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tv   The Presidency Abraham Lincoln Remembered  CSPAN  March 4, 2019 12:00am-1:02am EST

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>> they were just exceptional people. there is no doubt about that. they are exceptional people. the cream of the crop. >> next on "the presidency," an abraham lincoln scholar gives an illustrated talk at the new york historical society about the monuments created to the 16th president, and what they say about how we remember him. mr. holzer previously served as chair of the lincoln bicentennial foundation and as the author, co-author, or editor of over 50 lincoln books. this is an hour. louise: good evening, everyone. welcome to the new york historical society.
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given the weather, i am very glad to see such a full and enthusiastic crowd in our beautiful auditorium. -- beautiful robert h smith auditorium. for those of you who don't already know me, i am louise mirrer, president of new york historical. tonight's program, it's the clinton lecture at new york historical. i would like to thank our great trustee and benefactor for making the event possible, along with all of the other great programs that he supports. i would also like to recognize and thank one of our terrific trustees, alan shook, in the audience. thank you for all of the amazing work you do on behalf of this great institution. thank you. [applause] louise: i want to thank as well
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and acknowledge all the chairman's council members with us tonight. this evening's program will last about an hour and will include a question and answer session. the q&a will be conducted via written note cards. you should have received a note card and pencil on the way in. the questions on the cards will be collected later in the program. tonight, there will be a book signing in our store and copies of harold's book will be for sale. we are absolutely thrilled to welcome harold holzer. he is director of the roosevelt house policy institute. he is the author, co-author, or editor of over 50 books on abraham lincoln and the civil war era, including "lincoln and the power of the press," which won the lincoln price.
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-- the 2015 lincoln prize. he has served as president of the abraham lincoln foundation, -- bicentennial foundation, and as cochair of the lincoln u.s. centennial commission appointed by president bill clinton. in 2008, he was awarded the national humanities medal by president bush. his newest book is "monument man: the life and art of daniel chester french." before i invite him to the stage, i ask that you make sure that anything that makes noise like a cellphone is switched off. now, join me in welcoming harold holzer, our speaker this evening. [applause] mr. holzer: good evening. i am so grateful you braved the
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typical lincoln's birthday weather to join us tonight. i think this might be the 40th lincoln's birthday where i have made a speech or election are. -- or lecture. it really varies. i made a misery of the birthday of my older daughter, she is the 11,t her birthday, she is and she has had to make trips to springfield, illinois. for which i apologize. i also apologize that lincoln was not born on may 10, but that is the way it goes. [laughter] mr. holzer: this is the 210th birthday of abraham lincoln. it is a real privilege to talk about him tonight in this great institution which i love, and a particular honor to be delivering the annual bill clinton lecture in american history.
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because president clinton has been very generous and kind to me over the years. as i think i heard louisa say. he gave me the life changing opportunity to allow me to chair the lincoln bicentennial commission in 2000. he gave us a great tour once of the lincoln bedroom and the closet, it was then chelsea's closet, from which president lincoln stood to give all his speeches from the white house window. that was an extraordinary opportunity. i am sorry he is not here tonight. he is in little rock, i hope you got there. i do not want to begin without thinking him. him.anking every president is concerned with his legacy. some, like president clinton, have the chance to work directly on building and burnishing it over the years in retirement. they built libraries, they embark on speaking tour's, write -- speaking tours, write books, and if they are fortunate like president carter, they are
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blessed with time and energy to build entirely new postpresidential reputations. bill clinton has remained on the american scene as a vivid ex-president for 19 years. president carter, for a record-breaking 38 years. abraham lincoln, as we know, did not have such an opportunity. he was assassinated april 14, died on april 15, 1865. at the apex of his presidency in his moment of triumph. he was almost immediately transformed by a shocked public into a national martyr, a secular saint, if you will. celebrated that easter sunday across america is another savior -- as another savior who had died for a nations sins, and mourned at passover services that same sunday as a modern
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moses, who like the first, led enslaved people to the promised land. lincoln was blessed in april 1865 and revered from honored places above hearth stones and family parlors, a kind of secular domestic space where ordinary americans bore witness to their political beliefs by adorning the space with images of their heroes. lincoln's image was a soon as much in evidence as george washington's, as the religious icons of old had once held the space. -- the principal space. since images have since vanished from american homes, replaced by family photos, posters of rock
