Lincoln and Tad Statue Controversy

After reading Gary Gallagher’s book, I grew more curious about the Lincoln statue controversy. Gary Gallagher details in Causes Won, Lost & Forgotten how many southerners rose up in opposition to a statue depicting Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad in Richmond, Virginia – the former capital of the Confederacy. Supporters of the statue argued that including it at Richmond was a: “historical symbol of unity and reconciliation.”[1] The Sons of Confederate Veterans considered the statue to be “a slap in the face of a lot of brave men and women who went through four years of unbelievable hell fighting an invasion led by President Lincoln.”[2] Protestors of the Lincoln statue held up signs depicting Lincoln on a wanted poster and others comparing Lincoln to Hitler, Bin Laden, and other war criminals.[3] There was even a small plane with a banner with Sic Semper Tyrannis written on it. John Wilkes Booth uttered these words shortly after fatally shooting Lincoln.[4]

Abraham Lincoln has long been considered a divisive figure to southerners. When Lincoln traveled to Richmond, the city was still aflame from the Union capture and hostile Confederates were still nearby as Lincoln and his 12 year old son toured the city.[5]

In opposition to the statue, the Sons of Confederate Veterans would also sponsor a symposium where scholars critical of Lincoln were invited to discuss their negative views of him. [6] It is difficult to believe that Lincoln is still treated with such animosity nearly 150 years after his death. There have always been claims that when Lincoln was assassinated Southerners remarked that his death was the “Worst thing for the South” and this is echoed in Gallagher where he states that Lincoln desired an easy transition for the South in returning to the Union.[7] I was under this belief. That Lincoln’s death was met with great sadness in the North as well as the South. Is the hatred that the SCV has shown towards Lincoln misdirected? Further, is the SCV so fanatic that they will lash out publicly against anything representing Non-Confederates? What can we learn from this controversy and as teachers should we lend credence to Southern sympathies?


[1] Gary W. Gallagher. Causes Won, Lost, & Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 209.

[2] Gallagher, 211.

[3] Gallagher, 212.

[4] Gallagher, 212.

[5] Frank James “Lincoln Statue Fuels Controversy”. The Baltimore Sun, March 13, 2003. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2003-03-13/news/0303130338_1_lincoln-statue-president-abraham-lincoln-richmond [Accessed July 4, 2012].

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gallagher, 212.

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10 comments
  1. elewis417 said:

    I think that every president is the object of critique. No one person can bear the responsibilities the nation demands. It’s always easier to blame someone with more power than to turn the lens and look at where someone’s individual responsibility lies. Even as teachers, when we are unhappy, we blame the administration, or the lawmakers. We don’t normally look at the role we played in generating the problem and possible solutions that we could have implemented sooner. Even in our homes, when we are unhappy, we look for someone else to blame…”well if my mother hadn’t…” etc. I believe the SCV is in the same boat. They are unhappy and instead of looking for their role in the conflict, they shift blame to someone else. The statue is a clear attempt at reconciliation. Unfortunately, the SCV isn’t ready to deal with it. I think the SCV is acting out because they didn’t get their way. It’s unfortunate that a group committed to the Civil War isn’t willing to look at the conflict from different perspectives.

    • charlesanselmo said:

      I agree that every president is the object of critique. However, I think that there is a way to critique a president and be respectful and then there are hateful attacks that do not further the discussion. The actions of the SCV fall to the latter category for me. By labeling Lincoln as Hitler, Bin Laden, and praising Booth they remind me of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church that picket funerals and other events for publicity to their cause.

  2. chrisrivera1985 said:

    Lincoln is a tough nut to crack for me. I have never liked his suspension of habeas corpus, I think it set a dangerous precedent especially in Ulysses S. Grant and George W. Bush that followed in his footsteps. But at the same time I think Lincoln best defined Jeffersonianism, the philosophy that I think should dominate how we move forward as a nation and heal as a nation from things like the Civil War. Lincoln was very concerned with our posterity, something that a true Jeffersonian embodies and the statue to me clearly states that. I’m shocked but not surprised at reaction of the SCV. One of the problems I have is with the word reconciliation. Cox used it a lot in her book and a few other historians did too. The thing is, the SCV and UDC claim that reconciliation is one of their goals but instances like the one you mention make me cringe. I think true reconciliation is to create a better future for our posterity by objectively studying the Civil War. The statue echoes what Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

    • charlesanselmo said:

      I agree that suspending habeas corpus makes Lincoln difficult to understand. Gallagher quotes Lincoln as desiring a peaceful resolution to the Civil War (212). This does reflect a belief in moving forward as a nation and healing. I agree about the multiple meanings to the word reconciliation. Reconciliation, in regards to this article, is meant as a sign of goodwill as opposed to the sinister reconciliation that we read about in Cox.

