Review of “President Lincoln: The Duty of A Statesman” by William Lee Miller

Miller endeavors to examine “the moral performance of Abraham Lincoln” as President. Therefore, as the author explains, the book is only indirectly about Lincoln’s statesmanship and more about his moral conduct in office. He is also careful to distinguish (as Lincoln himself did) choices Lincoln made in fulfillment of his oath of office from those he might have made based on his personal predispositions.

It’s an interesting perspective in one sense, because, as Miller observes, many politicians have had more political experience than Lincoln but “[a] fool or knave can rise through many eminent positions and still be a fool or knave.” So Miller wants to show how Lincoln excelled in spite of his lack of experience, because he had such a strong moral fiber.

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My biggest criticism with this book is that it reads more like a billet doux than a history. It is overly reverential: Lincoln may have taken an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, but Miller seems to have taken the same oath vis-a-vis Lincoln. He repeatedly characterizes Lincoln as “decisive,” “steadfast” tenderhearted,” “resilient,” “resolute” – a lot of adjectives making the basic point of “strong yet gentle.”

My other complaint is that the prose is anachronistically florid. Not only does Miller hijack and recycle many of Lincoln’s own familiar phrases (“mystic chords,” “mighty scourge” and so on), but he also interjects his own overly dramatic prose. He refers to “the golden thread of magnanimity and generosity that would wind its way through his presidency.” He makes reference to events that “would ring forever thereafter in American memory” and provide “stories forever.”

Those criticisms aside, the book contains some interesting observations and analyses. In attempting to justify Lincoln’s very hesitant stance on the abolition of slavery, Miller does a thorough job of detailing the tenuous positions of the border states, and how essential it was for the viability of the Union for Lincoln to hold on to them.

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He also includes an interesting theory of how the Emancipation Proclamation – so legalistic and even exclusionary – came to be seen as a great document of liberation. The Proclamation did not set all the slaves free, but only those in the Confederacy, over whom Lincoln did not have any control. In fact, Miller charges, it was white Southerners who, greatly exaggerating the document’s import out of fear and hyperbole, conveyed a much more momentous significance to this decree. Their indiscriminate condemnations reached into the slave community, convincing blacks that northerners wanted them liberated. Great waves of escaped slaves thus attached themselves to invading northern armies, much to the chagrin of the latter who then had to care for them.

Lincoln, for his part, continually protested that if he could save the Union without freeing any slaves he would do so. However, when he thought the North was losing the war and that he would not be re-elected, he encouraged Frederick Douglass to familiarize slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. Slaves who had made their way behind Union lines by war’s end could stay out of bondage.

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Immense changes took place during Lincoln’s time in office. When he began as President, the U.S. Army totaled just over 17,000 men and just over 1,000 officers. When war was declared, one-third of the officers promptly resigned and joined the Confederacy. There were significant defections in civilian departments as well; ninety employees in the War Department alone resigned. Confusion and corruption characterized the early days of the Administration. Lincoln’s generals in the field made their own policies, sometimes in direct contradiction to Lincoln’s commands, threatening his fragile coalitions and alliances. Lincoln had not only to surmount all of these obstacles but to do it in such a way that minimized alienating his fragile governing coalition. He also had to exercise control over the war machine while resisting the excesses of wartime governance. By the war’s end, close to 3 million soldiers had served in both North and South. This number included 186,017 free blacks and freed slaves in the army and 10,000 in the navy. Some 620,000 soldiers were dead (one-third of those from battle; the rest succumbed to disease or the effects of hardship).

Company E, 4th United States Colored Troops

Company E, 4th United States Colored Troops

In Lincoln’s second inaugural address, he argued that both sides were complicitous in the war. Nevertheless, he noted: “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged.” Rather, he asked for “malice toward none, and charity towards all,” and then six weeks later he was dead. Many politicians in the victorious North had no such qualms about revenge, and Lincoln’s successor had no moral authority to temper their vengeance.