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stars, and now by widescreen tv's over the mantel pieces. i don't have to provide an explanation of the enduring power of a different kind of image making, public statuary, to stir emotions. because as we know, statues evoke very deep reactions. i just spoke about that unresolved phenomenon from this stage a couple of weeks ago. the battle for memory in the public square continues, particularly across the south, in charlottesville, at unc, in new orleans, and elsewhere. let's admit, it has touched new york, too. clearly and jackson both -- where lee and jackson just sat at the nyu hall of fame until just a few years ago. statues of abraham lincoln and frederick douglass stand in close proximity to a contested equestrian portrait of theodore
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roosevelt across 77 st at natural history. and only a few miles from the father of modern gynecology, dr. marion sims, removed just a couple of years ago when it was revealed he made his great discoveries by experimenting on enslaved women with neither anesthesia nor consent. so, fully aware as we are of the power of the public memorial, and reminded as we should be of the intimate power of the printed and painted image, i want to use an assortment of these images tonight to trace the complex and continuing evolution of the lincoln legacy. the goal is to recall and understand how lincoln has been remembered, and perhaps as well how he should be. so, this image might have been a way that lincoln perpetually remembered lincoln, a photograph by legend made a few days before
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his assassination. the photographer broke in his hands the glass plate, resulting in this cracked photograph. eerily cracked photograph. then it was found it was taken not on april, as had been believed, but on february 5. it was not even the last portrait of lincoln, and it lost some of its power. this was the last photograph of lincoln, sort of a squinting, disagreeable picture, taken on the balcony of the white house in a march wind. this would not do, either. how would americans remember lincoln in those months and years after his assassination? originally, it was by newsworthy depictions, i guess by the cnn of its time, currier and ives prints, which imagined the way the lincoln assassination looked -- of course, lincoln did not clutch a symbolic american flag at the moment of his assassination, but it was a good image for that reason.
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currier and ives also provided a glimpse at the lincoln deathbed. not like the royal demise of great kings, just a small room in a boarding house across the street from the theater. by the way, his son, thad, was not at the scene, but it seemed appropriate to include him. but some people said this was hardly a way to remember and appreciate abraham lincoln, with 11 people in a room. why not remember him this way? with 86 people in the room. this is john littlefield's interpretation of the lincoln death room, with the room expanded to about 10 times the size. another way was to remove her -- remove one great president had saved the union and another preserved the union. many people collected these images of lincoln and washington
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be stride the continent. then, there was a way of remembering lincoln as a family man and a devoted father, he surely was, but in truth he had little time to spend with his family once he assumed the presidency in the midst of a war. this image was taken a year before he died, but no one ever thought it have any consequence -- it had any consequence or appeal until his assassination about 15 months later, when suddenly this image became hugely popular and inspired artists to use it as the basis for prints imagining a big, happy family, nothing like what they had become during the civil war. this is francis carpenter's interpretation, which is in the collection of the new york historical society. why not remember lincoln by his greatest act? the act through which he said he would go down in history? of course, the emancipation
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proclamation. early tributes created this bold calligraphic image of his face using the words of the proclamation, until people recognized they were not terribly inspiring, but rather legalistic. another way was to imagine his first reading of it before the cabinet, but this kind of staid group of older white men dealing with black rights also quickly became outdated. or, you could become very fanciful and imagine lincoln rising into heaven himself with faith, hope, and charity to welcome him. why a native american in the foreground, some wondered? actually, this was originally an apotheosis of an image of george washington. it was made 65 years before
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lincoln's death. they dusted off the plate, they took out washington's head and put lincoln's end. that explains the masonic symbol at masonic lincoln's seat there. lincoln was not a mason. [laughter] mr. holzer: this explains the masonic symbol, he was not a mason. there was an idea that washington, d.c. should become the site of a lincoln memorial, as we know it did. this was the first design. it is pictured in the site for which it was intended. it was done by clark mills, who did the sort of clumsy statue of andrew jackson that still stands lafayettette -- in park in washington. mills had also done a life mask of lincoln right before his death, but he did not imagine a simple tribute. there were 36 other figures here. generals, political figures, a
