Life in the White House

A White House Diary

Every family goes through a big adjustment when moving. The President (and his family, most of the time) are not exempt from that adjustment. Moving into a place dubbed The People’s House makes daunting. Making it even more difficult is the fact that it is really only temporary.  Making a home among all that history would leave anyone off balance at the very least.

Read what Lady Bird Johnson had to say about it in A White House Diary.

Here is a great round-up of some of the accounts of life in the White House from Lapham’s Quarterly.

Nicolay and Hay, and Their “Other” Lincoln

Nicolay and Hay Abraham Lincoln: A History

16 March 2016

Abraham Lincoln: A History, by President Lincoln’s private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, stands even today as the most massive single work ever written on the sixteenth president. The publication of the ten-volume set by the Century Company in 1890 gave the public the first comprehensive life based upon Lincoln’s own papers – papers that Robert Todd Lincoln made exclusively available to Nicolay and Hay. No other biographers had access to these papers until James G. Randall in 1947. The list of great Lincoln writers who did not have access to Robert’s collection includes Albert Beveridge and Carl Sandburg.

The publication of the ten volumes in well-known green cloth binding did not, however, represent the first opportunity for the public to sample the work.  Century Magazine, the publication that created the famous compilation, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, published the chapters of Abraham Lincoln: A History serially during the 1880’s.  By the time students of Abraham Lincoln’s life read Nicolay and Hay in 1890, they could already have read much of the story in the Century.  The serialized version was not an exact reprint of what came later.  In fact a third contributor to the project, editor Richard Gilder, effected the Century version of each chapter substantially.  Gilder received drafts from Nicolay and Hay – or in some cases Nicolay or Hay, because while the authors collaborated on some sections they wrote other chapters independently of each other – and then fashioned them for the magazine.  Of especial concern to Gilder were certain long sections describing the Civil War from the authors’ pointedly Unionist perspective.  Since Century was a national publication Gilder made changes to soften criticism of the Confederacy, and to focus on Lincoln as a unifier rather than a warrior-president.

It is exceedingly difficult to acquire a full-length copy of this “Gilder” version of Nicolay and Hay.  To do so almost requires finding a set that a loyal Century subscriber personally collected and bound at the time they were released.  The set we are offering now is bound in slightly non-matching ¾ leather spines, with cloth boards and marbled end pages.  The condition of all the volumes are very good. There are other copies of the “Gilder” version on the market, but because each set was personally curated by a collector at the time of publication each set is essentially one-of-a-kind.

Ambrose Bierce in the Midst of Life

Ambrose Bierce

1 March 2016

Most of us encounter the influential short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in our high school literature classes. Lit teachers like to assign Ambrose Bierce’s haunting tale of psychological terror because of its innovative use of plot devices, and its manipulation of time. These were groundbreaking approaches to fiction writing at the time of publication. Most of us like Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge because it is a horror story with a crazy twist. Also, because of its popularity with our favorite high school English teachers, it may have been the first story we ever read that really freaked us out. The darkness of Ambrose Bierce’s short stories forecasts the psychological horror of Stephen King.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842-1914?) was born in the southern Ohio hill country of Meigs County, the youngest of ten children. The poor family of religious fundamentalists soon moved to Indiana where the boy grew to a young man of rebellious temperament. That rebelliousness contributed to his early enlistment in the Union Army. As a sergeant and lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Infantry, Bierce served in the ranks for two years, fighting in small campaigns in West Virginia, and then in large battles, such as Shiloh and Stones River. A promotion moved Lieutenant Bierce from the 9th Indiana to the staff of General William B. Hazen. Staff work provided the adventurous young man plenty of opportunities to seek out dangerous adventures, and to see a greater scope of the war than would otherwise be possible for a subaltern.

The end of the war saw Bierce briefly employed by the Treasury Department in Reconstruction Alabama, a job that was, in many ways, more dangerous than combat. An offer to accompany his old boss, Hazen, on an expedition to the west coast induced him to give up government employment, and take up the profession of journalism. As a journalist in San Francisco Bierce cultivated the acerbic voice and the love of irony that later marked his fiction. His first foray into publishing fiction (he was already an established journalist and political commentator), resulted in the collection of short stories, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891).

The first edition of the collection did not catch on with the reading public, but subsequent printings, published with the title In the Midst of Life: Tales of Soldiers and Civilians took off, selling tens of thousands of copies. The book finally catapulted Bierce to national attention as a writer whose fiction qualified as fine literature.

The itch for adventure never left Bierce, and, famously, led to his demise, likely in 1914, and likely in Mexico, where the seventy-two year old writer had gone to report on Pancho Villa. What actually happened to Bierce is still a mystery.

