Sunday, June 27, 2021

Erroneous Abraham Lincoln Assassination Reports

While the account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Sixteenth President, and the conspiracy to eliminate certain officials of the Lincoln administration may have been one of the most sensational news stories ever printed, it was also one of the most garbled. The suddenness of the events caught most newspaper editors flatfooted and the wire service out of Washington was terribly jammed with startling reports which were hurriedly compiled and inaccurately prepared. Then, too, harassed editors often read into local events a certain cloak-and-dagger significance, which for a time would share the national spotlight, only to fade into insignificance later on. 
Abraham Lincoln was shot on  April 14, 1865; Died on April 15th.

One newspaper even enjoyed the dubious distinction of making no mention, whatever, of Lincoln's assassination or death, which undoubtedly indicates that the April 15, 1865 issue of the New York Times was printed in advance of the tragic events. 
Of approximately fifty newspapers featuring the assassination reveals considerable misinformation. Some newspapers were quick to condemn the Confederacy, and even a Spanish firm and a French desperado were accused of being implicated in a deep-laid plot. Some reports erroneously stated that an attempt was made on the life of Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, and a great many newspapers stated emphatically that Secretary of State, Seward, was dead. Booth was reported captured alive in about a dozen different places, and John Surratt was generally accused of being Seward's assassin.
NOTE: Searching through newspaper archives immediately following the assassination date of Abraham Lincoln revealed many little-known topics of fact and fiction. Many minor details which were inaccurately reported, by accident or on purpose, were accepted as fact. Later editions of newspapers often tried to correct earlier editions, but many times with incorrect details again. Some readers likely never got an accurate newspaper account of the tragedy. Undoubtedly some of these short articles were used as filler stories. Only occasionally did they yield information of any importance. Nevertheless they reflect the hysteria that followed the great calamity of 1865. 
Contemporary Newspaper Accounts Following the Death of Lincoln
"The Funeral of the President: It is expected, though nothing has been decided upon, that the funeral of the late President Lincoln will take place on or about Thursday next. It is supposed that his remains will be temporarily deposited in the Congressional cemetery."
Springfield (Ill.) Daily Republican Extra
April 15, 1865

To the Editors of the Evening Post:
"On Wednesday night preceding the president's assassination, a little deaf and dumb girl in our institution got up in her sleep, went to a classmate, and after rousing her, spelled, with the manual alphabet, 'Lincoln is shot.' In the morning the somnambulist (sleepwalker) knew nothing of the circumstance till informed of it by her friend in the presence of others."

"The incident would probably never have been recalled but for the sad emphasis which after, events gave it. It now seems one of those cases of prescience which so often arises to puzzle mental philosophers. (Institution for Deaf and Dumb, April 18, 1865.)"
The Evening Post, New York, N. Y.
April 21, 1865

"One of the most remarkable circumstances connected with the assassination is that all the private boxes in the theatre had been engaged by unknown parties on the morning of Friday. They were unoccupied during the night so that when Booth jumped on the stage after the commission of the act he did not fear arrest from any parties who might have occupied them. This is but another, and one of the strongest evidences going to show the premeditation of the murder. The question now arises, who rented the boxes, and did it not naturally arouse suspicion on the part of somebody connected with the theatre to know that all the boxes were rented and yet not occupied? Events will soon determine these mysteries." 
New York Daily Tribune
April 24, 1865

"The reported seizure of the photographs taken by Gurney & Son, the photographers on Broadway, during the lying in state of the remains of President Lincoln at the City Hall, is entirely, without foundation, a rumor being based on the fact that the Secretary of War, on hearing that Gurney had taken a series of pictures of the catafalque and the lineaments of Mr. Lincoln, as he lay in state, together with other accessories of the funeral, telegraphed to Gurney, at the request of Mrs. Lincoln, to destroy the presentiment of Mr. Lincoln's face, the features being in a distorted condition, which request was immediately complied with by Gurney & Son on receipt of the telegram from the Secretary of War." 
The World, New York, N. Y. 
April 29, 1865

How shall the people of the United States testify their admiration, sorrow, and honest feelings? A good President who serves out his term with honor and retires is certain of the esteem and gratitude of his fellow citizens during life and of their respect to his family after death. But the sudden taking off of Abraham Lincoln requires a different testimonial. We, therefore, suggest that subscriptions be taken up in every city and town by the Mayor or chief officer, for a national monument to Abraham Lincoln, and a nation's gift to his family. This would be a noble tribute, shall it not be commenced at once?
The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 17, 1865

Some of the More Glaring Newspaper Errors:
Hour Lincoln Died
"One dispatch announces that the president died at 12½ p.m. Another hour later, states that he is still living, but dying slowly. We go to press without knowing the exact truth.
New York Tribune
April 15, 1865

"Who the assassins were nobody knows, though everybody supposes them to have been rebels."
Boston Evening Transcript
April 15, 1865

More Evidence That The Act Was A Conspiracy
"During a conversation yesterday among the members of a Spanish firm in this city (New York) it was stated that today the greatest news would be received that had yet been made known to the public."
Boston Sunday Herald
April 16, 1865

Rumored Attempt On The Life Of Mr. Stanton
"Reports have prevailed that an attempt was also made on the life of Mr. Stanton."
The New York Times
April 15, 1865

The President Dead
"The President Dead: Probable Attempt to Assassinate Secretary Stanton."
Bangor Daily Whig and Courier
April 17, 1865

9:30 This Morning
"Dispatches just received from Washington say that Secretary Seward died at 9:30 this morning."
The Saint Paul Press
April 16, 1865

Latest Afternoon Dispatches
"The attempted assassin of Mr. Seward named John Surritt."
Buffalo Morning Express
April 17, 1865

Heart-Rending Intelligence
"Another patriot has fallen a victim, Secretary Seward, like the President, lies a corpse."
The Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle
April 15, 1865

"Secretary Seward has just expired."
Daily Milwaukee News
April 16, 1865

Special Dispatch
"The president died at 7½ o'clock this morning. Secretary Seward is just reported dead.
His son Frederick is dead."
The Boston Herald (3rd Evening Edition)
April 15, 1865

Death of Seward
"He (Seward) died at 9:45 o'clock this morning."
Cleveland Morning Leader
April 15, 1865

Messenger of State Department Died
"Mr. Hansell, messenger in State Department, who was with Mr. Seward at the time of the assassination has died."
Newburyport Herald Extra
April 15, 1865

Seward's Assassin Named Thompson
"New York:—The Commercial's special says: "The name of the assassin who entered Mr. Seward's house is Thompson."
Pittsburgh Daily Dispatch
April 18, 1865

The Supposed Assassin and the French Lady
"It was stated in a former dispatch that the person arrested this morning as the party who attempted to take the life of the Secretary of State was supposed to be Surrat. But there is reason to believe that the desperado is no other than Thomas, the so-called French lady, who, it will be remembered, captured the steamer St. Nicholas in 1861, and was subsequently apprehended, tried, convicted, and sentenced to the penitentiary, from which by some means he was released. Nothing positive, however, is known on the subject." 
The New York Times
April 19, 1865

Pennsylvania Offers a Reward
"Gov. Curtin has issued a proclamation offering a reward of $10,000 for the arrest of Booth, who is reported to have been seen in this state if arrested in Pennsylvania."
New York-Tribune
April 21, 1865