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nd at the very top, abraham lincoln signing the emancipation proclamation. needless to say, the plan did not go very far in washington. in 1876, there was a successful attempt to build a monument to lincoln in washington. it is now considered totally politically incorrect, and it is one of those statues that is disputed in the new public debate over public memorials. ulysses s. grant unveiled it. frederick douglas gave the dedicatory address in 1876. it is by thomas ball. interestingly, it was funded exclusively by african-americans. and there it still sits in southeast washington. in 1887, another great achievement that is still
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considered a great work of art, augustus' "lincoln the man," also known as standing lincoln in chicago. a hard act to follow. it was unveiled by abraham lincoln's grandson, how much more appropriate could it he? -- it be? let me go back to 1875, to the professional origins of a man who, i think, actually created the great lincoln image, the great iconic lincoln image of his time and ours. that is daniel chester french. dressed rather jauntily on the left. his first successful work, another iconic work, "the minuteman," unveiled in massachusetts in 1875. at that time, he was in florence studying under the extravagantly bearded fellow in the rear,
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thomas ball, the man who had done the lincoln statue for washington. and no doubt, french studied -- well, mostly, he was studying ball's daughter, on whom he developed a crush. [laughter] mr. holzer: but he studied with ball, and no doubt, found the model that we now see in -- see realized in washington, d.c. we see how a sculptor can deal with abraham lincoln and the question of emancipation. he saw it from all angles. those who visit the actual you can see that from some angles, the emphasis is on the kneeling slave rather than the uplifted slave, which is part of the reason why it has fallen into disfavor. by 1900, my man french -- i am
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happy he lost his hair, i feel some vindication. [laughter] mr. holzer: he had great hair. i didn't show you the picture. he is in new york, half of his time spent in the berkshires. he is on the board of the metropolitan museum of art. he is the leading american sculptor. he has become a master of civil war commission. this brooding general grant for philadelphia, which was unveiled by mrs. grant. this is to give you an idea. this is general hooker from boston. an unsuccessful general and a hugely successful dedication ceremony. these were big deals in the day. on a more intimate level, this is french working in his greenwich village studio, a tribute to three brothers from his home town of concord, massachusetts, who had died in the civil war, called "mourning
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victory." this is the marble version that sits in the angleheart court at the met. here he is, highly successful, and he gets a terrific trial run. he is asked to do a lincoln for the nebraska state capital, which you all know what that is called -- lincoln. one of the first cities outside illinois named after abraham lincoln. he always does a good deal of work, research. he examines lincoln photographs, he gets the photographer to send him individual photographs, and he produces his own standing lincoln. the brooding lincoln, face down. a woman who was present when the model was unveiled in lincoln, nebraska went up to french and
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said, i saw abraham lincoln's -- lincoln speak in illinois, and you may not know this, that before every speech, he stood with his hands clasped in front of him and his head bowed and then he raised his head and began. when they unveiled that, she said, you saw him, too? french had not, but it was an intuitive interpretation. at this point, french is so famous and so well-established that two other american presidents enlist him to be part of the rebuilding and remodeling scheme in washington, d.c. the development of the national mall, the prevention of blight in washington. theodore roosevelt conceives of a national commission of fine arts. william howard taft organizes it and names daniel chester french to chair it. there he is at the head of the table. it is kind of an interlocking
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directorate at this point of washington, d.c. planners. because taft is now named head of the lincoln memorial commission, as he leaves the presidency to woodrow wilson. they finally have figured out a way, and it took a republican congress and republican president, taft, to create the legislation needed to raise the enormous sum of like $200,000 to build a lincoln memorial at long last in washington. this is 40 years after lincoln's death. it is coming on lincoln's centennial time, so there was a great hunger to get this done at last in the nation's capital. so the next controversy, because there had to be controversy, is where to build it. the site that we know was not automatically chosen. some of the ideas were pretty loopy. this is union station in its early days, and one of the
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earliest proposals was the -- was to build it next to union station. only when people thought, we don't want commuters rushing by the statue, was that idea shelved. they went back to the u.s. capital as a site, but a plan had been developed to devote that space to ulysses s. grant, and you see that statue today. here is another plan, the soldier's home, lincoln's summer cottage outside washington. lincoln chose it because a -- because it was remote, and it did not get the nod because it was remote. how about the naval observatory? i like that this is an aerial view of the naval observatory, i think it is appropriate. here is the naval observatory on e street. lincoln visited, but again, it did not seem to be the right place. meridian hall park. that is on florida avenue in washington.
