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Abraham Lincoln: Library of Congress finishes transcribing letters to president

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An Italian opera singer expressed anger that the president had not replied to her: “How [can] a Great Personnage like your Excellency surrounded of glory and ornamented of fine education … not answer a Lady letters?”

Complaints, advice, congratulations, introductions, pleas, job requests and military reports poured into Abraham Lincoln’s mailbox before and during his presidency.

Last month, the Library of Congress completed a two-year, crowdsourced project to transcribe 10,000 documents in its vast collection of Abraham Lincoln’s papers and make them legible.

The effort rendered into print the scribbling of legions of correspondents, who wrote with a variety of spelling, grammar and punctuation skills.

It was finished July 8 and augments a prior Lincoln transcription project that ran at the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, in Galesburg, Ill., from 1999 to 2002.

The library had asked the college “to transcribe and annotate all of its Lincoln autograph manuscripts and a substantial portion of Lincoln’s incoming correspondence” when the items first went online, the college says on its website.

“They did roughly half of what was online,” said Michelle A. Krowl, a Civil War specialist in the library’s manuscript division. “They chose, obviously, to transcribe all of the things that Abraham Lincoln had written” as well as other important items.

The latest project aimed to transcribe what Knox College had not, as well as new material, she said.

The project used two teams of thousands of volunteer transcribers — one to do the initial transcriptions, and the second to double-check the work of the first.

The transcriptions are not designed to be official, said Trevor Owens, the head of the library’s digital content management. But they can “get that search and discovery capability enhanced, which, even having some mistakes, is still going to be okay.”

In one letter, what appears to be “few days” is transcribed as “fun day.” In another, what appears to be “N.Y.S.M.” — for New York State Militia — is transcribed “N.Y. Sill.” In another, what looks like “Genisee” is transcribed “Genisu.”

But “the volunteers … take this incredibly seriously,” Owens said.

They select an item on the library’s website, and go to work, said Carlyn Osborn, digital collections specialist and crowdsourcing community manager at the library. “We really encourage our users to find materials in the site that speak to them,” she said.

Krowl said: “Every generation has a different sort of questions they ask of these materials. … These collections continue to be dynamic, and they continue to answer new questions."

“We’re providing people with a way to become engaged with the material and explore questions and interests that they might have,” she said.

Dozens of letters to Lincoln have previously been transcribed and published in two books — “Dear Mr. Lincoln” and “The Lincoln Mailbag” — by the Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer.

But this is the first time that many transcriptions will be available online.

Most items in the library’s Lincoln collection are in English, but some are in German, French or Italian.

A New York woman writing in German asked “Linkoln” to help a bereft family that had apparently given up a daughter for adoption and wanted to recover the child. “Seiner Exelenz der Vereinigten Staaten,” his excellency of the United States, she began.

One item, thought to be in Arabic, turned out to be in neo-Aramaic, the library said. (Experts are still not sure what it says.)

In 1861, a band of anti-slavery militants — “the Army of Freedom in Kansas” — wrote, offering to bring volunteers to Washington and guard Lincoln’s inauguration.

An 1862 note came from the president’s friend Sen. Ira Harris, whose daughter, Clara, and her fiance would be seated beside Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre the night of his assassination three years later.

A Brooklyn infantry regiment had complained that its name was being changed from the 14th New York State Militia, under which it had earned fame, to the 84th New York State Volunteers. The governor wrote to Lincoln for advice.

Members of another regiment wanted out of the Army, claiming that its members’ enlistments were up.

The men’s lawyer wrote that they had been tricked into signing up for longer than they realized. “These men [believed] that justice would be done them when their Case reached the President,” he wrote.

(Lincoln’s response appears in the collected works: “The Secretary of War says this attempt, if successful, would reach forty thousand of the Army.”)

On March 31, 1864, Cornelia MacKay, of Stanwich, Conn., who described herself as the “daughter of a staunch Republican,” wrote to Lincoln requesting the autograph of “our beloved president.”

