tv Fords Theatre Lincoln Symposium CSPAN March 16, 2019 11:35am-12:26pm EDT
welcome back. i am the chairperson of the board of the abraham lincoln institute. the curator of the abraham lincoln papers at the library of congress. a president of the united states traveled by train from washington dc to gettysburg to visit the battlefield and dedicate hallowed ground. speaking before an audience that included veterans, the president addressed the challenges the nation then faced and the need to preserve a government of the people. 1938 not 1863. the veterans were 75 years older. the president was fdr not abraham lincoln. the new york herald tribune reprinted that the speech under the headline roosevelt's gettysburg address.
the chicago tribune proclaimed roosevelt anza lincoln armor. is -- it's seldom helps to wonder how a statement of one generation would surmount the crisis of another. a statesman deals with difficulties with things that must be done from day to day. not often can he frame conchas patterns for the far-off future fdr acknowledged in his remarks. the stature of lincoln's nature and the usdamental conflict invite to turn to him for help. it is such invocations of the civil war past and a new deal era context that nina silver examines in her new book. silver introduces a the civil warto
memory and explores how americans reinterpreted the civil war to meet their own needs during the great depression and world war ii. since completing her training as berkeley,n at uc professor silver has returned to the fertile field of civil war studies to uncover new perspectives with which to engage civil war history. she has documented the gender dimensions of the war and daughters of the union. reunion, shee of traced the ships and normed -- northern sentiment toward the south during the. of reconciliation. and of the casualties of that reunion. in addition to her publications, she has further understanding of
the civil war era through her career athed teaching boston university and her contributions to public history projects. to her ability to inspire and inform. having long benefited from the insights of contained in her academic scholarship, i read an interview in which she was asked if she collected historical artifacts. as a result for the first time learned of the existence of civil war nurse barbie. [laughter] did you know that barbie was a nurse a gettysburg? although given her physical personality,erky and fondness for accessories, i'm guessing that barbie did not serve on the staff. she is still waiting for the barbie dream ambulance. those understood all of jokes, clearly this morning over for you either. [laughter] here to share with us how new
deal era americans reshaped the legacy of abraham lincoln, please welcome nina silver. [applause] >> thank you. barbie met lincoln in that book. at least there was a picture. thank you for that kind introduction. i am honored to be here in this setting. i have never been on the stage at ford's theater before. to johnply grateful white and the lincoln institute for the kind invitation to be here. i can tell you a little bit more about me. i am a scholar who studies the history of the american civil war. use andtudy how we
sometimes heavily we misuse the history of the civil war. i am interested in how people have appropriated the war. have a reinterpreted it over time area often they do that in a way so that it speaks to their present-day concerns. they manipulate the history to speak to the present. anybody who hasn't been under a the past few years knows something about how the civil war continues to get the appropriated and reinterpreted in the present day. recent clash and encounter over confederate monuments, civil war history continues to be retold with present-day concerns in mind. happened inmilar the 1930's. it wasn't so much monuments because people weren't holding monuments in the 1930's. the 30's were a decade of crisis end of people that some people thought had a lot of similarities to the 18th these.
no historical figure came in for more reimagining or reinterpreting during the 1930's than abraham lincoln. prepared, this is not going to be me talking about lincoln in the 19th century that it is going to be me talking about how lincoln was imagined in the 20th century. during the depression decade, lincoln was everywhere. movies were made about him asluding one by dw griffith well as the two better known lincoln movies, young mr. lincoln in 1939 with henry fonda. a lincoln in illinois with raymond massey. in the 1935 film the littlest rebel, lincoln meets with the petite confederate sympathizer played by shirley temple.
she met lincoln also. the two of them shared an apple and then lincoln frees her father who was falsely confused confused with a confederate spy. place --e two popular plays. stable inery popular the theater. in one of these, he was reincarnated as a kentucky college professor who helps to resolve a labor dispute. [laughter] lincolnead a lot of screenplays and scripts and that is one of the stranger interpretations of lincoln that i have come across. he was also frequently in the thick of 1930's politics often scrutinized and celebrated.
