Lincoln and the Supreme Court: Little Drama, Much Impact

During his four-year, one-month Presidency, Abraham Lincoln nominated five judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, including one Chief Justice.  All five were approved within one week.  That’s right: no drama, no meticulous background investigations, no rancorous and divisive hearings, no grandstanding politicians, and no endless media coverage!

But this is not to say that the topic of the Supreme Court didn’t generate controversy in Lincoln’s day.  Just the opposite!  Lincoln himself had even claimed – in response to the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision – that the Court was part of a vast conspiracy to nationalize the institution of slavery [see my June 27, 2015 blog for more on that].  And there was a huge ongoing debate about how to restructure the entire federal court system, which was outdated and overburdened due to the growth of the country in both size and population.  Would it surprise you to learn that for decades Congress had been slow to modify the court system, in large part due to partisan and sectional bickering?

It should be noted that back then, Supreme Court justices also presided over the federal circuit courts; they actually travelled twice each year to their assigned regions to hear cases.  In fact, they spent more time “riding the circuit” than in Washington.  Lincoln himself had argued cases at Chicago before Justice John McLean, whose circuit included Illinois.  And although in most cases there was not an explicit residency requirement, the justices were generally chosen from the regions they would serve, thus preserving a geographic diversity on the Court.

By the time Lincoln became President in 1861, the federal court system was badly in need of restructuring.  In addition, one justice had died in 1860 and another did so just one month after Lincoln’s inauguration (McLean), and still another had resigned in order to join the Confederate government as Assistant Secretary of War (John A. Campbell, the only southern justice to resign).

In his first Annual Message to Congress on December 3, 1861, Lincoln explained that he had not yet made nominations for the three vacancies in part because two of the seats had traditionally been held by southerners and this presented obvious difficulties:

Two of the outgoing judges resided within the States now overrun by revolt; so that if successors were appointed in the same localities, they could not now serve upon their circuits; and many of the most competent men there, probably would not take the personal hazard of accepting to serve, even here, upon the supreme bench.  I have been unwilling to throw all the appointments northward, thus disabling myself from doing justice to the south on the return of peace; although I may remark that to transfer to the north one which has heretofore been in the south, would not, with reference to territory and population, be unjust.

Lincoln then described the great need for a restructuring, noting the very large population now contained in McLean’s circuit – “his circuit grew into an empire” – and the fact that “besides this, the country generally has outgrown our present judicial system”.  He was especially critical of the lack of uniformity, as the last eight states admitted to the Union were excluded entirely from the circuit court system (they were attended by district courts instead), and concluded: “Circuit courts are useful, or they are not useful.  If useful, no State should be denied them; if not useful, no State should have them.  Let them be provided for all, or abolished as to all.

In all this we see Lincoln’s overriding concern that fairness and justice be the goals of any changes to the court system.  He then offered three proposals for fixing the problems:

Three modifications occur to me, either of which, I think, would be an improvement upon our present system.  Let the Supreme Court be of convenient number in every event.  Then, first, let the whole country be divided into circuits of convenient size, the supreme judges to serve in a number of them corresponding to their own number, and independent circuit judges be provided for all the rest.  Or, secondly, let the supreme judges be relieved from circuit duties, and circuit judges provided for all the circuits.  Or, thirdly, dispense with circuit courts altogether, leaving the judicial functions wholly to the district courts and an independent Supreme Court.

Lincoln decided to fill McLean’s seat in January 1862, nominating Noah Haynes Swayne, who like McLean was from Ohio, and whom the Senate confirmed just three days later.  But then he waited on Congress.

Congress finally responded in July 1862 by redrawing the nine circuits to include all the states except California and Oregon in the far west, also making them more equitable in terms of population served.  Since the north had grown much more than the south in population since the last restructuring in 1837, this had the effect of – to use Lincoln’s earlier quaint phrase – “throwing the appointments northward”.  Southerners had previously outnumbered northerners on the Court 5-4; now northerners would outnumber southerners 6-3.

The very next day, Lincoln asked his Attorney General Edward Bates to prepare the nomination of Samuel Freeman Miller of Iowa for one of the newly redrawn circuits.  Lincoln’s hand-written note to Bates was remarkably brief and informal:

Please send me nominations, of Samuel F. Miller, of Iowa, as a Justice of the Supreme Court, for the Circuit in which Iowa is included; and of ________ Trigg (you have his first name) for District Judge in Tennessee.

That same day, Bates provided Lincoln with Miller’s nomination and Lincoln sent it to the Senate: “I nominate Samuel F. Miller of Iowa to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.”  The Senate confirmed Miller in just half an hour.