Evaluation: Lincoln’s policies and positions can easily be vindicated without couching them in an encomium. Although the book includes quite a bit of interesting primary source material, its value is diminished by its non-scholarly tone.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Knopf, 2008

March 25, 1965 – (Yet Another) White Civil Rights Worker Murdered in Alabama

On this day in history, Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian Universalist 39-year-old civil rights activist from Michigan, and mother of five children, traveled to Selma, Alabama to help coordinate logistics for civil rights initiatives. Following a trip to the Montgomery airport to shuttle fellow activists she was shot by members of the Ku Klux Klan, while driving.

Viola Liuzzo

Viola Liuzzo

Mrs. Liuzzo had been inspired to go to Alabama after watching television footage of state troopers attacking freedom marchers on “Bloody Sunday” on March 7. Hours after the successful Selma-to-Montgomery march ended, Mrs. Liuzzo and Leroy Moton, a nineteen-year-old local black activist, were driving back to Montgomery to pick up the last group of demonstrators waiting to return to Selma.

Four Klansmen chased down Mrs. Liuzzo’s car. About 20 miles outside of Selma, the klansmen pulled up beside the car and one aimed his pistol out the window and shot Mrs. Liuzzo, shattering her skull. Moton grabbed the wheel and hit the brakes, and the car crashed into an embankment. When the klansmen walked over to inspect their work, Moton faked his death while they shone a light in the car. As soon as they left, Moton flagged down a truck carrying more civil rights workers, and although he was terrified, he was uninjured. Viola Liuzzo was dead.

One of the drivers of the car carrying the Klansmen, and possibly Mrs. Liuzzo’s shooter, was Gary Thomas Rowe, Jr., an FBI informant who had participated in the 1961 beatings of Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, concerned that Mr. Rowe’s history of violence against civil rights activists and close ties to the FBI would harm the agency’s public image, proceeded to “leak” reports about Mrs. Liuzzo as being an unstable woman who had abandoned her husband and children and traveled to Selma for interracial sex and drugs.

None of these reports were proven or substantiated in any way.

Mr. Rowe later testified against the three other Klansmen who were with him on the night of Mrs. Liuzzo’s murder. They were acquitted by an all-white jury but were later convicted of federal civil rights violations. This was the first conviction of murder in a civil rights case and was a landmark in southern racial history. It was also the first time the federal government successfully prosecuted a case of civil rights conspiracy.

In 1978, investigations revealed that Rowe, the FBI informant, may have been involved in the bombing of a church in 1963 where four black girls were killed. In November of 1978, a grand jury indicted Rowe for the murder of Viola Liuzzo, but he fought the extradition proceedings against him. In 1980, an FBI file revealed that Rowe had clubbed Freedom Riders and that the FBI had paid his medical bills and given him a $125 bonus. The Liuzzo children sued the FBI for $2 million, blaming Rowe and the FBI for the murder. A federal judge blocked Rowe’s extradition to Alabama. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Liuzzos got Rowe into court, but the judge threw out the case and ordered the family to pay back the government $80,000 in court costs. The family appealed and the fine was voided.

March 23, 2015 – Utah Reauthorizes Use of Firing Squad for the Death Penalty

On this day in history, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed legislation reauthorizing the state to use the firing squad in the event that the drugs required for lethal injection are unavailable. Prior to this, the firing squad was an option, but was only allowed for inmates who chose this method prior to its elimination in 2004.

Lethal injection remains the primary execution method for Utah and the 31 other U.S. states that allow the death penalty as a punishment for certain murders.

Between 1973 and January, 2017, 157 people were exonerated from Death Row according to the Death Penalty Information Organization (DPIC). (You can check their website for updates.)

For Inclusion on DPIC’s Innocence List, defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either-
 
a. Been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, or

b. Had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution, or

c. Been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

No one from Utah is on their list; most of the persons on the list are from the South.

