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tv   The Civil War Harold Holzer on Civil War Objects  CSPAN  August 14, 2020 5:36pm-6:21pm EDT

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exploring the american story. watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3. we continue now with the story on harold holzer and valerie paley of the new york historical society looking at artifacts featured in their joint publication "the civil war in 50 objects." they discuss objects related to slavery, abolition, and recruiting freed men to the union army. >> i would like to turn our attention to some objects that help us describe the civil war. as a curator in the museum realm, particularly the history museum, i am always struck by how hard objects on display have the power to stand in for narratives conveyed by what they are designed by in the object
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itself. so, for those of you that missed last week program, let's talk about this book, "the civil war and 50 objects." how effective do you think it is at conveying the narrative sweep of the civil war in only 50 objects? >> well, it came about, as i confessed last week, because louise asked me to undertake the project for the historical society. it was a lucky day for me. and you'll remember that we got to see, i don't know, three times 50 objects, arrayed before us on some conference tables in the historical society. so, it was a matter of picking representative objects, exciting objects, which, as you say, stand in the for the big history of the civil war. item by item, personal story by personal story. and it was remarkable at the end that we constructed the history of the war from the abolitionist movement to the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery.
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>> great. and it was great fun to work with you on that project too. >> i feel the same. >> yeah. so, our topic this evening is fighting slavery, the bumpy road to black freedom. we will be, this evening, looking at three objects that speak to the topic. and they're all paper-based objects an 1862 petition to abraham lincoln for the recruitment of black troops, an 1863 broad side by frederick douglass, and a very small sketch of the arrival of jefferson davis' slaves to jigsaw bayou. so, there are our objects. let's go to the slide of the first one, the petition to abraham lincoln for the recruitment of black troops. this thing is addressed to his excellency, abraham lincoln and bears a number of signatures. what is it, harold? >> it sure does bear a number of signatures, hundreds and hundreds of signatures.
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so, it is a petition that was the brain child of someone named j.e. gardner. we don't know much about j.e. gardner except that he organized this effort to call on the president of the united states in july of 1862 to unleash the power of african-americans who until this point have not been permitted to volunteer for the union army and have constituted what some people called a sable arm that could help the union win the war by increasing its manpower exponentially. this -- we've seen this object. it's a scroll. it's a big scroll. >> 25 feet or something. >> 25 feet long. it's never been displayed altogether because you need even the two floors of the historical society to give it justice. and it's signed by an amazing
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group of supporters of black enlistment for the time. it's signed by -- clearly by irish-americans, by jewish-americans, by german-americans, people from all walks of life. and you can tell from their addresses, which are inserted as if it's a nominating petition for public office, that it runs the gamut. and it also has quite a few famous names, important names in new york, vanderbilts and whitneys and dodges and fellphe also signing on to this idea that the union should accept black troops, which it had not done for the first year of the civil war. >> there was also one john brown who signed it too, right? >> yes, yes. i think it probably has a few fake names in there. who could resist a little graffiti. so, john brown, whom we
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discussed last week, with an authentic object, even though he had been dead for three years, he signed the petition. and it said john brown of harpers ferry. >> it's very funny. is that a question about lincoln though, your subject area for sure. why was he reluctant to accept blacks into service? >> so, it's hard to imagine, but the notion of african-americans bearing arms was frightening to many white americans, especially in the border states like kentucky and maryland and delaware that had not seceded from the union but where slavery was still legal and would be legal throughout the civil war. lincoln thought that if he encouraged african-americans to join the service, that those border states would lead tve th
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union and join the confederacy. this petition is dated july 20th, so let's assume the best of circumstances, it got to the white house or a version of it as we discussed, got to the white house two days later. on that very day, lincoln told his cabinet that he wanted to issue an emancipation proclamation, was not ready to deal with the issue of black troops, but he was ready to free the enslaved people in the confederate states. and that day, even with the petition in the white house, his cabinet, almost to a man, advised him that it was too soon to issue an emancipation proclamation. so, these new yorkers were ahead of the curve and ahead of public opinion in the white house, the cabinet, the congress except for the really advanced abolitionists. so, it's a point of pride for new york. >> of course. new york whispers. >> but they didn't send the
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whole scroll to the white house. they sent a highlight reel, which is good because you want to get the president's attention. so, the short version exists in the lincoln papers, meaning it was preserved by his staff. but he never replied to it. he just put it aside, probably because he knew he was about to embark on his own journey toward freedom, ultimately within six months. >> exactly. georgia's howell cobb, the president of the congress, said the idea of recruitment was destined to fail. he warned slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong. >> three years later, jefferson davis, in a desperate move to save the founding confederacy, would offer freedom to enslave people who took up arms against the union.
