Rare Book Monthly
Articles - February - 2008 Issue
The Lincoln, Washington and the Presidents
By Bruce McKinney
The February issue of the AE Comet, a catalogue of material selected from our members' online inventories, this month focuses on Washington, Lincoln and the Presidents. It's an apt subject given the Presidents Birthday holiday and the incandescent presidential primaries that are sweeping America faster than Keith Olbermann and Brian Williams can say "reporting live from Nashville." AE's listing members have contributed their thoughts, ideas and suggestions to create a catalogue of material that expresses both the readability and collect-ability of a subject that scales the Himalayas of American collecting and also reaches into the smallest towns and most distant places. Presidents have often emerged from obscure backgrounds and places, have appeared in newspaper articles, pamphlets and books long before [and after] they achieved collect-ability. Their influence is such that they became the subject of tens of thousands of printed items that include them or make reference to subjects now forever entwined with their Presidencies and the periods they led the nation.
Growing up in the Hudson Valley of New York State I experienced this first hand, this weaving of the human tapestry in which the President is an indelible single thread creating lasting connections across everyday life. Lyndon Johnson visited Ellenville, New York in August, 1966 to support Congressman Joseph Resnick. The underlying issue was Resnick's support of the Vietnam War and the visit President Johnson's gesture of gratitude to him. The dedication program for the Hospital dedicated in Ellenville that day is interesting ephemera, the visit a footnote to a tumultuous era.
Dan Weinberg, the Lincoln specialist in Chicago recently expressed it this way - "We study these individuals and their histories to both know them and better know ourselves. As we deeply study an historical person or era, we inculcate what we learn -- the joys, the sorrows, the achievements, the regrets – adding those years of experience to our own."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived in Hyde Park in nearby Dutchess County. Martin Van Buren lived in Kinderhook. Alton Parker, the Democrat's candidate for President in 1904, lived in Ulster. George Clinton, Vice President under both Jefferson and Madison was born in what is now Orange County and is buried at Kingston in Ulster County. Levi Parsons Morton, Vice President under Benjamin Harrison was a Dutchess County man. Even Abraham Lincoln had a Hudson Valley connection. He visited Poughkeepsie on April 25th, 1865 when his funeral train made a brief stop.
While for some the connection is place, for others it's a period, era or movement. Black history is a continuous thread that runs unbroken, if inconsistently, from first President George Washington to today's candidate Barack Obama. For others it's the women's movement, the campaign for the right to vote, the views of the candidates and Presidents, and all the many ancillary activities that involved and affected women down through the decades. The changing role of women in presidential politics could fill many public libraries. For collectors, shelves devoted to a single aspect of this movement can engage personal interest for a lifetime.
For others the hook is campaign paraphernalia. It turns out, that from the beginning, supporters have sought to wear a ribbon or pin that identifies them with a party, a movement and often particular candidates. Today this material emerges through dealers, at auction and on eBay as a substantially undocumented flow that is difficult to describe and hard to identify. Laid into an 1860 campaign biography, a ribbon for Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate, becomes an iconic symbol of a great man and reminder that, through it all, great men and great ideas survive and prosper even in and sometimes because of, the desperation of the times. Neither book nor object is so powerful on their own as they are together. Evidence of real life mixed with the words of real history is for many the stuff of real passion.