On April 18, she got a note from the president’s trusted aide, John Hay, enclosing the autograph, “A. Lincoln.”

When the desire of the Navy officer to marry came to Lincoln’s attention, the president wrote to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles:

Executive Mansion. Washington, Aug. 2, 1862

Lieutenant Commanding James W.A. Nicholson, now commanding the Isaac Smith, wishes to be married, and from evidence now before me, I believe there is a young lady who sympathizes with him in that wish under these circumstances, please allow him the requisite leave of absence, if the public service can safely endure it.

(Two weeks later a newspaper notice confirmed that the marriage took place in St. John’s Episcopal Church next to Lafayette Square across from the White House.)

The would-be Army volunteer from western New York wrote in March, 1864:

I am 65 years old am able to do a fair days work (not the hardest kind of work) day after day am willing to go to the army, or rather into some fort or Garison, where there will be no long marches, was never a good traveler but worker will help you work out our national salvation will go free of any charge to Government except travel and rations Avery Coon is a stout man of about my age will go too to a Fort or Garison he may need the usual pay will be a good hand

We have Faith in God and dry Powder

Truly Yours Daniel Edwards

On Jan. 7, 1864, Lincoln received a court-martial report that included a list of nine soldiers who had been found guilty of desertion. They were sentenced to be “shot to death with musketry” — five of them in front of the men of their division on Jan. 29.

On Jan. 26, 1864, Lincoln ordered the executions suspended.

Also in January 1864, a former colonel, Frederick G. d’Utassy, wrote in, begging to be freed from Sing Sing prison, where he was serving a term for defrauding the government.

D’Utassy was a dashing Hungarian officer who had commanded the 39th New York Infantry Regiment, known as the Garibaldi Guards. But he had been convicted of padding his expense account, selling government horses and keeping the proceeds, and putting soldiers on the rolls of two outfits so they could draw two paychecks.

“I have a dearly beloved and aged mother whose honored head is bowed down and whose heart is almost broken on the verge of the grave. Shall my appeal for mercy not to say justice be in vain? Shall I have to add to the infamy heaped upon me and my family the gnawing worm of conscience that tho’ involuntarily I have become a matricide?”

It is not clear whether Lincoln intervened.

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On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a county school superintendent is under fire for supporting Black Lives Matter

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Our 2020 Election Guide

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Here’s How to Crush the Virus Until Vaccines Arrive

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18 hours ago
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1 public comment
19 hours ago
Trump wasted the spring. We need to do it again, while voting him out.
Washington, DC
16 hours ago
Oh, ya. Like Senile Biden will do anything.
15 hours ago
Troll better. Biden underwood the risks of Trump cutting pandemic response funding last year, and he’s been clear since it was obvious to anyone remotely informed that this was a big threat. That’s the sad part: being better than your guy could done by doing nothing other than not interfering - if Trump had been out in the golf course leaving the professionals to do their jobs, tens of thousands of Americans would still be alive and the economy would be on much better footing since we wouldn’t have wasted a partial lockdown.
14 hours ago
I suggest you seek a psychiatrist for your Trump Derangement Syndrome.
1 hour ago
Trum golfs while Americans die. You bet I'm deranged. Go away asshole.
54 minutes ago
Yet another brilliant reply by a Leftie. No wonder you are so jealous of the success of people who actually do something useful.
32 minutes ago
@samuel can we block people yet?
16 minutes ago
After 150,000 deaths, I am not nearly so concerned with jealousy and success and much more concerned about staying safe. I have a huge amount of respect for the doctors, nurses, and researchers who are doing something useful while our leaders leave us to die.
12 minutes ago
"150,000 deaths". Wow. You actually **believe** the BS that the media broadcasts? How naive. But that's another symptom of TDS, so I shouldn't be surprised.