Later that fall, with Congress not in session, Lincoln appointed his old Illinois friend David Davis to the final vacancy by way of a recess appointment.  When Congress reconvened on December 1, Lincoln nominated Davis for a regular appointment, and the Senate confirmed him exactly one week later.

Congress made a further change in March 1863, adding a tenth circuit for California and Oregon, which therefore increased the number of justices on the court from nine to ten.  Lincoln immediately nominated Stephen Johnson Field of California for the new position, and he was approved just four days later.

Then in October 1864, Chief Justice Roger Taney, author of the despised Dred Scott decision, did Lincoln a great favor by passing away.  Not only was the Court rid of Taney, but now Lincoln had a convenient solution to his problem of finding a new post for his former Secretary of Treasury, and Presidential wannabe, Salmon P. Chase.

Lincoln’s nomination of Chase as Chief Justice on December 6 was approved by the Senate on the very same day.  Whereas Taney had declared that black slaves and their descendants could never be citizens of the United States, one of Chase’s first actions was to accept the application of John Rock, a black lawyer, to practice before the Court.

Lincoln’s five appointments, including his appointment of Chase as Chief Justice, along with the redrawing of the circuits done by Congress, totally remade the Supreme Court.  It is probably no exaggeration to say that Lincoln’s impact on the Court was greater than that of all of our other presidents except for Washington (who named the entire first Court), John Adams (who appointed John Marshall as Chief Justice), Andrew Jackson (who appointed six justices, including Taney as Chief Justice), and Franklin D. Roosevelt (who appointed eight justices, although he failed in his attempt to “pack the court”).

And, as already noted, Lincoln’s five nominees were approved by the Senate in three, zero, seven, four, and zero days, an average of less than three days (and one in just half an hour).  One wonders what Lincoln would think of the current confirmation process!

Kevin J. Wood

October 5, 2018

Lincoln y el Tribunal Supremo: Poco drama, mucho impacto

Durante su presidencia de cuatro años y un mes, Abraham Lincoln nombró a cinco jueces para el Tribunal Supremo de los Estados Unidos, entre ellos un presidente del tribunal (Chief Justice).  Todos los cinco fueron aprobados dentro de una semana.  Eso sí: ¡sin drama, sin minuciosas investigaciones de antecedentes, sin audiencias rencorosas y divisorias, sin políticos fanfarroneándose y sin una interminable cobertura mediática!

Pero esto no quiere decir que el tema del Tribunal Supremo no generó controversia en los días de Lincoln.  ¡Justo lo contrario!  El propio Lincoln incluso había afirmado – en respuesta a la decisión de Dred Scott v. Sandford en 1857 – que el Tribunal formaba parte de una vasta conspiración para nacionalizar la institución de la esclavitud [para más sobre esto, vea mi blog del 27 de junio de 2015].  Y hubo un gran debate en curso sobre cómo reestructurar todo el sistema federal de tribunales, lo cual estaba desactualizado y sobrecargado debido al crecimiento del país tanto en tamaño como en población.  ¿Le sorprendería saber que durante décadas el Congreso había sido lento para modificar el sistema judicial, en gran parte debido a las disputas partidistas y regionalistas?

Cabe señalar que en ese entonces, los jueces del Tribunal Supremo también presidían los tribunales federales de circuito; de verdad, viajaban dos veces al año a sus regiones asignadas para celebrar juicios.  De hecho, pasaron más tiempo “montando el circuito” que en Washington.  El mismo Lincoln había participado en juicios ante el juez del Tribunal Supremo John McLean, cuyo circuito incluía Illinois.  Y aunque en la mayoría de los casos no había un explícito requisito de residencia, los jueces sí habrían sido elegidos generalmente desde las regiones que servirían, preservando así una diversidad geográfica en el Tribunal.

Cuando Lincoln asumió la presidencia en 1861, el sistema de tribunales federales tenía una gran necesidad de reestructuración.  Además, un juez había fallecido en 1860 y otro lo hizo solamente un mes después de la investidura de Lincoln (McLean), y otro más había dimitido para unirse al gobierno confederado como subsecretario de guerra (John A. Campbell, el único juez sureño quien dimitió).

En su primer mensaje anual al Congreso el día 3 de diciembre de 1861, Lincoln explicó que aún no había hecho nombramientos para las tres plazas vacantes en parte porque dos de ellas tradicionalmente habían sido ocupadas por sureños y esto presentó dificultades evidentes.

