BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Frank Williams, where did you get the title of your book "Judging Lincoln"?
FRANK WILLIAMS, AUTHOR, "JUDGING LINCOLN": It was suggested to me by my sometime co-author, Harold Holzer.
WILLIAMS: Because it is, in fact, a judgment of Lincoln throughout his career, and that I -- I'm a judge myself.
WILLIAMS: In Rhode Island. I serve as the 50th chief justice of the supreme court of Rhode Island, after serving five years as a superior court trial judge.
LAMB: Where did you first get interested in Abraham Lincoln? Do you remember the day?
WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, I remember the grade, 6th grade in the Cranston, Rhode Island, public schools. Mrs. Taylor (ph), my teacher, directed me toward Lincoln and the Civil War. I had already had an interest in American history.
LAMB: So what was the first thing you did about trying to know Abraham Lincoln?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was a matter of my sitting under this large portrait of Lincoln, and I -- there was something in his face that attracted me. I don't know whether it was the compassion or leadership. And my mother had read stories to me from a child's biography of Lincoln a couple of years earlier, so by the time I was 11, I was already hooked on the president.
LAMB: When did it get to be serious?
WILLIAMS: I think 13, when I decided to become a lawyer because I realized what a good attorney Lincoln was.
LAMB: But when in those early days did you say, I really like this guy, and for what reason did you say that?
WILLIAMS: Almost right away, at 11, because it was like the Horatio Alger story. If he could make it, I could make it. My family had a modest living at the time, and we lived very modestly. And it was sort of like what we've coined or what Gabor Borett (ph) has coined "the right to rise." If he could make it, I could make it.
LAMB: You say in your book that he was a lawyer, a practicing lawyer, for 24 years before he became a politician.
WILLIAMS: Actually, he was both a politician and a lawyer. He was a politician before he became an attorney, but he had those two careers that were inextricably entwined.
LAMB: How many cases did he find before a court?
WILLIAMS: Well, we think 5,000 cases as a lawyer on the circuit, or in Springfield, and over 333 appeals in the Illinois supreme court, which is an amazing number of appeals.
LAMB: Did he ever make any money?
WILLIAMS: Yes, he did, more than most people know. You know, $5,000 for one case, the Illinois Central case, which was a tax case. He saved the -- he saved the railroad millions.
LAMB: What'd he ever do with his money, by the way?
WILLIAMS: Lincoln did not have -- to quote his last law partner, Billy Herndon, he did not have the avarice to get, but he had the avarice to keep. Very conservative. And he kept most of his money or saved it.
LAMB: Now, if you buy your book -- and it's published by the Southern Illinois University Press...
LAMB: ... what do you get?
WILLIAMS: Well, you get a number of things. You get nine essays that -- based on lectures that I've given since 1984 in many areas, collecting, Lincoln as commander-in-chief, attorney-in-chief, how our culture views him, his growth as a man and a leader, and you get to see a good portion of some of the things in the Franklin, Virginia, Williams Collection of Lincolniana, some 49 illustrations, which is a large number, I think, for a press to put in a book.
LAMB: I do notice somewhere -- or I did notice that you're one of the big five of the Lincoln collectors?
WILLIAMS: Well, I don't know about the number, but it is a big collection, some 12,000 books and pamphlets, 10,000 other items -- prints, photographs, statuary, philately, numismatics, photographs -- and maybe another 20,000 clippings, which you can use as a resource in this research library.
LAMB: But you say that you're still 30 percent void. You don't have 30 percent of the material you need?
WILLIAMS: Thirty percent of the first 500 items in the Monagha bibliography, which came out in 1939, and are the most difficult items -- sometimes one page or a small pamphlet -- to get. But remember Brian, since Lincoln's life, because there were works about him during his life and after his death, there have been over 17,000 books, pamphlets and articles written about Lincoln.
LAMB: So what could you possibly say in this book that would be new?
WILLIAMS: Well, it would be my interpretation of the man and the leader. I'm fascinated by the leadership issue and how he operated as a president. And many times, you know, I wonder about this in my own position as a judge, how you would face crises. And you know, I have them. We all have them in leadership positions. And it's a great comfort to me to know that here's a man who is the quintessential American, from humble beginnings, only one year's education in blab schools, who could rise to become the president of the United States and lead us through civil war.
LAMB: Now, I ask this question for the obvious reason because most of what you say in here is positive. Is there anything about Abraham Lincoln you don't like?
WILLIAMS: Yes, because each of us have a dark side and a light side, and Lincoln had a dark side, too. He had a temper. Most people don't know that. Fortunately for us and himself, he was able to keep it in check most of the time. I think his views on race are ambivalent, at best, and racist at worst. And of course, this is the culture in which he lived. And we see that, of course, in comments he made at the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But as other scholars have said, he probably would not have won the race for president if he had taken a position more closely aligned to the abolitionists.