Our copy of Tales of Soldiers and Civilians provides the collector whose fascination embraces the history of the Civil War and pioneering American literature with a fine shelf-prize. The true first edition, identifiable not only by the 1891 publication date, but by the use of the more prosaic title that was later used as the sub-title, makes this particular copy of Bierce’s ground-breaking collection a desirable addition to a collection of great American fiction.

 

 

Sultana: Tragedy on the Mississippi

Loss of the Sultana

25 February 2016

The story of the deadliest shipwreck in U.S. history is also a Civil War story.  At 2:00 A.M., on April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana, grossly overloaded with liberated Union prisoners, exploded and burned just north of Memphis, Tennessee.  Approximately 1,800 people perished in a tragedy whose story was largely overshadowed by other events surrounding the end of the war and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. 

 It is a story that deserves to be told.  Compared to the tragedy of Lincoln’s death, and the triumph of the Union victory, the Sultana’s tale of senseless death, greed, corrupt war profiteers, and venal government officials, is as depressing as it is revealing.  Thousands of soldiers who had already survived battle and imprisonment were killed within days of their homecoming because of a confluence of the worst traits of humanity.  The avoidable disaster on the Mississippi certainly stains the triumphal narratives of Union victory.

 It fell to the survivors to tell the tale.  For years their only audience was the small circle of veterans and grieving families touched by the tragedy.  Like other groups of vets they formed an association, and held reunions.  Two distinct groups – one northern and one southern – met periodically in Toledo and in Knoxville. They recounted their memories for each other, and recorded their experiences.  Reverend Chester Berry took down the stories of 134 survivors, and compiled his own research.

 The result was Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of the Survivors, a remarkable compendium of primary source stories of this one tragic event.  Few of the big battles of the Civil War have benefited from such a collection of testimony to record the minute experiences of the survivors.  It took not only the tragedy, but the comparative indifference of the public to spur the survivors of the Sultana to make sure that their story was recorded for history.

 Original copies of Berry’s book are quite scarce, and hard to acquire in any condition.  Our copy, while showing signs of wear such as rubbing on the boards and slightly shaken hinges, is still quite bright.  Like the veterans who produced it, it is a survivor of a time and place in Civil War history that some people would have preferred to forget. 

February 25, 2016

A Lion of the Progressives Channels Mr. Lincoln: Albert J. Beveridge

Beveridge

17 February 2016

Albert J. Beveridge deserves a prominent place in the history of early Twentieth Century America for a number of reasons. The Senator from Indiana championed American expansionism, Roosevelt Bull Moose Progressivism, and concentration of federal power – a stance he later repudiated. However, it is the career he turned to after his political fortunes collapsed with the Progressive movement that most fascinates us. After his political career, the disillusioned Republican turned to writing history to make sense of his own tempestuous life in American politics.

Beveridge’s first project was a monumental four-volume biography of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. This freshman effort earned the retired politico a Pulitzer Prize. He decided to follow this success with an equally ambitious four-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Beveridge’s Lincoln bio was based on the most thorough primary-source research then possible. Disappointed with the failings of the great men of his own generation, he determined to portray Lincoln as a complex man and imperfect politician (a portrayal that the Great Emancipator may have agreed with had he lived). The massive work was half-finished when the author died in 1927. In 1928, it was published as Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858, and covers Lincoln’s life through the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

Due to the author’s political notoriety, Abraham Lincoln 1809-1858, enjoyed wide popularity, especially among book lovers. Two different limited editions were printed, in addition to the regular trade edition. We will discuss the limited editions in another post. Here we feature Beveridge’s biography in the first trade edition, with the charcoal cloth boards. This copy is especially impressive for its association, being inscribed by historian Worthington Chauncey Ford to the great collector of Lincolniana, Oliver R. Barrett.

As a post-script to Albert Beveridge’s life, his wife, Catherine, turned over his notes for the second half of his biography to Carl Sandburg, who had just published his Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. Sandburg had access to Albert Beveridge’s research when writing his monumental Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. Thus, two of the greatest of Lincoln biographies are closely related.

Check out our first edition copy of Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858, inscribed to Oliver Barrett by W. C. Ford.

Libbie Custer: A Romance

Libbie Custer

11 February 2016

Elizabeth Bacon Custer dreaded being left behind. She followed her husband, General George Armstrong Custer to all of his military assignments from Civil War Virginia to the Great Plains. She was waiting for him at Fort Abraham Lincoln when she learned that he was killed along with hundreds of his troopers of the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn.

“Libbie” grieved for the death of her husband, but she also grieved at the idea that he would be blamed for getting is command massacred – a very real possibility in the months after the battle. She committed her life to rescuing her lover’s reputation.

Libbie’s version of Autie Custer was gallant and dashing. He was aggressive and successful while other officers were hesitating and conservative. Her Custer died heroically, ill-served by his surviving officers, who impugned his honor on order to cover up their own military sins.

