Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States / THF118582
March 4, 1861: Inauguration Day. Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect, takes the oath of office to become the 16th President of the United States. It was an uncertain time. The country was torn over the issue of slavery. For years, a tenuous arrangement had been maintained between free and slaveholding states, but now many Americans—on both sides—seemed unwilling to compromise. The Democratic Party had fractured over the issue. Two Democrats and a former Whig, each with differing views, vied to become president in 1860. This left the Republican Party, which wanted to limit slavery, with an opportunity for an electoral victory.
Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate, was elected by a minority of eligible voters, winning mainly Northern and Western states—enough for an electoral majority—but receiving little or no support from the slaveholding South. Since Lincoln's election in November 1860, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, and many Americans feared the other eight slave states would follow. Americans anxiously waited to hear from their new president.
In his inaugural address, Lincoln tried to allay the fears and apprehensions of those who perceived him as a radical and those who sought to break the bonds of the Union. More immediately, his address responded to the crisis at hand. Lincoln, a practiced circuit lawyer, laid out his case to dismantle the theory of secession. He believed that the Constitution provided clear options to change government through scheduled elections and amendments. Lincoln considered the more violent option of revolution as a right held by the people, but only if other means of change did not exist. Secession, Lincoln argued, was not a possibility granted by the founders of the nation or the Constitution. Logically, it would only lead to ever-smaller seceding groups. And governing sovereignty devolved from the Union—not the states, as secessionists argued. Finally, if the Constitution was a compact between sovereign states, then all parties would have to agree to unmake it. Clearly, President Lincoln did not.
Lincoln did not want conflict. His administration had yet to govern, and even so, he believed that as president he would have "little power for mischief," as he would be constrained by the checks and balances framed in the Constitution. Lincoln implored all his countrymen to stop and think before taking rash steps. But if conflict came, he would be bound by his presidential oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the government.
Lincoln concluded his case with the most famous passages in the speech—a call to remember the bonds that unify the country, and his vision of hope:
"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Lincoln's appeal, however, avoided the cause of the onrushing war—slavery. Failing to take this divisive issue head-on only added to its polarizing effect. Many Americans in the North found Lincoln's speech too conciliatory. Southerners thought it threatened war. And the nation had little time to stop and think. Immediately after his inauguration, Lincoln had to decide whether to resupply Fort Sumter, the U.S. military post in Charleston harbor, the heart of secession. In April, the "bonds of affection" broke.
Lincoln had hoped that time and thoughtful deliberation would resolve this issue—and in a way it did. The tragedies of war empowered Lincoln to reconsider his views. His views on slavery and freedom evolved. No longer bound, Lincoln moved toward emancipation, toward freeing enslaved Americans, and toward his "better angels."
Engraving, "The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet" / THF6763
To read Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, click here.
Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
The story of Frederick Douglass’s life is, at turns, tragic and awe-inspiring. He is a testament to the strength and ingenuity of the human spirit. The Henry Ford is fortunate to have some materials related to Douglass, as well as to the many areas of American history and culture he touched. What follows is an exploration of Frederick Douglass’s story through the lens of The Henry Ford’s collection, using our artifacts as touchpoints in Douglass’s life.
This portrait of Douglass was taken circa 1860, around the time Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States. /THF210623
Early Life & Escape
Born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, Frederick Douglass was named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey by his enslaved mother, Harriet Bailey. Tragically, Douglass only saw his mother a few times before her early death, when Douglass was just seven years old. Though he had few memories of his mother, he recalled her fondly and was proud to learn that she also knew how to read. He wrote that he was “quite willing, and even happy, to attribute any love of letters I possess” to his mother. Few enslaved people could read at that time—Douglass’s pride in his mother was certainly justified.
In 1826, Douglass was sent to Baltimore, Maryland, to live with the family of Hugh and Sophia Auld—extended family of his master, Aaron Anthony. This move to Baltimore would be transformative for Douglass. It not only exposed Douglass to the wider world, but was also where Douglass learned to read.
Douglass was initially taught to read by Sophia Auld, who considered him a bright pupil. However, the lessons were put to a stop by Hugh Auld. It was not only illegal to teach an enslaved person to read, but Hugh also believed literacy would “ruin” Douglass as a slave. In a sense, Douglass agreed, as he came to understand the vast power of literacy. Douglass would later remark that “education and slavery are incompatible with each other.”
