Banner Lecture: Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and Its Demons

This is Beverly Louise Brown giving a Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society on her sister, Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s, book, Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and Its Demons. Dr. Brown is an art historian, not a Lincoln expert, but Ms. Pryor, who was tragically killed by a reckless driver in Richmond, was a noted historian of 19th Century America. We can tell from Dr. Brown’s presentation that she’s unfamiliar with 19th Century American history. I think we can forgive her for this, since her late sister was the author. She’s really a fish out of water here, and I admire the courage it took for her to make this presentation, knowing that she wasn’t familiar at all with the subject matter other than what she read in the book.

The video’s description reads, “On February 22, Beverly Louise Brown delivered a Banner Lecture entitled ‘Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and Its Demons, A New Book by the Award-Winning Historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor,’ celebrating the publication of her late sister’s book. In this eye-opening book, Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and Its Demons, Elizabeth Brown Pryor examines six striking and mostly unknown encounters that Abraham Lincoln had with his constituents. It is a collection of intriguing stories about a man who himself prized story-telling, and taken together they reveal his character and opinions in unexpected ways, illustrating his difficulties in managing a republic and creating a presidency. We observe him standing gracelessly mute at his first review of the U.S. Army on the eve of the Civil War. Later we find him swearing profusely at a young solider on the White House portico. He alternately pontificates or talks pigeon English to Native American chiefs, and he simply avoids most interactions with prominent women. In the last days of the war we find Lincoln visiting Richmond, where he meets an old Confederate with a menacing stick in his hand named Duff Green, who challenges his plans for the reconstruction of the nation. What this book shows most clearly is that greatness was not simply laid on Lincoln’s shoulders like a mantle but was won in fits and starts. Elizabeth Brown Pryor was tragically killed in Richmond in April 2015, just after completing the manuscript of Six Encounters with Lincoln. Her sister Beverly Louise Brown, a noted art historian, saw the book through publication and will talk about her sister, the book, and the perils and delights in finishing another author’s work. This lecture will celebrate the book’s publication by Viking in February 2017.”

It sounds like this book will have some views of Lincoln we don’t normally see. The impression I get is that we’re going to see some negative views of Lincoln, and the contrast with what we get from neoconfederates and their ilk is that this view won’t depend on fabrications, half-truths, and out-of-context quotations. Instead, Ms. Pryor’s track record tells us this book will be based on primary evidence, and the evidence will have been handled correctly and with integrity.

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