Taken Near Fort Hastings
"It is reported by a private dispatch, believed to be authentic, that Booth, the assassin of the president, was taken, Saturday afternoon, near Fort Hastings."
Springfield Daily Republican
April 15, 1865

The Assassin Arrested
"Booth is in custody. The other assassin not yet arrested. The detectives are on his track."
Dayton Daily Journal
April 15, 1865

Booth Captured
"It is reported that Booth was captured this morning. The story is that his horse threw him and injured him so severely that he was obliged to seek relief in a house on the Seventh Street (Washington)."
The Indiana State Sentinel
April 17, 1865

The Herald's Special
"Booth has been captured near Baltimore, and will be placed onboard a monitor anchored in the Potomac, at the Washington Navy Yard."
The Indianapolis Daily Journal
April 17, 1865

Booth, The Assassin Arrested
"The Merchants' Exchange has a dispatch that Booth, the assassin of the President, is arrested, and is safe in prison in Washington. The dispatch is dated 12 M."
Boston Daily Journal
April 15, 1865

Arrest of J. Wilkes Booth
"Tribune special from Washington says J. Wilkes Booth was arrested at 9 o'clock A.M. on the Bladensburg road. He boldly approached our pickets, and was arrested, and has just been brought to this city." 
Boston Daily Evening Transcript
April 15, 1865

Boothe Captured
"A man who answers the exact description given of Boothe, the assassin, was arrested this morning on the accommodation train between Altoona and Greenburg."
The Pittsburgh Gazette
April 18, 1865

Booth Caught
"Booth, the murderer, was caught this morning, near Fort Washington."
The Pittsburgh Commercial
April 15, 1865.

About Thirty In Number
"A gentleman who was at Point Lookout yesterday A.M. was informed by an officer of one of our gunboats, that Booth and the other conspirators, about 30 in number, were in St. Mary's County, heavily armed, and endeavoring to make their way across the Potomac."
Galena (III.) Weekly Gazette
April 25, 1865

John Surratt's Brother
"Today, it was confidently stated that John Surratt, the supposed assassin of Mr. Seward, was captured. It is now reported to be his brother."
New York Tribune
April 18, 1865

A Prediction
"Sometime during last March, the New York Journal of Commerce stated upon what authority we know not, that the Confederates were about to do something that would astonish the nation. Little was thought of it at the time, but since the assassination of President Lincoln more than one has had his mind turned towards this prediction and wondered if it did not refer to the murder of our president."
LaPorte (lnd.) Herald
April 22, 1865

Oddities In The News Concerning Lincoln's Death and Funeral
Further Details
"For hours after the removal of the President's body from the house opposite Ford's, the building was regarded by thousands with the greatest curiosity. "Later in the day a little boy was discovered rubbing bits of white paper on the steps, and afterward carefully placing them in his pocket.

"On being asked to explain the reason for this singular proceeding, he said, with childish simplicity, 'Don't you see those dark stains on the board? It is the blood of the President,' and I want to save it.' In years to come how priceless will be those scraps of paper, darkened by the heart's blood of the great emancipator."
New York Tribune
April 17, 1865

The Dog Mourner
"Under the car (hearse) there is walking a dog, though invisible from the outside. It is 'Bruno' the great Saint Bernard dog belonging to Edward H. Morton, Esq. He was standing with his master at the corner of Broadway and Chambers-street, as the car passed by,
when suddenly, without warning, and in spite of his master's call to him to return, he sprang into the street, passed beneath the car, followed its motions, and is still there. By what instinct was this? For 'Bruno' was a friend and acquaintance of Mr. Lincoln's and had passed some time with him only a few days before his death."
The New York Times
April 26, 1865

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

The 1897 Chicago Anti-Department Store Crusade.

A common feature of the expanding city in the latter half of nineteenth-century America was the development of a downtown central business area. These downtown sections usually contained retail and wholesale establishments, office buildings, banks, and financial houses. Invariably, by the 1880s, they also included a retailing innovation called the department store.

The department store differed from other retail institutions in several ways. It was located in a central urban shopping center; it catered primarily to women; it carried a wide variety of merchandise under one roof. It depended upon a large volume of business. John Wanamaker, Philadelphia mercantile king, noted that the department store was a "natural product" made possible by "cheaper capital, better transportation, [and] more rapid communications." Indeed, the development of the department store was only possible with the technological innovations that stimulated the growth of large cities in the second half of the nineteenth century. Most important were transportation improvements: the successive urban adoption of the omnibus, the horsecar, the cablecar, and finally, the electric street railway. Construction developments such as the iron and steel frame made it possible to build large open stores conducive to the favorable display of merchandise. Central heating plants made the buildings comfortable in winter. Mechanical elevators enabled customers to move quickly from floor to floor for various kinds of merchandise. The rise of the daily mass-circulation newspaper also played a crucial role in department store growth, for the big stores were among the first to use wide-scale advertising to attract customers.

Although thousands of shoppers hailed the convenience of purchasing various goods under one roof, there was widespread opposition to the department store. It came primarily from small and middle-sized retail merchants outside the central business districts, real estate men with holdings in the outlying areas, and some labor unions that objected to department store labor policies. These critics of the big stores charged them with fraudulent advertising, monopolistic practices, driving the small man out of business, and pauperizing (impoverishing) labor. Organizations of retail merchants pressured legislatures and city councils to enact punitive legislation against their competitors.
The Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. Wholesale Dry Goods building covered an entire city block, bounded by Monroe, Market, Adams streets, and the Chicago River. The main entrance was on Adams Street.

The movement against department stores was particularly intense in Chicago, where several department stores appeared during the 1880s and 1890s. Like Marshall Field and Company, Carson, Pirie, Scott, and Company, the Mandel Brothers expanded stores formerly specializing in dry goods. For instance, Carson, Pirie, Scott &Co. originally featured imported dress goods and linens but expanded to sell shoes in 1881; Marshall Field introduced furniture in 1896. Mandel Brothers opened an art department in 1883. A wide variety of stores, such as The Fair Department Store and Seigel, Cooper and Company, which sold goods ranging from children's toys and kitchen equipment to fancy groceries and baby carriages, also began appearing in the downtown district in the 1890s.

As streetcar lines spread throughout the city, these downtown stores expanded their operations and volume of business. Correspondingly, there was a decline in the retail industry in other city sections, especially on Clark Street, Madison Street, Milwaukee Avenue, Blue Island Avenue, and Cottage Grove Avenue north of Thirty-ninth Street. From 1877 to 1896, land values in these areas decreased steadily while those in the central business area rose 700%.

During the Panic of 1893 (world financial depression), department store competition further hurt outlying retail businesses. Over half the state's depression business failures were mercantile and commercial enterprises, and the number doubled from 1892 to 1893. The peak year was 1896, when 817 Illinois trading and commercial firms went bankrupt (fewer failures among manufacturing concerns). The prominent Chicago department stores, however, continued to prosper. Significantly, many new urban transportation lines were built between 1894 and 1898, a development that undoubtedly related to the growth of the department store business.

The "Loop" is the 1.79-mile long circuit of elevated rail that forms the hub of the Chicago transit 'L' system. The Loop opened for passenger service on October 3, 1897. ("El" referred to New York City's elevated transit system.)

