Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Father of all irony? The other land of Lincoln

It was 150 years ago this morning that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton announced the death of President Abraham Lincoln, saying either "Now he belongs to the ages" or "Now he belongs to the angels." It would be a few days before that terrible news in Washington would reach Stoneman's cavalry in western North Carolina. In the meantime, if the troops stationed in Lincolnton heard anything about Lincoln, it was more likely to be scuttlebutt about the circumstances of his birth.

Lincoln's roots in Bostic, N.C.
     There were six counties named Lincoln in the 11 states of the Confederacy. Obviously, none of them were named for the President. Instead, they honored a Revolutionary War general, Benjamin Lincoln, who was not related to Abraham Lincoln, as far as we know.
     Benjamin Lincoln never came within a hundred miles of Lincoln County, N.C., where Stoneman's 1st Brigade was based April 16-21, 1865. On the other hand, there is some reason to believe that Abraham Lincoln was born just 40 miles west of Lincolnton in Rutherford County, N.C.
     The little town of Bostic, N.C., is home to the Bostic Lincoln Center, which has become the clearinghouse for facts, assertions, traditions, and hunches that Lincoln's roots are here in the foothills of the South Mountainsnot in a Kentucky cabin as you learned in U.S. History.
     Historians are skeptical, but I think the folks in Bostic have a sound argument. Here's the essence of it from their website.
Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks was "bound out" into the care of the Abraham Enlow family, who lived in Rutherford County before moving to Oconoluftee near Cherokee, North Carolina.  She was a member of the Concord Baptist Church near Bostic prior to and after the birth of the baby, that she named Abraham. She left the area with "Little Abe" and married Tom Lincoln in Kentucky, where Jesse Head, the minister who performed the ceremony, wrote of the young boy's presence.
     Honest Abe said he was born in Kentucky, but it would be understandable if he or his parents contrived that fact for the sake of his future. His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died suddenly when he was nine, so it seems unlikely that he would have ever discussed his roots with her. He considered her a saint: "All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother," he once said.
     On the other hand, Abe had an antagonistic relationship with his father. Tom Lincoln was not invited to Abe's 1842 wedding and never met his grandchildren. Abe snubbed Tom's funeral in 1851. Their feud has never been explained, as far as I know, but if Abe knew that Tom was not his real father (or if Tom threatened to disclose a family secret about Abe's late mother), that would fit the Bostic narrative.
John C. Calhoun about age 40
(Portrait by Charles Bird King)

     If Bostic is right, and Tom Lincoln was Abe's stepfather, then who was Abraham Lincoln's biological father?
     Some evidence points to Abraham Enlow, also spelled Abram Enloe (ca. 1770-1840), who was a farmer near Bostic when Lincoln was born.
     Others have speculated that it might have been John C. Calhoun (1782-1850). When Calhoun was a young bachelor, he did have a relationship with a South Carolina woman named Nancy Hanks, but DNA tests in 2015 indicate that the president's mother was a different Nancy Hanks from Virginia.
     If only it was true ... 
     In the 1830s and 1840s, Calhoun was the chief advocate of the nullification doctrine, which held that individual states had the sovereignty to nullify federal law they found unconstitutional. Through this, Calhoun became known as the father of the secession movement, though he died 11 years before the southern states actually practiced what he preached. 
     Wouldn't it have been ironic if the father of secession was also the father of the president who defeated secession? That would add a whole new dimension to the Civil War phrase, "brother against brother."
     Through his son-in-law Thomas Clemson, John C. Calhoun was also the grandfather of Clemson University. That would have made Abe Lincoln the brother-in-law of Tom Clemson. By extension, Lincoln would be "Uncle Abe" to the Clemson Tigers. (Not to mention: Mr. Clemson would be "Uncle Tom" to Abe's kids.)
     And wouldn't all you historical revisionists rather see Lincoln's name on Tillman Hall?

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