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probably not the best place, either. sort of away from the central part of the city. besides, they already had a seated statue of james buchanan. the wisest idea seemed to be, if the mall was being developed, to do west potomac park. here is what it looked like when it was above water, which was not all the time. at the turn-of-the-century, when the idea was hatched to build there. not everybody wanted to do what now seems obvious. this is the nancy pelosi of his day, uncle joe cannon, speaker of the house of representatives. and he said, i will never let a memorial to abraham lincoln be built on that god damned swamp. he threatened, and he had the power to make it happen. if his wishes were not respected, he would site the
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lincoln memorial at robert e lee's mansion, on the virginia side of the confederacy, which seemed a bit perverse. the only reason why west potomac park was ultimately chosen is that this man, this bearded statesman, john hay, the secretary of state and who had previously been abraham lincoln's deputy private secretary, testified powerfully before congress and convinced a reluctant house and senate to site the memorial in west in west potomac park, facing the washington monument. it seemed so natural. and then it came to design. these big public projects usually inspired major competitions. there really was no competition, and i tried in my research on daniel chester french to try to determine why there was never a formal commission.
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the answer is elusive, still, it's not in the official files. but, henry bacon, the architect, was chosen. the only alternative proposal was by john russell pope, who later did the national gallery of art, who proposed a pyramid, or mayan temple. wiser heads prevailed there, too. bacon, who had been a young collaborator on many of french's projects, proposed the iconic greek temple we know today. -- that we know so well today. and work began by 1911. these are construction shots from the national archives which i love. it reminds us, one, that the under croft of the lincoln memorial is much deeper than the aboveground part. some of you may know that david rubenstein, who appears here
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often, is funding the redevelopment of this basement, which is really swampy and musty, and turning it into a visitor center, which will be a great boon. he we go with construction, little by little, taking shape. amazingly quickly. it was not easy, because it was sinking into the ground as it was being built. [laughter] mr. holzer: there it is. you see the undercroft is really deep. and now, of course, the steps lead you to the top. what about the statue? that is the main attraction. one early idea was to put saint gaudin's statue there. and henry bacon, who i am sure knew that his senior partner, daniel chester french wanted to do this great commission, said he would not allow a replica to be built in his memorial.
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nor did they want a standing lincoln. this is an earlier work french did, not a portrait, it's a seated memorial to marshall field, the merchant from chicago. french really early adapted the idea of a seated, enthroned abraham lincoln. this is henry bacon's original drawing of the idea french had communicated to him. there is one big problem, french was not only on the commission -- on the national commission of fine arts, he was the chairman. the final design would have to be approved by the national commission of fine arts. french did not resign immediately. he took his sweet time getting off the commission. because it had all been presupposed that the bacon-french partnership would prevail. he finally resigned to president wilson and set to work.
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i'm just going to show you a little of his creative process -- because it is so extraordinary. he started with the life mask of lincoln. those are not symbolic nails, those are measuring nails a sculptor uses. the life cast of lincoln's hands. his own hands, which he cast in the positions he thought he wanted them. he was a stickler in the way he portrayed hands. his first cast was made in about 1912. there is no doubt who the senior partner was because he wrote to bacon and said, "it should interest you to know i am making models. when i have anything worthwhile, i shall expect to come up and see what i have to offer." it was french's project from here on in. here is an enlargement he did to
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look exactly like the figure that has become so familiar. successive enlargements, this gives you an idea of what his last model looks like. there is dan standing in front of it, and in the recesses of lincoln's coat, is the original model he started with. he did no drawings. it was just a remarkable, creative process. he sat there with a block of clay and began. he sketched in three dimensions, which for me, is an unimaginable talent and gift. he had to sell really only one person on his design, robert lincoln, the surviving son of abraham lincoln. seen here in his 70's, he lived until 1926. so he was around. and they went, they had this give-and-take very much like his give and take with bacon. you come to me, no, bring it down to me, how about taking it chicago.
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no, take it to washington, come to greenwich village. they never saw the full model. they would not cede, one would not cede preeminence to the other and who was the determinant voice. but french did go down to washington to look at the atrium of this behemoth of a hotel and said he miscalculated. he had planned a 12-foot high statue on a base, and he looked at that atrium, and he said this is going to be a terrible failure. and he -- it had to be bigger, and he had a great eye, needless to say. he immediately thought 19 or 20 feet would do it, but how do you get congress to reappropriate or appropriate an additional 50 or -- or $60,000 either in bronze $50,000 or marble? believe it or not, he had not decided yet. here's how he did it. he made a cast of lincoln's head that was proportional to a 19-foot high statue.