Dos de los jueces salientes residían dentro de los estados ahora infestados por la revuelta; por lo tanto, si sucesores fueron nombrados en las mismas localidades, no pudieron servir en sus circuitos; y muchos de los hombres más competentes allí, probablemente no correrían el riesgo personal de aceptar servir, incluso aquí, en el banco supremo.  No he estado dispuesto a lanzar todos los nombramientos hacia el norte y así inhabilitarme de hacer justicia al sur una vez que la paz sea restaurada; aunque sí puedo decir que el transferir al norte una plaza que hasta ahora ha estado en el sur, no sería, con respecto al territorio y a la población, injusto.

A continuación, Lincoln describió la gran necesidad de una reestructuración, señalando la gran población entonces contenida en el circuito de McLean – “su circuito se convirtió en un imperio” – y el hecho de que “además de esto, el país en general ha sobrepasado nuestro actual sistema judicial”.  Fue particularmente crítico con la falta de uniformidad, ya que los últimos ocho estados admitidos a la Unión fueron excluidos del sistema de tribunales de circuito (en lugar de esto, fueron atendidos por tribunales de distrito), y concluyó: “Los tribunales de circuito son útiles, o no lo son.  Si útiles, ningún estado debe ser privado de ellos; si no útiles, ningún estado debe tenerlos.  Que sean provistos para todos, o abolidos para todos.

En todo esto vemos la preocupación primordial de Lincoln de que la equidad y la justicia fueran los objetivos de cualquier cambio en el sistema judicial.  A continuación, ofreció tres propuestas para solucionar los problemas:

Se me ocurren tres modificaciones, cualquiera de las cuales, creo, sería una mejora en nuestro sistema actual.  Que el Tribunal Supremo sea de un número conveniente en todo caso.  Luego, primero, que todo el país esté dividido en circuitos de un tamaño conveniente, los jueces supremos para servir en un número de ellos correspondiente a su propia cantidad, y jueces de circuito independientes sean provistos para todo lo demás.  O, en segundo lugar, permita que los jueces supremos sean aliviados de los deberes del circuito, y que jueces de circuito sean provistos para todos los circuitos.  O, en tercer lugar, prescindamos de los tribunales de circuito por completo, dejando las funciones judiciales a los tribunales de distrito y un Tribunal Supremo independiente.

Lincoln decidió llenar la plaza de McLean en enero de 1862, nombrando a Noah Haynes Swayne, quien al igual que McLean era de Ohio, y a quien el Senado confirmó solamente tres días después.  Pero a continuación esperó al Congreso.

El Congreso finalmente respondió en julio de 1862 al redistribuir los nueve circuitos para incluir a todos los estados excepto a California y Oregón en el lejano oeste, lo que también los hizo más equitativos en cuanto a la población atendida.  Ya que el norte había crecido mucho más que el sur en población desde la última reestructuración en 1837, esto tuvo el efecto de – utilizando la pintoresca frase anterior de Lincoln – “lanzar los nombramientos hacia el norte”.  Anteriormente, los sureños habían superado a los norteños en el Tribunal por 5-4; ahora los norteños superarían a los sureños por 6-3.

Al día siguiente, Lincoln le pidió a su Procurador General Edward Bates que preparara el nombramiento de Samuel Freeman Miller de Iowa para uno de los circuitos últimamente redistribuidos.  La nota escrita a mano de Lincoln a Bates fue notablemente breve e informal:

Por favor envíeme los nombramientos de Samuel F. Miller, de Iowa, como un juez del Tribunal Supremo, para el circuito en el que se incluye Iowa; y de ________ Trigg (Ud. tiene su nombre) para juez de distrito en Tennessee.

Ese mismo día, Bates le dio a Lincoln el nombramiento de Miller y Lincoln lo envió al Senado: “Nombro a Samuel F. Miller de Iowa para que sea un Juez Asociado del Tribunal Supremo de los Estados Unidos.”  El Senado confirmó a Miller en solamente media hora.

Más tarde ese otoño, con el Congreso ausente, Lincoln designó a su viejo amigo David Davis de Illinois para la última plaza vacante a través de un nombramiento de receso.  Cuando el Congreso volvió a convocarse el 1 de diciembre, Lincoln nombró a Davis para un nombramiento regular, y el Senado lo confirmó exactamente una semana después.

El Congreso hizo un cambio adicional en marzo de 1863, agregando un décimo circuito para California y Oregón, lo que aumentó el número de jueces en el Tribunal de nueve a diez.  Lincoln inmediatamente nombró a Stephen Johnson Field de California para la nueva plaza, y este fue aprobado solamente cuatro días después.

Luego, en octubre de 1864, el presidente del tribunal (Chief Justice) Roger Taney, autor de la odiada decisión de Dred Scott, le hizo un gran favor a Lincoln al fallecer.  No solamente se había deshecho el Tribunal de Taney, sino ahora Lincoln tenía una solución conveniente para su problema de encontrar un nuevo puesto para su antiguo secretario del tesoro, y aspirante a la presidencia, Salmon P. Chase.