Sorely affected by the depression and resenting continued department store prosperity, retail merchants and their associations were bitter about the big stores held responsible for the high failure rate among small retail businesses. "Department stores are slowly but steadily driving us out of business," complained one hardware dealer. "Making all allowances for trade depression, there is still a big scarcity of customers that we can trace directly to the department stores. Other complaints related to the advertising practices of department stores. Testifying before the Illinois Industrial Commission in 1900, S.W. Roth, secretary of the Cook County Retail Dealers' Association, blamed the decline in retail trade on "fraudulent advertising" by department stores. D.R. Goudie, the proprietor of a Chicago confectionary-cigar store, called department stores the "worst trusts" and noted that their "bargain" advertising has a serious "indirect effect" on small retail businessmen by making customers believe that the owner was making an inflated profit. 

To obtain relief from the ruinous competition of the department store, merchants throughout the city began forming associations to push for punitive and regulatory legislation. In February 1897, forty organizations formed the Cook County Businessmen's Association, and C.F. Gillman, head of the West Side business group, was elected President. 

The Chicago Federation of Labor agreed to work with the association because of the anti-union stance of the department stores and their employment of child labor. Several real estate men, including Marvin Farr, President of the Chicago Real Estate Board, also participated.

Initially, the organized agitation against department stores was political; the retail business organizations sought protection through punitive legislation against their large competitors. The chief proponent of such legislation was Congressman William Lorimer, Cook County Republican boss. Some of the loudest complaints about unfair department store competition came from the West Side, Lorimer's main bailiwick. It was significant that a machine politician, rather than a municipal reform organization, adopted the issue. The reform-oriented Civic Federation discussed appointing a committee to investigate the problem but never acted. Lorimer's willingness to become involved in the matter reflects the local and particularistic base of the urban political machine, which rested upon ward and precinct institutions. Small retail merchants often ran for municipal office under machine auspices, while many others benefited from connections with the ward organization.

Municipal reformers had a different orientation and were concerned with eliminating the local and particularistic forces supporting the machine. They wanted to reorganize urban life, using the rationalized and systematized business corporation with a vertical administrative decision-making structure as their model. With its great variety of goods, the department store's ability to draw people from throughout the city and its efficient workforce and departments were undoubtedly attractive to the reformers and corresponded to their ideals of the city. It should not be surprising that among those active in the Municipal Voters' League, Chicago's chief reform organization at the turn of the century, were Henry G. Selfridge, second in line at Marshall Field and Company, and John V. Farwell, Jr., one of the city's leading dry goods merchants. It is also significant that the Municipal Voters' League consistently endorsed representatives of large businesses, rather than small ones, for seats on the city council.
Harry Gordon Selfridge, left, was associated with Marshall Field, center, from 1876 until 1904. That year, Selfridge went to London, where he founded 'Selfridge's Ltd. John V. Farwell, on the right, came to Illinois in 1838 from New York state. He was the founder of the John V. Farwell Company of Chicago.

In February 1897, the Illinois General Assembly introduced legislation providing department stores' regulation. The legislation called for classifying trade and commerce into seventy-five categories and licensing any establishment that sold goods from more than one category. Delegates to the Republican city convention endorsed the legislation. They passed a resolution that decried "the destruction of the profits of the small shopkeepers by the competition of the department stores, which, by the use of labor grossly underpaid, have succeeded in largely driving out of business the many smaller shopkeepers throughout the city." "We believe," continued the resolution, "that the theory of the Republican party in favor of protection goes to the extent that the local business of every neighborhood... should be transacted in that neighborhood, and we favor... the wiping out of the present system of big department stores." 

Department store owners fought back, defending their policies in full-page advertisements in the Sunday newspapers. The Fair Department Store stated, for instance, "There is no secret about the success of this business—Chicago consumers have simply bought where they could save the most money—the more we sell, the cheaper we sell." A. M. Rothschild and Company maintained that "no one has a right to object to our underselling if you, the consumer, do not. No bright woman will pay double at other stores for articles she can get here for half the cost." The spokesman for Carson, Pirie, Scott, and Company said that while his firm did not approve of the department store bill in general, it welcomed the clause calling for honest advertising. Every shopper had a right to expect this.
John T. Pirie, born in Scotland, founded Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. of Chicago. Abram M. Rothschild, center, was born in Germany and arrived in Chicago in 1869. He founded M. Rothschild Company (dry goods) and was a partner in E. Rothschild Bros. Leon Mandel, German by birth, arrived in Chicago c.1852; he founded the Mandel Brothers.

Despite opposition from the department stores, the Illinois Senate passed the anti-department store bill on March 24 by 39 to 4. Hundreds of small businessmen were on hand for the occasion. Lorimer's Lieutenant, Thomas N. "Doc" Jamieson, pushed for the passage of a similar measure in the lower house. Realizing the popular appeal of the issue, both Chicago mayoralty candidates, Republican Nathaniel C. Sears and Democrat Carter H. Harrison sent telegrams to assemblymen asking for their support of the legislation.

However, during the next two months, legislative interest in the anti-department store issue declined markedly as politicians and the press became involved in the struggle over controversial traction bills. Downstate opposition to the department store bills also began to develop. Although Cook County Assemblymen from both parties supported the measure, downstate members were suspicious of any legislation emanating from Chicago. The Chicago Dry Goods Reporter noted, "In no other city of Illinois does the department store exist as it is in Chicago, and nowhere else does the small merchant so severely feel its competition. Until this evil becomes more widespread, it is unlikely that many State legislatures will take it seriously."

Public opposition to the bill also appeared. "The great consuming public has no quarrel with an institution which it believes to have been instrumental in reducing the cost of living," commented the Dry Goods Reporter. Furthermore, the charges against the department stores concerning mistreatment of labor, fraudulent advertising, and false pricing were also applicable to the smaller retail specialty shops. And finally, rural legislators realized that, in many ways, the department store was merely a larger version of the country general store. Legislation that hit at one because of its variety of goods might conceivably be used against the other unless sheer size is made the determining point for condemnation, a matter of doubtful constitutionality.

On April 8, 1897, the anti-department store bill failed in the house by a vote of 63 to 77, with the bulk of nays coming from downstate representatives. State legislatures in Minnesota and New York defeated similar measures that spring. In Chicago, the leader of the Businessmen's Association blamed the bill's defeat on bribery. A more pertinent reason was given by one department store owner: "It is no crime to sell dry goods and shoes under one roof, and the department stores stand vindicated." People would go where they found the "better values for their money."

An English newspaper reporter observed that legislation like the Illinois anti-department store bill reflected "the widespread tendency of the American people to appeal to the legislatures the economic changes of the times." In the adverse effects of economic alterations, small businessmen turned naturally to the local political machine instead of community organizations.

In this case, however, the forces of localism could not block the centralizing tendencies at work in the modern American city. Downtown central business areas and department stores continued to grow, or at least to hold their own, until after World War II,  when suburban residential dispersal, spurred by the automobile, was accompanied by suburban economic and commercial distribution. Thus, the forces responsible for the downtown store's decline were demographic and technological, the same forces that had initially caused the department store to grow.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Commodore and Green Briar Apartments History, and the Story; "Ruby Dean Murders Dr. Louis Quitman at the Commodore in 1917."

