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The Good, the Standard and the Ugly: Abraham Lincoln

Jonathan Schofield and an Oscar inspiring US President in Manchester

Written by . Published on February 27th 2013.

The Good, the Standard and the Ugly: Abraham Lincoln

Category of good, standard or ugly? Beyond good, excellent.

Wonder why you’ve chosen this?
We had to, didn't we? Daniel Day Lewis's Oscar winning performance as Lincoln in the Spielberg movie of the same name has thrust the assassinated American hero back into the limelight. The Manchester statue of former US President Abraham Lincoln, dramatically depicts the man who freed African-Americans so that one day (20 Jan 2009, to be exact) an African-American, Barack Obama, could become President. Of course, we should remember that civil rights were denied in certain states to black people for another century after Lincoln emancipated US slaves - more of this later.

Why is Lincoln in Manchester?
Because we supported Abraham Lincoln's side, the Union, in the American Civil War of the 1860s. As John A. Stewart of the Sulgrave Institution and the Anglo-American Committee who donated the statue said, “The sentiment of London was quite against the Northern States, but Lincoln found in Manchester warm friends and sympathizers. It is owing not a little to the way in which the English cotton spinners stood by us which enabled us to preserve the Union and bring the war to a successful conclusion. For this reason we are very grateful.” It wasn’t just London which was a reluctant supporter of Lincoln’s Union either, Liverpool, for instance, with their nasty slave-trading traditions had encouraged a Confederate consulate to open during the war. But then Manchester’s always been pretty good that way.

What do you mean?
We were the first British town to petition Parliament to abolish the slave trade in 1788. We also had an active anti-slavery committee that continued to meet even after slavery was banned in the British Empire. Important meetings with black speakers as guests were held in the 1850s for instance. Part of an abolitionist speech from a Free Trade Hall meeting is included on the plinth of the Lincoln statue In Manchester.

The real LincolnThe real Lincoln

Who was the sculptor?
That was US artist George Grey Barnard. The work was finished in 1916 and erected in Manchester, originally in Platt Fields Park, in 1919. Barnard wanted to make his sculpture reflect the character of the man more than previous work, which he thought predictable and lifeless. So he did his research and came up with a serious Lincoln, not too concerned about his appearance, a man of work and purpose. He also came up with a beardless Lincoln - this is a mystery - Lincoln's face on the work is old when he always had a beard. Statues of Lincoln without a beard are rare and depict him as a younger man. What symbolism was Barnard intending here?

Is the statue a success?

Yes and then some. Barnard’s Lincoln, with his uncombed hair and semi-scowl, proved critically popular, but popularly unpopular, if you follow. The statue which had been intended for London, to stand outside Parliament, caused a minor panic and a ‘prettier’ but lesser work was chosen for the capital. That was the stage at which the Sulgrave Institution and the Anglo-American Committee stepped in and took over. Manchester, unlike other places, liked the piece though. The Manchester Guardian writing at the time said that the face had ‘something fitted to touch the spirit of the children of future generations like the great stone face of another American imagining.’

'American imagining' nice phrase. Was Lincoln perhaps more celebrated because of his early death due to assassination?

Doubtless, early martyrdom always does that. But he was a great figure, and his murder just a few weeks after the American Civil War which destroyed slavery was a tragedy for the States. This was explained by Hugh Brogan in still the best general history of the USA I've ever read, 'The Penguin History of the United States of America'. Read this quote, it's important.

'Nothing could repair the loss. It was not just that Lincoln was a good and great man. His talents had seldom been needed more. The problems of peace would have perplexed even him; his successor was to make them much worse. With Lincoln died the remote chance of a good peace. (The assassin) Booth condemned the South to generations of squalid backwardness and the races in America to a long and unhappy struggle which is not over yet. Some such outcome might well have occurred even if Lincoln had lived; he never pretended to be a miracle-worker; but his prestige, his wisdom, his political guile, would surely have shortened America's racial agony and mitigated its intensity.'

Daniel Day Lewis's LincolnDaniel Day Lewis's Lincoln

Wow. Anything else?
Yes, let's talk about the remarkable nature of the support Manchester and Lancashire gave the Union when the American Civil War was killing them. And it was the Union's fault. They had blockaded the cotton grown in the slave states from coming to Britain. Factories, without the raw material, closed, and with them went the work. There was no welfare state, people starved. Eventually an equally remarkable relief programme alleviated the situation. Yet for the most part the cotton-producing areas of the county remained solidly behind what they saw as a war against slavery. As an aside many North West landmarks were built during this time expressly to give work to the unemployed; Bolton Town Hall is an example. Two last points.

Go on

This was a moment of idiocy. When the statue was moved here from Platt Fields park in the 1980s Manchester council changed Lincoln’s words. On the letter reproduced on the plinth he’d addressed his missive to ‘the working men of Lancashire’. The goons at the Town Hall changed that to ‘the working people of Lancashire’. Thus at a careless stroke they re-wrote history and put words in the great man’s mouth – the fools. The big message which was all about the fight – a continuing one - against slavery was lost and the newspapers went off on one about political correctness.

And the final point?

It's a shame that Manchester and the marketing agencies of Manchester didn't try to mark the links between here and the president in some way following the success of the Spielberg film and it's Oscar endorsement. Perhaps that was a missed opportunity to promote the Manchester brand as the marketeers say.. 

Lincoln in ManchesterLincoln in Manchester

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

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26 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

SteJanuary 21st 2009.