You Want Context? Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Crotch Shot and Family-Values Evangelicalism


Earlier this week Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and one of President Trump’s leading evangelical supporters, once again found himself at the center of controversy. And once again, Falwell had no one to blame but himself. This time, the matter at hand wasn’t his decision to keep Liberty open against public health recommendations, nor was it his threat to sue journalists who covered the decision, nor was it his tweeting a racist image of Gov. Northam. At issue, rather, was a photo Falwell posted to Instagram—a photo in which he stood, arm in arm with a young woman who is not his wife, each with their shirts tugged up, their pants partially undone, and, in the case of Falwell himself, his underwear clearly visible beneath his slightly protruding belly. One of his hands rested just beneath the girl’s breast, the other clasped a glass of “black water,” according to his own caption (translation: definitely not alcohol).

When the internet erupted in consternation, Falwell’s friends came to his defense. Malachi O’Brien, a fellow at Falwell’s Falkirk Center, initially claimed on Twitter that the man in the photo was not Falwell. Before long O’Brien deleted that tweet, conceding that it was indeed Falwell, but asserting that the photo had been “taken out of context.”

O’ Brien was right. To understand Falwell’s proclivities, his behavior must be situated in terms of the longer history of white evangelical masculinity.

To be sure, the context O’Brien was referring to was the party Falwell hosted on his yacht inspired by the Netflix mocumentary series Trailer Park Boys. While on vacation, Falwell and “lots of good friends”—friends who apparently included a number of young, somewhat scantily clad coeds—recorded their revelries on video. (Judge for yourself whether the video of the president of one of the country’s largest Christian universities makes the situation more or less problematic.)

Of course, this isn’t Falwell’s first brush with impropriety. In 2019, the New York Times reported on the intricate, tabloidesque tale of “the friendship between Mr. Falwell, his wife and a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach; the family’s investment in a gay-friendly youth hostel; purportedly sexually revealing photographs involving the Falwells; and an attempted hush-money arrangement engineered by the president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.”

Months after the New York Times story broke, Politico published an investigative report on the “culture of fear and self-dealing” Falwell fostered at Liberty. That story included another incriminating image of Falwell, a 2014 photo of the university president partying at Miami Beach’s WALL nightclub. Falwell initially denied that he’d visited the club* and alleged that the images were photoshopped, but the next day new photos appeared depicting Falwell and family members at the club, some of whom can be seen holding alcohol.

The real problem for Falwell wasn’t his penchant for clubbing, his apparent alcohol consumption, or even his tastelessly insufficient attire, but rather the seeming hypocrisy of it all. Liberty University has a strict code restricting the behavior of students by prohibiting the consumption of alcohol and nicotine, dictating modest dress (including skirts no shorter than two inches above the knee and “modest one-piece” swimsuits), and prohibiting all “media or entertainment that is offensive to Liberty’s standards and traditions,” including “lewd lyrics, anti-Christian message, sexual content, nudity, pornography, etc.” as well as all “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.” Moreover, in all personal relationships, students are “to know and abide by common-sense guidelines to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” Failure to abide by these rules results in fines, disciplinary community service, or withdrawal from the university.

Du Mez, Jesus and John WayneBy these standards, Falwell himself appears to be nothing less than the poster boy of the hypocrisy of family-values evangelicalism. But again, context is helpful. As I trace in my book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, for many conservative evangelicals, family values don’t mean what we might think they mean.

Falwell’s antics are sometimes contrasted with the more esteemed leadership of his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., but the older Falwell helped create the masculine ideal that would one day be embodied, with all its foibles, by his own son and heir apparent. At Thomas Road Baptist Church, Falwell Sr. promoted a particularly militant Christianity closely linked to a rugged masculine ideal. The church was an “army equipped for battle,” Sunday school an “attacking squad,” and Christian radio “the artillery.” Enemies abounded: feminism, communism, government intervention in the family, IRS interference in Christian (segregated) schools, and “rampant homosexuality.” It was up to Christian men—strong, militant men—to fight this “holy war.” For Falwell Sr., Jesus himself took the form of a holy warrior: far from the effeminate, delicate man depicted in images sporting “long hair and flowing robes,” the Reverend Falwell’s Jesus “was a man with muscles…Christ was a he-man!”