German immigrant Ernst Johann Lehmann began his career in Chicago by opening a small jewelry store on Clark Street. By 1874 he had been so successful that he moved his business to the prestigious corner of State and Adams. He called the new store "The Fair," a name that assured customers that they would be treated fairly.

By 1882 The Fair store occupied every building along the north side of Adams between State and Dearborn Streets. But such amazing success did not come without some difficulty, and Lehmann's story does not end happily.

1890 could have been a better year for the great merchant. On April 7 at 2:00 in the afternoon, Lehmann was driving a "pair of spirited horses attached to a phaeton (a light, open, four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage)," according to the Chicago Tribune. He got stuck in the mud on the south of Grand Crossing on the south side. As he urged the team to pull the carriage out of the mire, one of the horses flipped out, broke loose, and headed off into the marsh. Mr. Lehmann was dragged from the carriage but was able to chase after the horse. Neither the merchant nor the horse reappeared, and there was some concern for his safety.

A little over a month later, it was announced that the entire south half of the block bounded by Dearborn, State, Monroe, and Adams streets had been leased to The Fair in a deal amounting to a little over three million dollars. A great emporium would be constructed on the site, twelve stories high, costing two million bucks. The building would be the largest in the city and, in fact, the largest in the world devoted to merchandising.

By May 22, a Probate Court jury agreed to the following writ: 

“We, the undersigned jurors in the case of Ernst J. Lehmann, alleged to be distracted, having heard of the evidence in the case, find from such evidence that Ernst J. Lehmann is distracted and is incapable of managing and controlling his estate; that he is a resident of Cook County, and is aged about 41 years, and has been in such condition for the period of about three months prior to this date.”     Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1890

The three witnesses at the hearing agreed that Mr. Lehmann's "special mania" seemed to involve spending money. "While walking along the street, he would stop and purchase a horse which happened to catch his eye, or drop into a jeweler's and buy valuable diamonds, and he would carry the jewels around loose in his trousers pockets."

Mrs. Augusta Lehmann was appointed as the conservator of her husband's estate, and he was carted off to the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane in White Plains, New York. Ernst Lehmann died of heart failure ten years later at the asylum.

With an estate of ten million dollars at their disposal, the Lehmann clan had become interested in real estate even before poor old Ernst passed on. In 1897, the swank "Lessing" Apartment building, designed by Edmund Krause, was finished on Surf and Evanston Street, now Broadway. Seven years later, the Lessing Annex was completed just to the south. 
The Commodore Apartments (formerly The Lessing), at Surf and Broadway, Chicago.

The Lessing is now the Commodore; the Lessing Annex is called "The Green Briar" today.
Exterior view of The Green Briar, a u-shaped, multi-story apartment building with a gated courtyard, located at 559-561 West Surf Street in Chicago on June 5, 1944.

The Green Briar Apartment Hotel

The Lessing was marketed to an upscale clientele and had 86 apartments, some of them with as many as eight rooms. Architect Edmund R. Krause broke the huge six-and-one-half-story complex into a series of projecting units with deep but narrow courts between them to provide light and ventilation. The Roman brick façade is organized into the classic three-part design of the Chicago School. Although there is a nifty oculus (a circular opening, especially one at the apex of a dome or structure), it is minimally decorated, centered at the top of each projecting bay.
The Lessing Apartments

The Commodore's Surf Street Entrance.

The Commodore Apartments

When The Lessing was completed, it boasted 86 apartments, some of which had eight rooms. The apartment building was marketed to an exclusive clientele, folks who had moved to the north side of the city, having discovered the peaceful quality of life in Lakeview and its proximity to the city and the lake.
Light Court at The Commodore.

Even an upscale apartment building has its troubles; trouble came five years after the building was finished. On January 26, 1902, a fire started in the basement and moved quickly to the second floor utilizing an air shaft. Smoke filled the building as residents fled in their nightclothes, finding safety in the frigid darkness of Surf Street.

On the sixth and top floor of the Commodore was a ballroom, which, according to legend, was used by Al Capone as a speakeasy during prohibition. Unsubstantiated rumors exist about an escape tunnel between the Commodore and the Green Briar apartments across the street.

Chicago Tribune, Sunday, April 15, 1928 - News article excerpt:
"Realty Concern Adds Women to Rental Forces." Mc Menemt and Martin, Inc. announced the addition of a considerable number of women to their rental staff during the last few months. Mrs. K. Larimer is in charge of the Commodore and the Green Briar apartments.

The quiet apartment building was again disturbed in 1917 when a lurid tale of deceit and betrayal led to a murder that reads like a novel (see story below). 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Shoots When She Learns He is Married. 
Dr. Louis H. Quitman Wounded by Cabaret Singer, May Die.

Miss Ruby Dean is a divorcee, married when she was 16. Before taking up singing and dancing, she was a telephone operator in St. Louis. Ruby was also learning to play the pipe organ and often played and sang in churches on Sundays. Ruby met Louis at the Federal Inn in Chicago, where she performed, and he sent her a note from his table. She didn't know he was married with a child; he didn't tell her.

Miss Ruby Dean, a cabaret singer living in a second-floor flat in the Lessing apartments at 550 Surf street, learned from "a lady Friend" that Dr. Louis H. Quitman, 34, a veterinarian, is married. Last night (Thursday, September 6, 1917) at 9:30, when Quitman called at her flat, she shot him, and he is not expected to recover. Miss Dean is in the Sheffield Avenue Police Station, where she wailed her forgiveness and grief last night.

Quitman lives at 1904 West North Avenue. He has a wife and child. In a statement to an attaché of the state's attorney's office last night, Miss Dean said he had been paying attention to her as a single man. But she protested that she loved him and implored the fates to permit him to recover.

Loves Him Still
"I was wild about him," she said. "I love him still. He told me he wasn't married and that he was going to marry me. He was always in my apartment, and he came there often, and he came there tonight. But a friend of mine told me he was married, and I asked him about it, and we quarreled."

At some point in the quarrel, the girl seized a revolver and fired once. The bullet struck Quitman in the stomach, and he fell without a word. Policeman Edward Olson heard the shot. He found the girl in hysterics beside the form of Quitman. An ambulance was called, and the wounded man was taken to the German American hospital. His wife hurried to his side. The girl was taken to the Sheffield avenue police station.
— Chicago Tribune, Friday, September 7, 1917. 

Verging on hysteria, Miss Ruby Dean, the cabaret singer who Thursday night was accused of shooting Dr. Louis H. Quitman, a veterinarian of 1904 West North Avenue, spent yesterday in a cell in the Chicago Avenue police station and declared she could remember none of the details of the shooting.

"There was no quarrel," she said. "We had been good friends. We were scuffling over the revolver he gave me, and it discharged. I did not know he was married, but I loved him." 

In the German-American hospital, an operation was performed on Quitman, and the bullet was removed. It was said he has a good chance of recovery.
— Chicago Tribune, Saturday, September 8, 1917. 

Dr. Quitman died on Saturday, September 8, 1917, at 10 o'clock in the morning.

A charge of murder was placed against Ruby Dean, on Saturday, September 8, following the death of Dr. Louis Quitman. She is being held without bail in the East Chicago avenue station pending the coroner's inquest next Thursday.