Douglass was determined to read. He “converted to teachers” some of the friendlier white children in the neighborhood. They showed him a school reader entitled The Columbian Orator, by Caleb Bingham, that he came to rely upon. In 1830, he purchased his own copy for 50 cents. The book—a collection of exceptional oration, poems, dialogue, and tips on the “art of eloquence”—became a great inspiration to Douglass. He carried it with him for many years to come.
“The Columbian Orator” features a discussion between an enslaved person and their master which impressed Douglass. The enslaved person’s dialogue—referred to as “smart” by Douglass—resulted in the man’s unexpected emancipation. / THF621972, THF621973
As recollected in his first memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845, Douglass’s teenage years were some of his most challenging. He became viewed as a “troublemaker.” He was hired out to different farmers in the area, including one who had the reputation as an “effective slave breaker” and was especially cruel. Knowing that a larger world awaited and facing a terrible quality of life, Douglass attempted an escape in 1836. The escape failed and he was put in jail. Douglass was surprised to be released. He was sent not to the deep South as he had feared, but instead, back to Baltimore and the family of Hugh Auld, to learn the trade of caulking at the shipyards. While working there, Douglass was subjected to the animosities of his white coworkers, who beat him mercilessly—and were never arrested for it because a white witness would not testify and the word of a Black man was not admissible. He continuously dreamt of escape.
In this first memoir, Douglass provides great detail into his early life. However, because he was still a fugitive at the time of publication, he omitted details related to his escape. / THF8133
Recalling the ships on Chesapeake Bay, Douglass wrote:
“Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye of the freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition. You are loosed from your moorings and are free; I am fast in my chains and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip!”
The ships’ freedom taunted him.
On September 3rd, 1838, Douglass courageously escaped slavery. Dressed as a sailor and using borrowed documents, he boarded a train, then a ferry, and yet another train to reach New York City—and freedom. His betrothed, a free Black woman named Anna Murray, followed, and soon after they were married. Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, with hopes that Frederick could find work as a caulker in the whaling port. Instead, he took on a variety of jobs—but, finally, the money he earned was fully his.
The American Anti-Slavery Society & the Abolitionists
While living in New Bedford, Douglass encountered William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, for the first time. Douglass later wrote that the paper “took its place with me next to the Bible.” The Liberator introduced to Douglass the official abolitionist movement.
In August of 1841, Douglass attended an abolitionist convention. In an impromptu speech, he regaled the audience with stories of his enslaved past. William Lloyd Garrison and other leading abolitionists noticed—Douglass’s career as an abolitionist orator had begun. Douglass became a frequent speaker at meetings of the American Anti-Slavery Society. His personal story of life enslaved humanized the abolitionist movement for many Northerners—and eventually, the world.
This copy of William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator was published on August 16, 1839—around the time when Douglass first encountered the paper. /THF621979
Douglass was also supportive of the women’s suffrage movement. He spoke at the famous Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 in support of women’s rights. In fact, the motto of his newspaper, The North Star, was “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and we are brethren.”
While Douglass forcefully supported women’s suffrage, some of his actions put him at odds with others in the movement. He supported the adoption of the 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, which guaranteed equality to all citizens—which included Black and white males, including the formerly enslaved. It did not include women. He also supported adoption of the 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, which secured Black males the right to vote. Again, the amendment excluded women. Although a dedicated women’s rights activist, Douglass supported the adoption of the 14th and 15th amendments as he believed the matter to be “life or death” for Black people. This put him in disagreement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, as well as his friends. Despite this disagreement about timing, Douglass would continue to lecture in support of women’s equality and suffrage until his death.
John Brown’s Raid
Douglass was well-acquainted with famous abolitionist leader John Brown, first meeting him in 1847 or 1848. Brown became known for leading a raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859, intending to create an “army of emancipation” to liberate enslaved people. Douglass and Brown spoke shortly before John Brown’s raid. Brown had hoped that Douglass would join him, but Douglass declined. He believed that Brown was “going into a perfect steel trap, and that once in he would not get out alive.”
