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Saturday, December 16, 2006


Using the Internet constructively

Professor colleagues of mine at NSU (I hold emeritus rank), Ken Blanchard and Jon Schaff, have provided some fine information in regard to Abraham Lincoln. We share an admiration and high appraisals of him based upon what he actually did and said. He represents what a person of humble and unprivileged origins can do in America--and I don't think any of us would suggest that some of his actions are above criticism.

Professor Schaff addresses the point of people making significant scholarly and artisitic contributions, even though they do not hold the formal credentials. In particular, he cites the superb work of Shelby Foote on the Civil War. Shelby Foote was featured in Ken Burns' documentary.

In that regard, I add that the most comprehensive Internet site on the Civil War is maintained at Dakota State University in Madison. The person who has put it together is Jim Janke, who is not a professional historian. He does have a number of those letters after his name which cause some offense in the populist climate. He has a Ph.D. in chemistry. However, his professorial rank at DWU is in the field of business and finance. Still, he produces a Civil War resource that is invaluable to scholars and re-enactors alike. I give the whole address of his site following:

Ken Blanchard thinks I am a bit testy in my statement that watching the re-enactments of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates on C-Span made me ponder the fact that people stood for three or more hours to listen to the debates with extended and elaborated arguments in contrast to the reductive quips that pass for discourse on blogs. Ken makes the point that the debates were the only show in town back then. I would like to expand a bit on the mental climate in which the debates were held in Illinois between the Black Hawk War in 1832 and the Civil War.

The early settlers in Illinois were not a particularly savory lot. Society was held in a state of fear by a group that observers of the time called "butcher knife boys." They wore sharpened butcher knives in their belts and were quick to brandish and use them on anyone to whom they took offense. An early governor of Illinois noted that any politician who wanted to be elected had to have the endorsement of these men. They were part of the rough river men and migrants from the South who engaged in face-ripping fights for the sport.

At the time Lincoln was starting his political career, the voting was done orally in large meetings. One observer of that political climate stated that the butcher knife crowd voted loudly and "not infrequently."

In his riding of the legal circuit and political appearances, Lincoln had the abilitiy to mollify and gain the support of these people. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates were a huge change in the politics of the time. The one at Ottawa brought 12,000 people to a town of 10,000.

I need to add that the towns of Ottawa, Galesburg, and Freeport were major stations on the Underground Railroad, which was running extra trains at the time of the debates. In the midst of frontier lawlessness and belligerence, people were beginning to clamor for a society that promoted freedom, equality, and justice. They were getting tired of gangs like the Banditti of the Prairie who intimidated and preyed on the people of the region, and they saw a politics of learned persuasion as the preferred option.

I am of the opinion that Internet resources can be used to restore some of that regard for real discussion and deliberation to a political system that has been reduced by 30-second sound bites. We may have arrived at that time. I don't know.

I have not been able to devote much attention to the Internet stuff in recent weeks, but will be addressing the issue with some work that is in process.

But I must say, I appreciate the exchanges on Abraham Lincoln. Just as one can't have too many trumpet players, one can't study him enough.

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