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he took it to washington. he suspended it from ropes in exactly the position it would hold in the lincoln memorial interior, and then he got robert lincoln to come down and say, this is perfect. you couldn't do anything smaller. this persuasive work is now in the new york historical society. i am going to advocate for a label that fully discloses its history as the model that changed the size of the lincoln memorial. so what next? daniel chester french is a great conceive or. he is a great modeler. he's not michelangelo. he does not take tools and begin chipping away at marble or, in this case, 28 blocks of marble from tennessee. 21 of them to be carved. seven to make up the interior and 19 of them were defective, so they had to work around some problems. that was a work, that was work
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that was handled by immigrants. it's a nice story. these are brothers from italy. five of them, who worked in such tandem that, when one was finished with a chisel and ready to take break, he would hand it over to his brother, and his brother would just continue seamlessly. by the way, the lincoln memorial was also made in the bronx at a huge factory of marble cutting about the brothers operated not far from where yankee stadium is today. a magazine sketch artist got to see the new york historical there andad in situ made some wonderful drawings of doingrk the brothers were , the blocks of marble and their famous lunch breaks, in which one, in which one brother would
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make macaroni for the group. french managed to get up there a lot for lunch. it was a lot of fun. and he did a lot of work. he worked on the head, he worked on the hands, but again, this was a joint effort. his modelers in stockbridge, in new york, helped with the casting, and the brothers, who are going to be honored in that new under craft museum, created the marbles. by this point the steps had begun to be built. here daniel chester french and henry bacon, on the top step, and they bring the 20 blocks of marble down by rail express, and they just begin to assemble them on site, really with no concealment from the public. here are bacon and french again. bacon is now -- french now in his 70's, but he scampers up those two ladders to get to the top and polishes off the pieces,
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the parts of the statue that he wants to be perfect. so there it is. 2.5 years would pass before the dedication, and i do want to spend a time talking about the which the from lincoln memorial and lincoln, the lincoln image and legacy, actually had to recover. on memorial day 1922 the city's african-american community got there early. they got to the front rows, and a few hours before the ceremony was to get under way, police cleared them out of their seats and moved them back to segregated seating in the back of the crowd. this is at a lincoln event. the other seats had backs. their seats were benches.
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they were replaced in their seats by aged confederate veterans in uniform to add irony. some people refused to stay, understandably, including one really interesting man named alan lee roy locke, who was the first african-american rhodes scholar. he walked out in protest when this happened. the chicago defender, the new york aids, the crisis, african-american publications all wrote freely but to their own audience about being given second-class status at an alleged event honoring an emancipator. one called it jim crowism of the greatest sort, perpetuated by the hypocrites of the nation on a day devoted to abraham lincoln. but that was not the only indignity awaiting.
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here's the crowd as it gathers, and it was about 100,000 people in the end. the harding administration, warren harding is now the president, and he asked one african-american to speak to represent his race. they chose a conservative leader, robert russell, who is principal of the tuskegee institute, brooker t. washington's successor. and he wrote a pretty tough speech including this sentence, so long as any group within our nation is denied the full protection of the law, then lincoln's unfinished work is still unfinished. the memorial itself would be a hollow mockery, a symbol of hypocrisy unless we together can make real in our national life in every state and in every section the things for which he died.
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the only problem was, unlike the white speakers that day, molt on had to submit his speech in advance to the harding press office and they told him they had no intention of allowing him to make that statement. he could either eliminate the disagreeable passages or heaven forbid he talked about black rights, or he could retire from the proceeding, and they would not have an african-american speaker. so he, facing the prospect of losing the biggest white audience he had been able to speak before, consented to the censorship. his speech was not fully printed for another 60 years and was not performed for 75 years. 85 years at the memorial itself. rising to present the statue to the nation, william howard taft, you see on the right, a little slimmer than in his presidential
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days the chairman of the , commission presented the sculpture to warren harding, and both of them talked only about sectional reconciliation and not about racial conciliation. how it would soften lincoln's anguish, said harding, to know that the south has come to realize that a vain assassin robbed it of its most sincere and potent friend, a jim crow version of reconstruction. to the chicago defender, it was an abject attempt to justify empowering words of apology, the greatest act of the greatest american, the freeing of the freeing of the poor, helpless bondmen. and it was perfectly pleasing, warren harding on the left, robert lincoln in the middle, and speaker of the house, then ex-speaker of the house uncle joe cannon, who had reluctantly
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agreed to the site and was still around for the dedication. and there it was, a symbol, i guess, of the reunification of the states facing virginia, with the words of the gettysburg address and the second inaugural carved inside, but not the words of what lincoln said was his greatest act, the emancipation. just some further technical ingenuity by french who gets enormous credit for conceiving the sculpture and then unfortunately did not live to see its transfiguration, but he did know at night it was not visible. primitive electric lighting, he very cleverly got g.e. to do a free study, and they rehearsed and reconfigured the lighting so that it glowed in the dark as it did in the day. but it was still the white man's marble white tribute to abraham lincoln. and that did not change for another 17 years.