LAMB: Do you ever feel in all you read that people who like Abraham Lincoln kind of dismiss this stuff, and they end up saying, yes, he was -- he wasn't a perfect man, but in the end, he did great things?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I think that's -- that's true in past generations, but I think in our current generation, there's -- there's more a sense of reality, that Lincoln really was not a god-like figure, that he was a human being. And he was raised to the heavens after his death, which is unfortunate. He shouldn't be treated as some kind of a votive candle on the shelf somewhere, and that he did have -- he did have human foibles. He was a hypochondriac. he was suspicious. He misjudged his generals during the war until he himself developed the necessary judgment to retain generals that could win battles. But this is all part of the growth, I think, of a human being in the first instance, and a leader in the second.
LAMB: We asked our Richard Hall (ph), our photographer, who works a lot on the book area, to go to your home for -- very soon they're going to see for obvious reasons. Where do you live? I mean...
WILLIAMS: I live in -- I live in southern Rhode Island, in Hope Valley, near the Connecticut border.
LAMB: And somebody comes to visit here, how much Lincoln are they going to see?
WILLIAMS: Well, they're going to see a great deal. The more valuable material I keep in the vault, of course, for obvious reasons. Many of the prints, statuary, many of the books, Lincoln books -- and I think we're about to go into the Lincoln library. There's another library called Civil War and Collateral. This is the front hallway, with Lincoln prints and cartoons. I'm very much infatuated with editorial cartoonists, and they're always, of course, using Lincoln as a foil.
LAMB: Where are we going now?
WILLIAMS: We're now going down to the Civil War and Collateral collection, which...
LAMB: This is all in your home?
WILLIAMS: All in my home.
LAMB: How many items?
WILLIAMS: About 12,000.
LAMB: And is this under guard?
WILLIAMS: Yes, and there's a Doberman there, too.
LAMB: What are we looking at here?
WILLIAMS: This is -- you just passed John Rogers group, who was a great genre sculptor of Lincoln's day. And you're looking at a place that needs more bookshelves, for one thing. There's -- and of course, you see books on carousels and carriages, which represent projects that I'm working on.
LAMB: Why are you doing this?
WILLIAMS: Well, because I think it's an important legacy. It's not only helped me research but something that Virginia and I can leave some day to a school which has none, which has no Lincoln and Civil War collection.
LAMB: What's the predominance of this collection?
WILLIAMS: Of course, it's Abraham Lincoln books and pamphlets. And it is catalogued, as you can see. We started cataloguing it before there was a software program for computers. Whoever gets the collection will have to do the scanning.
LAMB: What would you say the value of this is in dollars, if you were able to sell it all?
WILLIAMS: I wouldn't have a clue.
LAMB: You think a million?
WILLIAMS: I think so. At least a million.
This is the tack room, where Bob, our Doberman, lives most of the time. And we have what Virginia collects, the gee-gaws and gimcracks. This is a presentation copy of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. That's our book plate, made from an engraving from Fritz Eichenberg, which adorns the cover of "Judging Lincoln."
LAMB: What's the most you've ever paid for anything?
WILLIAMS: Forty thousand dollars. This is the presentation from Lincoln to Mrs. Spencer. You know how proud he was of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, even though he lost the Senate race in '58. This was the John Rogers group, council of war with Grant on the left and Stanton on the right. Robert Lincoln thought this was the best likeness of his father.
LAMB: Is this a copy?
WILLIAMS: No, it's an original. This is a carte de physique, you know, those small visiting cards that were very common during the Civil War, with John Wilkes Booth and with the devil looking over his shoulder. This is a pass to the military commission that tried the conspirators, signed by General Hunter. And of course, a campaign flag. Notice the misspelling of Lincoln's first name, "Abram" for Abraham.
LAMB: What was -- what was worth $40,000?
WILLIAMS: A rare -- a rare pamphlet and book. This -- this is an original oil painting by James Montgomery Flagg, a great illustrator and painter of the early part of the 20th century. He's known mostly for creating the "I want you" Uncle Sam poster. This is a miniature painting of a beardless Lincoln on ivory by an artist by the name of Patterson (ph), done about 1929. This is a "Wide Awake" lantern. You'll recall during the 1860 election, there were these great Wide Awake parades in favor of the Republican ticket, and people would carry them over their shoulder. Of course, Mrs. Lincoln in better times, with the beautiful dress that she's wearing. This is a photograph from Brady's studio. There was a tax on these photographs. That's why you see the stamp.
This is one of the great things that I keep in the bank vault, Lincoln's telegram to a lawyer friend, Samuel Glover (ph), in St. Louis. And he's asking for news of what's going on, intelligence. And all during the war, you would get messages from Lincoln, "What news?"
This is the first autograph of Lincoln that I ever purchased. You're looking...