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not surprisingly, he got no takers because the idea african-americans deserved to remain enslaved people forever. >> right. so, in the story of this petition, our object, frederick douglass makes an appearance. he chides lincoln at that moment, summer of 1862, for using blacks as laborers as opposed to soldiers. he called out lincoln for a quote, fatal capacity to do better. he's very forceful in that regard. as you said, on january 1st, 1863, lincoln issues the emancipation proclamation. and how does this change? >> it changes it with the sentences in the proclamation. one of the sentences says i admonish all enslaved people not
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to turn to violence against their masters. then in the very next sentence, lincoln says, i encourage african-americans to join the military service. so, i mean, if you do join the military service, you're obviously going to take up arms against your former owners. but that was the prevailing message. so, it's encouraged. and then wayithin a month or tw congress passed a law authorizing the military services to accept african-americans in service. african-americans had been in the navy for decades as laborers. and they had, as you mentioned, some had been employed in the union army as teamsters. but the idea of they're bearing arms was new. and not all the military leaders embraced the idea. for those who may be watching the grant miniseries on the history channel, in episode 2,
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ulysses s. grant watches an african-american laborer take a gun and shoot a confederate when its owner is shot dead first, its white soldier. and there you see in grant's eyes, oh, this is the way of the future. in fact, grant did not think it was a great idea at first to welcome african-americans into his army. his chief lieutenant william sherman didn't like the idea. general bernstein wasn't taken as seriously as those two by that time did not like the idea. and general mcclellan, who we saw in a tent with lincoln in october of '62, so four months after that petition, basically told lincoln, my soldiers are going to fight to restore the union, but don't expect us to fight for black freedom because that's not going to happen. the racist military, they were
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pretty racist too to that point. >> yeah, absolutely. >> as you said, frederick douglass helps. >> yeah, and here -- and he is very much a part of our second object, a recruitment broad side written by douglass. can we see the image of that, please? so, what was this significance of this broad side? and where did it first appear? >> so, douglass at this point worked for a newspaper. it's always a little bit behind the times. he's admonishing lincoln in his september issue, september '62, even as lincoln issues the preliminary proclamation. so, it's hard to have a monthly paper. i used to edit a weekly paper. it was hard to keep up on a weekly basis. monthly is really tough. so, he runs an editorial around the same time that the petition
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appeared. time for african-american troops to be recruited into the union army. when the proclamation comes out and congress does the authorizing for black enlistment, douglass is encouraged by several abolitionist leaders to really hit the road and/or rate as only he could persuasively magnificently to get african-americans to enlist. so, he turned his editorial into a block side which is a one-page sheet. most of them were just pasted to walls or distributed to people. so, it's kind of a remarkable thing that the new york historical society owns such a good copy. and when we wrote the book -- i don't know if you remember, but we dated the acquisition to just about the time it was issued. >> exactly, yes, yes. which is typical of american
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historical. >> it is typical, right? in the same way we collected objects related to 9/11 and objects relating to another pandemic. the new york historical society is kind of a contemporary museum. it makes sure it keeps the record of what will be history down the road. so, this document -- you know, it's got some great lines in it, as only douglass can write. liberty won by white men alone would lack half its luster. who would be free themselves must strike the blow. better even to die free than to live as slaves. and did it have an impact? absolutely. by war's end, almost 200,000 men of color had joined the union army. and it was not easy. they were not treated as equal soldiers at the beginning. they were relegated to all black units. their officers were almost to a
