Full Text Political Transcripts December 9, 2015: President Barack Obama’s speech at Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment Abolition of Slavery



Remarks by the President at Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment

Source: WH, 12-9-15

U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.

12:02 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.”  That’s what President Lincoln once wrote. “Honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.  We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

Mr. Speaker, leaders and members of both parties, distinguished guests:  We gather here to commemorate a century and a half of freedom — not simply for former slaves, but for all of us.

Today, the issue of chattel slavery seems so simple, so obvious — it is wrong in every sense.  Stealing men, women, and children from their homelands.  Tearing husband from wife, parent from child; stripped and sold to the highest bidder; shackled in chains and bloodied with the whip.  It’s antithetical not only to our conception of human rights and dignity, but to our conception of ourselves — a people founded on the premise that all are created equal.

And, to many at the time, that judgment was clear as well.  Preachers, black and white, railed against this moral outrage from the pulpit.  Former slaves rattled the conscience of Americans in books, in pamphlets, and speeches.  Men and women organized anti-slavery conventions and fundraising drives.  Farmers and shopkeepers opened their barns, their homes, their cellars as waystations on an Underground Railroad, where African Americans often risked their own freedom to ensure the freedom of others.  And enslaved Americans, with no rights of their own, they ran north and kept the flame of freedom burning, passing it from one generation to the next, with their faith, and their dignity, and their song.

The reformers’ passion only drove the protectors of the status quo to dig in harder.  And for decades, America wrestled with the issue of slavery in a way that we have with no other, before or since.  It shaped our politics, and it nearly tore us asunder.  Tensions ran so high, so personal, that at one point, a lawmaker was beaten unconscious on the Senate floor.  Eventually, war broke out –- brother against brother, North against South.

At its heart, the question of slavery was never simply about civil rights.  It was about the meaning of America, the kind of country we wanted to be –- whether this nation might fulfill the call of its birth:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” that among those are life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

President Lincoln understood that if we were ever to fully realize that founding promise, it meant not just signing an Emancipation Proclamation, not just winning a war.  It meant making the most powerful collective statement we can in our democracy:  etching our values into our Constitution.  He called it “a King’s cure for all the evils.”

A hundred and fifty years proved the cure to be necessary but not sufficient.  Progress proved halting, too often deferred.  Newly freed slaves may have been liberated by the letter of the law, but their daily lives told another tale.  They couldn’t vote.  They couldn’t fill most occupations.  They couldn’t protect themselves or their families from indignity or from violence.  And so abolitionists and freedmen and women and radical Republicans kept cajoling and kept rabble-rousing, and within a few years of the war’s end at Appomattox, we passed two more amendments guaranteeing voting rights, birthright citizenship, equal protection under the law.

And still, it wasn’t enough.  For another century, we saw segregation and Jim Crow make a mockery of these amendments.  And we saw justice turn a blind eye to mobs with nooses slung over trees.  We saw bullets and bombs terrorize generations.

And yet, through all this, the call to freedom survived.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  And eventually, a new generation rose up to march and organize, and to stand up and to sit in with the moral force of nonviolence and the sweet sound of those same freedom songs that slaves had sung so long ago -– crying out not for special treatment, but for equal rights.  Calling out for basic justice promised to them almost a century before.

Like their abolitionist predecessors, they were plain, humble, ordinary people, armed with little but faith:  Faith in the Almighty.  Faith in each other.  And faith in America.  Hope in the face so often of all evidence to the contrary, that something better lay around the bend.

Because of them — maids and porters and students and farmers and priests and housewives — because of them, a Civil Rights law was passed, and the Voting Rights law was signed.  And doors of opportunity swung open, not just for the black porter, but also for the white chambermaid, and the immigrant dishwasher, so that their daughters and their sons might finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes.  Freedom for you and for me.  Freedom for all of us.

And that’s what we celebrate today.  The long arc of progress.  Progress that is never assured, never guaranteed, but always possible, always there to be earned -– no matter how stuck we might seem sometimes.  No matter how divided or despairing we may appear.  No matter what ugliness may bubble up.  Progress, so long as we’re willing to push for it; so long as we’re willing to reach for each other.

