Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents Day: A reflection on how far we've come

A federal holiday, most folks are likely enjoying their day off. Across the country, people are taking in the sun, catching up on projects around the house, or firing up the barbeques in anticipation of a wonderful meal with friends and family.

This being the weekend Oregonians celebrate 150 years of statehood, I thought it fitting to take a look back at what was going on in 1859. My search took me to an interesting website which gives deep insight into the thoughts of the day.

But let's start with a review.

In 1859, the steamroller is invented, the first oil well is drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, the Baseball Club of Washington, D.C. is organized. It is also the year Oregon officially enters the union.

In literature, Charles Darwin publishes "On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection", and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, English poet A.E. Houseman, and Nobel prize-winning French physicist Pierre Curie are born.
In early 1859, James Buchanan was president, but by November of that year, Abraham Lincoln would run (and win) the presidency.

The Rosenbach Museum has collected and scanned a number of letters and speeches by President Lincoln, and a number of other notable persons from America's history including Declaration of Independence signer, Robert Morris and President George Washington, at their "Manuscripts Online" site.

The unveiling of the President Lincoln online manuscripts coincided with President's Day and Lincoln's birthday observances.

Actual scans of legal cases, and correspondence from Presidents Lincoln and Washington are included on the site. You can browse through a 1766 hand-drawn sketch of plans for Washington's proposed farm at Little Hunting Creek, or a letter written by Lincoln to a carpet supplier asking them to match the color and type of carpet to a swatch he sent earlier.

But its not all housekeeping and internal notes. Included in the collection are Lincoln's correspondence to various members of Congress regarding the Civil War, and the original manuscript of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The documents give a keen insight to not just the vernacular of the time period, but also the pressing issues of the day. Given that the images contained in the site are scans of the actual historical documents, side notes, corrections, and illustrations which are included in the files also give insight to the authors' mindset at the time of the documents' creation--something that cannot be gleaned from reading passages in a history book.

The site's authors plan to add more scans of other historical figures over time.

To see the entire Rosenbach Museum & Library "Manuscripts Online" site, which features presidential manuscripts and writings, go to

To see the complete manuscript, and to visit the Abraham Lincoln web project, visit:, which includes photos of President Lincoln, and other historical documents from other notables of his time.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Emerging Digital Media Manager, Oregon Military Department

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