In 2009 people throughout the world will mark the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America. The story of his life and its tragic end is a familiar one, but perhaps not so well known are his connections with the United Kingdom.
Lincoln in the United Kingdom
Although he himself never visited the United Kingdom, there are a number of Abraham Lincoln associations with the country, the most significant being the service of his son Robert Todd Lincoln as Minister to the Court of St. James’s between 1889 and 1893.
Robert Todd Lincoln
Robert Lincoln’s nomination to the position was something of a surprise but on March 29, 1889 the Washington Post’s London correspondent wrote: “Mr. Lincoln’s appointment to the English Mission is universally approved here, where he is known better as the son of Abraham Lincoln than for any individual merit.”
At the time of his arrival the American Legation was located at 123 Victoria Street in what were later described as “small dingy offices.” In fact conditions were so cramped and staff so overworked that Lincoln cabled Washington to register his reluctance to provide support to a visiting delegation promoting the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Among the international issues exercising American diplomats in London in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s were the possible U.S. annexation of Hawaii and the Anglo-Venezuelan boundary dispute. During the latter Secretary of State Blaine cabled Lincoln instructing him to: “… use his good offices with Lord Salisbury to bring about a resumption of diplomatic intercourse between Great Britain and Venezuela …”
While in London the Lincoln family experienced another tragedy – Robert Lincoln’s teenage son Abraham (Jack) Lincoln died on March 5, 1890. After being kept for six months in the catacombs at Kensal Green Cemetery, the boy’s body was returned to the United States to be interred in the Lincoln Tomb.
Following Grover Cleveland’s election victory and subsequent inauguration Robert Lincoln presented his recall and departed Britain May 6, 1893.
Lincoln’s famous speech, the Gettysburg Address was delivered on 19 November 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In his brief remarks, Lincoln noted that the Founding Fathers conceived of the United States as a place of liberty where “all men are created equal.” The lives of the men who died at Gettysburg could be hallowed only if the nation lived up to the proposition that all of its people, regardless of race, were in fact equal, he said. And Lincoln stated his resolve “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the American Embassy presents Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret) reading the Gettysburg Address at the reopening ceremony of the National Museum of American History on 21 November 2008.
Lincoln and Obama
On February 12, President Obama visited Springfield, Illinois, to commemorate the 200th birthday of another skinny lawyer from Illinois who seemingly came out of nowhere to capture the American presidency. Abraham Lincoln, probably our greatest president, led the U.S. at another time of crisis, when our Civil War threatened the very existence of the American nation-state. Read more…. .
What Do President Obama and President Lincoln Have In Common?
Assistant Cultural Attache Mark Lanning discusses the similarities between President Barack Obama and President Abraham Lincoln:
Memorials in the UK
The admiration, respect and warmth that British citizens felt for President Abraham Lincoln can be seen in tangible form in a number of locations.
Of particular note is the bronze statue of the President by sculptor George Gray Barnard which can now be found in Lincoln Square, Brazenose Street, Manchester. Most of the lengthy inscription on the new (1986) pedestal is a tribute to the special relationship forged between Lincoln and the local population during the Civil War and the associated Lancashire Cotton Famine.
Part of the inscription reads: This statue commemorates the support that the working people of Manchester gave in their fight for the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War. By supporting the union under President Lincoln at a time when there was an economic blockade of the southern states the Lancashire cotton workers were denied access to raw cotton which caused considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry. Extracts of President Lincoln’s letter to the working people of Manchester thanking them for their help are reproduced around this plinth.” Lincoln’s letter finished with the stirring sentiment: “…whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists between two nations will be as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.”
A large statue of President Lincoln is also located in the square in front of Middlesex Guildhall across from Parliament. Erected in 1920, it is a replica of the famous statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Lincoln Park, Chicago.
Genealogists have traced President Lincoln’s roots to the village of Hingham, Norfolk, where, in 1919, U.S. Ambassador John W. Davis unveiled a Lincoln bronze bust in the parish church of St. Andrew. The President’s Norfolk ancestor, Samuel Lincoln, was one of the colony’s early settlers, having arrived in Massachusetts in the mid-1630’s.
Memorials in the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy in London is fortunate enough to possess what is believed to be the original working model of Daniel Chester French’s famous sculpture of Abraham Lincoln located in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial.
The model was donated to Ambassador John Hay Whitney in 1961 and is currently on display in the Embassy lobby next to portraits of the President and his son Robert Todd Lincoln.
(U.S. Embassy photo)
In 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in Washington in a ceremony attended by President Warren G. Harding, Chief Justice William Howard Taft and lawyer Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd.
On 30 May 2009 the Memorial was rededicated by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
More information about the Lincoln Memorial is available on the website of the National Park Service.