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not until easter sunday, 1939. a few weeks before, marian anderson had been barred from the daughters of the american revolution where she had contracted to give a concert. eleanor roosevelt intervened and urged the interior department to stage her concert at the lincoln memorial. on a drizzling easter 25,000 sunday, people gathered to hear her sing "my country, tis of thee" and a few other selections. millions listened on radio. almost immediately the lincoln memorial was transformed into a backdrop for national aspiration. that same year, and we shouldn't take the power of film lightly, james stewart, aka mr. smith, who goes to washington, came to
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the memorial to gather inspiration for his new senate term and there listened as a child, read the words of the gettysburg address, and a man of color listened as well, tears streaming down his cheek. that's a little bit of frank capricorn, i guess. chipped in by adding henry fonda's silhouette fading memoriale lincoln fades into the strains of the battle hymn of the republic. here is another extraordinary event. naacp's meeting, june 29 -- 1947, excuse me, the speaker is harry truman, and again, the catalyst, second from the right in the front row, her head turned, is eleanor roosevelt, who had urged harry truman to make this pilgrimage and to speak.
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he had just read the story of the brutal beating and blinding of world war ii veteran isaac woodard, the subject of a new book, as some of you may have seen recently. it inspired this one time, at the least, casual racist from missouri. his letters are filled with expressions of racism. to rethink himself and rethink american policy, ultimately, to desegregate the military but to speak here about freedom and equality for all. again, animated by this memorial which, by then, had achieved ubiquity in many other ways, currency and coin. 16 years after truman, the nation's civil rights leaders gathered in the shadow of the lincoln memorial for the march on washington. and among those present, third
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from the left, is a very young future congressman named john lewis, and of course from the right, in the front row, are rory wilkins, dr. king, and a. philip randolph, who has a statue of his own now in washington. and on that moment, august 28, 1963, the "i have a dream speech," the lincoln memorial took on yet another meaning. it had not been a destination of reflection and aspiration until this moment really maybe , beginning with marian anderson but obviously a whole new level of meaning in 1963 in which dr. king identified the civil rights struggle with the emancipation proclamation moment of the century earlier. since then it's inspired visits both moving, surprising, bizarre. fidel castro in 1961, his thoughts impossible to penetrate.
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he was a huge lincoln fan, by the way. there are a surprising number of lincoln statues in havana, some of which he installed. in 1971, richard nixon made a famous pilgrimage to meet demonstrators who had occupied the memorial to chant anti-war slogans and had a dialogue with them, which is unrecorded, but which must have been interesting. there he is with the protestors, who are looking and saying, i don't know how high are we that nixon seems to be here. i don't know. >> [laughter] harold it took a while to sink : in, right? >> [laughter] harold more recently it's the : back drop for the pre-inaugural ceremonies. it's the destination, almost a requirement now, for presidents, before they go the next day to be sworn in.
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and we will start with the president clinton, who visited the memorial many times. we'll just, i know you know who these folks are. the lincoln memorial also has come to suggest expressions of national concern, grief. this is herblock's famous 1963 cartoon about the nation mourning for john fitzgerald kennedy. cartoons have been have , proliferated of the lincoln memorial. it's our go-to symbol of the national mood. there are at least 20 cartoons on the occasion of the election of barack obama. and, no, it wasn't hard to find a cartoon representation of the lincoln memorial following the last presidential election.
