamond solitaire, part of the steady stream of wedding gifts estimated to be worth anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000. the president arrived alone at the chase/sprague reception and presented the bride with a small fan as his wife refused to attend. lincoln's spent over two hours to, quote, take the cuss off the meagerness of the presidential party as he put it. mrs. sprague, however, after her marriage did not diminish her political ambitions. indeed, within a month the chase for president committee had been formed. mary lincoln was so infuriated that she crossed chase off the list for the state dinner in january 1864, although chase and his daughter were both brought back by lincoln himself. nevertheless, when the party nominated lincoln and lincoln refused to make a patronage
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appointment on chase's behalf the secretary of the treasury who regularly submitted his letter of resignation, this time it was accepted and he found himself out of a job. chase's resignation and kate sprague's pained response to her father's being put out to pasture were two very bright spots during a very bleak summer for mary lincoln. she was beset by worries by her creditors having run up her debts to nearly $25,000. her husband's entire annual salary. her greatest fear was that lincoln might lose and she'd have to reveal her financial embarrassment. but she went to new york and knew it was a city ripe for patronage and corrupt bargains and she waded into the muck suggesting, quote, i will be clever to them until after the election, and then if we remain in the white house, i will drop every one of them and let them know very plainly i only made tools of them.
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they are an unprincipled set and i don't mind doing a little double dealing with them. unfortunately, she would also indulge in her shopping mania and the new york herald reported she reason sacked the treasures of dry good stores. maria clemor complained while her sisters scraped lint the wife of the president spent her time rolling to and fro between washington and new york. intent on extravagant purchases for herself and the white house. an election year revved up her critics, and mrs. lincoln's relationship with credit and spending contributed to her notorious downfall. ironically, kate sprague's lavish spending was just tabloid fodder and was given a pass as a millionaire's wife, but we do know that, indeed, even after mrs. lincoln avoided the embarrassment of having to reveal her debts to her husband, she continued throughout the rest of her white house days and
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her life to suffer from what my good friend and colleague steven barry has called financial bulimia. by 1864 both the chases and the lincolns were disgusted with general george mcclellan. kate and mary shared an enemy in mcclellan although they were no united front but had very different reasons. mcclellan had been the subject of intense scrutiny from the day he showed up with his wife for the white house ball in february 1862. during the festivities, the servant had accidentally locked the door to the dining room and there was a search for the key. some polliticians ghan to lampoon a speech made by mcclellan which found the union general forced into laughing at himself. over the next two years he was dubbed the american napoleon and he found criticism no laughsing matter.
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-- no laughing matter. he wrote to his wife ellen when he received his first military promotion, i find myself at a new and strange position her president, cabinet, general scott, and all deferring to me. by some strange operation of magic, i seem to have become the power of the land. i almost think if i were to win some small success now, i could become dictator or anything else that might please me. i almost think if i were to win some small success now i could become dictator or anything else that might please me. but nothing of that kind would please me. therefore, i won't be dictator. admirable self denial, and you can read the letters as he wrote to ellen almost daily when they were apart to find out more about his fascinating inner world. the mcclellans clearly had a loving relationship but their courtship was protracted and it was stymied by ellen's lack of enthusiasm. in 1854 mcclellan fell head over
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heels in love with the daughter of his former army commander randolphm arcy. her father encouraged this young soldier who had prospects and mcclellan wrote to ellen's mother he was determined to win her if i can. however, ellen was in love with another army officer, lieutenant ambrose powell hill. because hill had no financial prospects outside the military ellen's father threatened if she did not break off with him i fear my ardent affections will turn to hate. alen did eventually abandon hill who would later as we know serve the rebel cause and often faced mcclellan on the battlefield. general a.p. hill would die in battle shortly before appomattox but ellen's break with hill did not advance the courtship with mcclellan as we find mcclellan nearly a decade older and a few inches shorter was actually one of nine suitors ellen turned
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down during the 1850s. george left the army and worked his way up as head of the ohio and mississippi railroad. when the mek clelens were on a visit to chicago and she was 25, mcclellan asked ellen for her hand and was accepted. they were married in may 1860 and by all accounts remained devoted. however, ellen's temperament did not include the need to advertise and promote her husband's talents. she knew he was quite a self promoter on his own achieving the rank of major general by the age of 34 consolidating power by becoming the first commander of the army of the potomac in july 1861. when infield scott retired in november 1861 mcclenen insisted to lincoln i can do it all. within months it became clear that he could not and his contempt for lincoln became exaggerated as in private he berated his commander in chief as nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.