Women’s History Month: Sexual Abuse of Women in the Military

There are over 200,000 active-duty servicewomen comprising 14.5% of the total active force of 1.4 million people.

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Recently (in part because of the reluctance of some in Congress to renew the Violence Against Women Act), more attention has been given to the rampant sexual abuse of both women and men in the military.

Inappropriately Suggestive WWI Recruitment Poster, part of a historical pattern

Inappropriately suggestive WWI recruitment poster, part of a historical pattern

For example, The New York Times recently ran a harrowing story featuring one of the SIXTY-TWO trainees at Lackland Air Force Base who were victims of assault or other improper conduct by THIRTY-TWO training instructors between 2009 and 2012. Virginia Messick was unable to complain to her superior, because her superior was the one who raped her.

A 2015 study, which was conducted by the RAND corporation and sponsored by the Pentagon, indicated that an estimated 18,900 soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel said they were victims of “unwanted sexual contact” in the 2014 fiscal year. (In the surveys, the Pentagon uses the words “unwanted sexual contact” as an umbrella term covering any sexual offense, from inappropriate touching to rape.) This was considered to be good thing, since it compared favorably to the 2012 report of 26,000 military personnel.

This also differs from the official report of the Department of Defense issued in 2015 which gave a number of “only” 6,083 reports of sexual assault for the Fiscal year 2015. (It should also be noted that their figures for “sexual assault” did not include reports of “sexual harassment.” They cite a the figure of 657 formal complaints for this in 2015.)

There are a number of factors militating against reporting such incidents, as shown graphically below:

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Moreover, it is not as if subjecting oneself to the horrible experience of testifying has positive results. The Military Times reported in 2015:

Last year, 6,131 service members reported a sexual assault.

But only about 317 service members were court-martialed and sentenced to confinement as a result of a reported sexual assault.

The dizzying details underlying that roughly 1-in-20 conviction-and-incarceration rate were buried in the latest annual military sexual assault report released May 1, which reveals how sexual assault complaints were handled by criminal investigators and commanders.”

Retaliation by the military against those who report sexual assaults is an ongoing problem. Human Rights Watch also has condemned the military for this practice.

Documented psychological consequences of military sexual trauma (MST) most frequently includes PTSD, impairments of social functioning and quality of life (for example, a study found that more than fifty percent of homeless female veterans had experienced military sexual trauma), chronic pain, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

The Department of Defense, however, claims their investigation process is satisfactory:

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This is not the impression one gets either from perusing the trauma experienced by victims, or the figures revealing how many victims do not come forward.

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Nor does it square with the anecdotal reports of those brave enough to go to the media. Nicole McCoy, for example, who was assaulted several times while in the Marines, said in an NPR interview that her bad experiences started soon after she signed up:

“Back in 2008, I had joined the Marine Corps and within almost exactly a year I was raped while in Afghanistan while I was at work. Continuously had to work with the same guy. He held a 9 millimeter to my head and told me that if I told anyone he’d kill me. And then I left Afghanistan after a couple months, still never told anyone.”

Her story just gets worse:

“…in January of 2010 I was raped while in a hazmat course. And I went back and told one of the Marines that I was there with and I had told him what happened. He said he would contact my staff NCO. The staff NCO told me I needed to wait until I got back to my duty station, as they didn’t have any uniform victim advocates where I was. So when I got back then they told me that I missed the deadline.”

And believe it or not, the abuse continued. She finally left the Corps in 2011. Now she works as an advocate for change in the military and works to support other victims. But it’s an uphill road. As another female vet, Julie, testified on the same show:

“I’m a Vietnam-era vet, and I joined in 1973, and like Nicole, I had multiple experiences with sexual assault. And let me be very clear here: I don’t feel that I’m a victim. This is something that happens to us in the military, because quite often the war that we have is with the guy standing next to us, not necessarily the guy on the other side of the gun.