Other evangelicals, too, joined Falwell Sr. in propping up a rugged masculine ideal. James Dobson, the father of family-values evangelicalism, emphasized the role of testosterone as part of God’s blueprint for manhood. Testosterone made men aggressive, but it also made them heroes, protectors of women and children, church and nation. Christian sex manuals made clear that a man’s God-given testosterone had sexual side-effects, too. God filled men with sexual desire but gave them little capacity for restraint. It was instead up to godly women to ensure virtue by dressing and behaving modestly around men who were not their husbands, and by fulfilling every sexual need of the men who were.

In 1973 in her book The Total Woman, Marabel Morgan instructed women on how best to do so. She urged housewives to keep up their “curb appeal,” to “look and smell delicious,” to be “feminine, soft, and touchable”—at least if they wanted husbands to come home to them and not take up with their secretaries. To keep a husband’s interest, Morgan was a strong believer in the power of costumes in the bedroom (or kitchen, living room, or backyard hammock,” so that when a husband opened the front door each night it was like “opening a surprise package.” A woman was to love her husband “unconditionally,” which meant making herself sexually available to him. Her book advised women not only on how to be submissive sex partners, but also “sizzling” lovers. It would eventually sell more than ten million copies.

The motif of a man’s sexual desire and a woman’s obligation to meet that desire runs through conservative white evangelicalism, from the 1970s to the present. In the early 2000s, as the 9/11 terror attacks reinvigorated calls for militant Christian manhood, conservative evangelicals embraced this equation with renewed vigor. According to Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, women performing oral sex on their husbands was a biblical mandate; if they thought they were “being dirty,” chances are they were pleasing their husbands. The otherwise inexplicable “smokin’ hot wife” phenomenon that swept the world of conservative evangelicalism is part of this same impulse.

When men stepped out of line—when they were unfaithful to their wives, when they abused women or even young girls, when they engaged in same-sex affairs, it was often the wife who bore the blame for failing to meet her husband’s sexual needs. The perpetrator, meanwhile, was awarded with forgiveness.

Given this history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that white evangelicals had little difficulty dismissing allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump in 2016. Nor should Falwell Jr.’s ardent support for the president be in any way puzzling. Already in 2012, Falwell had invited Trump to Liberty University. When the visit stirred some controversy after Trump told students they should “get even” with those who wronged them in business, Falwell jumped to Trump’s defense. This posture was fully compatible with Christian teaching in that it was representative “of the ‘tough’ side” of Christianity.

That this toughness went hand-in-hand with crassness was understood. The same testosterone that made men aggressive also made men heroes. Boys would be boys.

This isn’t Falwell’s first attempt to depict himself in terms of a virile masculinity, of sorts. Scrolling through his Instagram one finds videos of Falwell pumping iron, an image of him carrying Liberty University cheerleaders on his shoulders, and enough shirtless photos to make even someone like Putin jealous.

The fact that Falwell has been able to maintain this posture for so long suggests that his behavior doesn’t ultimately entail the betrayal of family values evangelicalism, but rather that crassness, masculine sexual prowess, and abuse of power can be found at the very heart of conservative white evangelicalism.

*Correction, of sorts: As Napp Nazworth helpfully pointed out to me on Twitter, Falwell Jr. did not actually deny that he had been at the nightclub, simply that there was evidence of him being at the nightclub.