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which very much reminds us of how political campaigns in the 19th century are perhaps not so different from the 21st. open mic time. by july of 1862, salmon chase and his daughter were campaigning actively to have mcclellan removed, yet lincoln offered the general yet another chance to prove himself. antietam became mcclellan's final fountainfall despite his protestations to the opposite. while the rivers ran red with blood and lincoln grew darker each day at the failure to pursue and crush the enemy. lincoln took the opportunity to claim victory. the purpose of his claim was to revolutionize the war by releasing the preliminary emancipation proclamation. mcclellan claimed military success to continue his climb up the ladder. ellen may have believed her husband's claim, i have fought the battle 134re7b didly. one of these days history will i
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trust do me justice. lincoln replaced mcclellan with burnside. mcclellan's version of the facts notwithstanding, he deflected vain and vaingloriously accepted the nomination of the democratic party and held onto his military commission until election day november 8th. following his decisive defeat, mcclellan wrote to lincoln as he sailed off to europe, it would have been gratifying to me to have retired from the service with the knowledge that i still retained the ap probation of your excellency. mcclellan failed to carry even a majority of the soldiers' vote and forfeited the confidence and kind feeling of his former commander in chief. even if lincoln had hoped to maintain charity toward all, the parlor politics of washington would not allow mcclellan's rehabilitation. ellen marcie mcclellan did not exactly retreat from the field. she never even took up arms.
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she was outperformed, outplayed by old hands at the washington party politics game. mary lincoln's sad fate will doubtless be a part of the lincoln forum's commemorations last year as her widowhood in 1865 was as defining of her life as her marriage in 1842. but what about her younger blonder rivals? hairrriet lane had heeded her uncle's advice to not rush were sip tusly into mat ri moanal connections and only married at the age of 36 in 1866. her union was a happy one although she lost her uncle, her husband, and both of her children, two sons, before she reached the age of 60. she died in her early 70s donating her considerable art collection to the smithsonian and endowing a home for children at the johns hopkins hospital where the harriet lane pediatric facilities continue to serve the
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clinical needs of children today. according to her white house biography. poor kate chase sprague never got a white house biography as mary lincoln and harriet lane did, even though she spent most of her adulthood discouraging her father from any remarriage and encouraging him to run for president. kate and her sister nette were two of the seven women and the many hundred men who attended lincoln's white house funeral while mary lincoln pleaded she was too ill to attend. later that year kate gave birth to her first child, a son and she and sprague had three additional children, three daughters over the next ten years. she revived her father's hopes for the presidency as he campaigned from the bench of the supreme court an appointment lincoln had graciously granted him in december of '64. the chases switched parties with kate working the democratic convention of 1872 trying to secure her father's candidacy,
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another failed campaign. things went downhill for kate when her father died in may 1873. four months later the sprague fortune was wiped out by black friday. after years of living apart with kate enduring williams philandering and alcoholism she sued her husband for divorce. it was supremely difficult as kate's own infidelity, her involvement with new york 12340r roscoe conklin had become public knowledge which weakened her custody bid and any hopes for alimony. after months of wrangling, the marriage was dissolved in 1882. sprague kept custody of his 16-year-old son but relinquished the three daughters to his ex-wife. she settled in the washington sue bauer ban home her father left her caring for her three daughters, particularly her second daughter, kitty, who was more than mentally challenged. in 1890 her 25-year-old son took his own life, which plunged kate
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chase, impoverished reclusive into further isolation. she buried her son next to her father and lived out a relatively meager existence until her death at 59 in 1899. rather than being labeled a woman ruled by passion, she might be regarded as a woman supremely committed to politics. her tragic life was like her great rival mary lincoln suffused with personal loss. but much like the first lady, she so desperately hoped to dethrone, she was a worthy opponent. women in washington ruled not by proxy but by proximity. they did not win elections no matter how hard they worked to secure their own candidates' victory. instead, they were crowned and indeed shackled by convention rather than being able to take their place on a convention floor. chase did actually challenge the world order and tried to be a part of her father's political
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strategies, perhaps even marrying like a royal princess in order to advance his future. the female domain remained a fiercely competitive space in washington in 1864, and one which just like today is ruled by social media. just as generals petraeus and politicians remembering representative weiner to make bipartisan selections have been so painfully taught. never underestimate what can happen when gossip, sex, and media mix in washington. thank you. [ applause ] >> if there are any questions we have maybe ten minutes or so
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before we need to move on to the next session. >> the question -- >> i'd love it if you'd identify yourself. do you mind? >> i'm norm. >> hi norm. >> i'm norm from akron ohio. originally lincoln, illinois. >> okay. hi. >> i'll try to get down to the level that most -- >> you're lincolnian. >> i ask this question of jean baker when she was here last and i'll ask the same question to you but i'm not going give you her response until you answer the question. >> you can ask a question. i can give an answer. we can't rehash history here. >> do you think mary was bipolar? >> i have often said, and i will repeat, that my doctorate is in history, not in medicine, and i would suggest that even if we brought mary out on stage today and she were examined by people they would have very divided
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views. so i don't diagnose i try to lay out the patterns of behavior. i very much respect my colleagues, jean baker has written about the narcissism of mary lincoln. jason emerson has written about his diagnosis exactly and we have new work coming out about concussions and what head trauma and injury can do. i very much welcome that speculation, but i myself try to contextualize and i believe i was ironically most moved to believe she was not bipolar but had medication problems and psychological problems, especially when i read the wonderful letters that jason emmerson dug up that were written while she was incarcerated confined by her son to an asylum during that very difficult period following the tenth anniversary of her husband's death.