She was being arraigned before Judge Caverly in the Chicago avenue court when word of the death was sent to the courtroom. The judge had already fixed bonds of $20,000 on the original charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, but upon being informed of the death, he decided to hold her without bail.
"It can't be true that my Leo is dead," she cried. "Oh, my poor Leo. No one knows how he cared for me. I simply can't stand it. I'll go mad," and she flung herself on her cot. The matron tried to quiet Miss Dean. "Go away," the girl screamed. "You don't know. Oh, if people only knew how he cared for me." 

"I want to be alone — alone," she moaned. The matron, the doctor, and the newspapermen departed, leaving her sitting on the cot, crooning Quitman's first name.

With his unexpected death, the police are confronted with a puzzling situation. In his first statement, immediately after the shooting, Dr. Quitman accused the cabaret singer of shooting him. But in an antemortem (before death) report, he absolved her from blame, asserting that he was shot accidentally while they were scuffling for possession of a revolver. 

Miss Dean will be kept in custody for the coroner's inquest.

Friday, September 14, 1917
Ruby Dean was found guilty of slaying Dr. Louis H. Quitman. She will be taken to the county jail to be held by the grand jury.

Saturday, May 4, 1918, 
Ruby Dean Free; Jury Takes Less Than An Hour. One ballot acquits her of the slaying of Quitman. 

After eight weary months of fear and uncertainty, which intervened after the fatal shot was fired, "twelve good men and true" gave her life and freedom yesterday in Judge Sullivan's courtroom. A quick, low laugh, which was half a sob, burst from her as the words "not guilty" were pronounced.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The first five congratulation telegraphs sent to Lincoln after the May 18, 1860, Chicago convention.

At least five telegrams reached Abraham Lincoln in Springfield shortly after he had been nominated at the Chicago convention on May 18, 1860. Although there is some difference of opinion as to which one he received first, the order most generally accepted follows:
  1. Lincoln: "You are nominated." John James Speed (J.J.S.) Wilson.
  2. Abe Lincoln: "We did it, glory to God.'' Knapp. (Lincoln abhorred the name "Abe.")
  3. Abraham Lincoln: You're nominated and elected.'' J.J. Richards.
  4. Hon. A. Lincoln: " You were nominated on 3rd ballot.'' J.J. Richards.
  5. Hon. A. Lincoln: "Vote just announced. While number necessary to choice; 234 Lincoln, 354 votes not stated. On motion of Mr. Evarts of New York, the nomination was made unanimous amid intense enthusiasm." J.J.S. Wilson.
J.J.S. Wilson (later a civil war Colonel) was superintendent of the Eastern Division of the Caton Telegraph Lines (later the Illinois Telegraph Company) with headquarters at Springfield. Mr. N. M. Knapp lived in Winchester, Illinois, and worked hard for Lincoln's nomination. J. J. Richards was a resident of Springfield and was connected with the Great Western Railroad. 
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Reactions to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago, where Lincoln was nominated as the presidential candidate.

The intelligence of the convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln has often been challenged. Many held that the candidacy of Lincoln was successful because his friends bought votes, bartered offices, and packed the convention with a howling mob, "filling every available space and much that they had no business to fill." The immediate reaction of the two radical elements in America was the best evidence that the convention had made a sagacious choice. 
Drawing of the Wigwam interior during the 1860 nominating convention. Note the second-story gallery and curved ceiling structure to allow for better acoustics.

The Abolitionists of the North, whose one obsession is indicated by their name, began at once a vicious attack on the Republican nominee. Wendell Phillips, the editor of the "Liberator," published an article under the title, "Abraham Lincoln, the Slave-Hound of Illinois." He took occasion to remark that "notwithstanding the emptiness or Mr. Lincoln's mind, I think we shall yet succeed in making this a decent land to live in."

The Slavery group of the South was more pronounced in their dissatisfaction with the Republican nominee than the Abolitionists. Slavery meant more to them than the preservation of the Union. They immediately attacked Lincoln as a recognized foe of the institution they had nourished and which now sustained them.

That "politics make strange bedfellows" was never more clearly exhibited than in the united attack upon Lincoln by both the Slavery and Anti-Slavery groups. Those who sponsored the candidacy or Lincoln anticipated just such a reaction and saw the wisdom of choosing a man whose course would not be influenced by either of these radical elements.

Such literary men as Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, George William Curtis, and James Russell Lowell sanctioned Lincoln's nomination and gave him their support. They recognized in him one whose chief passion would be to save the Union. Lowell set forth his convictions as follows: 
"We are persuaded that the election of Mr. Lincoln will do more than anything else to appease the excitement of the country. He has proved both his ability and integrity; he has had experience enough in public affairs to make him a statesman and not enough to make him a politician."
One of the reporters who made the Chicago convention was Charles Carleton Coffin. After the convention adjourned Coffin was with the group that traveled from Chicago to Springfield to advise Abraham Lincoln that he had won the party's nomination for the presidency.
Engraved portrait of Charles Carleton Coffin.
The ten men who were chosen to advise Lincoln of the convention's decision were:
  • George Ashmum of Massachusetts
  • Francis P. Blair of Missouri
  • George S. Boutwell of Massachusetts
  • Samuel G. Bowles of Massachusetts
  • David K. Carter of Ohio
  • William M. Evarts of New York
  • William D. Kelley of Pennsylvania
  • Carl Schurz of Wisconsin
  • Amos Tuck of New Hampshire
  • Gideon Wells of Connecticut
Coffin remained for some days gathering items about the newly nominated Republican candidate for President. The second morning after his arrival, he made this interesting observation: 
"I crossed the public square and entered the office of Mr. Lincoln. A pine table occupied the center of the room, a desk in one corner. The May sun shone through uncurtained windows upon ranges of shelves filled with law books, pamphlets, and documents—a helter-skelter arrangement. Newspapers littered the floor. Mr. Lincoln was seated at the desk, clad in a linen duster, with a pile of letters and a wooden inkstand before him. He had a hearty welcome for all who came. There was no sign of elation. To friends, neighbors, old acquaintances, and strangers alike, he was simply Abraham Lincoln."
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

What Happened to the Boots Lincoln was Wearing the Night he was Shot?

One of the most valued treasures presented to the Chicago Historical Society was a coat which affidavits attest is the garment worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night of his assassination. 
Lincoln on his death bed.

In 1924, there came to light in Philadelphia several pieces of wearing apparel said to have been worn by Lincoln on that fateful night. The items displayed were: "An old black suit, the collar stained with the lifeblood of the martyred President, the trousers wrinkled, and a badly torn overcoat. The clothes were sold for $6,500 ($25,200 today).

The gloves and handkerchief which Lincoln Is said to have with him on the night of April 14, 1865, were exhibited in New York City in 1924. 

In 1859, while on a visit to Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln ordered boots from Conrad Loch, reputed to be the finest bookmaker in America. The Moroccan leather boots cost $19.50 ($633.00 today), and Abe put down a $10 deposit. A good pair of boots cost $12.50 ($405.00 today). It took 10 months to make them, and he wore them during his campaign for the presidency and at his inaugurations. Indeed, in 1865, the night John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln, he was wearing Conrad Loch's maroon and black Russian Calf boots.