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2 public comments
19 hours ago
> Are youngish white pastors legally obligated to refer to their spouse as “my smoking hot wife” or did they just make some kind of blood pact in an Abercrombie store in 2003
Bend, Oregon
20 hours ago
“Given this history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that white evangelicals had little difficulty dismissing allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump in 2016. Nor should Falwell Jr.’s ardent support for the president be in any way puzzling.”
Washington, DC

DC Government Halts Plans for Adams Morgan Pedestrian Zone Due to Health and Safety Concerns

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18th Street in Adams Morgan. Photograph by Tim Brown/iStock.

Over a month ago, a new vision for 18th Street in Adams Morgan was tested out. The DC roadway was largely shut down to vehicle traffic for a full weekend, becoming a huge neighborhood “streatery” and gathering place where restaurants, bars, and retail businesses could serve customers outdoors. But since the weekend of June 26, the movement to #Open18th has indefinitely stalled—even as the city plans for similar street closures elsewhere. Now, Adams Morgan organizers, businesses, and supporters are calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office for answers and a new way forward. 

In an email shared with Washingtonian, Lamont Akins, Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, says that “due to health and safety issues, 18th St NW in Adams Morgan will no longer have a full street closure during the District’s public health emergency.” Individually approved “parklets” (outdoor commercial spaces that extend into the sidewalk and street) are still permitted. Still, longtime supporters of an Adams Morgan pedestrian zone—a vision for a European-style promenade that predates Covid—say they’re hoping for more specific answers so they can provide solutions. 

Several of the co-founders of the [AMCDC] have heard speculation that there is a lack of faith in Adams Morgan to organize and manage #open18th, or a related lack of commitment by certain members of the community,” says Matt Wexler, co-founder of the Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition (AMCDC) and a partner in the Line DC hotel. “As a responsible and responsive community partner, we just want to know what the ‘health and safety’ issues are so that we can address them in order to allow the 18th Street pedestrian zone to return immediately.”

Washingtonian reached out to Lamont and others in the Mayor’s office repeatedly for comment.

The pilot weekend for #open18th wasn’t without problems. Photos of crowding and people visiting without masks were shared on social media. Wexler says AMCDC committed funding to staff the pedestrian zone to help with crowd control and submitted additional distancing plans. Longtime Adams Morgan BID chair Constantine Stavropoulos says they’re also working with WMATA on an alternate bus route. 

“We came up with great signage for masks,” says Stavropoulos, referencing a popular neighborhood campaign that encourages people to cover up because Ruth Bader Ginsburg “works less than 5 miles from here.”

“We got sanitation stations, we had tents, we had volunteers. This is a partnership and we stepped up our part. We’re just waiting on them [the mayor’s office],” Stavropoulos says. 

Steateries have proven popular in the pandemic as patrons feel more comfortable eating, drinking, shopping, and even getting salon services outdoors. Currently there are two streateries in Dupont Circle and a large one in downtown Bethesda. Georgetown, home to several parklets, is also working on streatery closures, according to the Georgetown BID. Come September, a pedestrian zone is also slated for 7th Street in Downtown DC.

Wexler says AMCDC polled a wide swath of businesses after the pilot weekend. He says on average, owners reported that patronage tripled or quadrupled when the pedestrian zone was in place. Since then, businesses—especially those with minimal outdoor space—are worried about their future in the once-bustling restaurant and nightlife district.

“Overall what I find is the people in the neighborhood are depressed— business owners and customers,” says Arianne Bennett, who’s operated Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams Morgan for 16 years. She recently shuttered her newer 14th Street location and has diversified the falafel shop’s offerings—everything from groceries to boozy slushies—in an attempt to stay afloat. “The pedestrian zone gives people a sense of normalcy and a chance to step back and feel comfortable. The last thing anyone wants is any kind of danger so doing it in the right way is important, but doing it is necessary. It’s an immediate need because winter is coming.”

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23 hours ago
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1 day ago
This really highlights how hard it is to get governments to think about people instead of cars. This was crowded because it was literally the only open place in town. They’re shutting it down due to high demand.
Washington, DC
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