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>> absolutely not. >> would you like to ask a question? >> mel burger, boston, mass. >> don't forget us over here. >> i'm sorry, i'm sorry. >> you should -- >> i must go to the left first mel. do you mind? i'll take this and come right back to you. yes, sir, i'm sorry. >> i'm jim mcgrath, i'm from buffalo, new york. >> hi, jim. sorry. >> grover cleveland territory and fannie. >> quite a bit of gossip around grover cleveland's white house. >> anyway my question is mary todd lincoln -- >> mary lincoln yes. >> mary lincoln didn't like grant too much. >> no. >> and she liked his wife less julia, but my question is she called grant a butcher after cold harbor but in the 1870s curiously enough when grant
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becomes president, he secures some type of presidential pension for mary lincoln when she's financially struggling a little bit. did she ever -- >> you think grant was the one to secure her pension? >> that's what i found in the reading, yeah. >> well, i would just check my last chapter because -- i believe it was a long campaign on her part. i would say there were congressional persons pushing it more than i would give grant credit. it may have been granted during grant's period but i don't really think he would be someone i would line up as advancing that cause too dramatically. >> that's what i heard. i just wondered if she ever thanked him for that or not. >> did mary ever thank grant for advancing her political fortunes? no. >> or her -- >> any actually had an interesting incident that she
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was living abroad and it's a very small town kind of very springfield-like, a little capital in the south of -- i think they always maintained quite polite, but as an ex-president, his popularity was something i think that -- deeply disturbed mary because her campaign from the moment she recovered from the immediate effects of his death -- she never i think recovered from the long-term effects of his death was to campaign for her husband very strategically. he was the writer of the emancipation proclamation. she gave a cane to frederick
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douglass. she donated artifacts to african-americans. she very much championed her husband as someone who had very much sacrificed himself for a cause. so she and grant i don't think were ever going to -- and julia dent grant no they were never going to really become, you know -- >> bosom buddies. >> yeah. >> where would you rank her on the list of great american first ladies? i hope i didn't steal somebody's question? >> what about mel here? what if that was his question? >> i don't care. >> you get one. now it's mel's turn. >> thank you. so after the deaths of -- that mary lincoln experienced in the white house of her children -- >> only one died in the white house. >> okay. >> one died before. >> what was -- were her social rivals able to empathize and
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ease the stings of what was going on in their relationships or did they just really empathize with lincoln and totally ignore here? >> after her child's death? well, that what i was so struck by in my biography i had written thematically but when i got to the '61, '62 '63 period of her life i tried to write it chronologically because i was so struck by how carping her critics were. she just went through an amazing year of press surveillance. presses were trying to send spies into the white house to find out what was going on. she was constantly under attack everywhere she went followed by reporters, and doris goodwin put me on to the notion if you want to attack the house you set fire to the thatch and mary was the thatch. so she was often being scorched,
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burnt, during this particular period, and i think the death of her son caused her to turn inward somewhat looking. the whole notion of social rivals is something i didn't really find in particular but she does by '64 get herself revved up again although she can throughout the period '63-'64 dissolve completely losing total control of herself in front of reporters, in front of friends over this question. she's quite angry that, for example, no one really recognizes the one-year anniversary of the death of her son, willy except for neptune. i'm blanking -- >> gideon wells swells. >> gideon wells wife who had lost so many children of her own. there were many people who rose to the occasion and said they wanted to publish good works
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about her, that she was going to hospitals. they were trying to start press campaigns, but she said she refused. she was a very victorian woman in some ways and didn't want her name appearing in the paper which s of course why the old clothes scandal after she left the white house was such a painful episode for both her and her son. >> thank you. >> thank you, mel. >> i'm dr. john will and i am a medical doctor. i'm an infectious disease specialist, not a psychiatrist, but i always thought she was bipolar, some of her behavior, her shopping behavior and so forth, but you may know this, but the reason that mcclellan -- or that a.p. hill and ellen marcie broke up is because a.p. hill had gonorrhea which he had contracted at west point during a weekend in new york with mcclellan. so mcclellan knew he had
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gonorrhea, and he informed the family, the marcie family of ample p. hill's condition. >> thank you for that. you see, i just don't do military history but i'm very pleased to be filled in this way. thank you so much. this gentleman and then -- >> yes. good morning. i'm david carroll from chicago. >> hi, david. >> hi. in the last year published in the journal of the abraham lincoln association there has been great speculation on mary lincoln purchasing penny royal at dill lard's drugstore in springfield when she was pregnant with tad who was born with a cleft palate. penny royal is used to rid dogs of fleas or induce abortion. do you have insight on this recent scholarship? >> i'm sorry. i can't comment on that. my recent move and dislocation