We would do a disservice to those warriors of justice — Tubman, and Douglass, and Lincoln, and King — were we to deny that the scars of our nation’s original sin are still with us today.  (Applause.)  We condemn ourselves to shackles once more if we fail to answer those who wonder if they’re truly equals in their communities, or in their justice systems, or in a job interview.  We betray the efforts of the past if we fail to push back against bigotry in all its forms.  (Applause.)

But we betray our most noble past as well if we were to deny the possibility of movement, the possibility of progress; if we were to let cynicism consume us and fear overwhelm us.  If we lost hope.  For however slow, however incomplete, however harshly, loudly, rudely challenged at each point along our journey, in America, we can create the change that we seek.  (Applause.)  All it requires is that our generation be willing to do what those who came before us have done:  To rise above the cynicism and rise above the fear, to hold fast to our values, to see ourselves in each other, to cherish dignity and opportunity not just for our own children but for somebody else’s child.  (Applause.)  To remember that our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others -– regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last name is or what faith they practice.  (Applause.)  To be honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.  To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.  To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.  That is our choice.  Today, we affirm hope.

Thank you.  God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

12:16 P.M. EST

History Buzz March 5, 2012: James McPherson: Returns to Gustavus College as Civil War Sesquicentennial Scholar


History Buzz


James McPherson: Returns to Gustavus as Sesquicentennial Scholar

Source: Gustavus News, 3-5-12

James McPherson

Sesquicentennial Scholar and 1958 Gustavus alumnus James McPhersonGustavus alumnus, Civil War historian, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson ‘58 will return to his alma mater April 15-17 as a Sesquicentennial Scholar.

Besides visiting several History Department classes during his visit to campus, McPherson will speak publicly during the College’s Monday, April 16, daily chapel service at 10 a.m. in Christ Chapel. His talk will be titled “Two Sesquicentennials: New Beginnings” and will address how the founding of Gustavus provided leadership for a people making a new beginning in a new country and compare it to the new beginnings for Americans – black and white, Northern and Southern – generated by the Civil War. Following his talk in Christ Chapel, McPherson will sign books in the President’s Dining Room in the C. Charles Jackson Campus Center from 10:30-1130 a.m. McPherson’s chapel talk will be live-streamed on the Gustavus website. Both the chapel talk and book signing are free and open to the public.

On Tuesday, April 17, McPherson will speak at Interlachen Country Club in Edina at an event that is also open to the public. McPherson’s lecture will be titled “Why the Civil War Still Matters” and will address the ways in which the war’s impact on America is still being felt today. Those interested in attending this event, which will include a reception at 4:30 p.m., McPherson’s lecture at 5 p.m., and a book signing at 6 p.m., should RSVP by going online to gustavus.edu/go/mcpherson, or by contacting the Gustavus Office of Alumni Relations at 507-933-7511….

For more information about McPherson’s visit to Minnesota as Gustavus Adolphus College’s Sesquicentennial Scholar, go online to gustavus.edu/go/mcpherson or contact Gustavus Professor of History Greg Kaster at gkaster@gustavus.edu.

History Buzz January 26, 2012: Huntington Library acquires trove of Lincoln, Civil War telegrams, codes


History Buzz


Huntington acquires trove of Lincoln, Civil War telegrams, codes

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens purchases a collection of telegrams from Abraham Lincoln and Union generals, plus code books.

Source: LAT, 1-26-12

A long-unknown, 150-year-old trove of handwritten ledgers and calfskin-covered code books that give a potentially revelatory glimpse into both the dawn of electronic battlefield communications and the day-to-day exchanges between Abraham Lincoln and his generals as they fought the Civil War now belongs to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

The collection, acquired in a private sale on Saturday and disclosed Wednesday, includes 40 cardboard-covered albums of messages that telegraph operators wrote down either before sending them in Morse code, or transcribed from telegraphic dots and dashes at the receiving end. There are also small, wallet-like booklets containing the key to code words Union commanders used to make sure their messages would remain unfathomable if intercepted by the Confederates.