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person white. and yet, it's important to note -- and also, by the way, they were not treated as prisoners of war when captured. the confederacy threatened and did put them back confederacy td did put them back into slavery or -- after they found out. not surprisingly the casualty rate among african american soldiers was higher than that among white soldiers. >> can we just see the image of frederick douglass? just to get a sense of the towering presence of this great intellectual? he was unprecedented lee important african american abolitionist, four former, statesman, orator, everything
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else. having his opinion on this matter is extremely valuable to a recruitment cause. >> what an imposing guy. as historians have proven in recent history, he was just about the most photographed american office time, white or black. he made sure he was photographed almost every time he hit a lecture circuit. you could see what a great looking man he was. this is eight years before the broadside, too often, we see him portrayed is a white and old man. in fact, he was still a vigorous, youngest man during the civil war. soon after that, bronze side, he had his first visit to the white house. he spent his time with lincoln, imploring him to equalize the pay between white and black soldiers. white soldiers not only earn more money, but they got a bonus to buy uniforms.
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whereas black soldiers got money docked from their pay to buy uniforms. lincoln -- lincoln was very cautious, and worried about what public opinion, with the recruitment of african americans. he simply told douglas, the day will come, but please be patient. he was forgiving of what became a very close relationship. >> extraordinary. branding outward, maybe ten more minutes ten more minutes in this conversation before we open it up to q&as. rounding out our trio of objects, the same thing is very small, nine inches by 13 inches, on the spot sketch by one frederik b shell, who is a special artist for frank leslie's paper. can we see that object please? it's coming.
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there it is, it inspired not major headlines at the time but it is historically important. important up to be one of the 50 objects in the book. why? tell us about this. >> okay. i would just finish the douglas by saying, douglas is encouragement for black recruitment included the reasoning of the 54th massachusetts regiment, which achieved immortality in july, his own son joined that unit. they were killed in numbers. folks will remember that story from the movie glory. it was a pretty extraordinary civil war movie. yes, there are some african americans who are free african americans who joined the war. but when emancipation is issued there are also african americans who are still in servitude. and don't know quite how to
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deal with their legal freedom, or may not have heard about their legal freedom. one of the great mysteries of the civil war is how news of the proclamation spread to enslaved people so, for the most part enslaved people freed themselves on the basis of their legal rights to liberty through the proclamation, when union armies were near, to which they can attach themselves. and if you go back to the drawing, i will tell the story, which i'm slow and getting to but i want to set the stage. keep in mind, the culture of the day is that these artists are attached to union armies, covering the action. or usually, covering the compliance, because it's not a good idea to look down at a sketchbook. they did scenes in pen. one day, while doing the seats, which was also, the last
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episode of the grants many series. this detail was not shown. as grant is besiege in the city of vicksburg on the mississippi river, for several months, more and more african americans in the legion realize that there was a bombardment and the union is in, so they flee their plantations and attach themselves to grams office. this is how emancipation happened, to this day, they were captured, a bunch of african americans struggled into grants arms. what was remarkable about them, until the day before, they were technically owned by jefferson davis, and his field plantation, a few miles away. little by little, they had been peeling off from the plantation, but this group was captured by shell, as they marched into the
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army, now, technically free. not only were they legally free but they had freed themselves, with their families safe. here you see them, to the left of that figure on horseback, as other soldiers look on, straggling into camp. by the way, i've always thought that the officer who was sort of leaning on the tree on the right-hand side, is, a little too much like ulysses-esque grant, as he looked at his field cap, it's too much of a coincidence. maybe shell put that in as a little inside joke. here they are. what jefferson did when he heard about it, he was furious. why would my people leave the comforts of that wonderful plantation. but i've provided for them, where they could labour seven days a week for no pay?