Peter Kahle, a humble German immigrant, a shoemaker from Scranton, Pennsylvania, thought he could make a pair of comfortable shoes for his President. He was a modest man and worked from a store basement but advertised it as the "largest boot and shoe establishment in the County." Using the diagrams as a template, he crafted a pair of shoes then sent them to Lincoln by way of a present from a humble admirer. The boots fitted perfectly, and Lincoln was delighted and sent a personal thank you letter to Kahler. The shoemaker was no fool, and the Presidential letter of recommendation was published, making Peter Kahler a celebrity shoemaker. Henceforth he promoted himself as 'Doctor Kahler, official bootmaker to the President.'"
Boots fit for Lincoln.
Lincoln's Foot Measurements.
During the Civil War (1861-1865), it was challenging for the President to find private time for a boot fitting and almost impossible for a bootmaker to have an audience with the Commander in Chief. Lincoln was determined, however, to have comfortable boots and sent for Dr. Kahler to attend him at the White House. Several conditions included that he must never talk of their meeting, not even to his family. The President's instructions to Dr. Kohler were to follow the Native Indian method of moccasin measurement, i.e., stand barefoot on a piece of rawhide and with his hunting knife cut out the sole, following the contour of the foot. The President pulled off his boots, stood upon the sheet of thick brown paper, and Dr. Kahler outlined the feet. After the diagram was concluded, the President signed and dated it to show his approval. President Lincoln's right foot was half an inch longer than his left foot.

An article in the "Superintendent and Foreman" appeared in 1895, setting forth the story of how a man in Lynn, Massachusetts, had come in possession of the boots Lincoln wore to Ford's Theatre that fateful night.

William T. Clark, a 23-year-old army clerk, rented the back bedroom on the first floor in the Petersen's boarding house across the street from Ford's Theatre. Clark found the Conrad Loch boots under his bed after removing Lincoln's body. Clark had just lost his job and used the boots as collateral for a personal loan from Justin H. Hatch (a civil servant at the U.S. Treasury) to go West to the goldfields and seek his fortune.

Eventually, the boots were given to a school teacher, possibly Hatch's granddaughter, who brought them to her classroom every year on Lincoln's birthday for the kids to see, try on and play with. The Conrad Loch boots were finally obtained by the National Park Service in 1947.

Kahler's boots remained Lincoln's favorite, and he was buried wearing a pair.

If only the stovepipe hat that Lincoln wore that night to the theatre could be located.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

After Lincoln's assassination, Mary Lincoln bequeathed the coat to Lincoln's favorite doorman, Alphonse Donn. The Donn family held the coat for over a century, allowing curious visitors to cut swatches of the bloodstained lining. Eventually, souvenir seekers did so much damage that the sleeve separated from the body of the coat. Because of its fragile condition, the coat is not currently on display, but the Ford's Theatre Museum contains a replica. 

Abraham Lincoln and Democracy, a robust analysis.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias creating a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.

Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.

I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and people instigating arguments or fights.

The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN
or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED, are explained in this article.



Lincoln's Inauguration, March 4, 1861.

The word democracy occurs only 137 times in the collected writings of Abraham Lincoln. But no other word described what he saw as the most natural, the most just, and the most progressive form of human government in existence. Nothing, he said, could be “as clearly true as the truth of democracy.” 

Of course, being “clearly true” (or, as Thomas Jefferson might have put it, self-evident) did not mean that everyone applauded it or assented to it in Lincoln’s lifetime. Democracy had a long history, and not all of it was admirable. Classical Athens may be said to have been the pilot program for democracy, beginning in the sixth century B.C., when the ordinary citizens of Athens saved their city from occupation by the forces of Sparta and lodged political power in the hands of the city Assembly. But many of the shrewdest of Athenian thinkers — Thucydides the historian, Plato, the Philosopher — were skeptical about turning over control of the city to what often behaved like a mob. Plato never allowed Athenians to be forgiven for executing his teacher, Socrates. He was convinced that most people have “no knowledge of true being, and have no clear patterns in their minds of justice, beauty and truth.”

The French Revolution did not give democracy a better reputation, especially after it descended into the Reign of Terror and revealed what Ruth Scurr has called “the uneasy coincidence of democracy and fanaticism.” The restored European monarchies of Lincoln’s day, having learned the hard lesson of the guillotine, had scant use for democracy, and even the least monarchical of all the monarchies — that of Great Britain — was nevertheless governed by a deeply-entrenched aristocracy whose members would continue to constitute a majority of every ministerial cabinet until 1906.

Nevertheless, for Lincoln, democracy was what Hans Kelsen called “a generally recognized value,” and his loyalty to democracy was what armed him to combat the spread of human slavery in the United States. Even though democracy is a political system and slavery an economic system, Lincoln believed that they were in death’s grip with each other. “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master,” he wrote in 1858, “This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this to the extent of the difference is no democracy.” So, when the thunderous cloud of Civil War broke over his presidency, Lincoln had no hesitation in portraying the struggle as a contest, not over constitutional niceties or even over slavery itself, but over the basic principle of democracy. 

The fundamental notion of any democracy is that political sovereignty resides in the people; strictly speaking, this differs from a republic, where sovereignty also is understood to rest, ultimately, in the hands of the people, but which is deployed through their representatives. “A pure democracy,” wrote James Madison in the tenth of the Federalist Papers, can only be “a society consisting of a small number of persons, who assemble and administer the government in person.” A republic is “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place” and involves “the delegation of the government to a small number of citizens elected by the rest.” Madison understood this “delegation” as a kind of purifying process “to refine and enlarge the public views, bypassing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.” In other words, republics mistrust democracy, or at least the run-of-the-mill of the people who compose democracies. Republics envision a role for a more elevated elite, who can do for the people what the people ought to do, but often don’t.
James Madison

The American founders understood themselves as creating a republic. Even the most rousing of the Revolutionary rabble-rousers, Tom Paine, never even uses the term democracy in his famous broadside against the monarchy, Common Sense, in 1776. Yet, it was clear during the Revolution that the line between a democracy and a republic was a porous one. In 1777, Alexander Hamilton praised the new revolutionary constitution of New York as a “representative democracy” (thus mingling the two concepts) because “the right of election is well secured and regulated, and the exercise of the legislature, executive and judiciary authorities, is vested in select persons,” but persons “chosen really and not nominally by the people.” Half a century later, republicanism and democracy had fused: the 1787 Constitution had created a system of delegated representation that captured perfectly the ideal of a republic, but no class of natural elites emerged whom the mass of the people would obligingly vote as their representatives.

And no wonder the freedom Americans enjoyed from entanglement in European wars eliminated any possibility of the formation of a professional military elite, and the prevalence of evangelical Protestant religion undermined any notions of social hierarchy. 
Alexis de Tocqueville

By the time Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in America to begin his analysis of American political society, republican was still the noun, but democratic had become the adjective, and the adjective so controlled the noun that it only made sense for Tocqueville to entitle his inquiry, Democracy in America — Democracy, and not Republicanism. “A democratic republic subsists in the United States,” Tocqueville wrote: the country’s sheer size and the preference Americans had for commerce rather than politics made an indirect system of representation desirable, but the internal spirit of that system would be highly democratic because the American people have “a taste for freedom and the art of being free,” and don’t need to have their views refined and enlarged by others. It is those tastes — Tocqueville called them mores – that make what was designed as a republic work as a democracy in a “more or less regulated and prosperous” fashion. 