And let me make a point that I’m not hearing being made: Rank has its privileges, gentlemen, and one of the most important aspects of this argument is that power – power over women is a very, very heady thing in the military. The men who attacked me had rank, and as an enlisted woman, and I wasn’t an enlisted woman the entire time I was in, they had power over me because they had rank. And I did not feel at the time of these assaults that I had the right to make an appeal to anybody else, that I felt that I would have been run out of the Army, and I’d made a commitment to my country.

So I bit on a stick. I kept walking. I didn’t make any appeal, and I simply was the good soldier. And one of the most important aspects of this, and the fundamental problem is that it starts at the top, and – may I point out Petraeus. These guys cannot keep it zipped up. It is at the very, very top ranks. This is an issue of power and the permission to do whatever they want because it comes with rank.”

Read the whole transcript here. And help fight the lack of prosecutions! If there is no punishment, there is no incentive not to continue.

Additional data on sexual assaults in the military is presented in this 2015 article. You can also refer to this “Quick Fact Sheet” about military sexual abuse here. This fact sheet is made available by Protect Our Defenders (POD), the only national organization solely dedicated to ending the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military and to combating a culture of pervasive sexual harassment and retribution against victims. There are a number of excellent resources on their website.

[It should be noted, as indicated above, that while women make up the overwhelming number of victims, sexual abuse is not confined to them. You can read more about sexual assaults of men in the military here.] The Department of Defense shows these statistics:

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Women’s History Month Notable Women Series: Review of “Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History” by Sam Maggs

In Wonder Women, readers (presumably in the tween-teenage age range) are introduced to twenty-five female scientists, engineers, adventurers, and inventors in chapters divided into five parts: Women of Science, Women of Medicine, Women of Espionage, Women of Innovation and Women of Adventure.

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This book has some great information in it, but I was kind of turned off by the “hipster” tone of it. The author kept referring to “dudes” instead of males or men, and “butt-kicking chicks” or “bad-as-heck babes.” Then there was the “Valley Speak,” as in “Zhenyi . .. would totally be hosting Cosmos were she alive today,” (although, admittedly, I doubt any Valley Speaker would be familiar with the subjunctive mood), and interjections like “What even?”

I did like the choice of women to highlight, and I thought the author did a good job at winnowing down the biographical information to present the most interesting or relevant pieces of these women’s lives. Maybe the tone is geared toward winning over “reluctant readers,” but I would like to think that we can expect kids to learn to communicate by using all the breadth and beauty of the English language instead of what sounds “cool.”

The book also includes illustrations by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, a bibliography, and interviews with present-day woman working in STEM fields.

Mary Sherman Morgan 1921-2004 American Rocket Scientist

Mary Sherman Morgan 1921-2004 American Rocket Scientist

Evaluation: While this book is not without some merit, I think there are better choices for kids to learn about women in science, such as Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky.

Published by Quirk Books, 2016

March 17, 1948 – Israel Establishes Its Fledgling Naval Services with a U.S. Commander

On this day in history, David Ben-Gurion established his so-called “Bathtub Corps” with a fleet initially made up of three derelict warships impounded by British authorities. As head of the Corps, he named U.S. Navy Lt. Junior Grade Paul Shulman.

Paul Shulman

Paul Shulman

Shulman served in the U.S.Navy in World War II, and was released from active duty in 1947. He then joined Haganah (“The Defense”), a Jewish paramilitary organization operating in New York, where Shulman lived with his young family. Ben-Gurion knew that when the British Mandate ended, the new state would be in danger from the surrounding Arab states, and sent a cable to New York asking: “Can you send two or three shipping experts? Can Paul Shulman come at once?” Ben-Gurion knew Shulman through his parents, who were active Zionists.