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and the cartoonist was nice enough to give this to me so i show you my cartoon of the lincoln memorial after the election. >> [laughter] [applause] is danield here chester french in his final visit to the lincoln memorial, an old man of about 80, who just stood there and said, isn't it beautiful? which is what robert lincoln continued to say all the days of his life, which lasted into the jazz age. and you know, the work goes on. we're living in a golden age of lincoln sculpture. while we're appropriately focused on lost cause memorials, when they were built, what they represent, who were they supposed to frighten, and who they were supposed to assure, there is also a renaissance in lincoln sculpture. sculptures are popping up
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everywhere, and there is dan again, but here's one that i wanted to show you. it is by my friend frank, who i think is here tonight. there he is right there. frank produced this a few years ago. it was unveiled. the bronze was unveiled right here at the new york historical society with a brief and wonderful exhibition, and i'm happy to say that it's now been accepted to adorn the town square of lincoln, argentina. the first city outside the united states named for abraham lincoln. so it will soon be shipped and soon be shown. so the lincoln legacy is perpetuated in art as surely as it is in history, and writing , and analysis, and debate. i'm grateful for the memorials that still stand and thrive, and i want to end with one wonderful recollection that i'm very fond of. four years after it was
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dedicated, and 13 years before marian anderson repurposed the lincoln memorial, a washington bus boy, a former historian's assistant who had to work part time as a restaurant bus boy, who was soon to enroll alongside an aspiring attorney named thurgood marshall in the all black college lincoln university, later to emerge as a social activist and a poet, visited the lincoln memorial, as i'm sure all of you had and have. his name was langston hughes, and this is what he wrote in 1926. true then, true now, and hopefully, as he put it, true for all time. langston hughes wrote "let's go see old abe sitting in the
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marble and the moonlight, quiet for 10,000 centuries, old abe. quiet for a million, million years. quiet and yet a voice forever against the timeless walls of time itself, old abe. " thank you. [applause] thank you. so i handed some questions, we have about 10 minutes -- not to worry, i will be removed from the stage on the dot of 7:30. so did lincoln think about or write about his legacy during his presidency? that's a very good question, and he did. as early as december 1862, two weeks before the emancipation proclamation in its final version was signed and delivered
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to the american people, he said we cannot escape history. we'll be remembered in despite of ourselves. and i think he understood from the minute he affixed his name to that document, that he would be enshrined in american memory for you know, removing the great hypocrisy that had stadium the -- that had abstained the founding, and there is a great story about that moment. you know he delayed the signing for hours, as abolitionists and people of color gathered in churches around the north. from midnight on, waiting for the decree to be communicated on the telegraph, and the reason is, and this is often not stated, because lincoln found a typo. it wasn't a typo, but a miss writing on the formal document and he wouldn't sign it unless it was perfect. sent it back, went to a new year's reception, two hours shaking hands with diplomats and military leaders, and then another two hours shaking hands with the general public, who had
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just come in, and he finally goes up at 3:00 in the afternoon, while people in the churches are probably on the 20th round of the hymn book at that the point, not sure what had happened, and lincoln picked up a pen, and then put it down again. and the two or three witnesses in the room thought, maybe he just isn't going to do it. maybe it's too much. it was controversial. he picked up his pen again and put it down. no one understood what was happening. and finally, lincoln looked up and said, i have been shaking hands for four hours. i have almost no feeling left in my hand. if i sign it now, my signature will appear tremulous, and in 100 years people will look at it and think, he hesitated. if my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act. it's the greatest act of the 19th century, and then he just massaged his hand, and when he had the feeling back, he wrote abraham lincoln in a fine hand and said that will do.