power went beyond political symbolism. he also struck a deep emotional accord with american in these years. knownandburg wrote a well multivolume biography of the president over the 1920's and 1930's. he probably did more than anyone to give lincoln and emotional have to. of swedish immigrant parents who had settled on the illinois prairie, and berg seemed attached to the notion that working people will and perhaps immigrants saw something in lincoln that made democracy viable and accessible. sandburg used the documentary in thehat became popular 30's and was similar to the style that was employed by only sandburg applied this to lincoln. surrounding him in a collage of historical details and allowing him to emerge seamlessly with
of thoughts and dealings ordinary americans. that connection to ordinary people very much suited the mentality of the 30's because it was a moment when people tended andlame elite bankers politicians. they said those were the ones responsible for creating the current economic crisis. they tended to believe or wanted to believe that the wisdom of the plane people what help american democracy survive. sandburg's work was on the mind of literary critic when he remarked that americans have developed a passionate addiction to lincoln. in 1942, after having written lincoln columns and completing portraits, the painter marston hardly stronger language when he said i am simply dead in love
with that man. before the depression, lincoln did not radiate that kind of attachment or passion. there were not these kind of declarations of heartfelt love for abraham lincoln. some wise, he didn't even radiate the same amount of power that he would come to have in the 1930's. it's not the people were talking about him. he didn't seem to possess strength in the same way that he would come to have in the 30's. as had been true for decades, lincoln stood as a figure of moderation and reconciliation. he was described by william reflecting the brotherly love between north and south. in 1930 with economic collapse looming, president hoover hailed lincoln not as a great emancipator but a great moderator.
poured their blessings of restraint on each subsequent generation. dw griffith used lincoln as a subject for his first talking film. was another one who said he was very much influenced by carl sandburg and wanted to incorporate his work in what he was doing. he even tried to hire carl sandburg to be a consultant on his film but it turned out the sandburg was too expensive. i think he found someone else. lincolness, griffiths has nothing of the sandburg lincoln about it. he is a bland and monotonous figure in the film. he is your standard issue person. as one reviewer explained, lincoln made a notable attempt to be fair to the two has of our
nation. abrahamot of the lincoln's who were betrayed in this earlier. or before class and had been aiting, lincoln was also crude frontiersman. in one scene, the president flops down on the white house floor to take a nap. neutral,very bland, and fatigue lincoln who was portrayed. i think that image of lincoln in this. reflected the reluctance on the part of many white americans to the president with substantial power. precisely because lincoln in these years had to be safe. he had to be moderate and someone who could heal the ones of sectional division. in this way, lincoln was being called on to play a part that he
had been playing since the end of the 19th century when the story of the civil war was often told as a tale of for journal division that gateway to brotherly reunification. that was an idea that was most vividly imagined in the idea of white soldiers from opposing sides shaking hands across a bloody chasm or across the stone -- gettysburgburg angle. the idea of reconciliation seemed to be about to more or less equal sections coming together. not really about a nation or about lincoln and posing power on its subjects. especially those who came from a rebellious section of the country. had lincoln been imagined as he really was, as a figure of federal authority forced seceded states into the political submissions, he would have
complicated that feel good reconciliation narrative. to keep things balanced, lincoln took a backseat to the emotional bonding of north and south. this is the kind of image of lincoln that you get in dw motion pictureer birth of a nation. there are a lot of things that are odd about that film but there are things odd about the way lincoln is portrayed in that film. i would describe the lincoln in asth of a naked -- nation oddly androgynous. he is weepy, he wears a shawl, he serves as both father and mother figure to the american people. lincolnnd, it is not who helps to give birth to the nation in the film. but the consolidated power of white men north and south