Douglass was right. Brown was captured during the raid and was subsequently tried, convicted, and executed. Brown became seen as an anti-slavery martyr, as the below print shows. Henry David Thoreau remarked about him, “No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature…”
A letter from Douglass was found among John Brown’s belongings, leading to warrants for Douglass’s arrest as a conspirator. He was lecturing in Philadelphia at the time of the discovery. John Hurn, Philadelphia’s telegraph operator, was sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. He received a dispatch for the sheriff calling for Douglass’s arrest and both sent a warning to Douglass and delayed relaying the dispatch to the sheriff. Douglass fled and made it to Canada, narrowly escaping arrest. He then went abroad on a lecture tour, resisting apprehension in the States.
The text on this Currier & Ives print reads “John Brown—The Martyr: Meeting a Slave Mother and her Child on the steps of Charlestown Jail on his way to Execution. Regarding them with a look of compassion Captain Brown stooped and kissed the Child then met his fate." This did not actually occur, but became popular lore, as well as the subject of artwork and literature. / THF8053
The Civil War & Abraham Lincoln
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. At the time, Douglass was not optimistic about the cause of abolition under Lincoln’s presidency. As tensions between the North and South grew and Civil War loomed, Douglass welcomed the impending war. As biographer David Blight states, “Douglas wanted the clarity of polarized conflict.”
Douglass got involved in the war effort through the recruitment of Black soldiers. Two of his sons, Charles and Lewis, joined the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the second Black regiment in the Union Army. Douglass first met President Abraham Lincoln in August 1863, when he visited the White House to discuss grievances against Black troops. Even without an appointment and a room full of people waiting, Douglass was admitted to see Lincoln after just a few minutes.
Two of Frederick Douglass’s sons, Lewis and Charles, fought with the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment. Lewis Douglass was appointed Sergeant Major, the highest rank that a Black person could then hold. / THF73704
Douglass would go on to advise Lincoln over the following years. After Lincoln’s second inaugural address, he asked Douglass his thoughts about it, adding, “There is no man in these United States whose opinion I value more than yours.”
On February 1, 1865, Lincoln approved the Joint Resolution of the United States Congress proposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—the “nail in the coffin” for the institution of slavery in the United States. But before the 13th Amendment could be ratified, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. While Douglass and Lincoln certainly disagreed on many topics, Douglass remembered him fondly. In his eulogy, Douglass called Lincoln “the Black man’s president: the first to show any respect to their rights as men.”
After the Civil War and even after Reconstruction, Douglass held high-ranking government appointments—often becoming the first Black person to do so. Douglass was appointed the Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti in 1889.
While Douglass certainly supported the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery, he did not think it went far enough. He remarked, “Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot. While the legislatures of the south retain the right to pass laws making any discrimination between black and white, slavery still lives there.” / THF118475
Douglass continued to lecture in support of his two primary causes—racial equality and women’s suffrage—until the very end. On February 20, 1895, he attended a meeting of the National Council of Women, went home, and suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 77 years old.
Frederick Douglass remains one of the most inspirational figures in American history. We can still feel the weight of the words he wrote and spoke, more than 125 years after his passing. Douglass said, “Memory was given to man for some wise purpose. The past is … the mirror in which we may discern the dim outlines of the future and by which we may make it more symmetrical.” This work continues.
Frederick Douglass remains a powerful symbol of the fight for racial justice and equality. Here, his image graces the cover of Ebony Magazine’s issue celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. / THF98736_REDACTED
Katherine White is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. She appreciated the recently published book by David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, as she conducted research for this post.
Joint Resolution of the United States Congress, Proposing the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, February 1, 1865 / THF118475
December 6, 2020, marks the 155th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which legally abolished slavery.
The Emancipation Proclamation, first made public by President Abraham Lincoln in September 1862, laid the foundation for this amendment. With this presidential proclamation and executive order, President Lincoln hoped to counteract severe Union losses during the Civil War by calling on all Confederate states to rejoin the Union within 100 days (by January 1863) or the proclamation would declare enslaved people “thenceforward, and forever free.” On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln proceeded to sign this document, announcing freedom to all enslaved people in the Confederacy. It helped enlist needed support for the war from abolitionists and pro-union and anti-war supporters. But it was not a legal document, and Lincoln knew it.
President Lincoln and his allies in Congress soon began working to enact a constitutional amendment that would legally abolish slavery. Various versions were brought before Congress until, on April 8, 1864, the strongly pro-Union Senate approved this version of the Thirteenth Amendment as we know it today:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
However, this amendment failed to pass in the House of Representatives, whose members were more split on their views. The amendment stalled until November of that year, when, upon his own reelection and with like-minded Republican gains in the House, President Lincoln urged members of the Congress to reconsider the measure and give it their utmost urgency. He enlisted members of his Cabinet and selected allies in the House to help him sway enough House member votes for the amendment to pass.