Whether Libbie’s version of history was true – her accounts of events are fairly reliable – it was more important that George Custer be redeemed in the view of history. in this mission Libbie was hugely successful. The image of Custer, and the heroic version of his death – “Custer’s Last Stand” – dominated the history of the West throughout much of the twentieth Century. By the later part of the century the idea of Custer in popular culture was more attached to actor Errol Flynn than to any biographical information of the 19th Century general.

Libbie’s three volumes written about her husband, Boots and Saddles (1885), Tenting on the Plains (1887), and Following the Guidon (1890), were extremely successful books. They portrayed Custer as a hero and Libbie’s life with him one of romance and adventure. Early editions of these books are quite valuable if they can be found in very good condition or better. A book collection regarding George A. Custer, the Plains Wars, or the Battle of Little Big Horn must be based around Libbie Custer’s three fine memoirs.

Take a look at our Tenting on the Plains, complete with Frederick Remington sketches.

James G. Randall and his Essential Lincoln Volumes

Randall Lincoln the President

10 February 2016

James Garfield Randall was born in 1881, and named for the man who was then president of the United States.  President Garfield, of course, did not survive the year, but his namesake lived to become, perhaps, the greatest Lincoln scholar of his generation. 

Randall spent most of his career as a professor at the University of Illinois, and that institution still endows a chair in History in his name (the current incumbent is the fine Civil War historian, Bruce Levine).  Together with his wife and partner in scholarship, Ruth Painter Randall, he produced an enormous amount of important scholarship that defined what historians now think of as The Blundering Generation school of thought.  To – perhaps unfairly – reduce Randall’s attitude to a nutshell, he and his peers tended to see the Civil War as the product of failure in good governance, and refusal by radicals to engage in the American political tradition of compromise.

To more fully understand what Randall and his peers were thinking readers must consult his four-volume political biography, Lincoln the President.  The series, among the first works written with access to the papers of Abraham Lincoln (Robert Todd Lincoln ordered those papers sealed for a period of years after his death), was published between 1945 and 1952.  Sadly, Professor Randall died before completing the final volume, The Last Full Measure.  It can only be counted as great good fortune that the series was completed by a young scholar who would himself go on to become the dean of Lincoln historians, Richard N. Current.  

In order to understand what Americans thought of Lincoln during the mid-twentieth century, readers must read Randall’s great work, and a collection of Lincoln the President, with dust jackets in very good condition (or better!) is an essential piece of any good collection of Lincoln literature.  At some point we will discuss the monumental Civil War history that best exemplifies the attitude of The Blundering Generation school of thought on the war, Allan Nevins’ The Ordeal of the Union.

Check out our beautiful set of Lincoln As President, with the final volume signed by Richard Current! 

For a deeper analysis of Randall’s magnum opus, see James Harvey Young’s essay in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (1998).

Commemorating The Sesquicentennial of Lincoln Lying In State at Chicago

Please join us on May 1 as we Commemorate the Sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s Lying in State in Chicago.

The program begins at 10:45am and takes place in Grant Park. We will assemble in the park just east of 1130 S. Michigan Ave. This is the time and the place that Lincoln’s body arrived for his Chicago Funeral. The following day, Lincoln would go home to Springfield.

Organized in conjunction with Alderman Robert Fioretti’s office, featured speakers include Daniel Weinberg, President, Abraham Lincoln Book Shop; Second Ward Alderman, Robert Fioretti; and Pemon Rami, Director of Educational & Public Programming for DuSable Museum.

The program will include a Civil War Honor Guard, Lilly Ceremony, period music and a display of Lincoln Mourning relics.

Please be aware of other events in the area near our program. You can learn more here.

Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Inc. will be closed on Friday May 1.

NBC 5 Chicago Interview

Bjorn

Update:  Watch the Video

March 31, 2015. Here in Illinois, we are all abuzz about our recently resigned U. S. Representative Aaron Schock. Not only did he compare himself to Lincoln during his Farewell speech, but both Lincoln and Schock have been in the news lately for their mileage reimbursements.

NBC5 Chicago’s Phil Rogers stopped by Abraham Lincoln Book Shop to talk with our Bjorn Skaptason about how the rules of travel influenced Lincoln’s mileage reimbursements when he was in Congress. Bjorn also discusses the effect the technological advancements in travel influenced the reimbursement rules.

Bjorn tried to make the case, as we almost always do, that Representative Lincoln made daily choices in his life regarding ethical questions. He was a human being, like others of his time, and like people in our own time. Not every ethical choice looks good under the harsh lights of history.

Did Lincoln “fudge” his mileage reports? How were his problems similar to Representative Shock’s? What role did the Media (or Press) play in framing political scandals in 1847 versus 2015? We have no idea how much influence Bjorn had on Phil’s story, but we’re looking forward to discovering that.

The report airs tonight on the 5 o’clock news on NBC5 Chicago.