El nombramiento de Lincoln de Chase como presidente del tribunal el día 6 de diciembre fue aprobado por el Senado ese mismo día.  Mientras que Taney había declarado que esclavos negros y sus descendientes nunca podrían ser ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos, una de las primeras acciones de Chase fue la de aceptar la solicitud de John Rock, un abogado negro, para ejercer ante el Tribunal.

Los cinco nombramientos de Lincoln, entre ellos su nombramiento de Chase como presidente del tribunal, junto con el rediseño de los circuitos realizado por el Congreso, cambió por completo el Tribunal Supremo.  Probablemente no sea una exageración decir que el impacto de Lincoln sobre el Tribunal fue mayor que el de todos de nuestros otros presidentes salvo a Washington (quien nombró a todo el primer Tribunal), John Adams (quien nombró a John Marshall como presidente del tribunal), Andrew Jackson (quien nombró a seis jueces, incluyendo a Taney como presidente del tribunal) y Franklin D. Roosevelt (quien nombró a ocho jueces, aunque fracasó en su intento de “empacar el tribunal”).

Y, como ya se señaló, los cinco nombramientos de Lincoln fueron aprobados por el Senado en tres, cero, siete, cuatro y cero días (uno en solamente media hora).  ¡Uno se pregunta qué pensaría Lincoln del proceso de confirmación actual!

Kevin J. Wood

el 5 de octubre de 2018

Readin’, Writin’, and Cipherin’: Young Abraham Lincoln at School

Among the many original manuscripts in existence today which were written by Abraham Lincoln, only one dates from his boyhood.  It consists of 11 leaves (22 pages) from one of his school notebooks, likely written when he was between 13 and 17 years old.  The leaves are housed at 12 different locations (one of the leaves is cut in half): the Library of Congress, six university libraries, three museums, and two private collections.

While growing up on the frontier in Kentucky and Indiana, young Abraham Lincoln only attended five sessions of school, most of these lasting only about two months in the middle of winter.  As Lincoln would recall many years later in a brief autobiographical account provided to newspaper editor John Locke Scripps in June 1860, writing about himself in the third person: “[Abraham] went to A.B.C. schools by littles … [he] now thinks that the agregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year.

In those frontier schools, the students did not have textbooks.  Instead, each student made for himself a copybook, which in the case of mathematics was called a ciphering (cyphering) book or a sum book.  This was made by taking several sheets of paper, folding them in half, and then sewing or tying them together.  The teacher would dictate quotations, mathematical rules, problems, etc. which the students would write down in their copybooks, or in the case of the youngest students, the teacher might write them down himself.

At some point, Lincoln apparently gave this ciphering book – which included his last session of formal schooling – to his stepmother, because it was she who presented it to Lincoln’s friend and law partner William Herndon after Lincoln’s death, and he in turn gifted the various leaves to different people.

As for the teachers in those frontier schools and what Lincoln learned from them, this is what he himself had to say in another autobiographical account, this one written for his friend Jesse Fell in December 1859:

There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond “readin, writin, and cipherin,” to the Rule of Three.  If a straggler supposed to understand latin, happened to so-journ in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizzard.  There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education.  Of course when I came of age I did not know much.  Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all.

You’ve probably already figured out that “ciphering” refers to arithmetic and perhaps other branches of mathematics.  But you probably have no clue about “the Rule of Three”; you can discover what that was by looking through Lincoln’s own ciphering book.

The first three pages contain problems of simple subtraction, multiplication, and division.  Note that simple – as opposed to compound – does not necessarily mean easy!  Here is one of the problems which young Abe worked out correctly: 20,254 x 4,433 = 89,785,982.

One gets the idea that Abe must have completed his work more quickly than some of his classmates, because these first few pages are also interspersed with little poems such as:

Abraham Lincoln his hand and pen he will be good but god knows When


Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]

And with my pen I wrote the same

I wrote in both hast[e] and speed

and left it here for fools to read

The next two pages of Lincoln’s ciphering book address compound addition and multiplication, in which the quantities consist of mixed (non-decimal) denominations.  For example, distance is measured in miles, furlongs, yards, feet, inches, etc.; dry goods are measured in bushels, pecks, etc.; the old English monetary system used pounds, shillings, and pence; and so on.  In early 19th-century America, being able to perform arithmetic on such compound units was essential to commerce and industry.  And as the primary function of schools was to prepare children for their future work, this was an important part of the curriculum.