especially the ku klux klan. weakimage of a relatively lincoln presidency may also be one reason why the story of lincoln's youth, his frontier upbringing and awkward but romantic encounters and mediocre , these stories became so captivating in the early 20th century because here was territory that can be mined for engaging human material without having to venture into the messy business of lincoln as a figure of power who actually enacted measures that did not meet with universal acclaim. 30's, lincoln looks different area and he is not a bland rigor of moderation. a mores to foreshadow powerful nationstate that was extending the blessings of
freedom to a wider group of americans. being consciously reworked by writers and politicians, lincoln became a forerunner for the groundbreaking work of fdr's new deal. helped, carl sandburg usher in this new lincoln when he compared fdr's national recovery program and its assistance for industrial workers to lincoln's role in emancipation. both presidents used their position to proclaim a new status for an oppressed people. fdrng a cue from sandburg, also made a link in for initiating social reform to expand executive power. simply heal the rift but transcended sectionalism and brought new to assure aeaning
government the promotion of life liberty and happiness of all the people. lincoln as a 19th century version of himself. no longer just a healer and reconciler, lincoln became aligned with the centralizing and reforming efforts of new deal liberalism. suggested, also had the new deal lincoln was also more of a great emancipator been a great moderator. it is true academics and had calleds attention to this aspect of lincoln's presidency but the work of freeing the slaves came even more to the forefront during the 1930's and the new deal. writers and artists and politicians imagined lincoln not unlike the way fdr imagined himself as someone who channeled a new political energy to make
people's lives better. they said strengthen the hand of the federal government in order to attend to people's distress. a distress that was once marked by 19 century slavery but could just as easily be marked by a 20th century economic crisis. ordinary people often use this language in letters that they wrote to roosevelt. freed thencoln slaves. and now you are about to free the child and wage slaves. this was language that was used frequently. people wrote lots of letters to fdr and members of the administration. they often made these comparisons. they used the language of slavery. they would draw out the idea
that someone like roosevelt was needed to free the slaves. it wasn't quite so simple to talk about both presidents freeing the slaves since one president, lincoln, and had directed his actions toward enslaved black men and women. supportersnd his were more reluctant about being associated with a racially defined agenda. president of the early 20th century who needed the support of powerful white southerners and his power -- party, roosevelt preferred keeping racial issues on the back burner and showed little interest in upsetting the racial status quo in the jim crow south. feeling the political pressure of white southerners, roosevelt refused to give his support to the federal antilynching law emerged by some members of congress. he also referred to think about lincoln in a race neutral way. as someone who practiced a broad-based humanitarianism that
helped all people. lincoln, fdr insisted, was an emancipator not of slaves alone but of those of heavy heart everywhere. sure this is not have people in the 1860's would have interpreted the emancipation. [laughter] they worked hard to redefine slavery as a condition that affected white people as much as black. sometimes in fact whites seemed to suffer more from slavery than african-americans. the 1930's was mainly about the economic thattation and constraint largely affected wage workers, the majority of whom were white area despite the fact that all of our people are free and have the right to live enforce the they please, there are many who
intend that our toilers live virtual economic slavery. the assumptions here that everyone could live and work where they please, something that was not available to african-americans, suggested that they were not really thinking about african-americans in this definition of virtual economic slavery. according to a representative of pennsylvania, lincoln's hatred of precious human beings would have seamlessly extended into his distaste for the new slavery that placed men and economic peonage. this quality made lincoln a new dealer of the late 1850's and early 1860's. the 1930's, people seemed more comfortable seeing lincoln free white people and not block. phrase, he free to those of heavy heart everywhere.