So, when Lincoln spoke of democracy, he was speaking of a republican system in which democratic habits had become so pervasive that they reversed the usual flow of republicanism. Instead of the representatives restraining the wildness of the people, the people themselves set the limits of what those representatives may do. “By the frame of the government under which we live, these same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief,” Lincoln explained, “and have, with equal wisdom, provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals.” Under the canopy of democracy, the people are judged competent to direct their own lives, public and private, without needing or wanting the paternal tyranny of aristocrats and monarchs or the meddlesome oversight of the wealthy or the learned. “The legitimate object of government,” Lincoln wrote in 1854, “is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, the government ought not to interfere.” The purpose of government, Lincoln said, was not to organize, stratify or mobilize the people, but simply to level the playing field, in order to guarantee “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life” by securing equality before the laws. Thus government’s principal utility was to maximize personal transformation, “to lift artificial weights from all shoulders” and “to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all.”

In such a “community” — such a democratized republic — two rules must be obeyed as with iron rods:

1. The rule of the majority.
Whatever principles and policies are endorsed by the majority of that people must become the principles and policies of their government; otherwise, the sovereignty of ‘the people’ means nothing. “If the majority does not control, the minority, would that be right?” Lincoln asked. “Would that be just or generous? Assuredly not!” By the same measure, the minority who have disagreed must acquiesce in the majority’s rule. “If the minority will not acquiesce,” Lincoln concluded, “the majority must, or the government must cease.” What was worse, an unbowed minority would “make a precedent” for themselves “which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them” whenever disagreement breaks out. The long-term result — and truth be told, it will not be a very long term — will be either “anarchy or...despotism.” Sovereignty will either evaporate as each separate faction or individual does what is right in their own eyes; or else, in desperation, decent men will turn to a dictator to sort out the chaos. “The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible,” Lincoln said, “so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left.” That was why the Civil War was what Lincoln called “essentially a People’s contest.” The Confederate rebellion was an assault by a minority on the decision of the majority, as expressed in Lincoln’s own election, and in that way, it was really intended to question the entire principle of democracy. 

2. The legitimacy of the minority.
No majority is perfect or infallible simply for being a majority. In a democracy, the rule of self-interest, persuasion, reason and civility guarantee that a minority may cling to its opinion, and use every legitimate opportunity to convince others that they are right. “We should remember,” Lincoln cautioned his own allies once he became president, that “while we exercise our opinion... others have also rights to the exercise of their opinions, and we should endeavor to allow these rights, and act in such a manner as to create no bad feeling.” It is the mark of the dictator, not a democracy, to treat the minority as a social enemy, to be put up against the barn wall and shot, or (in the case of the Confederate rebellion) to engage in a “deliberate pressing out of view, the rights of men, and the authority of the people.” There was, in Lincoln’s ‘idea of democracy,’ no need for firing squads to conclude arguments. “I do not deny the possibility that the people may err in an election,” Lincoln admitted in 1861, “but if they do, the true cure is in the next election.”

To set aside those rules, whether out of weakness or confusion, was to cast doubt on whether democracy really had any legitimacy whatsoever. The challenge of the Confederate rebellion was not directed solely at him or his party or his administration; it presented “to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy, a government of the people, by the same people can, or cannot” survive the push-and-shove of its own people’s disagreements, or whether democracies are doomed forever to fly off, by their own centrifugal force, into fragments. “For my part,” he told his secretary, John Hay, in May 1861,
I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail, it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.  

Or, as he would put it more eloquently at Gettysburg in November 1863, the war was “testing whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

If those two rules are the basic operating system of democracy, then we should also notice that these two rules also require rules of their own to operate rightly. First, democracy operates best within the boundaries of a nation-state. This is not a concept that, in an increasingly globalized world economy, meets with much enthusiasm today. However, the nation-state actually provides the only effective means of identifying who belongs to a certain democratic entity (which is to say, its citizens) and who is an interloper not subject to its restraints and who could harm it with impunity. Second, within that nation-state, there should be a reasonably broad franchise — in other words, almost all adults within its boundaries should be entitled to vote and to hold office. Third, voting should be without coercion or manipulation. Fourth, citizens may organize themselves into political associations of their own choosing. And fifth, political information is permitted to circulate freely and without hindrance among the citizens.

Having laid down these five secondary rules, it will not take much insight to see that the Confederacy formed as much a threat to these secondary rules as it did to the two operating rules. To begin with: the Confederacy did not exhibit “a reasonably broad franchise” and had not for years, even for its white population. In the eleven states which would form the Confederacy, only one (Tennessee) showed voter participation higher than the national average in the 1852 presidential election; the rest showed voter participation 15% lower, and in some cases lower by 20% than in the free states. A pro-secession propagandist like Edmund Ruffin frankly despised his own Virginia legislature as “that despicable assembly” because of “the enlargement of the constituency to universal suffrage.” 

Likewise, the Confederacy did not permit full and free discussion of political issues because its political life was marked by nothing so much as the suppression of free speech and the control of the circulation of free political information. In 1835, the postmaster-general, Amos Kendall, refused to protect the distribution of anti-slavery materials through Southern post offices in terms eerily reminiscent of ‘cancel culture,’ because (Kendall said) “we owe an obligation to the laws, but a higher one to the communities in which we live,” and those communities demanded censorship to save them from offenses.

In truth, the Confederacy had lost all grip on democracy and had become an oligarchy, managed by a handful of slave-owning elites. “Society is a pyramid,” explained the editor of the Nashville Daily Gazette late in 1860. “We may sympathize with the stones at the bottom of the pyramid of Cheops, but we know that some stones have to be at the bottom and that they must be permanent in their place.” The stones, in this case, were slaves. No wonder James Madison feared slavery as the oligarchic snake in the republican garden since the classical republics whose vices he had studied had demonstrated all too well that “in proportion as slavery prevails in a State, the Government, however, democratic in name, must be aristocratic in fact.” At every point, the Confederacy had failed the democratic test. 

Yet, the Confederacy is also a chilling example, for us as much as for Lincoln, of how easily a democratic republic can slide backward into coercion and hierarchy. The realization that haunted Lincoln was that democracies tend to be, as Thomas Hobbes’s definition of life, 'nasty, poor, mean, brutish, and short.'

Especially short. Most human societies had maintained order by either coercion or superstition. The few who had not done so sooner or later succumbed to the fear of anarchy and welcomed the Alexanders and the Caesars to create order. At the very beginning of his political career, Lincoln had feared this was about to overtake the American democracy. In his first major political speech, the Lyceum Address of January 1838, Lincoln was convinced that Americans were in real danger of political self-destruction since the tsunami of mob actions in the previous year looked so destabilizing that Americans might be tempted to look to some “Towering genius” who “thirsts and burns for distinction” to save them from “a Government that offers them no protection.” 

Once installed, people tolerated the rule of Alexander and Caesar, not only because they promised law and order, but because (and this Lincoln did not explore in 1838) they dispensed patronage and deployed favoritism. This was not the prettiest glue a society could use to hold itself together, and it frequently descended into corruption, but patronage and favoritism worked in their own oppressive way.  