Here’s a problem for dry measure worked out by young Abe in his copybook; to solve this you need to know that there are four pecks in a bushel, and eight bushels in a quarter: [19 quarters, 1 bushel, 1 peck] – [12 quarters, 7 bushels, 2 pecks] = [6 quarters, 1 bushel, 3 pecks].

It was after these topics of simple and compound arithmetic that a student might advance to the “Rule of Three”.  An 1821 text explains the “Direct Rule of Three” as follows: “Teacheth, by three numbers given, to find out a fourth, in such proportion to the third as the second is to the first”.  Thus, this is what we would call a ratio, and brings us to basic algebra.  [By the way, my daughters, who went to school in Spain, knew exactly what the “Rule of Three” was when I mentioned it to them; they had been taught “la regla de tres” as the way to solve ratios!]

Here’s a problem which Lincoln worked out on the sixth page of his ciphering book: “If 3 oz. of silver cost 17 shillings, what will 48 oz. cost?”  He correctly calculated the solution to be 272 shillings, or 13 pounds and 12 shillings (there were 20 shillings in a pound).

In the direct rule of three, the proportions are directly related, i.e., move in the same direction: more of one means more of the other.  There was also the inverse rule of three, involving an inverse proportion, where more requires less and less requires more.

The seventh page of Lincoln’s ciphering book deals with the “double rule of three”, in which there are three instead of just two factors which vary.  Here is one of the problems he solved: “If 4 men in 5 days eat 7 lb. of bread how much will be suficient for 16 men 15 days”; the answer, as he correctly worked out, is 84 lb.

Although Lincoln later claimed that he had learned to “read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all”, this was either a conscious or unconscious underestimate of what he had actually learned.  The final four pages of his ciphering book cover the additional topics of simple interest, compound interest, and discount.  Here is one of the problems on simple interest which young Abe worked out correctly: “what is the interest of £216 – 5s for one year at 5½ percent per annum?”  The answer in pounds, shillings, and pence is: £11 – 17s – 10½p.

Although Lincoln’s formal education was most definitely deficient even by the standards of his day, the topics and problems in his ciphering book demonstrate that he learned as much about mathematics as some high-school graduates today.  He did so without calculators, computers, or even textbooks.  And most importantly, as everyone knows, he never let his lack of schooling hold him back.  In the first of the autobiographical accounts cited earlier, Lincoln went on to modestly explain how he continued his education through self-study during the rest of his life:

He was never in a college or Academy as a student; and never inside of a college or accademy building till since he had a law-license.  What he has in the way of education, he has picked up.  After he was twentythree, and had separated from his father, he studied English grammar, imperfectly of course, but so as to speak and write as well as he now does.  He studied and nearly mastered the Six-books of Euclid, since he was a member of Congress.  He regrets his want of education, and does what he can to supply the want.

In this, as in so many ways, Abraham Lincoln is an example for all of us, whether we are heading back to a formal school setting this fall or not.  May we all make an effort to “supply the want” in our education throughout our lives.

Kevin J. Wood

September 5, 2018

El leer, el escribir y el cifrar: El joven Abraham Lincoln en la escuela

Entre los muchos manuscritos originales existentes en la actualidad que fueron escritos por Abraham Lincoln, solo uno data de su niñez.  Consta de 11 hojas (22 páginas) de uno de sus cuadernos escolares, probablemente escrito cuando tenía entre 13 y 17 años.  Las hojas están ubicadas en 12 lugares diferentes (una de las hojas está cortada a la mitad): la Biblioteca del Congreso, seis bibliotecas universitarias, tres museos y dos colecciones privadas.

Mientras crecía en la frontera en Kentucky e Indiana, el joven Abraham Lincoln solo asistía a cinco sesiones escolares, la mayoría de las cuales de una duración de solo unos dos meses en pleno invierno.  Como Lincoln recordaría muchos años después en un breve relato autobiográfico proporcionado al redactor periodístico John Locke Scripps en junio de 1860, escribiendo sobre sí mismo en tercera persona: “[Abraham] fue a escuelas A.B.C. de poco en poco … ahora piensa que el conjunto de toda su educación no ascendió a un año.

En esas escuelas fronterizas, los estudiantes no tenían libros de texto.  En cambio, cada estudiante hizo para sí mismo un cuaderno, que en el caso de las matemáticas se llamaba un libro de cifrar o un libro de sumas.  Esto se hizo tomando varias hojas de papel, doblándolas por la mitad y luego cosiéndolas o atándolas.  El maestro dictaría citas, reglas matemáticas, problemas, etc., que los alumnos escribirían en sus cuadernos, o en el caso de los estudiantes más pequeños, el maestro podría escribirlos él mismo.

