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VIDEO: College Students Have No Clue If Lincoln Was Republican Or Democrat

Students at a public university in Illinois, the home state of arguably the most famous and influential president in American history – Abraham Lincoln – can only guess whether the 16th president was a Republican or a Democrat.

The video was filmed Friday near a historic building that’s part of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, a structure that includes a plaque that labels Lincoln a Democrat. Installed in 1905, the plaque states: “This building is dedicated to public service honoring the memory of Abraham Lincoln   Democrat.”

Lincoln was a Republican.

The two-minute video shows a parade of students at the university who, when asked if Lincoln was a Republican or Democrat, hesitate, grin, turn sheepishly away from the camera, and say I don’t know. And when they take an educated guess, many answered Democrat, while some said Republican.

Charlie Kirk, founder and executive director of the Illinois-based Turning Point USA, a nationwide young conservatives student movement, emceed the video. The nonprofit advocacy group vows to fight to reword the plaque.

Watch and see just how much today’s students know about Lincoln:

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  • Nullifidian

    So what? In every population you’ll find clueless people. There are even some people who are so confused that they think that a center-right neoliberal technocrat like Barack Obama is a socialist. Those people should read Jeffrey St. Clair’s and Joshua Frank’s Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

    Like every other video of the sort, I don’t doubt that they were standing there all day, or even several days, waiting for people to say the “right” thing and then editing out the majority who knew the answer. The Australian comedy ‘news’ program CNNNN got similar footage this way by going up to Americans with a mislabeled map and asking them which countries they’d invade as part of the War on Terror (see the Youtube video “CNNN [sic] Geograpical [sic] Ignorance”).

    I have no idea why you want to milk this plaque issue. There are plenty of contemporaneous historical examples of people, including the founder of the Abraham Lincoln Center at NIU, referring to Lincoln as a “democrat”, so getting people riled up to think that this is a case of those damned liberals and their historical revisionism merely points up their inability to understand that a word might have multiple meanings (why do they think the Democrats were named Democrats in the first place after all?) and makes them and their conspiratorial thinking a laughingstock among literate people. Not even your regular followers deserve that. Have pity, CF.

  • Right

    >>”In every population you’ll find clueless people.”<> There are plenty of contemporaneous historical examples of people,
    including the founder of the Abraham Lincoln Center at NIU, referring to
    Lincoln as a “democrat”<>a word might have multiple meanings<<

    When in doubt, play semantic games. That way, you can defend any false statement by pretending it may mean something other than what it *obviously* means. Like: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." Everyone knows that the words "Democrat" and "Republican" refer to affiliation with one of those two political parties. If you polled a million people on what this statement means: "Barack Obama is a Democrat" – ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of them would respond that it means he's a member of the Democratic party. Nobody would make the mistake of thinking that it means he is a student of ancient Greek political systems, or a staunch advocate of democratic reform throughout the world (except perhaps students and faculty at Northwestern).

    To summarize: give it up, dude. This is an example of either: a) inexplicable boneheadedness for a supposedly elite university, or more likely: b) an attempt by liberals to re-write history, as they sometimes do when they suggest that Senate Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or that the KKK was chock-full of Republicans.

    • Nullifidian

      You’d think that, at one of America’s most prestigious universities —
      in Lincoln’s home state — that the cluelessness bar would be a smidge
      higher than this.

      A smidge higher than what? How many people were actually interviewed, and how many responses did they leave on the cutting room floor? This is a university of over 11,000 people. Why should I assume that they’re generally ignorant when only seven people were interviewed at all, and only five guesses were recorded? Should I conclude that Americans are all ignorant because several people couldn’t recognize a mislabeled map and instead thought that mainland Australia was Iran and Tazmania was North Korea?

      Besides, I’d hardly call Northeastern Illinois University “one of America’s most prestigious universities”. It looks like just another bog standard state college.

      Translation: Lots of people misstate facts, so you shouldn’t bother to point it out when someone misstates a fact.

      Translation: I’m going to erect a straw man of this statement because I can’t argue against it honestly.

      It is not a fact that Lincoln was not a democrat. Thinking that he was is an admissible opinion, held not just by the Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, who founded the Abraham Lincoln Center, but also by the then president Teddy Roosevelt. I can quote from each. Against this, we have The College Fix saying that it must be wrong because… because… well, it can’t be because this alternate definition of “democrat” doesn’t exist, but obviously we’re supposed to pretend that it doesn’t and instead assume that in 1905 they were trying to pass Lincoln off as a member of the Democratic Party to further some supposedly malign and underhanded conspiracy.