Democracies would need social glue as well, but the glue which the American founders hoped to apply was a virtue. If Americans could be persuaded to deny themselves, to place the public interest first, and to govern with a view to truth, even to their own personal harm, then the United States would prosper. Self-government in a nation could only flourish in an atmosphere of personal self-government, supported (as John Adams insisted in 1776) “by pure Religion, or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private... Virtue.” 

The problem with virtue, however, was that it demanded more of people than they might be willing to give. In the same year that Americans declared their independence, Adam Smith declared in The Wealth of Nations that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” By 1787, there were a good many sadder but wiser Americans who agreed: the only way to make the American republic work was by appeals to self-interest. “Individuals of extended views and of national pride may bring the public proceedings to” the “standard” of virtue, complained James Madison, “but the example will never be followed by the multitude.” What was true in economies was true in politics: the real governor of human behavior was self-interest, not a virtue. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Madison conceded. But they were not, and so “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

But if virtue was difficult for democracies to practice, was self-interest not toxic? And did that explain why democracies were so short-lived? Abraham Lincoln believed as profoundly in self-interest as Adam Smith. “We have been mistaken all our lives if we do not know” that “everybody you trade with makes something.” Lincoln “maintained that there was no conscious act of any man that was not moved by a motive, first, last, and always,” wrote William Henry Herndon of his old law partner. Even when Lincoln was arguing for the recruitment of black men as Union soldiers, he framed the argument in terms of self-interest rather than virtue. “Negroes, like other people, act upon motives,” Lincoln reasoned. “Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them?” 

But he did not believe that self-interest alone could sustain a democracy. Even Madison had constrained political self-interest by the Constitution’s separation of powers; Lincoln believed that there was a natural law in morals which restrained self-interest in democracy. In any question of policy, then, “let us be brought to believe it is morally right”; but, at the same time, he added, let us believe that it is “favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest.” It was slavery, he believed, which insisted “that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” Slavery was the instrument of men “bent only on temporary self-interest.” So, as much as Lincoln believed that self-interest was too instinctive a rule in human society to deny completely, he also believed that there was a circle to be drawn around certain tenets of natural law which neither self-interest nor majorities could invade.

Nothing showed this to better effect than the series of debates Lincoln held with Stephen A. Douglas during the campaign for the senior U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 1858. For Douglas, democracy was really simple majoritarianism: whatever 51% of the people wanted for the nation ought to be the rule. What mattered most in Douglas’s mind was the process — whether the rules of counting the majority had been properly observed. Once that requirement was satisfied, Douglas cared not at all whether slavery was “voted up or voted down” in the territories. “Let the voice of the people rule.” This was an example of what Michael Sandel has called the “procedural republic,” which treats its citizens strictly as independent individuals who have rights. Since, in Douglas’s reasoning, slave-owning was a constitutionally guaranteed and morally neutral right, it was no business of anyone in the free states to interfere with the free exercise of that right.

Lincoln represented an entirely different perspective. Democracy was not about helping people exercise rights apart from doing what was right. Even if slavery was legal by certain state laws, it was nevertheless a clear violation of natural law. No majority, of 51% or any other percent, had the power to reverse natural law, and certainly not the natural laws Lincoln could find written in the Declaration of Independence about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or in physical nature and the instinctive resistance of the humblest creatures to oppression and exploitation by members of their own species. “The ant, who has toiled and dragged a crumb to his nest, will furiously defend the fruit of his labor, against whatever robber assails him,” Lincoln declared, which made the wrong of slavery “so plain, that the dumbest and stupid slave that ever toiled for a master, does constantly know that he is wronged.” In the face of Douglas’s belief that democracy existed only to provide a procedural framework for exercising rights, Lincoln insisted that democracy had a higher purpose, which was the realization of a morally right political order. For Douglas, democracy was an end in itself; for Lincoln, it was a means rather than an end, a means in the political life of realizing the natural ends for which men were made.

Natural law had been a source of restraint and appeal for centuries before Lincoln. The audiences to which he appealed in 1858 understood what he was talking about even if they balked at his application of it to slavery. In 1859, all of that fell to pieces. Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, published in November of 1859, set out a vision of a world system from which all laws except that of self-interest were fully and finally banished. Lincoln died before the full effect of Darwin’s ideas could draw any form of a comment from him. But the democratic project that Lincoln felt was a full and satisfactory statement of the truth of human nature could, after Darwin, no longer justify itself in any terms other than the simple satisfaction of human demands — and in that case, monarchies, oligarchies, and dictatorships might serve those ends just as well as democracy.  

World War One’s aftermath saw Europeans plunge into an orgy of constitution-making, seeking to replace the dynasties toppled by the war — the Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Romanovs, and sultans — with a world made safe for democracy — only to see those democracies, bereft of any moral law, crumble and collapse before more insidious but also more effective appeals to self-interest. And even when, in 1989, democracy achieved its most notable victory in the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire, it still managed (as Paul Berman wrote in Terror and Liberalism) “in its pure version... to seem mediocre, corrupt, tired, and aimless, a middling compromise, pale and unappealing something to settle for, in a spirit of resignation.”
Salmon P. Chase
By contrast, Lincoln was not nearly so limp in his embrace of democracy. Self-interest has a role to play, but so does confidence in the moral right. And yet, even that confidence had to obey the iron rod of democracy’s operating rules. Right without law was little better than Douglas’s law-without-right, or even lawlessness itself, and he did not believe that democracy could survive without both determined advocacy of natural right and an equally determined acquiescence to the rule of law. When his earnest Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase, urged him to step beyond the Emancipation Proclamation and unilaterally emancipate all slaves everywhere in the United States (rather than just the Confederacy), Lincoln replied with a sharp reminder that this unilateralism, even in the name of freedom, was exactly what put democracy in danger. “If I take the step,” Lincoln argued, “must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so, without any argument, except the one that I think the measure politically expedient and morally right? Would I not thus give up all footing upon constitution or law? Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism?”

The question before us is whether the confidence Lincoln reposed in democracy is still possible. In our universities, critical theory tells us that, just as all biological entities reduce to survival, all human relationships reduce to power, so that what calls itself democracy is really only a linguistic cloak for the same power employed by dictatorships; in our streets, what Lincoln would have at once recognized as his old nemesis, “that lawless and mobocratic spirit... spreading with rapid and fearful impetuosity, to the ultimate overthrow of every institution, or even moral principle,” insists that it, and not the laws, is the vehicle of justice; even in the halls of Congress, a sitting U.S. Senator announces that “democracy is unnatural,” that “we don’t run anything important in our lives by democratic vote other than our government,” so “it’s illogical to think it would be permanent. It will fall apart at some point, and maybe that isn’t now, but maybe it is.” These are words we have not heard since 1860, and they appall us with the thought that the ghosts of 1860 have reappeared on the stage of our public life to try us once again. Where, then, shall we find an antidote to this pessimism about the democratic future? 
Young Lincoln Giving a Public Speech.
When he spoke to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Fair in 1859, Lincoln described “an Eastern monarch” who “once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence... which should be true... in all times and situations.” They came back with this formula:
And this, too, shall pass away. This was, Lincoln acknowledged, a useful saying, “consoling in the depths of affliction!” But he did not want it to be the epitaph of democracy. “Let us hope it is not quite true,” he continued. “Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.” To which I, for one, can only say, let it be so.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 
Contributor, Allen Guelzo