An amazing story. The fact that our support of the Union during this period actually hurt us gives reason to be incredibly proud of the people of Lancashire. A rare demonstration of unbelievable principle?

Jimmy MacJanuary 21st 2009.

I'm ashamed to say I was unaware of this statue, brilliant article Johnathan. I must doff my cap to the great man when next in Town...

Michael WestJanuary 21st 2009.

Very Cool Schofield - There is a great outline of the support the US gave to Manchester (and Oldham, Stockport and Rochdale etc) workers during the American civil war at

esquiloJanuary 21st 2009.

Sorry! Meant to say "Great Picture"

Burt CodeineJanuary 21st 2009.

As with the 'Friends of Castlefield' movement, might we start a campaign to have Lincoln Square made into a proper square (see also 'but where is this square you talk of' St Peter's and Stevenson squares. It somehow works in the Christmas markets, but only then. Interesting article - thanks.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Manc GuyFebruary 27th 2013.

I agree. The scores of smokers from the call centre next door and the big issue sellers need a place they can be proud of!

Calum McGMarch 5th 2013.

Burt, I don't have time to join a campaign as I have enough on in Castlefield, but something ought to be done - Lincoln Square is a very sad, wasted space.

esquiloJanuary 21st 2009.

ps: Gre

esquiloJanuary 21st 2009.

I like this statue a great deal, though its setting in Lincoln "Square" (ahem) is pretty unprepossessing along with the Diana Memorial Litter Trap. I can't begin to say how very disappointed I am to read that - after years of quoting that the statue came to Manchester because of northern solidarity from the spinners and mill workers with the Union and Anti-Slavery side - that, in fact, we got it because London didn't want it. La plus ca change.

Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 21st 2009.

Random person, I was sticking in the extra paragraph for Warmers, so deleted your entry when I put the story back live. Sorry.

warmersJanuary 21st 2009.

I am incredibly honoured that you have changed this story for us Lancashire folk - I am sure you could get Jane Horrocks to write a little on this as some of her family died !Good old Manchester Confidential, you never let us down..... well except when I enter all of those competitions !

warmersJanuary 21st 2009.

Ummmm, OK article but you forget to mention all the people in Lancashire who died of starvation during the Cotton Famine whilst supporting Lincoln. This is truely a great statue and symbol for the people of Lancashire and Manchester and should be made more prominent

Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 21st 2009.

Warmers, I'll stick it in now. I was worried about space, but there's a line or two that can be squeezed. Thanks for giving me a nudge.

Barack ObamaJanuary 21st 2009.

I'm going to be better than him

Manc GuyFebruary 27th 2013.

"The goons at the Town Hall changed that to ‘the working people of Lancashire’. Thus at a careless stroke they re-wrote history and put words in the great man’s mouth – the fools."

Love it! I worked in the town hall years ago, and they were so P.C. even back then, my [mainly female] colleagues and I would make sure the office door was closed in case someone overheard the blue humour and banter and reported us to H.R.

Ghostly TomFebruary 27th 2013.

I'm always worried when politicians start rewriting history, starts with a word here and there ends up with an attempt to eradicate a race... Hopefully, when the refurbish Lincoln Square (please soon), they will change it back to what Lincoln actually said...

bellel7February 27th 2013.

Great article - and so true that they missed a great opportunity when they ' didn't try to mark the links between here and the president in some way following the success of the Spielberg film and it's Oscar endorsement. '
Still great article

Poster BoyFebruary 28th 2013.

A story that needs to be told.

crisbyFebruary 28th 2013.

I worked in the Town Hall too in the eighties and remember the 'PC' well. There was a campaign for more scuplture in the city centre at that time, but sadly Lincoln Square has never quite provided a worthy setting for Abe.

(Jonathan, I wonder if there's any chance of bringing back Oliver Cromwell now that his original setting is traffic free?? Or would it provoke you to an article debunking the belief that the first shots in our Civil War were fired on the bridge nearby?)

Thanks for a fascinating article reminding us of something we in the north west can be proud of.

Poster BoyFebruary 28th 2013.

...and what of the origins of Brasenose in Manchester?

AnonymousMarch 1st 2013.

Fantastic memorial to a great man, and yet another reason to make us Mancunians proud.

The gold lettering on the plinth could do with some work though, the text is really difficult to read!

1 Response: Reply To This...
tblzebraMarch 1st 2013.

Agreed, it needs to be black when it's on pink, polished marble.

AnonymousMarch 5th 2013.


AnonymousMarch 5th 2013.

Jonathan appears to gloss over Manchester's links with slavery but does mention Liverpool's. He may care to read this.

Jonathan SchofieldMarch 5th 2013.

Wow, stop repeating yourself Anon. That's a bit of a thin document on Revealing Histories. That Manchester was dependent on a slave produced raw material is well-known, but what your document does not really discuss is how few Manchester families were plantation owners or prior to 1807 and the banning of the slave trade, traders themselves - unlike Liverpool families. Of course there were Mancunians who supported the slave trade, but the non-conformist elite of the city and their supporters, the intellectual leaders, were almost to a man and woman anti-slavery. So yes slave-cotton produced the wealth of early nineteenth century Manchester but its manufacturers and merchants were usually a remove away from the trade and frequently campaigned against it. There were several large anti-slavery meetings - we'd call them conferences - up to the American Civil War. I don't think the article glosses over Manchester's links to slavery at all, it just emphasises why Lincoln has a statue in Manchester.

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