Ford’s Theatre, Park Service Push Story of ‘Complex’, ‘Fallible’ Lincoln


President Abraham Lincoln was not only a ‘fallible and complex human being, whose legacy continues to evolve’, he also used ‘racist’ language, Ford’s Theater employees say in internal emails obtained by The Daily Signal.

Their opinions came when Ford’s Theater in Washington, where the 16th president was assassinated in 1865, launched a social media program emphasizing the “all things” Lincoln.

Reopened in 1968 as a historic site, museum and working theater, Ford’s Theater is operated by the National Park Service through a public-private partnership.

Lincoln on a pedestal?

A tweet from Ford’s Theater in September 2020 got a lot of attention:

“Do you ever feel like we as a nation are putting Abraham Lincoln ‘on a pedestal’?” asked the tweet. “What do you think could be a more useful, more complex, or more realistic way to think about or commemorate the 16th president?”

Responses to the tweet were overwhelmingly negative and defended the president who led the nation during the Civil War, expressing concern another federal agency has woken up as some on the left push to pull down Lincoln statues across United States.

One Twitter user replied, “Stop Twitter and take a break, John Wilkes. »

John Wilkes Booth was the actor and Confederate sympathizer who killed Lincoln during a performance at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865.

Another wrote: “Seriously? Has awakening permeated all aspects of government? It’s ridiculous.”

And another tweeted: ‘That we honor Mr Lincoln by placing him on a pedestal doesn’t mean he was flawless [and] should be obvious for a place steeped in Lincoln history.

Some, however, responded positively to Ford’s Theater tweet.

One person tweeted: “Love the triggering of this message for people whose knowledge of Lincoln is no deeper than a handful of chips or a Spielberg movie.”

Another replied: ‘I’m quite mad at old Abe. I feel like he tried to stitch the nation back together, but instead he should have decimated the South.

Others took a humorous route, tweeting, “I mean…you already put it on a balcony. Leave the guy alone.

Another tweeted at Ford’s Theatre: ‘Please please tell me you were hacked by a 17 year old sipping on soy.

“Basic Truths and Themes”

Discussion of Lincoln’s legacy among National Park Service and Ford’s Theater staff long predates the September 2020 tweet. It was part of a larger social media program detailed in 109 pages of emails obtained by The Daily Signal via a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Lincoln was an extraordinary leader and, like all of us, was a complex and fallible human being, whose legacy continues to evolve,” the social media team’s message to park rangers at Ford’s Theater said, adding :

Summary of Idea: Lincoln’s Peoria Speech in which he gives ideas about what might be done after slavery (send freedmen to Liberia, allow them to stay in the country as second-class citizens, or allow them to remain in the country as political and social equals) shows its complex evolution on abolition and even equality.

Ford’s Theater social media team planned to post three to 10 text or video messages each week to coincide with a historic event schedule. The campaign said it wanted to “tie our social media more closely to our core truths and themes.”

Suggested hashtags for the social media program included #ComplexHistory, #ComplexLeadersInHistory, #LincolnsEvolution, #EvolvingTowardEquality, #EvolvingTowardJustice, #ComplexHistoryComplexPresent, #MemorializingComplexHistory, #RestoreAndRemember, #WhatWeRemember and #WhoWeValue #BiasedHindsight.

In an email to the Daily Signal in response to a request for comment, Mike Litterst, communications manager for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, wrote:

Recognized as one of our greatest presidents, the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln is continually explored and examined. We encourage every person and every generation to learn more about him not just as an inspirational leader, but as a real person who played a vital role in our history. Helping people connect with our shared history is central to the National Park Service’s mission.

‘Racist by today’s standards’

On March 26, 2020, a National Park Service ranger, in an email to another ranger, noted Lincoln’s view of Native Americans, saying, “It doesn’t show the best side of Lincoln, It’s certain.”

In the email, the guard refers to a meeting Lincoln had with tribal leaders in March 1863 to convince them not to help the Confederacy.

Of Native Americans, Lincoln reportedly said at the meeting, “Although we are now engaged in a great war among ourselves, we as a race are not so willing to fight and kill each other as our red brethren. “

In staff notes on how to handle Lincoln’s words, the guard wrote:

Lincoln’s quote is really difficult, because it comes across as racist by today’s standards. Hell, that’s racist by the standards of some in the 1860s. And sometimes historians who say someone “was a product of their time” can only take you so far.

So what I have proposed is to include the following passage after the quote: It is useful to relate Lincoln’s comments in 1863 to the society in which we live today. Indeed, historian Christopher W. Anderson wrote, “Incorporating Native Americans more fully into an understanding of Lincoln’s racial worldview also inspires deeper exploration of Lincoln’s legacy in the Native American community today.” today.”

“Difficult or even painful things”

Ford’s Theater staff also examined Lincoln’s legacy of freeing slaves and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in America.

“At various times [Lincoln] decried slavery while accepting its legality, considered sending freedmen to Central or South America, rescinded a general order that prematurely freed people in parts of the South, and later supported suffrage limited black men,” a National Park Service guide who works at Ford’s Theater said in a July 6, 2020 email to a ranger.

This post was part of a planned schedule of questions intended to spark discussion and debate about Lincoln’s legacy. The National Park Service guide email inquired about the changes needed for a post scheduled for July 24, 2020.

“It is very possible that his views would have continued to evolve had he not been assassinated on April 14, 1865,” the guide wrote. “How do you feel when you learn difficult or even painful things about our former leaders or heroes? How do you balance great deeds and successes with controversies or even failures?”

On Jan. 27, 2021, a ranger wrote to staff, “We talk a lot about the Thirteenth Amendment in our calls on social media and in general, and I found this book particularly interesting.

This guard then quoted extensively from the book “Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment” by Christian G. Samito, including this passage that mentions Lincoln’s single term in the United States House of Representatives:

For most of Abraham Lincoln’s life, the Constitution was considered a sacrosanct document. Potential amendments were seen as inevitably tainting what the Founders had created, and while the Constitution was flawed, it was the closest a civilization had come to perfection.

Congressman Lincoln in 1848 spoke of the Constitution on the floor of the House saying, “It is hard to do better than it is.” New provisions would introduce new difficulties, and thus create and increase the appetite for even more change.

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