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that was just an astonishing moment in the history of the civil war. . >> (inaudible) you he's leaning on a tree. >> with the hat. with that hat. he was an informal fellow and there is jefferson, had abandon his plantation for, quote unquote, public service, to function as the president of the confederacy. and again, he believed that the slaves had no legal right to their freedom. and he expected, still, he would win independence and he would petition for ownership. but as we know, that is not what happened. a few days after that incident,
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in the drawing, maybe we can look next at the newspaper. >> we essentially have the adaptation for the day. >> it earned a sidebar, but not a big story, as you say. >> are there substantial differences between this would cut version in the sketch? >> i think it's sort of a normal adaptation for the day. the sketches tended to be rather rough. and the gravers back in new york cleaned them up a little bit. they added the details. i think what is lost here is the depictions of the african americans are a little more caricatured. as a fan of impressionism, i like the original because of
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that cast off impressionistic feeling of movement. this is a little more static. it has the feeling of being adapted so that tens of thousands of readers could marvel at this remarkable incident. otherwise, shells drawings remained private property. but, again, remarkably, all of those new york illustrative drawings came into the collection of the new york historical society. the society has a trove of these. >> truly, there is an embarrassment of riches in our collection. >> we're fine with that. >> we have one last image that rounds out this narrative. and by the way, please keep your questions coming and we will get to some of them. here is a recruitment poster from 1863. beautiful colors.
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do you want to talk a little bit about this? this is not one of our official objects, but it helps round out our story here. >> we put it last, because it's so wonderful, slim the illustration for the douglas posters. this is also a recruiting poster, for the douglas broadside. this is also recruiting poster. there is a lot more vivid, the african american soldiers, i think the color is a little bit faded in some aspects of this print could be a little blue are. there they are, early african-american recruits, posing with their white officers, and the message is clear. coming join this great effort. fight for your freedom and be part of the story. not only of the union but of the country. >> wonderful. we have time now for some
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questions. did lincoln ever see douglas is newspaper? if so, what was lincoln's reaction? >> we have no evidence that lincoln subscribed to douglas is monthly. in those days, having a subscription to an abolitionists newspaper, much less an abolitionists newspaper published by an african american, was akin to subscribing to pornography but. i'm not equating them, but the reaction would have been one of shock. lincoln, as far as i know, unless he saw newspapers that were subscribed to by his rather liberal law partner, back in illinois, he did not see the liberator. he did not see the douglas paper. could he surely knew where
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douglas was right. he surely knew that douglas called him a slave catcher, tagged his first inaugural address, tagged him for not -- he pushed him, he was one of those nudging him along. did he read the newspaper, that we know of for sure? no. >> next question, since most, many, slaves were not permitted to read, was frederick douglass broadside read by a few and then the word spread or, how was the word disseminated? >> that is a great question. i would say that men of color to arms was aimed at free african americans. literature, free, african americans in the north and into the border states, who could retreat. and probably were among the subscribers to douglas monthly. i have always assumed that the
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more vivid cause the editorial recruiting poster, come and join his brothers, is meant for those who had perhaps more trouble with letters or, as you point out, the right to learn to read or write for generations, by their white owners. but this question, which i hope i've answered as well as i can, cuts to one of the great mysteries of civil war communications. we talked a little bit about victoria newspapers in about who reads them, and who reads regular newspapers. but one of the enduring mysteries is the message of emancipation, and how it got to so many people of color, who are being held in the captivity of slavery, through the first two years of the war. one of the things lincoln did,
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is armed soldiers would have many versions of the emancipation clock proclamation. and as the union soldiers marched from town to town, city to city, farm to farm, plantation to plantation, they would knock on the door and say to the owners, here, we've got this. your people, as they were called, our free. they can follow us, they can go where they want. and that is in part how the word spread. one of the great mysteries still remains, the network of communication that was established among african americans even in rural areas. and there have been all sorts of lessons about it, messaging on quilts that were hung up. was it anything as mysterious as drumbeats or music? we just don't know. it is an oral tradition and we will never know. >> interesting. could you clarify when the