On January 31, 1865, it barely squeaked by with the requisite two-thirds majority. Upon learning of the final vote, pro-Union and anti-war members of the House erupted in shouts and cheers, while outside spectators who had filled the Capitol’s galleries (both Black and white) wept tears of joy.
On February 1, 1865, members of Congress signed this Joint Resolution of the Thirteenth Amendment, indicating that it had passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives but had yet to receive state ratification. Although not legally required to do so, President Lincoln signed it as well. Immediately, Lincoln’s foes in both Congress and the press criticized him for wielding unseemly presidential power. But Lincoln was undeterred. Celebrating that evening, Lincoln happily announced, “This amendment is a King’s cure for all evils. It winds the whole thing up.”
It did help wind up the war. Its primary motive was, in fact, to preserve the Union by destroying the cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy. Sadly, on April 15, just as the war was winding down, President Lincoln was assassinated. Afraid that slavery might be re-established by individual states, Radical Republicans in Congress determinedly pushed the Thirteenth Amendment forward for state ratification. It was finally ratified by the requisite three-quarters of states on December 6, 1865—the date we are now commemorating.
Unfortunately, the Thirteenth Amendment was not a “cure for all evils.” Some Southern states were already instituting black codes, denying African Americans basic rights. The Thirteenth Amendment was followed by a Fourteenth and a Fifteenth—legally guaranteeing African Americans the basic rights of citizenship and the ability to vote. But these were just legal documents. Enforcing them was another matter, one fraught with violence and discrimination. African Americans would face an ongoing struggle for freedom and justice.
This is one of a limited number of original manuscript copies known to survive of the February 1, 1865, Joint Resolution of the US Congress, proposing the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery. Lincoln’s signature was added by another hand.
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
This statue was designed to reveal Lincoln’s “essential nobility” while the inscription above him was intended to reinforce national unity. THF121596
By the first decade of the 20th century, memories of the real Abraham Lincoln had faded. A new generation of Americans came of age who had only heard the stories, the myths, and the legends. It was this generation who transformed Lincoln the real man into Lincoln the hero.
During the early decades of the 20th century, America was becoming a complex place--an urban-industrial nation, a serious player on the world stage, and a place with an increasingly diversified population of foreign-born residents. Struggling to come to terms with the change and uncertainty of the era, people looked to Abraham Lincoln--the humble, imperfect, self-educated “common man”--for comfort and reassurance. Abraham Lincoln, better than any single individual, seemed to embody the democratic principles upon which the country had been founded. It was during this era that Abraham Lincoln replaced George Washington as America’s most venerated president.
Just about everyone could find something meaningful by invoking his image, his name, or his character.
The Lincoln Centennial
Postcards abounded as popular keepsakes of the Lincoln Centennial, including this German-imported embossed example. THF121598
On February 12, 1909, virtually the entire nation honored Abraham Lincoln on the 100th anniversary of his birth. In city after city, Americans put aside their regional differences and sought national unity by venerating Lincoln as a “man of the people.”
The national celebration was a grassroots effort--mainly the work of local governments, civic organizations, and print media. Even in the old Confederate states, Lincoln’s character was held up as a model of humility and generosity.
Sadly, Jim Crow laws in the South and practices in the North prevented African Americans from taking part in most of these observances. In their own communities, they honored the memory of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator.”
The Lincoln Highway
Abraham Lincoln and symbols of national unity are pictured on the front of this 1915 travelogue. THF204498
In 1912, the few “good” roads that existed for automobile travel were dirt-covered--making them bumpy and dusty in dry weather and virtually impassable when it rained. To get anywhere, it was better to take a train than to drive.
Enter Carl Fisher, an automobile headlight entrepreneur who had the ambitious idea of creating a highway that would cross the continent from New York City to San Francisco. He turned to manufacturers of automobiles and automobile accessories for support and financial backing. His biggest advocate became Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company.
It was Joy’s idea to name the road in honor of Abraham Lincoln. Joy was only a year old when Lincoln was assassinated but his father had filled him with stories of the martyred president. He felt that connecting the road with Lincoln would both increase both its patriotic appeal and enhance its symbolism as the road that unified the nation--a fitting parallel to Lincoln’s great achievement of preserving the union.