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of many of my books and pieces meant that i don't have the 41 -- of oh mary lincoln but moving from ireland was difficult. i would say from my reading i have no evidence from her letters or otherwise that there would be any way i could comment or believe she was trying to not have a fourth child. the lincolns were besoted by their children. they were very proud and devoted that when she suffered family tragedies and the death of oh little eddie she was pregnant within a month. indeed the idea of having two younger sons and robert already gone to school was something that was in the minds of the lincolns. i look forward to it. thanks. >> i wish they would leave the
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poor woman alone. that's all. >> oh well, well. >> congratulations. >> thank you. we'll applaud for raising these controversial questions and keeping it up. i think it's good. i did take great umbrage at the book that came out that said she definitely had syphilis. people can speculate. >> originally from ohio. the land of the presidents. can you talk more about mary lincoln's work. she spent time in the hospitals writing letters home for the soldiers. it seems to me that all of the
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vicious attacks against her could have been blunted if she had allowed the reporters to write about that. why did she not want that? and was it kept kind of a secret? did people not understand she was doing this? >> i don't think she advertised on purpose. thank you for that. she very much went into penitence when her son died. one of the things is i told you about the grand ball and her grand aspirations for dethroning harriet lane. that was the night her son's illness became evident. she and the president kept checking in the bedroom. if you go to the lincoln library, it is a moving exhibit they have of going into the room to check during the ball. here was her great social triumph. within days her beloved willie was dead. i think during that period if
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you contrast her next trip to new york with 64 i think you find she was trying to find her way back to being the social creature that she was. but also writing letterers and taking care of the bonds between families during the wartime dislocations was something she very much did dedicate herself to. she took flowerses from the white house. she took fruit. she was, indeed serving the role which she thought was a political role. we nolin con did it as well. they didn't go in as a couple. they went in separately and made tear way through the wards. when people came to her to try to publicize it, when someone mentioned it, she wrote to them saying please don't. we do know she was trying to keep that side of her charity. she wanted to be an anonymous donor to the soldiers' cause during that period.
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that's what i think was her interest at that time. yes? >> mary beth donnelly. i appreciate the opportunity to oh ask a question. >> i'm sorry. the last question. make it a good one. >> i'll try. >> i'm sorry. >> it's broad. i'm thinking of last night's conversation about lincoln on film. what do you think about the portrayal of oh mary lincoln on film. specifically related to spielberg or anything else. do you feel it's been fair? >> well, i do have weaknesses. i think that i have very strong feelings about ann rutledge on film which i won't share. nevertheless i think mary on film is a really interesting phenomenon. i do believe, for example you could see in the portrait with sam waterston with gore vidal and mary tyler moore trying to show a woman with clear disturbances. i thought that was powerful.
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but i felt that the recent portrait by sally field which i very much regret didn't earn her her third oscar, was nevertheless such an amazing inhabiting of the role. i think people can have differences of opinion about what were her problem ss. what were her flaws. i think that portrait captured her as a flawed do you thinkynamic, intense character. she contributed to that in a way that i found amazing. i'm regretful i can't name the actress who portrayed mary todd in "lincoln the vampire slayer." you have to understand that any scholar who has written a biography of harriet tubman and mary lincoln that finds these characters taking guns to gettysburg to save the union is
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going to welcome this kind of pop cultural fantabulation. thank you so much. [ applause ] >> you're watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span 3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook @cspanhistory. >> this sunday, author dick lair talks about the landmark film "birth of a nation." >> partita of the movie which is after the war reconstruction is really the heart of the protest in the sense of this is where the blacks are just appalled by the betrayal of free slaves.
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and this is the scene showing what happens when you give former slaves the right to vote, be elected, to govern. this is the scene where the first and primary order of business is to pass a bill allowing for interracial marriage. in griffith's hands. black men are solely interested in producing -- pursuing white women. ♪ author dick lair on the controversial film "birth of a
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nation." >> each week,"reel america" brings you archival films. this film examines tensions following the creation of the state of israel. >> the most explosive of these the state of israel. israel was born a mid-turbulence and bloodshed. it became a separate nation after the british withdrew from palestine in 1940. it was immediately attacked by its neighboring states, who resented the new nation and contended its creation to be illegal. israel successfully beat off


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