En algún momento, Lincoln aparentemente le dio este libro de cifrar – que incluía su última sesión de educación formal – a su madrastra, porque fue ella quien lo presentó a William Herndon, amigo y socio de abogacía de Lincoln, después de la muerte de este, y él a su vez regaló las varias hojas a diferentes personas.

En cuanto a los profesores de esas escuelas fronterizas y lo que Lincoln aprendió de ellos, esto es lo que él mismo dijo en otro relato autobiográfico, este escrito para su amigo Jesse Fell en diciembre de 1859:

Hubo algunas escuelas, así llamadas; pero nunca se requirió ninguna calificación de un maestro, más allá de “leer, escribir y cifrar”, hasta la Regla de tres.  Si sucedió que un vagabundo quien supuestamente entendía el latín pasaba una temporada en el vecindario, fue visto como un mago.  No había absolutamente nada para despertar la ambición a la educación.  Por supuesto, cuando cumplí la mayoría de edad no sabía mucho.  Todavía de alguna manera, podía leer, escribir y cifrar hasta la regla de tres; pero eso fue todo.

Probablemente usted ya se haya dado cuenta de que “cifrar” se refiere a la aritmética y tal vez a otras ramas de las matemáticas.  Pero probablemente no tiene ni idea de “la regla de tres”; puede descubrir lo que esa era al revisar el propio libro de cifrar de Lincoln.

Las primeras tres páginas contienen problemas de resta, multiplicación y división simple.  Tenga en cuenta que simple – en lugar de compuesto – ¡no significa necesariamente fácil!  He aquí uno de los problemas que el joven Abe resolvió correctamente: 20.254 x 4.433 = 89.785.982.

A uno se le ocurre que Abe debe haber terminado su trabajo más rápidamente que algunos de sus compañeros de clase, porque estas primeras páginas también están intercaladas con pequeños poemas tales como [toma nota que estos poemas riman en inglés]:

Abraham Lincoln, su mano y su pluma, él será bueno, pero dios sabe Cuándo


Abraham Lincoln es mi nombre

Y con mi pluma escribí lo mismo

Escribí tanto con prisa como con velocidad

y lo dejó aquí para que tontos lo lean

Las siguientes dos páginas del libro de cifrar de Lincoln abordan la suma y la multiplicación compuesta, en la cual las cantidades consisten en denominaciones mixtas (no decimales).  Por ejemplo, la distancia se mide en millas, estadios, yardas, pies, pulgadas, etc.; los productos secos se miden en ‘bushels’ (fanegas), ‘pecks’ (cuartos de fanega), etc.; el viejo sistema monetario inglés usaba libras, chelines y peniques; y así.  En la América de los principios del siglo XIX, el ser capaz de realizar operaciones aritméticas en tales unidades compuestas era esencial para el comercio y la industria.  Y como la función principal de las escuelas era preparar a los niños para su futuro trabajo, esta era una parte importante del plan de estudios.

He aquí un problema para la medida seca elaborado por el joven Abe en su cuaderno; para resolver esto usted necesita saber que hay cuatro ‘pecks’ en un ‘bushel’, y ocho ‘bushels’ en un ‘quarter’: [19 quarters, 1 bushel, 1 peck] – [12 quarters, 7 bushels, 2 pecks] = [6 quarters, 1 bushel, 3 pecks].

Fue después de estos temas de aritmética simple y compuesta que un estudiante podría avanzar a la “regla de tres”.  Un texto de 1821 explica la “regla directa de tres” de la siguiente manera: “Enseña, por tres números dados, cómo encontrar un cuarto, en tal proporción al tercero como el segundo al primero”.  Por lo tanto, esto es lo que llamaríamos una razón, y nos lleva al álgebra básica.  [Por cierto, mis hijas, quienes fueron a la escuela en España, sabían exactamente qué era la regla de tres cuando se las mencioné; ¡se usan este término todavía en España al enseñar cómo resolver las razones!]

He aquí un problema que Lincoln resolvió en la sexta página de su libro de cifrar: “Si 3 onzas de plata cuestan 17 chelines, ¿cuánto costarían 48 onzas?  Calculó correctamente la solución de ser de 272 chelines, o de 13 libras y 12 chelines (había 20 chelines en una libra).

En la regla directa de tres, las proporciones están directamente relacionadas, es decir, se mueven en la misma dirección: más de una significa más de la otra.  También existía la regla inversa de tres, que implica una proporción inversa, donde más requiere menos y menos requiere más.