“This opens up some new windows that we haven’t really been able to look at. It’s a major find,” said James M. McPherson, a Princeton University historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1988 study “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era.” Had it been available while he was researching his 2008 book, “Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief,” McPherson said, “it would have enriched my own work.”

PHOTOS: Lincoln treasure trove

“Anyone doing research on the Union war effort and the communication between the nerve center and field operations would now go to the Huntington to look at all this,” he added, and it also could be important for students of communications technology and cryptographic codes.

The cardboard-covered telegraphic ledgers of up to 400 pages had been stowed away by Thomas Eckert (1825-1910), a pioneering telegraph operator who ran the U.S. military‘s telegraph office at the War Department in Washington, D.C., from 1863 to 1867. The collection also includes ledgers from 1862, when Eckert served as telegraph chief for Gen. George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.

The Eckert collection’s existence wasn’t known to historians and archivists until December 2009, when an owner who’d bought it from Eckert’s descendants put the documents — 76 books in all — up for auction in New York City. The collection sold for $36,000, including a buyer’s premium, according to a record of the sale on the website of the Bonhams & Butterfields auction house.

Huntington officials said the library’s collectors’ council committed funds on Saturday to buy the Eckert collection from a dealer in White Plains, N.Y., adding to substantial Civil War holdings that include the world’s third-largest archive of Lincoln’s documents, behind only the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill. The Huntington declined to give the purchase price….READ MORE

History Buzz January 25, 2012: James Davis: Civil War lecture to be history professor’s last at Illinois College


History Buzz


Civil War lecture to be history professor’s last at IC

Source: Jacksonville Journal-Courier, 1-25-12

Illinois College invites the community to attend a presentation on how Illinois College and the Jacksonville community were involved in the Civil War.

Historian and Illinois College Professor Emeritus of History James Davis will be speaking on the subject 7 p.m. Wednesday in Room 6 of the Kirby Learning Center. This will be the last chance to attend a lecture by the retired professor before he moves to Michigan this spring.

The program is free and will feature the activities and events associated with the Civil War along with subtopics that include life in the town and college during the war, roles played by Jacksonville and IC during the war, and the impact of the war on the community and nation.

Davis specializes in 19th century American history and has authored three books, including “Frontier Illinois and Dreams to Dust,” which was nominated for four awards including the Parkman Award and the Bancroft Prize.

As a faculty member since 1971, Davis was the first to earn the Harry Joy Dunbaugh Distinguished Professor Award twice (1981 and 1993) and has taken students to do research in places like the Library of Congress and the National Archives. He has also taken students on trips to the Soviet Union, France and other countries, as well as to Civil War battlefields.

During his time at IC, Davis has received a number of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities including three grants to direct Summer Seminars at the college on the American frontier for teachers from all over the country and two grants to study Russian art and architecture in Russia.

Josh Howard: North Carolina Civil War history might need a rewrite


History Buzz

Source: NC News & Observer, 7-22-11

Josh Howard’s work as a research historian at N.C. Archives and History debunks two cherished myths about the Civil War.

For more than a century, North Carolina clung to a pair of Civil War distinctions thought sacred: It sent the first Confederate killed in battle, and it sacrificed 40,275 men – the most in the South.

Only part of that may still be true.

On the 150th anniversary of the war’s first shots, a new state study pulls together the scattered, error-riddled records of North Carolina’s Civil War dead and shows the following:

A Virginia captain beat Pvt. Henry Lawson Wyatt, a 19-year-old from Tarboro, to the grave by nine days;

North Carolina’s casualty list is actually closer to 32,000, possibly 35,000 if you count those still missing from the records and lumped into the “probable” category. Whether that’s the highest is unclear;

The war killed about a quarter of the state’s men of military age. More died of typhoid fever and chronic diarrhea than bullets. Some even died of spider bites and lightning strikes.

The point of the study isn’t to debunk any points of pride, said Josh Howard, the study’s author and a historian with the state Office of Archives and History. He started the study six years ago assuming the 40,275 figure was accurate.

“It’s not that we’re trying to destroy them,” he said. “Every household in North Carolina lost somebody in the war, or at least knew somebody. We as North Carolinians owe it to them to get it right, to demonstrate the huge loss the state took.”