Shulman arrived in Palestine in April 1948 and reported to naval headquarters in an outbuilding of a monastery on top of Mount Carmel. He was given a rank equivalent to a U.S. navy commander, but no ships. There was not even yet a Hebrew military term for “navy.” Shulman’s assignment was to create a naval fighting force. He went back to New York, purchased three decommissioned ships, recruited crews, and found a shipbuilder to refit the ships and make more. Among the 65 to 95 crew members of each of the warships, about three dozen were “Machalniks,” most from the U.S. and Canada.

Shulman with Ben-Gurion, at left

Shulman with Ben-Gurion, at left

Machal (the Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Chutz L’Aretz — “volunteers from outside Israel”) or Machalnik was the name given to those like Shulman who came to serve in the Israeli armed forces during the War of Independence. About 1,000 men and women, Jewish and Christian, from the U.S. and Canada served in the Israeli army, navy and air force.  The Machal volunteers were a small percentage of the Israeli fighting forces, but were assigned to virtually every unit in the Israeli army, navy and air force, in fact dominating the flying personnel in the air force.

Israel was formally declared a state on May 14, 1948. The next day it was invaded by the armies of five neighboring Arab countries. By July, the small Israeli navy was ready to join the fight.

Meanwhile, Ben-Gurion’s rival, Menachem Begin and his party, the Irgun, began assembling his own fighting force and an Irgun navy, purchasing a former U.S. Navy tank landing ship, renamed the Altalena. Ben-Gurion ordered Shulman to intercept it and a firefight resulted between a ship of Shulman’s, the Wedgwood, and the Altalena, with Americans participating on both sides. Sixteen Irgun fighters and two soldiers died, upsetting many of the Americans and Shulman himself.

On the night of June 20, 1948, the Irgun cargo ship, Altalena, was attacked by Israeli Navy gunboats off the coast of Kfar Vitkin

On the night of June 20, 1948, the Irgun cargo ship, Altalena, was attacked by Israeli Navy gunboats off the coast of Kfar Vitkin

Several Americans serving with Shulman submitted complaints (with which Shulman quietly agreed) about the constant turf battles among senior leaders of the new state. But a truce wasn’t far in coming – October, 1948, and then an armistice signed in July 1949 formally ended the Arab-Israeli war.

Shulman retired from the Israeli Navy in 1949 and, with a partner, formed an engineering firm in Haifa to help build the new country. He and his wife remained in Israel for forty years. In 1988 the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel honored him and other Israeli service volunteers. He died on May 16, 1944, a month after Israel’s 46th anniversary of independence.

Naval historian J. Wandres discusses his book, Ablest Navigator: Lieutenant Paul N. Shulman USN, Israel’s Volunteer Admiral in 2012

Naval historian J. Wandres discusses his book, Ablest Navigator: Lieutenant Paul N. Shulman USN, Israel’s Volunteer Admiral in 2012

Resources for Women’s History Month

The internet has excellent resources on women’s history. One is a site for the history of U.S. woman’s suffrage, created by the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM). It features primary source documents, lesson plans, speeches, photographs and more related to the long struggle for voting rights for women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing c. 1880-1902 Library of Congress

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing
c. 1880-1902
Library of Congress

The website Status of Women in the States provides up-to-date data on women’s progress in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States overall, in five key areas: Employment, Education, & Economic Change; Democracy & Society; Poverty, Welfare, & Income Security; Work & Family; and Health & Safety.

From the section on Reproductive Rights

From the section on Reproductive Rights

The University of Virginia has a site that has digitized biographies of women. You can search or browse by name.

Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and a women’s right activist throughout her life

Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and a women’s right activist throughout her life

Many resources focus on women’s legal history. Just a small sample includes:

A Legislative History of Women’s History Month from the Library of Congress

A Timeline of Women’s Legal History in the United States (from Stanford)

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One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage: An Overview

The History of the Equal Rights Amendment

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Women’s Law Project

Women’s Stats Project

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List of and Links to Articles on Women’s Legal History

Resources on Marriage and Coverture

Has equal opportunity in the U.S. been achieved? You can access some of the latest stats are here and here.

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