      “When in doubt, play semantic games. That way, you can defend any false
      statement by pretending it may mean something other than what it
      *obviously* means.”

      So you have evidence that this plaque was obviously intended to state a factual error? Where is it?

      Everyone knows that the words “Democrat” and “Republican” refer to affiliation with one of those two political parties.

      Not to me, because I have an appreciation of the meaning of context. If I were to refer to William Hazlitt as a democrat, I would find it ridiculous to see some pedant of your stripe come along to tell me that this couldn’t possibly be correct because Hazlitt was a Whig. Both “democrat” and “republican” have meanings outside of the political party. That is why they were chosen to represent the parties (although originally just one party: the Democratic-Republicans). The Democrats are not so named because their founder was named Hiram T. Democratus.

      Your hypothetical about a phone poll of what “Barack Obama is a Democrat” means is immaterial because he is a member of the Democratic Party. A more accurate hypothetical would be something like “Dwight Eisenhower was a democrat.” Would those who know that he was a Republican automatically cavil? Well, perhaps they would, but I hope some would stop to think what the word “democrat” might mean in other contexts. That’s really the issue here. There is ignorance being demonstrated here, but it’s on the side of those who insist that there is only one possible reading of the words.

      To summarize: give it up, dude. This is an example of either: a)
      inexplicable boneheadedness for a supposedly elite university, or more
      likely: b) an attempt by liberals to re-write history,

      Please explain why this is “most likely” and why you think that the Democratic Party was filled to the brim with “liberals” in 1905. That’s when the plaque was put in place. If you think something as driveling as that, then you’re more wrong than this plaque is.

      as they sometimes do when they suggest that Senate Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964,

      Some of them did. Look at the figures. The breakdown is north and south, not Democratic and Republican.

      “By party and region

      “Note: “Southern”, as used in this section, refers to members of Congress from the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. “Northern” refers to members from the other 39 states, regardless of the geographic location of those states.

      “The original House version:
      “Southern Democrats: 7–87 (7–93%)
      “Southern Republicans: 0–10 (0–100%)
      “Northern Democrats: 145–9 (94–6%)
      “Northern Republicans: 138–24 (85–15%)

      “The Senate version:
      “Southern Democrats: 1–20 (5–95%) (only Ralph Yarborough of Texas voted in favor)
      “Southern Republicans: 0–1 (0–100%) (John Tower of Texas)
      “Northern Democrats: 45–1 (98–2%) (only Robert Byrd of West Virginia voted against)
      “Northern Republicans: 27–5 (84–16%)”

      Source: the Wikipedia article on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

      or that the KKK was chock-full of Republicans.

      It was. Not originally, but the composition of the KKK in the South approximately 150 years ago is immaterial to the composition of the KKK now or back at the height of their resurgence in the 1910s, when they had loads of Republican members, especially when they expanded into the Midwest and West. At the time, the Midwestern white middle-class businessmen whom Sinclair Lewis satirized in Babbitt were the type who joined the Klan and they were Republicans. The Democrats were then the party of the urban working class immigrants, whom the Klan despised. And now, ever since Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by a Democratic president, not to mention ever since they became the first major party to both nominate and elect a black president, I don’t see that being a Democrat would be too popular among the KKK today, do you?

      But hey, if you want to focus on ancient history to score vague political points, you can still think fond thoughts of the fact that Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Democrat. You can think of that distant time whenever you hear of another instance of a Republican making crass racialist remarks, now practically a fixture in the 24-hour news cycle.

      • Right

        Well, it looks like there are all of two of us on this thread to duke it out 🙂

        >>How many people were actually interviewed, and how many responses did they leave on the cutting room floor?<>Both “democrat” and “republican” have meanings outside of the political party.<>I’d hardly call Northeastern Illinois University “one of America’s most prestigious universities”.<>So you have evidence that this plaque was obviously intended to state a factual error? Where is it?<>The breakdown is Confederacy vs. non-Confederacy, not Republican vs. Democrat.<>I don’t see that being a Democrat would be too popular among the KKK today, do you?<<

        I agree. My point was about rewriting history, not the current racial alignment of the parties.

        • Nullifidian

          This is a university — in Lincoln’s home state — that put up a monument with a plaque that incorrectly identifies Lincoln’s party affiliation.