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the irony is that it's all faded. we don't have that parchment in a eligible way, but he certainly thought from that moment that his legacy would be different than when he began his presidency. what were the reactions to the aesthetics of the memorial? was it well received in terms of its appearance? absolutely. it was brave -- it was reviewed in rave terms by everyone. particularly the new york herald tribune, which had a very famous art critic named royal, and maybe it helped he had been asked to write the epithet in ,ack of the lincoln memorial where the memory of abraham lincoln is enshrined forever. but it was absolutely, it did not receive any criticism that i have ever found. the epigraph did because it talked about the union and not about slavery and emancipation. the last few years have seen a
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more mainstream reckoning with civil war memorials, that's for sure. giving the context of its creation and opening, do you think the lincoln memorial should be altered in any way? it has been. in one major way. aside from the stencilled words of the -- which i'm happy to say, under the clinton-lincoln bicentennial commission, we restencilled, thanks to you taxpayers. i will not say how much it cost. but the lincoln memorial was altered after the assassination of dr. king in 1968. a tablet was carved on the top step indicating that, that dr. king had given his "i have a dream" speech on that spot. and it is, you know a minor , change, and of course, now mr. rubenstein is certainly bringing an alteration to the under
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croft. there will be a bookstore, rest rooms, which visitors yearn for. and people will get to see the graffiti that early 20th century construction workers drew, those that we can show, in the under croft. lincoln has occupied a significant part of the american imagination for two centuries. will he still 200 years from now? i don't know. i think, you know, public statuary that we acknowledge survive, has a powerful impact. i mean, there are four century old statues in europe. we mourned when the bombing on buddhists were destroyed by the taliban because a great work of art had been destroyed because of a belligerent attitude about a different religion. i hope it endures and i'm heartened and disheartened at the same time when i see
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thousands of people a day experiencing the sculpture by taking selfies of themselves with it, but you know, i say whatever, whatever it takes. did the former confederate states respond to commemorate lincoln's death? well, by the early 20th century, they were sucked into the idea that lincoln was their best friend. he was not their best friend. he would have, i am convinced imposed a harsh, at least a fair , reconstruction that would have encouraged, as he said, in his last speech, the speech that john wilkes booth heard him deliver and vowed would be the last speech he would ever make, he vowed to begin the process of black voting rights. although he said at the time, and here's a great example of looking at history through the wrong end of a telescope, as my friend jim mcpherson liked to say, let's consider giving the vote to the colored race, that is, those who are very intelligent, and those who have fought in the army.
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now, anyone looking at that statement through the lens of the 21st century would say, means testing, exclusion, but he was the first american president to introduce the idea of black male suffrage. for that again, john wilkes negrosaid that means league quality, it is the less speech he will ever make. if lincoln hadn't been assassinated, what -- do you think his memorial would have been different? you know, memorials, unanswerable, i guess, memorials in the first 25 years of lincoln's -- after lincoln's death were almost all about the emancipation proclamation. were all about lincoln as a liberator. only when we congealed the memory and allowed lost cause memory to take fuller hold was lincoln portrayed by st. gardens and others as an orient are. -- as an orator.
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in that atmosphere, and we all 10's were the 19t like considering that , dixie-caats and republicans had to unite to fund this thing, i think french had the last laugh because we can attach our imaginings about lincoln's determination to that mysterious figure as have marion anderson and so many others. firstt going to read this part because it will sound self serving. do you still find yourself have,sed by something you something new you have learned about him? yeah. all the time. and the web has made it so much easier to suss out information, if you use it properly. so, yeah, i can't tell you the last surprising thing, but i guess my book about lincoln in the press yielded surprises at least for me, i hope for you, about his astonishing
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stranglehold on censorship and the press during the civil war. did mary lincoln play any role in terms of memorials or paintings, or was she not consulted? that is a really good question. i always get mary question. oneyeah, they wanted to build a memorial to lincoln in springfield, illinois right away and they told mary lincoln what was in such protracted mourning that they thought she would be a pushover. they told her they would build it at the railroad station in springfield from which lincoln had departed to go to washington in 1861, and it was going to be really good because it would build some hotels there and people could get off the train, buy a postcard, buy lunch, and get back on the train, and we keep sweeping in the tourists. and she said that's what you think. she said my husband and i helped , found a rural cemetery at oakridge, just outside of town. that's now part of town.
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we really believed in this idea of a bucolic cemetery like mount auburn in boston. like greenwood in brooklyn, and that's where he's going, and they said don't be silly. he can't possibly go to such a remote area with the statue that we have planned, and she said, if he doesn't go there, i'm taking him to chicago. and she did influence that serenity that still exists in oakridge cemetery. is it fair to think of lincoln as a refounding father, since he presided over the union's dissolution and eventual reunification? i'm going to use that line. but now it's on c-span that i have to borrow it. that's a really terrific rebranding of the lincoln legacy, and it is absolutely true. lincoln was always aware of the founding fathers and their
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accomplishments. in fact, as a young man, he was concerned that no man of his generation could ever equal their accomplishments. that all the rivers and all the mountains in the country had already been named, and there would be no opportunity to shine, so he was thought of as another founder at the instant of his assassination. and i think he would have loved the idea of being a refounding father, and if you hear it repeatedly for the rest of whatever days i have to talk about abraham lincoln, it started right here at the new york historical society. thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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