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siege of vicksburg took place? >> yes, it was may and june of 1863. we did not show, tonight, although we do have it in the book, a sketch called cave life in vicksburg. the siege was so prolonged, the residents of vicksburg were literally driven underground. they had to stay in man made caves to protect themselves from the constant shelling. every minute or less than every minutes, there was another artillery burst. these shelves would hit the street and roll on the streets until they exploded. like the london blitz, but constant. >> is that the object that is on wallpaper? >> that is another one. the newspapers run out of paper, so they began publishing on wallpaper roles. there wasn't much redecorating going on in fits burke, so there was a lot of wallpaper,
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and the last edition, they finally surrender on july 3rd, 1863. same day as the union went to the battle of gettysburg. gloria stay in the north and in washington, d.c.. grants troops march in. every army has soldiers who had very case various occupations before the war, and there must have been printers and typesetter's, because they went in and reset one of the stories in the last edition of this vicksburg newspaper, on wallpaper, seeing grant is in town. it is a joint effort. again, the siege ends july 3rd and fourth. the union army takes this almost impregnable hilltop city, that had held out really for longer than they should have, because both the garrison and
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the civilians were eating rats, if they could find them. >> what was the relationship like between jewish and black soldiers? where they kindred spirits or not? >> it depended on where the jewish soldiers came from. there was no uniformed jewish viewpoint in the civil war, perhaps some of us would like to think so in retrospect. but there were many scholars and rabbis in the south, who argued for the biblical justification of slavery. and opposed to lincoln, and joint in the general (inaudible) of lincoln. even at the same time that there was blatant antisemitism in the south, and the
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victimization, blaming of the jews for all sorts of shortages and claims that they were praying on deprivations and made money. but there is no uniformed jewish soldiers were just as likely to be bigoted or worried about african american troops as white soldiers. there aren't that many heroic stories in this moment, when african american soldiers are allowed to join up, we have records of many soldiers who said, i'm going home. i'm going to just give up. i'm going to abandon ship. or camp. and there were those who did. i think the turning point for jewish and christian white soldiers, as they regarded african american troops, was when they proved they could fight. when they proved they would fight, just as hard or harder than the old troops.
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when they proved their extraordinary courage at fort wagner. they were subject to a prostheses at fort pillow, but general forest. he had soldiers executed after they surrendered. they say that no one is a bigots in a foxhole. you depend on the next person, regardless of race or creed. and i think that is what happened in the civil war. >> there's another question, back to douglas and lincoln, frederick douglas. did lincoln have high regard for douglas intellect? >> i think he came to. again, he had read douglas, before the war, people who visited niagara falls, tourists, would often take an excursion to rochester, to see frederick
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douglass. because there were white people who did not believe that there was an african american who ran a newspaper, who wrote editorials. so he was kind of a tourist attraction himself. to prove that he was actually a functioning intellect. lincoln had heard of him, sure. and when he made his way to the white house for the first visit, douglas comes into the office and says, i am frederick douglass and lincoln says, i know who you are. and that is a little chilling, but douglas writes a wonderful story about how lincoln unfolded himself from a low chair, and the chairs were low, and towered over him. but never, in any of their meetings, he said, treating him in any way that suggested there was a difference of color. and douglas always reckoned that it was because they had
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both risen up from poverty and obscurity, lincoln felts common bond with douglas. one thing lincoln did, part of the story we didn't tell, is he interested douglas to map out a plan deliberate as many african americans as possible at the end of 1864. thinking he might lose his election campaign for a second term, and therefore the democrats would advocate an executive order and just say, no more emancipation. douglas produced a dazzling detailed plan, of creating an army of african americans, to go into these dangerous confederacy's. and convey the message that they were legally free there. so lincoln did address his abilities. and, one quick story, after his second inaugural, douglas had a break into the white house reception, he has to force his