Abraham Lincoln and World War I
This World War I poster includes an excerpt of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. THF239921
During the First World War, Lincoln’s reputation extended beyond American shores to the international arena. For, who could more perfectly symbolize the international fight for freedom--the fight to make the world safe for democracy--than America’s own Abraham Lincoln? Although Lincoln’s tactics as Commander-in-Chief during the Civil War had been questioned during his own time, his policies, decisions, defense of war, and crackdown on obstructionists now seemed to exemplify visionary leadership.
Reviving Lincoln as a symbol of wisdom, courage, and sacrifice during World War I might have been propaganda but it worked its magic on the American public. Northerners and Southerners enlisted in droves and fought alongside each other in battle. African Americans’ loyalty to Lincoln inspired thousands to enlist and bravely serve their country--though largely in segregated units.
This Lincoln Logs set dates from about 1960—the era of TV Westerns and the Davey Crockett craze. THF6627
Beloved by generations of young children, Lincoln Logs have been around since the 1920s. Oddly, their origin had nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln or log cabins. John Lloyd Wright, Lincoln Logs inventor and son of the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, claimed that the idea for this sturdy, interlocking “log” playset came to him in Tokyo, Japan in 1916, while visiting the construction site of the hotel designed by his father. The Imperial Hotel, as it was named, was built upon a unique, earthquake-proof foundation of interlocking beams.
By the time Wright patented his invention in 1920, he was calling it a “Toy-Cabin” construction set. In 1924, it came on the market as “Lincoln Logs: America’s National Toy.” Further cementing the connection, a 1928 advertisement claimed that Lincoln Logs provided, “All the romance of the early days of Abraham Lincoln with all the thrill of Pioneer Life.” Lincoln Logs were an instant success--leading to larger and more elaborate play sets that included cowboys, pioneer towns, forts, horses, and livestock.
The Lincoln Memorial
The Greek temple-like design of the Lincoln Memorial symbolizes the democratic principles for which Lincoln stood. THF121594
During the 1909 Lincoln Centennial, Congress found itself in the embarrassing position of having no plans to honor Lincoln in the nation’s capital. So in 1911, a Lincoln Memorial Commission was created. The commissioners saw this Memorial as both a tribute to Lincoln and an important symbol of a reunified nation. They chose to avoid any literal references to Lincoln’s accomplishments as President as well as his role as the “Great Emancipator.” They felt that might offend people, especially Southerners. No, this expression of Lincoln must transcend all that to represent the man who defended democracy and saved the Union. It must idealize Lincoln’s memory and reveal his “essential nobility.”
After delays in the completion of the enormous statue, the Lincoln Memorial was finally dedicated in 1922. In keeping with federal policies on segregation, African American guests to the dedication were seated in a “colored section” off to the side, where they reported rude treatment by military attendants.
Henry Ford and Abraham Lincoln
In this 1934 photograph, Henry Ford poses in front of the Logan County Courthouse with Lincoln portrayer Charles Roscoe Miles. THF121394
In his great admiration for Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford was like many other Americans of his generation. Born two years before Lincoln was assassinated, he had grown up surrounded by Lincoln myths and stories. His Uncle Barney’s regiment--the Union Army’s famed 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry--had even escorted President Lincoln’s casket from the Old State House in downtown Springfield, Illinois, to its final resting place in Oak Ridge Cemetery about two miles away.
As Henry grew from a youth to an enterprising automobile entrepreneur, Lincoln’s lessons were not lost on him. According to the stories, Lincoln’s success had been due to such character traits as honesty, temperance, industry, and pluck. Furthermore, Lincoln embodied the ideals of the “self-made man,” rising up from humble beginnings to make something of himself.
By the 1920s, a now-wealthy Henry Ford began to amass a collection to honor his hero--including the rocker that Lincoln had been sitting in at Ford’s Theatre the night he was assassinated. When an antique dealer friend told him of a neglected courthouse in Lincoln, Illinois, in which Lincoln had practiced law, Henry Ford knew that this was the key he had been searching for. It would become the centerpiece of an “exhibit” in his Early American Village (now Greenfield Village) depicting the move from slavery to emancipation. The building would also house his Lincoln collection, to serve as a teaching tool for “the application of the practical principles of justice and common sense so often exemplified by Abraham Lincoln in real life.” Ford’s workmen dismantled and reconstructed the courthouse in Greenfield Village in record time for its grand opening on October 21, 1929.
