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Historical Perspectives (59)

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Visiting Jewish cemeteries is a fruitful, and more adventurous way the research team can identify new Jewish soldiers to add to the Shapell Roster. Many military men have their service proudly displayed on their tombstones, making new additions a walk in the park for our researchers. But even markers without such obvious information can yield new discoveries.

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Primary Sources: Meaning, Reliability & Where To Find Them

Primary sources are vital to historical research. Researchers, both professional and amateur, use them to reconstruct the past.

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Abraham Lincoln and the Jews

October 18, 2020
LEVEL: 11th grade U.S. History
LESSON LENGTH: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods.

COMPELLING QUESTION: What were Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes toward religious minorities such as Jews and Catholics and how did it differ from others at the time?

Description: Students will work in groups to plan a temporary exhibit intended for visitors to a historic site or museum related to Abraham Lincoln. The exhibit will concern Abraham Lincoln’s attitude toward religious minorities. Students will analyze primary sources and select three they would like to include in their exhibit. From analyzing their sources, students will develop a “thesis” or argument that the exhibit will convey to their audience.

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Detail: US map of 1856 shows free and slave states and populations. Reynolds's Political Map of the United States

The manuscripts gathered here follow the course of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, from being ratified by President Franklin Pierce to Pierce defending it after his presidency. We also look back to Pierce’s presidential predecessor, Millard Fillmore, ruminating over an impending race war after reading Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Also present in this collection is the reaction of Abraham Lincoln to the bill when he was still an Illinois circuit attorney.

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©Shapell Manuscript Foundation. All Rights Reserved. For more information, please contact us at shapell.org.

From deep within the stress and tension of the violent Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sought an unusual military appointment: “I believe we have not yet appointed a Hebrew,” Lincoln wrote, and requested that the son of a well-known Orthodox rabbi from New York receive a position. In an era rife with both casual and state-sanctioned anti-Semitism, Lincoln’s notice and support of Jewish citizens was bold and noteworthy.

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The misfortune of losing a child while serving in the country’s highest office is one shared by a surprising number of U.S. Presidents.

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Presidents’ Day: Newly Retired George Washington’s Daily Routine

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 17, 2019

Writing just two months after handing the presidency off to John Adams, Washington was a changed man. Having returned to Mount Vernon, and at last under the shadow of his own vine and fig-tree, he was, in fact, exuberant, wry – and surprisingly, funny.

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And This Too Shall Pass Away

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 16, 2018

At an even more fraught and divisive moment in our past, Abraham Lincoln lost an epic contest – and so 160 years ago wrote this letter, whose final words, echoing King Solomon, are once more worth heeding. “‘And this too shall pass away.’ Never fear.”

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Map of Richmond, VA

August 23, 2018
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December 2010 - March 2013
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One hundred years separate the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington. Yet, these two events are profoundly linked together in a larger story of liberty and the American experience.

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Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. Also in the presidential limousine are Jackie Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife, Nellie. Photographer: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News.

The Mortal Presidency Exhibition

January 15, 2018
May 10, 2010 - February 28, 2011
Beverly Hills Public Library, Beverly Hills, CA

The most dangerous job in America is not, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced, fishing. Nor is it logging, flying, or steel manufacturing. The job with the worst mortality rate is the hardest one to get: President of the United States.

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2 Years 1 Month: Lincoln’s Legacy

January 15, 2018
April 2014 - October 2014
April 2014 - October 2014, Oregon Historical Society

An in-depth look at Lincoln’s monumental presidency between two historic points: the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Congressional passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Through rare documents and artifacts, look at Lincoln’s legacy through the lens of slavery and the end of the Civil War.

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The Idea of Lincoln: Man and Memory

January 1, 2018
May 2008 - December 2009; April 2012 - October 2012

This exhibition features letters in Lincoln’s hand, some of which testify to the mythic idea of him – his kindness, honesty, and mercy; and some reflecting the gritty reality of his life – law cases about hogs, choosing pragmatism over principle, crafting an image.

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Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation

January 1, 2018
January 23, 2015 - June 7, 2015

Abraham Lincoln, despite only one year of formal education, achieved a literary command that would help him win the presidency and, once there, define in memorable prose the purposes that shaped the nation and its future. This exhibition shows Lincoln’s growth, progression and perseverance as a writer, from the early age of 16, and culminating in his exceptional ability to pen words that inspired, comforted, and healed a nation in a time of unprecedented crisis.

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With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial

December 14, 2017
February 2009 - April 2011
Library of Congress, February 2009 - April 2011

The exhibition reveals Lincoln the man, whose thoughts, words, and actions were deeply affected by personal experiences and pivotal historic events. This virtual exhibit includes some select items on display at the traveling exhibition.

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With Firmness in the Right – Lincoln and the Jews

December 13, 2017
March 2015 - November 2015
March 2015 - June 2015, New-York Historical Society. August 2015 - November 2015, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

In 1858, when Abraham Lincoln emerged onto the national stage, Jews made up less than one-half of one percent of the American population. Many Americans of that time did not know Jews personally, yet Lincoln did, and these relationships stood out amid the stereotyping and anti-Semitism of mid-19th-century America. The bonds Lincoln formed with Jewish individuals during his lifetime, and the interventions he made as president on behalf of all Jews, reflected his deepest values and helped promote Jewish equality in the United States.

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Abraham Lincoln by Gardner, February 1865. Source: Library of Congress.

