“A strange little document…”

Transcription: This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.

A. Lincoln [signed on the reverse: William H Seward, W. P. Fessenden, Edwin M Stanton, Gideon Welles, Edwd. Bates, M Blair, and J. P. Usher]

I am smitten with the document.

I like the covert aspect: written, folded, blindly signed on the reverse. I can see recreating the signing for my students–I wonder if they will sign blindly like the cabinet or blanch at the uncertainty of it.

I like the emotion of it: Lincoln is agonizingly honest and you can sense the distress.

I like the dissonance it will create for my students. On this side of history, we know Lincoln wins in 1864 handily and Lincoln’s worries will be unfounded.  It is helpful, however, to help our young women and men see that history is lived ‘in the moment’ and Lincoln’s moment in August 1864 looks bleak.

That “in the moment” aspect can help make history come alive for my students. When you don’t know how it will turn out, it makes the action more honest, makes the action more profound, more brave.

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Posted in Discussion, Primary Sources
2 comments on ““A strange little document…”
  1. janeapplebee says:

    Yes, David, I agree. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know that there was so much concern about the situation at this time. I thought by August 1864 it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Union was going to win and everything was coming up roses up North. I learned a lot today.

  2. Jodi says:

    I agree this document is especially valuable because it places us in the moment, uncertain of the outcome. Too often, when it comes to studying history, we all become Monday morning quarterbacks. What a valuable lesson in helping students place themselves in the moment and experience history rather than judging it.

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House Divided Project

Course Professor
Matthew Pinsker: pinskerm@dickinson.edu
Dickinson College
Carlisle, PA 17013

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Lance Warren: warren@gilderlehrman.org
Gilder Lehrman Institute
New York, NY 10036