In all likelihood, North Carolina still ranks first in fallen Confederates. If records in Raleigh are wrong, it’s a good bet the rest of the Southern states have inaccurate counts, too. Second-place Virginia, also reviewing its count, is moving much closer to North Carolina in the number of dead.

Descendants and admirers of the dead aren’t upset about the findings.

“It’s always good to get it right,” said John Huss of Raleigh, a local camp officer with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “But we still might be first.”

Praising the dead

Turning casualties into bragging rights may sound macabre by modern standards, but Howard’s study illustrates how Southern states used the measurement of their dead as a yardstick showing who gave the most to the cause. At the end of the war, with so many dead, North Carolina needed a symbol.

Wyatt became a powerful one. Howard’s study documents the portraits hung in the state library during the 1880s, and the collectible baseball-style cards that circulated with his likeness. Even today, his bronze statue appears on the Capitol lawn,rifle at the ready.

When Virginia protested that Capt. John Q. Marr had preceded Wyatt in death, North Carolinians disputed the claim by concluding that Marr had perished in a mere skirmish while Wyatt fell at the Battle of Big Bethel.

Similarly, the Capitol grounds monument to the Confederate dead facing Hillsborough Street boasts that North Carolinians were last to leave Appomattox.

“North Carolina has always been looking for ways to claim that it is unique and it is better,” said Larry Tise, history professor at East Carolina University, “that it is first in so many things.”

Howard’s study takes it further: High fatalities didn’t inflate the egos of Southern generals after the war; they boosted state pride.

“Sacrifice equated honor,” he wrote.

But in the days after the war, as the federal government tried to tally the dead, they worked with Confederate records captured from fleeing officials, many of which were lost. Few of those counting had much enthusiasm for the job at the war’s end, and the 40,000 became accepted truth ….READ MORE

David Detzer: The Battle of Bull Run, the Civil War’s first taste of horror


History Buzz

Source: CS Monitor, 7-21-11

An interview with historian David Detzer sheds light on the Battle of Bull Run, the first battle of the US Civil War, fought on July 21, 1861.


The Battle of Bull Run would be the first battle of an incredibly bloody war, a conflict that hardly anyone imagined would last very long or leave so many bereaved.

Visitors will flock to Manassas Battlefield National Park near Washington D.C. this month and contemplate the 150th anniversary of the first battle of the Civil War. Amid grassy fields and old houses, they’ll stare up at memorial statues, peer at cannons, and hear from guides about military strategy.

I made my own visit to the battlefield last month with a friend whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy and who remembered her Southern grandmother insisting on referring to the war as “The Recent Unpleasantness.” We stood and tried to imagine the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas.

But we couldn’t smell or see or hear the chaos: The smoke, the screams of horses and men, the booms of cannons, the crackle of trees on fire. Our imaginations only went so far.

But now I’ve gained a more detailed portrait thanks to a fine 2004 book about the first major skirmish of a war that would turn so many places – Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg – into emblems of death.

“Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861” by David Detzer, translates the bewildering intricacies of warfare while exploring the lives of those who fought, those who sent them there and those left back at home. (The book is part of Detzer’s trilogy about the early days of the war.)

In an interview, I asked the Connecticut-based historian to talk about the nation’s lessons from the first battle of an incredibly bloody war, a conflict that hardly anyone thought would last very long or leave so many bereaved….READ MORE

Karen Cox: Gone With The Wind Evokes Strong Feelings


History Buzz

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6-2-11

“Gone With the Wind” defined Atlanta, the South and the Civil War for millions of people around the world. As the novel turns 75, the conjunction of that event with the 150th anniversary of the war it depicts — inexcusably romanticizes, many would say — is crackling like crossed wires.

Most other best-sellers published in 1936 have been relegated to oblivion (Charles Morgan’s “Sparkenbroke”) or, at best, school reading lists (Aldous Huxley’s “Eyeless in Gaza”).