75 Years of Negro Progress Exposition
Lincoln’s image looms large in this poster advertising the nine-day Negro Progress Exposition. THF61510
Abraham Lincoln remained a powerful source of inspiration to African Americans through the early 20th century, as they struggled to realize the promise of emancipation. The image of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” belonged particularly to them. Those who had experienced firsthand Lincoln’s gift of freedom from slavery considered him their savior and they passed down to younger generations the intensely personal love and reverence they felt for him.
Seventy-five years after Lincoln was assassinated, Detroit was host to a nine-day exposition celebrating both past achievements and “new horizons of advancement.” Each day of the Exposition offered a theme, including Business Day, Women’s Day, Race Relations Day, Youth and Athletic Day, and Patriotic Day. Joe Louis, World’s Heavyweight Champion, made an appearance and Dr. George Washington Carver’s laboratory was featured.
In reality, progress for African Americans had been and would continue to be slow. Most of the earlier dreams of freedom and racial equality had failed. Jim Crow laws and practices were very much in effect. Discrimination was widespread, in the North as well as the South. Race riots continued. It would be 15 more years before Rosa Parks would refuse to give up her seat on a bus, sparking the Civil Rights movement. Later Civil Rights leaders would, in fact, downplay Lincoln’s role in their plight--feeling that reinforcing his image as the “Great Emancipator” diminished their own struggles and African Americans’ own contributions.
Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series.
We all have a unique and individual story, whether it started in this country before or after the Civil War, and the collective history of our past is the relevant ingredient that we all share. The social, political, technological, medical and scientific innovations from the Civil War were transformative and vast that serve as the foundation of the many attributes we still benefit from today. As we get ready to celebrate Civil War Remembrance at The Henry Ford, we ask you to join us in honoring all veterans for their sacrifices and achievements in protecting, sustaining, and preserving the promise of the Constitution of the United States for “a more perfect Union.”
Brian Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.
Guests to Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village 2014 may have been surprised to find the Tintype Studio transformed into a living history exhibit for the weekend. The small building was outfitted as a period social club called the Loyal Union League, serving as a Lincoln campaign headquarters for the 1864 presidential race. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection to a second term in office and the exhibit explored how local Union Leagues throughout the country participated in the campaign.
The previous year, The Henry Ford's Executive Producer Brian Egen and Senior Manager of Creative Programs Jim Johnson, along with members of The Petticoat Society (a living history organization), discussed the creation of a special program and interpretative scenario utilizing the Tintype Studio building. This site, because of its proximity to activities taking place at the Pavilion, Town Hall and the Village Green, was a perfect location for visitors to step back in time and experience the excitement and uncertainty of the 1864 election season.
Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated. This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.
But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker. They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.
The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.” Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics.
It is fascinating to connect with objects that were a part of Abraham Lincoln’s world. The Henry Ford owns a number of furnishings from Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, where they lived before Lincoln was elected president.
The Lincoln furniture from their Springfield home tells us about the tastes of the Lincolns in the decades before Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860. Stylistically, the furniture represents the middle-class, early Victorian aesthetic of the 1840s and early 1850s. The Lincolns selected sturdy and comfortable, yet stylish furnishings for their home.
At the time of his assassination in April 1865, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was considered by a majority of northerners as a competent president. Yet, this was not always the case. Lincoln was elected president at a critical time when the nation was at a breaking point over issues of states’ rights and slavery. As a direct result of his election, eleven states left the Union before his inauguration in 1861, touching off the Civil War.
During much of his first term of office, Lincoln was viewed by many as lacking the skills necessary for the role of President of the United States. He was lampooned as unsophisticated and criticized for tolerating ineffective generals. Lincoln, however, was a skilled politician—wise, tenacious, and perceptive—and learned from his mistakes.
Abraham Lincoln was committed to preserving the Union. He believed that the United States was more than an ordinary nation—it was the testing ground for a unique form of democracy. Many, including Lincoln himself, described one of his greatest achievements as the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which shifted the goal of the war from a fight to preserve the Union to one of freeing the enslaved. With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln’s vision of an indivisible Union—and a more perfect one—was fulfilled.