          No, it doesn’t incorrectly identify Lincoln’s party affiliation: it doesn’t identify Lincoln’s party affiliation AT ALL. Putting party affiliation, whether correct or incorrect, on a dedicatory plaque would have been seen at the time (and perhaps even now) as partisan and in poor taste. How do I know this is not what Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones intended? Because he told me:

          “Abraham Lincoln was a great democrat, and is so far a prophet of relgiion; not chiefly by virtue of anything he said, deathless as were his sayings, nor primarily for anything he did, notable and noble as were his achievements, but more by virtue of what he was.

          “All great men belong to humanity; in their presence sectionalism, castes, creeds, partisanship, slink out of sight. Nobility blurs all labels, shames our sectarian conceits and our racial arrogance. Says Carlyle: ‘Great men are the inspired texts of that divine book of revelation whereof a chapter is complete from epoch to epoch, and by some named “history”.’ Call the roll of earth’s noblest, and we find the names that no one dare write into the muster rolls of parties, denominations, families, or nationalities; names too large for such a scroll. A great man is the keystone of the arch that unites what otherwise would be the unrelated masonry of the human family. A great soul, like the splendid bridge at Niagara, unites with links of steel nations otherwise separated by turbid tides.

          “The heart of Lincoln was an Atlantic cable, whose electric veins transmitted sympathies, hopes, and aspirations, which quickened bosoms separated by the billows that bathe the distant shores of continents. With what conceit did the small Athenians and Spartans look over their little walls into the country of the Barbarians! But Socrates and Plato looked over into Egypt, Palestine, and far-off Persia. From the high peaks of humanity Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Pythagoras, Dante, Luther, Lincoln, in the signal-service corps of God, flash fraternal greetings from kingdom to kingdom, from creed to creed, from sect to sect. Brotherhood is flashed from land to land, from age to age, by the great souls of humanity, of which Lincoln was a type.”

          Jones, Rev. Jenkins Lloyd. “Abraham Lincoln: 1809-1909” in The Methodist Review Quarterly July 1909, 58(3): 534-547.

          It’s a bit overwrought, but you get the picture. He is saying that Lincoln was a noble man whose very existence breathed the hope of brotherhood and under the community of God, and against this all you have to say is “they got his political affiliation wrong”. I think this conspiratorial thinking with no basis other than sheer partisanism is one of the crabbed and petty things that the Rev. Jones was hoping men like Lincoln would save us from.

          Actually, no. […] I think they’re either boneheads, or more likely — they *are* trying to re-write history.

          So you don’t have evidence that the plaque was intended to state a factual error, but you believe it was anyway. Why do you believe this, if not based on evidence?

          It is almost inconceivable that an Illinois university would make a point of including Lincoln’s party affiliation on a plaque and get it wrong out of sheer stupidity.

          So do you have evidence that they made a point of including Lincoln’s party affiliation on a plaque? Because most people would conclude from the fact that Lincoln was a Whig, later Republican, and the plaque says “democrat”, that indicating his party affiliation was not the intention.

          I think the odds that by “Democrat”, they meant to convey that he was a lover of democracy are about nil.

          If you have some basis for those “odds”, then I’d love to see it, because otherwise I think I’ve just posted some pretty convincing evidence that this is precisely what was meant.

          Look, you can slice-and-dice the numbers however you want, but the bottom line remains unchanged: A much greater percentage of Republicans supported the bill than Democrats, and the filibuster against was lead by Democrats.

          All right, let’s look at the percentages. Of the members of the U.S. Senate, 46% of them were Democrats who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 27% were Republicans who voted for it, 21% were Democrats who voted against it, and 6% were Republicans who voted against it. Of the members of the U.S. House, 36% were Democrats who voted for the original House version of the bill, 33% were Republicans who voted for, 23% were Democrats who voted against it, and 8% were Republicans who voted against it. You were saying?

          Yet, there are many who try to advance the proposition that it was Democrats who championed the legislation and Republicans who opposed, and that’s not a fair representation.

          It’s just as fair as what you’re doing here. The 1964 Civil Rights Act would not have passed without the support of the majority party, which was the Democrats. The Republicans simply did not have enough votes, even if they were in agreement on it, which as you can see from the numbers they were not. Attempting to paint the Democrats as being the party of opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act is just as dishonest as the converse, because there was majority support among both parties for the legislation. You talk about the filibuster, but you ignore the obvious fact that it wasn’t successful. What ends a filibuster? A vote for cloture. So let’s see how that went (again, the source is Wikipedia):

          “Democratic Party: 44–23 (66–34%)
          “Republican Party: 27–6 (82–18%)”

          Majority support among both parties again.