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way in, and lincoln is on the receiving line, he sees him and he says, there is my friends douglas. douglas, there is no man whose opinion i value more than years. what did you think of my inaugural? douglas says to him, i think it was a sacred effort. lincoln announces that he is his friend in front of an all white group, asks him to break the receiving line, and convey his opinion of his most important speech so that suggests what he thought of his intellect, how highly he thought. >> it certainly does. related to this, there is a question about african american union recruits, where they paid the same amount that white soldiers were receiving? >> not at first. lincoln designed a system to pay them less, and again, to require them to buy their own uniforms, unlike white
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soldiers. because he was fearful, never fearful, in those days about moving too quickly. he was careful that there would be mass abandonment of by the wet military, if african americans were introduced into service. and even as douglas implored him to change that, unfair scale. lincoln told him it would take a little time, and so prejudices were overcome. eventually, they did get the same pay. by the way, they there were a number of soldiers, those who remember the details of the movie, glory, a number of black soldiers, as much as they needed their salary, as much as they needed to send it home to the support of their families as white people did, they didn't take their salary. they kept their salary as a protest. which was a pretty nervy thing to do and the tough thing to do.
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>> back to douglas again. in the 1876 statute dedication, douglas said lincoln was emphatically the black man's president, but was also emphatically the white man's president. did douglas think that lincoln did enough? >> let me just correct the foundation of the question. in 1865, at cooper union, douglas says, lincoln was emphatically the black man's president. 11 years later, on the anniversary of the assassination, he unveils a statue of abraham lincoln and says, he was predominantly the white man's president. but he adds, and he has had 11 years to think, and the foundations of reconstruction of black lives are crumbling now, before douglas eyes, in the deal about to crumble.
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but it is really hard to maintain black rights in the former confederacy. and he says that lincoln was predominantly the white man's president, but, he may have seemed cool and in different at the time. but compared to the vast majority of his white brother in, he was radical, fierce and determined. so it was a very mixed message. easily, i think, the greatest speech ever given about abraham lincoln, and one worth reading and rereading because it is so nuanced. basically,, the other thing that makes it so challenging is he is unveiling the statue that is by today standards politically correct. it shows a kneeling slave rising through the benefits since of abraham lincoln, it is clearly a great emancipator image, which was the thing in
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the 19th century. it may look politically incorrect today, but it was funded and paid for exclusively by free african americans. it's just, everything is complicated. >> absolutely. one last year opinion. what do you think of grant, on the history channel right now? >> i think it is a little simplistic. i love seeing my friend ron chernow i, wish i saw more of him, there are some good historians on the show and others. i think in some areas, it is a little simplistic, as i speak at the beginning of 1864, mid 1864, and where is order number 11? the status of juice in the
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united states, issuing an order banning jews from the western theater of the war, sort of instituting a pogrom. jews from paducah had to migrate out of town before lincoln overturned the order. i think the active playing grant was very good, the active playing lincoln, is another story. the one >> on that very happy note, i see we are out of time. i want to thank you, harold holzer, for being such a terrific partner tonight and in the whole series. thank you to all of you thank you for watching this evening, for your attention, your questions and your membership support. we do value you, the new york historical and are so happy to present these programs to you.
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next, on the civil war, historian harold holzer and valerie paley, of the new york historical society, talk about artifacts future to join publication. the civil war in 50 objects. in this program, they discuss objects related to the july 18th 63 draft riots, in new york city. this conversation took place online, due to the coronavirus pandemic. the new york historical society provided the video. thank >> good evening everyone, i am delighted to again, have the opportunity to talk to my good friend and professional colleague, harold holzer. before heralded i get started, i want to remind you that as we mentioned, you can ask questions anytime, during a program by using the q&a button at the bottom or, at the top of your screens. we will


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