By Kathleen Maher
Many of us have seen the movie Lincoln, and some of us may have even rooted for Daniel Day Lewis to win the Oscar for his portrayal of history’s favorite president. The timing of this movie is interesting, as is the White House’s presentation of the award for Movie of the Year, presumably in case Spielberg’s biopic won. Coincidence? Perhaps. And why might that be?
I’m glad you asked. If desperate times call for desperate measures, then the orchestrators of controversial measures are less likely to be questioned if the attention of the people is diverted. Parties are a perfectly suitable distraction, and Mary Todd Lincoln sure knew how to throw a soiree. She is the first of the presidents’ wives to go all out decorating and entertaining in the White House. She recognized and capitalized on the power of social networking to advance her husband’s agendas long before there was a twitter to tweet or a facebook to read.
Controversial measures are not new in the presidency. Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeus Corpus under the threat of Confederate spying. That means he could detain anyone he felt was a threat to national security with absolutely no body of evidence. Sound familiar? It should. Under the current president, drones and a national security force have been declared a viable option against US citizens deemed a threat—with no evidence necessary. And then there are the expansions of executive power.
Like our current president, Lincoln was a master at stretching the constitution, such as in declaring the first draft.
My new novella, Bachelor Buttons is a look at what happened in New York City when Lincoln’s Conscription Act was enforced. In some ways, the New York City draft riots are reminiscent of the Occupy Wall street movement. Targeting wealthy republican presses and business owners, thousands of Irish immigrants took to the streets to protest the draft in July 1863. Class warfare, racial prejudice and employment were central issues then, as they are now among the 99%. An element of Tea Party disgruntlement with government thrown in, the Irish felt that the expansion of government and cronyism tainted this unfair legislation, favoring those who could buy their way out of the draft, and exempting freed blacks who were not yet citizens. The struggling Irish felt targeted, new to the country and competing for the most basic jobs with the freedmen.
Exceeding the anarchy of Occupiers and the rhetoric of Tea Partiers, the Civil War draft protest turned violent. Hundreds were killed, mainly peaceful blacks. Dozens of buildings were destroyed, including a black orphanage. The Irish community had much to account for. But there were also instances of heroism, such as an Irish firefighter who fought for hours to save the orphanage, and other Irish who defended black neighbors and friends. Bachelor Buttons is based on these heroes, with some of my family history thrown in.
I am offering a copy of Bachelor Buttons, plus some Irish and Civil War goodies to one lucky commenter. Follow Tina’s blog, and my blog http://kathleenlmaher.blogspot.com for extra entries. Winner selected Wednesday the 22nd. Good luck!
You can purchase the novella at Amazon