Lincoln’s Last Days

August 31, 2017

A country divided, battered, exhausted – limping towards the end of the bloodiest war in American history. Abraham Lincoln, as often was the case during his presidency, is under threat. John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and Confederate sympathizer is planning an attack with other conspirators that will change the course of the nation.

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The Mortal Presidency

August 23, 2017

He is head of state, Commander-in-chief, and the country’s top legislator. The President of the United States has arguably the toughest job in America, and it turns out, the most deadly.

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Panoramic view of encampment of Army of Potomac at Cumberland Landing on Pamunkey River May 1862. Library of Congress.

Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War

August 21, 2017
March 2013 - February 2014
March 2013 - February 2014

A crucible for American Jews, the Civil War laid the groundwork for their integration and Americanization on a large scale. It enabled the full participation of Jews in American life – militarily, politically, economically and socially – and set the stage for massive Jewish immigration decades later.

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The Civil War was a time when soldiers would be executed for desertion, in order to prevent further desertion. Even immigrants, whose understanding of English and the conditions of service was limited, were executed in the American Civil War. Watch the story of five Union soldiers at Beverly Ford, VA, who perhaps unjustly were denied a stay of execution from President Lincoln.

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The Jewish Doctor at Lincoln’s Deathbed

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 14, 2017

A recently acquired letter offers new revelations.

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The Road to the Inauguration: 1905

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 12, 2017

Theodore Roosevelt has a suit made, and re-made, for his 1905 inauguration.

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The_Custer_Fight_Charles_Marion_Russell_1903_Library_of_Congress

Custer’s Last Stand – June 25, 1876

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 23, 2016
Custer's Last Stand - The Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Days Before Leaving to Drive Out the “Indians” from the Bighorn Country, Custer Predicts Mining Fortunes To Be Made There

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Father’s Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 19, 2016

However much Tad vexed others, Lincoln was entirely at his service, day or night.

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“The Union is Dissolved!”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 20, 2015

The Charleston Mercury had already given warning. If the “Black Republican” party succeeded in the upcoming presidential election, it declared in the summer of 1860, “loyalty to the Union will be treason to the South.”

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Mary Surratt’s daughter petitions Andrew Johnson for the return of her mother’s remains.

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Abraham Lincoln Poem “My Childhood Home I See Again”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 25, 2015
"My Childhood Home I See Again"

An exceptionally rare Lincoln autobiographical letter – mentioning the death of his mother and sister, and his elegiac poem “My Childhood Home I See Again, And Sadden With the View.”

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The Anniversary of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 14, 2015
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“We Have Not Yet Appointed a Hebrew”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | March 17, 2015
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Booth Plans Ahead

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 22, 2015

Rare and suspicious John Wilkes Booth letter, written just two months before Lincoln’s assassination.

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Lincoln in Indiana: A Rare Mention of His Childhood There

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 7, 2014

It was his harsh life in the wilderness of Spencer County, Indiana, that shaped Lincoln’s character and beliefs.

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Robert Todd Lincoln, Witness to Presidential Assassinations

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 14, 2014

If in the annals of American history, there was ever an expert witness on Presidential assassinations, that person would be Robert Lincoln.

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Lincoln Swears to Uphold the Emancipation Proclamation

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 20, 2013

Abraham Lincoln swears he shall not modify the Emancipation Proclamation, nor return to slavery any person freed by it.

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March on Washington, August 28, 1963. U.S. National Archives.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 28, 2013

In 1864, Governor Michael Hahn pushed through a provision authorizing the legislature to enfranchise non-whites on the basis that Lincoln suggested: military service and intellectual fitness. This was a crucial development: voting rights for Blacks were now – incrementally – possible…

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March 2013 - March 2016

This exhibition deals with the relationship that developed between the United States of America and the Holy Land, starting in 1844.

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Portrait of President Harry S. Truman. Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. Accession Number: 58-766-09.

No one has ever taken history, or algebra, or Latin, and not at some point asked, querulously, “when am I ever going to need to use this?”  The answer, according to Harry S. Truman, is when you are struck by lightning one day and wake up to find yourself president of the United States.

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Casts_of_Abraham_Lincoln's_hands,_taken_by_Leonard_Volk_on_May_20,_1860._National_Museum_of_American_History.

“In Our Hands”: A Look at Lincoln’s Use of a Phrase

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 12, 2013

“In Our Hands” – Two letters by Lincoln at hard-won, and long-sought moments.

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Lincoln may have been hailed, during the Civil War, as the Father of the Nation, but at home, with his eldest son Robert, Lincoln was mostly the President of the United States.

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The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 3, 2012

Lincoln, in a prelude to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, shadows Douglas around the Illinois.

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“All that I am or hope ever to be,” Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I get from my mother – God bless her.”

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Running for President, Grant tries to lose the antisemite label engendered by his infamous “Jew Order” during the Civil War.

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Abraham Lincoln Photograph, platinum print from wet plate collodion glass negative. 1860. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Lincoln was fifty-one years old, and in his own eyes, a common man, running for president against those infinitely more likely, and better favored, than himself. Lincoln’s identification of himself as unexceptional in any way reflected his intrinsic egalitarianism .

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April 2011 - July 2011

Although Tsar Alexander II and President Abraham Lincoln came from very different backgrounds, they led eerily parallel lives. The United States President proclaimed the emancipation of slaves in the territories of the Confederation in 1863. The Russian emperor signed the liberation of the serfs in 1861. Freedom, however, came at a cost. Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 and Alexander II assassinated on March 13, 1881.

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