in american popular culture, heavy hearts seemed to rest mainly in the souls of white men. , aa popular 1936 play comes toted lincoln kentucky to help white coal miners fight their own brand of slavery. striking miners in a raid across the stage and hold a sign that reads free the whites. an objective that very much appeals to lincoln. when lincoln appears in the shirley temple film, his task has nothing to do with freeing black slaves. instead, he is there to grant shirley temple's request for freedom for to imprison white men. one, her confederate father. the other, a kindly union officer. if you know the premise of john ford's young mr. lincoln, you might recall that henry fonda's lincoln has virtually no contact
with black characters. his real work and involves helping to white brothers who had been falsely accused of murder and in the most dramatic moment of the film, the two of anrs faced the wrath angry lynch mob then lincoln turns back of the mob and after that, melds a successful defense of the two brothers so that he again liberates white men from confinement. yet, and a very halting and hesitant sort of way, some new dealers acknowledged the possibility that race played a part in keeping people down in both the 1930's and 1860's. lincoln's attention to racial emancipation did merit some attention and consideration. when the african-american singer marian anderson was banned from performing in the daughters of
the american revolution concert hall here in washington, many figures and fdr's fdr's administration, including eleanor roosevelt, helped to arrange anderson's new open air concert in front of the lincoln memorial. rolealso lauded lincoln's in striking the chains of slavery from marian anderson's ancestors. thisnk the timing of concert is particularly important. it is april, 1939. it is a moment of growing awareness of nazi is a -- not -- nazism abroad. singersmparing jewish i stageanned from a naz and anderson being shunned from
the dar hall, one person pointed out the crucial difference between hitler's germany and roosevelt america. in washington, we have a shrine for abraham lincoln. in this more explicit acknowledgment of lincoln's role as an emancipated, including his work in freeing those of an oppressed race. take a new poised to role as the 1940's begin. he appeared with increasing frequency in hollywood movies and broadway plays. he figured as the central 1941ct in aaron copland's lincoln portrait, celebrating american spirit in the aftermath of pearl harbor. he featured greater prominence in fdr's speeches. not surprising because roosevelt
hired lincoln dramatist robert sherwood as a speechwriter. it was the civil war, not the revolution that was used most often in world war ii propaganda. lincoln, notage of that of washington or jefferson that flashed ritualistically on the silver screen. associations that throughout the 1930's had connected lincoln to fighting theery helped turn him into type of symbol that warren remembered. it suggested that lincoln had come to embody a certain type of moral energy that could galvanize americans in a new global conflict. i should say at that moment, americans needed that kind of motivation. 1940-1941, there were
many who remained deeply cynical about the devastation of world war i, deeply cynical about engaging in any further foreign entanglements. in this context, timely reminders about lincoln and his commitment to emancipation helped people recall a moment when a true moral purpose guided americans were objectives. i'm just going to say that i am borrowing from another scholar. there is a literary scholar who develops some of this point. literaryowing from a scholar who talks about the way lincoln is used in the lead up to world war ii. recallings that in abraham lincoln's moral purpose to free the slaves, americans might find an model of inspiration for fighting hitler's. writers and artists repeatedly
and explicitly referred to lincoln in his fight against slavery as a metaphor for understanding the fight against taylor and fascism. the office of war information produces a poster that proclaims this world cannot exist half slave and half free. the republican newspaper william white agrees that our great round earth had become a veritable neighborhood that cannot live have slave and half free. lincoln himself was portrayed as a figure who had a history of fighting slavery that could underscore the moral urgency americans needed in the new global conflict. held up lincoln as a way to urge americans to get off the sidelines when certain principles were at stake. in lincoln's commitment to ending slavery, sherwood
recognized the 16th president as a supreme non-isolationist in his essential faith. this made him an ideal figure convincing americans that despite their skepticism about foreign intervention, they should get this themselves -- commit themselves a new two this foreign entanglement. this presented african-american artists with new opportunities. used in lincoln was wartime propaganda, the more he gave african-americans chance to remind their fellow americans slavery was a historically specific spirits they continued to impact black life in the united states. black journalists saw a chance to urge the roosevelt decision to deliver a consistent antislavery message, the message
that recognized oppression based on race, both abroad and at home. it, ifwriter put roosevelt cared about fighting slavery, he would stand by the reconstruction amendments and make sure the girls were not returned to chattel slavery. failing to do so would be no different than enacting laws similar to hitler's declarations eating. and edicts. would did its best to romanticize this. the movies in the late 1930's 40's seemed to acknowledge that some way or other americans were undertaking the fight against slavery. i would like to my talk by revisiting old familiar film, perhaps one of the most iconic
gnomes in hollywood this perspective in mind. it is not usually what we think about is your movie. the film i have in mind is casablanca. it appeared at the end of 1982 was directed by a hungarian immigrant. a steady stream of movin moviemaking. he made two extremely unmemorable civil war films the santa fe trail virginia city santa fe trail was a poorly named movie if there ever was one since nothing to do with santa fe for a trail. historic jon stewart played by harold and george custer played by ronald reagan.