La séptima página del libro de cifrar de Lincoln trata sobre la “regla doble de tres”, en la que hay tres en lugar de solamente dos factores que varían.  He aquí uno de los problemas que resolvió: “Si 4 hombres en 5 días comen 7 libras de pan, ¿cuánto será suficiente para 16 hombres en 15 días?”; la respuesta, tal como la resolvió correctamente, es de 84 libras.

Aunque Lincoln más tarde afirmó que había aprendido a “leer, escribir y cifrar hasta la regla de tres; pero eso fue todo”, esto era una subestimación consciente o inconsciente de lo que realmente había aprendido.  Las últimas cuatro páginas de su libro de cifrar cubren los temas adicionales de interés simple, interés compuesto y descuento.  He aquí uno de los problemas de interés simple que el joven Abe resolvió correctamente: “¿cuál es el interés de £216 y 5 chelines por un año al 5½ por ciento anual?”  La respuesta es: £11, 17 chelines y 10½ peniques.

Aunque la educación formal de Lincoln fue definitivamente deficiente incluso para los estándares de su época, los temas y problemas en su libro de cifrar demuestran que aprendió tanto sobre matemáticas como algunos graduados de la escuela secundaria de hoy.  Lo hizo sin calculadoras, computadoras o incluso libros de texto.  Y lo más importante, como todos saben, nunca permitió que su falta de educación lo frenara.  En el primero de los relatos autobiográficos citados anteriormente, Lincoln pasó a explicar modestamente cómo continuó su educación a través del autoestudio durante el resto de su vida:

Él nunca estuvo en una universidad o academia como estudiante; y nunca dentro de un edificio universitario académico hasta que tenía una licencia de ley.  Lo que tiene relativo a la educación, ha recogido.  Después de cumplir los veintitrés años, y haberse separado de su padre, estudió gramática inglesa, imperfectamente por supuesto, pero para poder hablar y escribir tan bien como hace ahora.  Estudió y casi dominó los seis libros de Euclides, después de ser un miembro del Congreso.  Lamenta su falta de educación, y hace lo que pueda para suplir la falta.

En esto, como en tantas otras formas, Abraham Lincoln es un ejemplo para todos nosotros, ya sea que regresemos a un ambiente escolar formal este otoño o no.  Que todos hagamos un esfuerzo para “suplir la falta” en nuestra educación a lo largo de nuestras vidas.

Kevin J. Wood

el 5 de septiembre de 2018

Lincoln’s “Lost Speech”: His Greatest Speech Ever?

You’ve heard of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, maybe even memorized it.  You might also know about his “House Divided” speech, his Cooper Union speech, and his two inaugural addresses.  Yet some claim that Lincoln’s greatest speech wasn’t any of these, but rather one you’ve never read nor recited, for the simple reason that it was lost to history.

It is known simply as the “Lost Speech”, and it was delivered at Bloomington, IL on May 29, 1856 at an exceedingly tense and tumultuous time.  Two years previous, the great slavery debate had exploded in greater furor than ever before due to Senator Stephen Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act.  Up to that point, slavery had been contained in just one part of the country with the hope, and the expectation, that one day the nation might be rid of it entirely; now slavery would be allowed to spread into the west and even into the north, and we might never be rid of it.

This prompted an entire re-ordering of the political landscape.  Prior differences between Democrats and Whigs over other issues moved to the background as the defining issue now became whether one was for or against Douglas’s bill.  The Whig Party soon collapsed under the weight of the situation, and there emerged a movement to gather all the “anti-Nebraska” forces – i.e., all those who were opposed to the extension of slavery – into one political force, if not one entirely new political party.

By early 1856, a presidential election year, this movement was coalescing under the name “Republican”.  The new party would hold its first-ever national convention in the middle of June in Philadelphia to nominate candidates and adopt a platform.  State conventions were likewise called in many of the northern states; in Illinois, it was decided to hold the convention in Bloomington on May 29.

During the week leading up to the Bloomington convention, the tensions suddenly escalated significantly.  Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was brutally beaten on the Senate floor by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks in retaliation for Sumner’s speech denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, in which he also mocked Brooks’ cousin, Senator Andrew Butler; the outrage in the North was loud and strong, while in the South, Brooks was praised.  Meanwhile, out in Kansas, the anti-slavery stronghold of Lawrence was ransacked by pro-slavery ruffians, and three days later a group of men led by John Brown retaliated by killing five pro-slavery settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek; “Bleeding Kansas” was well underway.  And right here in Illinois, an anti-slavery editor named Paul Selby, who would have been one of the leaders of the Bloomington convention, was viciously attacked by pro-slavery sympathizers and now lay at home recovering from his injuries.