“Gone With the Wind” can still be read in more than 40 languages and continues to draw thousands of devotees such as Selina Faye Sorrow to fan events. Sorrow, 48, owns 30 copies of the book, including one from Egypt. She makes her own replicas of Scarlett’s dresses and has hundreds of items of “GWTW” kitsch around her Powder Springs home, including the Rhett Butler-Scarlett O’Hara pillows on her king-size bed.

On Saturday, scores of others who share her passion — hoop-skirted women and gray-coated Confederate re-enactors — gathered for a celebration at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. Other events include a film premiere on the life of Margaret Mitchell and a champagne toast at her grave in historic Oakland Cemetery. To this day, “GWTW” remains an Atlanta brand rivaled only by Coca-Cola and few others.

The book was spotted as a best-seller before the public even saw it. The actual publication date continues to cause confusion and controversy. The first printing of 10,000 copies contained a May 1936 date. But the distribution was delayed until June because the Book of the Month Club chose to feature it, said John Wiley Jr., co-author of “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Best Sellers Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood.”

To this day, Mitchell’s novel and the successful film remain the most powerful forces in shaping the perception of Southern life before, during and after the Civil War, said Karen Cox, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of “Dreaming of Dixie: How the South was Created in American Popular Culture.”

“ ‘Gone With the Wind’ eclipsed everything else,” she said. “It cemented that vision of the Old South in the nation’s imagination for years to come.”

However, for many, especially African-Americans, “GWTW’s” portrait of black slaves as happy servants grates upon the nerves.

Edward DuBose, who grew up in Atlanta, remembers the movie being used as an elementary school teaching tool in the ’60s. He also remembers singing “Dixie” in class. “It was a false, soft version of the Civil War,” said DuBose, 53, who now serves as president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP. “My understanding of it was you were second-class, not as intelligent as the other students.”

He finds no joy in all this “GWTW” partying.

“For African-Americans, it was a reflection of blacks as slaves,” he said. “I don’t get any enjoyment out of these celebrations.”

However it is regarded today, the publication of “GWTW” caused a sensation seldom matched in American cultural history. By the time the movie was released in 1939, the book had sold more than 2 million copies and the entire nation was engaged in a game of casting the actress who would play Scarlett. The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and the movie won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Emerging as it did in the midst of an industrial century and the depths of the Great Depression, the moonlight-and-magnolia romance offered an appealing alternative for readers in search of escape. The South may have lost the war, but for decades it won, with the help of this story, the battle over the public perception of the era.

Gordon Jones, the senior military historian with the Atlanta History Center, calls the book the dominant example of a particular view of the Civil War era — the vision of charming belles and grand plantations, devoted slaves and noble Confederates — called “The Lost Cause” narrative.

But the explosion of television news after World War II and the issues raised by the Civil Rights movement focused attention on the historical inaccuracies in the story, Jones said.

“Its cultural impact is diminishing,” he said. “It’s become kind of campy, like watching a 1950s horror movie.”

These days, the strongest emotional reaction the story stirs is resentment and outrage among African-Americans over the portrait of slavery, he said.

For fans such as Sorrow, race and politics are beside the point. For her, the story’s appeal endures in the colorful characters, the sweeping spectacle and the portrait — real or not — of a fairy-tale time of charming women, chivalrous men and elegant living.

To those who want to debate the novel’s historical accuracy, she offers a singular response: Fiddle-dee-dee. The only event she wants to re-enact is the movie.

“I do keep it separate,” she said.

However, in some quarters, people still take the story as history, said Cox, the author on Southern life. Her lectures abroad reveal that many Europeans still have a “GWTW” view of the South, she said.

Meanwhile, those old controversies still flare up, especially here in a state where people are debating the flying of the Confederate flag over the Dodge County Courthouse in Middle Georgia.

“In a lot of ways ‘Gone With the Wind’ is accurate,” said Calvin Johnson, 61, of Kennesaw, a member of the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “I like the way it shows the South in a respectful way.”

The story has its flaws, said Johnson, who stressed he does not defend slavery. Slaves were not happy servants in some households; but in many they were, he said.

He has no problem with Mitchell’s portrayal of slavery or the war.

“It’s not offensive to me,” Johnson said.

Can you feel that controversy crackling?

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