they joined forces pursued of a fanatical john brown. hisond massey traded in lincoln outfit for a john brown outfit. it also celebrates the coming together of white soldiers across sectional lines common cause. in this case it was union confederate soldiers he noted the west late in the war in order to fight some bandits. the details should not be explored to deeply. also a film about the asian. not about unifying nazis and allies it is about bringing together the different skeptical way and victor laszlo played by paul on ride, the unity that is achieved when rick discards his cynicism and understands the
need to take a stand against nazi oppression. there is a suggestion of the civil war's relevance to current events. remindsnited with elsa her about the last time they saw each other in paris. >i remember every detail he says . gray.rmans wore you wore blue. the color scheme is important. it does not directly say the confederates were not for the cause of freedom. it is more subtle than that. it is not a simple divide between you and slavery, but this evolution from indifference to commitment. it is the process by which rick dedicates himself to the anti-nazi cause.
journey is meant to reflect a larger american journey, how it became necessary to break with the isolationism of the interwar and accept the need to fight this new war. one critical step in that journey involves giving the new war a strong moral overlay to make clear the new fight was about principle, not material gains. as i suggested, no figure better symbolized moral conviction in wartime that abraham lincoln. not to worry. i am not going to convince you abraham lincoln shows up in casablanca. i know that he does not. his spirit is there. nothing illustrates this so clearly as the moment when rick's competitor asks if the cafe american and sam are for
sale. respond? ick in the language of abraham lincoln, i don't buy or sell human beings. this line, perhaps more than any other reveals the ethical underpinning that signals rick's transformation, his willingness to take a moral stand. i think it is no accident that he uses the same kind of anti-slavery language being used by the office of war information and robert sherwood. it is very likely that the author of humphrey bogart's anti-slavery pronouncement was koch, a casablanca screenwriter. even though lincoln himself does not flash ritualistically across embodiesn, casablanca
the moral urgency that was being used to get americans behind this new effort. this lincoln was once again, or at least in spirit, being .eimagined and reinterpreted in some ways, this may be a lincoln that inspired a stronger and more passionate addiction. this was a lincoln who would have an impressive career in world war ii. and even after in the cold war that followed. this was a lincoln who fought slavery et al. and who could inspire a fight against slavery, however that slavery might be defined on a global scale. thank you. [applause]
>> love your imagery. imagery and messages are everything. you mentioned some of the writers as america is dealing with its own sense of identity, what it is, who it is, where it is going in that time of where you are looking at who lincoln is, and they are erecting the confederate monument we are dealing with right now. there is this dichotomy, this tug-of-war in social consciousness. i am wondering where this wave has gone, where it was at the ine, where it seems to be the late 1900s, late 1800s to early 1900s. looking now at the international itluence and impact where
had to decide itself even more. it seems coming to grip with one place in your domestic identity, you are dealing with what is happening overseas. you feel you are to be insular. how can you? there is so much going on. >> use the microphone. [inaudible] there are not a lot of monuments that are being built in the 1930's. a lot of the monuments were the 1920's.1910, in in the 1930's, there is a competing narrative. think gone with the wind. let's celebrate the south and it's lost cause. what is very interesting to me about the 1930's is it is a moment when you can see two ways of thinking about the civil war, a perl lincoln point of view
more clearly in contention with one another. there are clear lines being drawn, definite differences in how people are talking about the civil war. that is a very interesting thing that is going on in the 1930's and 1940's. the point about the international situation is definitely true because trying to understand for franklin roosevelt to understand how the u.s. fit into this whole new world dynamic and trying to actually establish american prestige in the fight against not seasoned, it almost necessitated this idea that you had to address the problem of slavery, the problem of racial oppression within the u.s., and certainly african americans making that point very clearly. i think one way that roosevelt and others tried to address that
idea is by making lincoln into such an important symbol, by suggesting there is a history of racial oppression in the u.s., but then there is lincoln. we have a shrine for abraham lincoln. there is a possibility of combating that racial oppression in american history. >> think you for being here. father,talk, i heard healer, shrine. for a time i have thought about lincoln being assassinated on good friday. does theon is, attention to lincoln become nearly religious, and what would lincoln think about that? [laughter] >> thank you for reminding me.