Amid all this tension, the Bloomington convention did its work, hearing speeches, nominating candidates, and adopting resolutions.  Lincoln chaired the nominating committee for state offices and was named a delegate to the upcoming national convention – an honor he would have to decline because he had neither the time nor the money to attend – as well as a statewide elector-at-large for the Presidential election.  But he was passed over for what he would have most desired: an opportunity to address the crowd.

As the convention drew to a close around 5:30 pm, however, many of the delegates and visitors were in no mood to leave, and a crowd of over a thousand men was still gathered in and around the hall.  It was then that some of them started calling out for Lincoln.  They may have only wanted some of his funny stories, but what he gave them instead was a rousing, hour-and-a-half-long speech.

The traditional story is that the speech was ‘lost’ because the newspapermen and others were so enthralled that they stopped taking notes.  William Herndon, Lincoln’s friend and law partner, claimed that he “attempted for about fifteen minutes … to take notes, but at the end of that time I threw pen and paper away and lived only in the inspiration of the hour.  If Mr. Lincoln was six feet, four inches high usually, at Bloomington that day he was seven feet, and inspired at that.

It is just as likely, however, that Lincoln and other party leaders deliberately suppressed its publication, given that he directed his words to a highly partisan crowd.  In an election year, it wasn’t the kind of message that would have been politically expedient to share with a broader audience.

But this doesn’t mean that the newspapers, as well as individuals, didn’t report on Lincoln’s speech.  Herndon called it “full of fire and energy and force: it was logic; it was pathos; it was enthusiasm; it was justice, equity, truth, and right set ablaze by the divine fires of a soul maddened by the wrong; it was hard, heavy, knotty, gnarly, backed with wrath”.  Editor ‘Long John’ Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat reported that “Abraham Lincoln for an hour and a half held the assemblage spellbound by the power of his argument, the intense irony of his invective, the brilliancy of his eloquence.  I shall not mar any of its fine proportions by attempting even a synopsis of it.

The only paper that did attempt a synopsis appears to be the Alton Weekly Courier, which reported: “Abraham Lincoln, of Sangamon, came upon the platform amid deafening applause.  He enumerated the pressing reasons of the present movement.  He was here ready to fuse with anyone who would unite with him to oppose slave power; spoke of the bugbear disunion which was so vaguely threatened.  It was to be remembered that the Union must be preserved in the purity of its principles as well as in the integrity of its territorial parts.  It must be ‘Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable’.  The sentiment in favor of white slavery now prevailed in all the slave state papers, except those of Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri and Maryland.  Such was the progress of the National Democracy.  Douglas once claimed against him that Democracy favored more than his principles, the individual rights of man.  Was it not strange that he must stand there now to defend those rights against their former eulogist?  The Black Democracy were endeavoring to cite Henry Clay to reconcile old Whigs to their doctrine, and repaid them with the very cheap compliment of National Whigs.

Lincoln’s primary objective seems to have been to unite all the disparate elements then coalescing into the new Republican Party, inspiring them to put aside their differences and commit wholeheartedly to the movement to fight against the extension of slavery.  The increasingly violent slave power must be resisted, Kansas must be free, republican principles must be preserved, and the Union must be maintained.

In the judgment of Elwell Crissey, who wrote the definitive book on the speech in 1967, appropriately entitled Lincoln’s Lost Speech, only two brief quotes are unmistakably preserved.  The first came near the beginning, when Lincoln was responding to an alarming appeal made by James Emery of Kansas, the final speaker at the convention, who had called for armed men to go to Kansas.  Lincoln urged moderation and a different approach: “No, my friends, I’ll tell you what we will do.  We will wait until November, and then we will shoot paper ballots at them.”  Lincoln would return to this theme of “ballots, not bullets” in later speeches, including his July 4, 1861 message to Congress.  The second well-documented quote came near the end, when Lincoln was speaking against the ‘bugbear’ of dissolution: “We say to our Southern brethren: ‘We won’t go out of the Union, and you shan’t!’

Although Lincoln’s original speech was ‘lost’, I’m pleased to report that an audience at “Lincoln’s Festival on Route 66” in that very same city of Bloomington was treated to a re-creation of it this past Sunday!  That’s right, I found everything I could about it and pieced together what I think is a reasonable facsimile, although abridged to about half an hour.  With the introductory and concluding material, it made a nice hour-long program, which I am now offering to whomever wants to see it so that they might decide for themselves whether it really was Lincoln’s greatest speech ever.

Kevin J. Wood

July 28, 2018

Lincolns „Verlorene Rede”: Seine größte Rede überhaupt? (unübersetzt)

[nur verfügbar auf Englisch und Spanisch (vollständigen Versionen) und auf Französisch (gekürzte Version)]

Kevin J. Wood

28. Juli 2018