  3. bktitus17 said:

    It’s ironic for me that Southerners, particularly the SCV, are so quick to defend the Constitution and the rights embodied in it, yet want to criticize and fight against things that they do not believe in. Isn’t it anyone’s freedom to put up a monument where they see fit? Furthermore, I think it is somewhat hypocritical for the SCV to fly banners and what not that repeat the words uttered by the man who shot Lincoln. Whether or not they agree with what Lincoln did and how he did it, by showing that support for the Booth, they are teaching a younger generation that it is okay to shoot someone or fight against someone who just merely disagrees with your views. Granted this is what the Southern extremist groups do best, I still don’t think it is right. To answer your question, I don’t think as teachers we should show respect for southern sympathies because the SCV and other heritage groups refuse to give that same respect to African Americans as well as northern supporters, such as the individuals who built the statue of Lincoln and his son.

    • charlesanselmo said:

      I agree Britney. As teachers I do not believe that the southern sympathies represented by the SCV and other heritage groups should given credence. These groups have motives behind everything they do (as evidenced by their embrace of the Black Confederate myth). Any “history” put forth by such groups should be taken with a grain of salt.

  4. jadams08 said:

    This definitely goes to show the Lost Cause is still alive today. If groups like the SCV are still in protest over a statue or even the name Abraham Lincoln, then how far have we come from the Civil War? Clearly, Lincoln and his son represent Northern ideals and Southerners do not want to be reminded of the man who brought the end of their world down. They should think then how Northerns feel about all the monuments erected for Southern leaders and how the opposite side feels about them?

  5. Excellent question regarding “should there be credence to Southern sympathies?” I guess if I was a white southerner with deep Confederate roots I probably would be one those protestors at the Abraham and Tad statue in Richmond, Virginia, as well. After all, it is apparent that the Lost Cause memory is deeply ingrained for many southerners and, how could we “non-Confederates” minimize their ideology? However, on the flipside, others would argue that the South should basically, “get over it already.” This attitude would probably prevail when Confederate topics like white supremacy or the KKK come up. Truth be told, how can the notion that “the KKK was formed to primarily protect their women and children” or the idea that “slavery was a form of Christian ‘missionary work’” on behave of slaveholders? For this reason, and as a South westerner, I find some of the Confederate ideology a little too far fetched. Nevertheless, as someone in class mentioned there are those radical Confederates that are considered extremists, but I must add that extreme radicals can come in all colors.

    • 10ectim said:

      Good topic Charles! Lincoln is quite a enigma for the South. During the war, most southerners blamed Lincoln for the war. It was his election that led to the first states to succeed. Then it was Lincoln who called for thousands of volunteers to defend the Union and force those states to return. Later in the war, most southerners believed that in Lincoln were not re-elected then the South would be allowed to go its own way. They were probably right. Lincoln drove the northern war effort in his dedication to preserving the Union which he saw as the president’s greatest responsibility and duty. However, as a teacher, I have stated that the worst shot fired in the Civil War hit Lincoln just behind his ear. Lincoln’s guidance after the war may have been extremely important. Over the years there has become a reluctant admiration for Lincoln. Maybe due to the reconciliation movement and the Lost Cause’s focus on valor and determination. Lincoln fit that mold of courageously and defiantly standing up for “the cause.”

  6. Kristen Epps said:

    I know I said this in class, but you can follow this statue on Twitter at @lincolnstatue. It is clearly intended as reconciliation in my mind, since it depicts a peaceful moment between father and son (not something more controversial like him signing the EP) and the quote is another dead giveaway.

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