          I agree. My point was about rewriting history, not the current racial alignment of the parties.

          You are rewriting history if you ignore the widespread Republican presence among the Second Klan of 1915-1944. Again, “they do it too!” is not an excuse.

          • Right

            >> the plaque says “democrat”, that indicating his party affiliation was not the intention. <<

            The plaque does not. The entire inscription is in capital letters. There's no little-d designation.

            It's quite a contortion to label Abe Lincoln a "democrat" (big "D" or little "d") on that basis you provided, given that his motivation in fighting and winning the Civil War was to save the republic, and this is considered his greatest presidential achievement. In his letter to Mrs. Bixby, he said, "…tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save." Note that he didn't say "democracy they sought to spread", or "social justice they sought to promote".

            Wikipedia describes "republican" as: "An advocate of a republic, a form of government that is not a monarchy or dictatorship, and is generally associated with the rule of law."

            So given that he was: a) an actual Republican, who ran in opposition to the Democratic party, b) the man who's greatest accomplishment was saving the republic, and c) the first Republican president and a by far the most notable, wouldn't it have made sense, if choosing a lower-case adjective to describe him, to go with "Abe Lincoln republican" ? In the context of *both* political affiliation and what-he-fought-for, "republican" is a better fit. One can make the argument in favor of "democrat" just as plausibly as one could defend "Robert E Lee, slavery opponent" (he did, after all, write a letter to his wife in which he called slavery "evil"), or perhaps less diametrically, "Jesus Christ, carpenter".

          • Nullifidian

            The plaque does not. The entire inscription is in capital letters. There’s no little-d designation.

            And when something is entirely in capital letters, it should be assumed to be in small letters except at the beginning of the sentence or because of a proper name that indicates otherwise. After all, you don’t mentally interpret the plaque as reading like the following, do you?

            “This Building Is Dedicated To Public Service Honoring The Memory Of Abraham Lincoln—Democrat”

            Obviously not. So why make the decision that “democrat” must be a proper name, indicating a member of the Democratic Party, instead of a small-d “democrat”, even after I showed you the quote from Rev. Jones referring to him in just that manner?

            The rest of your post doesn’t actually prove that the small-d interpretation of Lincoln’s life is wrong, merely that there’s something else you would prefer to emphasize.

            Note that he didn’t say “democracy they sought to spread”, or “social justice they sought to promote”.

            But he did say, “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom” [my emphasis]. Freedom is a small-d democratic virtue.

            Furthermore, not only are you cherry-picking from the Bixby letter, you’re cherry-picking from his writings, in that he said many other things that could lend color to the view that it’s proper to call him a democrat, and there’s no reason to privilege this one source (which is hardly dispositive anyway, as I showed) over any of the others.

            Finally, “saving the Republic” is not a republican act, because it does nothing to establish a non-monarchic system of government, which was already present on both sides. The term for “saving the Republic” which was used both then and now is “Unionism”, so if we’re to take the Bixby letter as our guide and ignore the bit about the “altar of freedom”, then the plaque should really read “Abraham Lincoln—Unionist”. Then the far-right could have another snit fit claiming that the only possible way to interpret this phrase is that Lincoln was a fervent advocate for trade unions.

            Also, you have to take the historical context into account. As your own Wikipedia source notes, republicanism is an anti-monarchical position. But what it doesn’t note is that the most prominent anti-monarchical movements, in the public mind of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were the anarchists. Being a hereditary aristocrat was a dangerous occupation, and the list of murdered toffs and politicians is a long one, including Empress Elisabeth, King Umberto I of Italy and William McKinley, just seven, five and four years before the plaque was installed, respectively. Putting “republican” on the plaque would have caused even more sputtering how-dare-theys than “democrat”, which was a common way of referring to Lincoln in that era, because it would either be seen an unwarrantable bit of partisanship or an implication that Lincoln was an anarchist.

            Basically, in order to substantiate this fauxtrage, you have to believe that for 108 years people passed by that plaque and either were all as confused as the people in the above video or they were prepared to ignore all formed part of a conscious conspiracy to hide the truth of Abraham Lincoln’s political affiliation, something that only happened to be in every U.S. history book, encyclopedia entry, and biography of him. Against all these sources of information, you have one plaque on one building at one state university in Illinois. Hardly the most successful act of consciously “rewriting history”, now, was it?