in the 1930's, i don't feel it has a strong religious overlay. there is a way in which the movie young mr. lincoln and's on -- so i think it is possible lincoln has always had those associations. i don't find the particular 1930'sthat emerge in the to be strongly religious. overly almost say secularized is the kind of lincoln you get in the 1930's and 40's because he is put in concert with current events. that might be different from the lincoln that emerges in the 1880's and 1890's. i think because lincoln is so often discussed in the same
, itth as current news items has a way of secularizing him. i don't feel the religious part comes out quite as strongly. >> thank you very much. toi loved hearing you refer robert penn warren. i got to interview him in 1977 as an undergraduate. you mentioned offer kazen and aaron copland. why don't you mention richard hofstadter, who was a follower of joseph stalin. he is very influential and lincoln studies because of that dreadful chapter e-book -- he wrote on lincoln. in 1946 10w foreigners novels had gone out of print because the stalinist
literary community had disapproved of it. where is stalin in the 1930's and 40's? >> i'm not sure where to put him, i guess. >> he is there, definitely. stalin did not want philip randolph marching on washington in 1931. he is there. >> ok. i will think about that. thank you. did am curious, when perform,roups start to when did they start to grow, and when did lincoln's name begin to the use in many different
laces? >> my impression is you can find clubs with his name, schools and towns. that is all happening immediately after the assassination. is monuments and statues are later. maybe the 1880's and 1890's. the lincoln memorial is 1922. , i guess ikind of should say my remarks are not meant to say that he is being ignored prior to the 1930's. he is being recognized, honored, celebrated. i think there is a kind of switch in the 1930's in terms of less talk about lincoln and moreg and healing, a figure of power, a figure who
the mostrepresents consolidated power of the american government. that imagenk you had earlier of lincoln, but i do think you have that in the 1930's. yes? >> there is an even more subtle reference to lincoln in casablanca. rick ran guns and fought in the spanish war. that was the lincoln brigade. [inaudible] >> microphone. you are not at the microphone. he ran guns. >> i thought of the lincoln brigade. you would wonder if that was almost subliminal.
people would have known that reference at the time. >> i will go back and look at that. thank you. to questions, if i can remember them both. southernf the segregationist democrat politicians say you are using lincoln as a simple, and after the war, this is going to cause us a lot of trouble because all these black soldiers are going to come home? what about us now? voters were solidly for fdr. he was a god in georgia and alabama. do you think he overestimated that the south would turn against him if he took even the smallest steps to improve civil ?ights >> i am going to have to
remember. i think roosevelt was very conscious of not alienating the southern wing of the democratic party. i think that did inform his decision about the anti-lynching bill coming through congress. i think southern democrats, there was a lot of tension in that relationship. in 1938, roosevelt goes on this campaign to encourage more liberal white politicians and in the south. mitchellke margaret come down like the wrath of god on fdr. they say this is just like reconstruction all over again when the federal government tried to interfere with everything. it was a very tense relationship. it was not like anything fdr did was great. i think there was that problem.
the question about southern democrats and the use of lincoln is complicated. i think it was not so easy to simply dismiss lincoln in the 1930's. you cannot say he was a tyrant and all this. there were certainly people who did that. i think if anything, what southern democrats tried to do is just not talk about lincoln. for example, one thing i found interesting was douglas freeman, the biographer robert lee. he spends a lot of time leading up to world war ii and during world war ii trying to turn robert e lee into a relevant figure for americans in the second world war. he talks about his military strategy and other ideas and plans he has. at oneuglas freeman point writes this essay, antique knowledges that lee is an important symbol. so is abraham lincoln.
the power of abraham lincoln was so much that even somebody like douglas freeman had to moment,dge that at this the historical figure who seems most relevant to what we're doing is abraham lincoln. >> fdr being overly cautious, if you look at his results, it was the same in those states. people might vote for segregationist congressman and governors, but they adored fdr. >> i think you are right about that absolutely. one more? yes, i do have one more. >> this was a wonderful talk. i always thought fdr embraced jefferson more than lincoln. connect the two? i always felt that jefferson was more in the forefront than lincoln.