Paradoxically, perhaps, the figure who ascended into the American pantheon for preserving the Union and abolishing slavery appeared to celebrate most highly the slave-owning author of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. In a letter written in 1859, Abraham Lincoln had observed that “the principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society” and offered this salute: “All honor to Jefferson.” Yet Lincoln’s colleague and biographer William H. Herndon wrote, “Mr. Lincoln hated Thomas Jefferson as a man” and as “a politician.” If Herndon’s account is accurate, perhaps an explanation for his apparent contradiction can be found in Lincoln’s determination to place slavery on the road to extinction – and to do so with the very means provided by Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, in which he found a potent weapon with which to shame Stephen Douglas and the Democrats. Lincoln held that the self-evidence truths of the Declaration were universal truths, transcending state or national boundaries, applicable to all men at all times in all places and, by this reading, found in the document a formidable obstacle to the institution of slavery.
Lincoln also believed the Declaration promoted “the critical Whig demand for economic expansion,” as Allen C. Guelzo has put it. Lincoln envisioned an America where no obstacles deterred “the paths of laudable pursuit for all” and held the betterment of one’s economic condition lay at the foundation of equality: “It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.” In finding such policy within the Declaration, Lincoln adopted and endorsed Hamilton’s vision of a dynamic, economically mobile society: oddly, however, and even though it stood in stark contrast to the static, agrarian nation envisioned by Jefferson, he attributed this vision to Jefferson.
Stephen Knott, Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth
Sounds to me like Lincoln was a Jeffersonian on the streets, and a Hamiltonian in the sheets.
"Indeed, my dear Betsey, you do not write me often enough. I ought at least to hear from you by every post, and your last letter is as old as the middle of September. I have written you twice since my return from Hartford. You will laugh at me for consulting you about such a trifle, but I want to know whether you would prefer my receiving the nuptial benediction in my uniform or in a different habit. It will be just as you please, so consult your whim and what you think most consistent with propriety."
Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, Oct. 5th, 1780.
"Betsey, what should I wear??"
I found out the coolest thing today. George Washington Custis, the adoptive grandson of George Washington built Arlington House as a memorial to his grandfather. Which you can guess the location of. But not only that his daughter Mary married Robert E. Lee. Yes, that Robert E. Lee. When the United States refused to accept Mary’s (who had moved from the house by this time) property tax payments. They confiscated the house and sold it at auction. The United States was the highest bidder. And so Montgomery Meigs in charge of the burial of the dead used the land as a pauper’s field.
Yup! And Meigs (who had a son who died in the war) was quite happy to make Lee’s house uninhabitable. He made sure they started digging graves right in front of Arlington House’s front door, and then started on Mary Lee’s flower garden. He actually had his son’s and his father’s bodies removed from different cemeteries so he could put them in Arlington with a giant tombstone and a statue.
Oh my gosh really? That’s neat! But I thought Mrs.Lee’s roses are still growing at Arlington? Being a huge property though I bet she had many gardens. What you said is really cool though! Do you know any more information on it? I’m keen to learn.
I went looking for more information on this and apparently he stopped short of actually tearing up any of the plants. He just put graves all around the edges of the garden, including a giant pit for a mass grave of unidentified soldiers. Arlington’s website has a really cool map here and you can see it just below the house. The-fisher-queen is the one who first told me about Meigs. She might have more to add.