LAMB: What year?
WILLIAMS: In 1970. You're looking at -- this isn't really directly Lincoln, but these are the combat ribbons from my regiment that I served with in Germany, the 2nd armored cavalry regiment. They started in the Mexican war as the 2nd dragoons.
And that last oil was also by James Montgomery Flagg.
LAMB: You were in the military when?
WILLIAMS: From '62 to '67, three years on the border between East and West Germany, in the 2nd cavalry, and one year in Vietnam as an infantry adviser in 1966-'67.
LAMB: What impact did the military have on you?
WILLIAMS: A great deal of impact. Brian, I don't think I would have been half the lawyer or the judge, trial judge, or chief justice if I had not had the experience of -- in the United States Army.
LAMB: We're you steeped in Abraham Lincoln when you were in the service?
WILLIAMS: I was because I had already been studying him a great deal. Of course, when you're overseas, the collecting sort of takes a back seat to your duties.
LAMB: But what about his military leadership? You write a lot about that and his relationship with the generals in your book.
WILLIAMS: That -- that's important to me because, of course, the president is commander-in-chief, as well as chief magistrate of America. And his role in both capacities was -- was important for me to study. And I'm pleased with the way he managed, on the whole, with these dual roles. He struggled mightily, as every president does, as this current president is doing. Many of the issues that Lincoln had we now have, now that we are at war with terrorism -- the security of our country versus civil liberties. And there's an essay there on Lincoln and civil liberties during wartime. So that's why Lincoln remains such a relevant person in our current life.
LAMB: What year were you in Vietnam?
WILLIAMS: In 1966 and '67.
LAMB: Lyndon Johnson was president.
LAMB: Did you ever say anything about if Abraham Lincoln were here today, he wouldn't do what this president is doing?
WILLIAMS: Not then, but since that time, I -- you know, we followed orders and went. I wondered -- many of us veterans wonder why we were there in the first place and why President Johnson and his administration did not have the courage to get us out before we incurred 58,000 deaths of our service people.
LAMB: All the pictures in your book, in your collection?
WILLIAMS: Yes, they are.
LAMB: Who's this?
WILLIAMS: General McClellan, rare -- a rare pose, Lincoln's troublesome general who he -- who he had become commander-in-chief initially. He was not -- he had "a case of the slows," to quote Lincoln. He reinstated him as general after the second battle of Bull Run. And after Antietam, when McClellan refused to follow up the so-called victory, Lincoln finally had the courage to fire him. Remember, McClellan was very popular with his troops.
LAMB: How did he fire him?
WILLIAMS: He sent a messenger with an order relieving him from command and appointing Ambrose Burnside, a Rhode Islander, to take his place as commanding general of the Army of the Potomac. And of course, Burnside did not want the command. He knew he didn't have the competence for it. And of course, we saw that at the battle of Fredricksburg in December, 1862.
LAMB: What was the difference in age between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan?
WILLIAMS: Lincoln was older. Remember, he was 51 when he was elected, and McClellan was somewhat younger than that.
LAMB: How did McClellan end up running against him in '64 for the presidency?
WILLIAMS: Well, the Democrats, the loyal opposition, thought that since he was so popular with the troops and America -- he was an icon with many lithographs and prints of McClellan hanging in Union homes, or homes in the North. They chose him as the Democratic candidate for president in 1864. But there was a conflict, Brian, from the beginning. Here they're making this former commanding general of the Army of the Potomac the Democratic candidate, but then the peace lovers acquired a peace platform, in which -- in which there would be an effort at peace without -- without the end of slavery, without necessarily reunion. And this doomed the Democrats in the 1864 election.
LAMB: Did -- was George McClellan in the service when he ran?
WILLIAMS: He came back in the service -- he had been in the service earlier, a West Point graduate, then became an executive for a railroad, and then came back into the service at the time of the Civil War, like so many people -- Burnside, General Grant, or what became General Grant. He started as a colonel of a regiment in Illinois.
LAMB: But in '64, did he get out of the service to run?
WILLIAMS: He was out. He was really relieved of duties. And even though he held the rank and he returned home to New Jersey, he never received an active command again.
LAMB: What's this in your book?
WILLIAMS: Well, that is -- that is a campaign lithograph of General McClellan for the 1864 campaign, and his vice presidential candidate, Pendleton, from Ohio.
LAMB: You have the actual figures in the book to how many people voted. I've got them here. You say that Abraham Lincoln 22 of 25 states.
WILLIAMS: Two million -- this is the '64 campaign?
WILLIAMS: Two million, two hundred thousand for him, and one million, eight hundred thousand against him.
LAMB: What did that mean when that happened, at that -- in that time?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, that's an excellent question because, you know, Lincoln is sometimes criticized for curtailing civil liberties, like suspending the writ of habeas corpus. We could talk about that forever. But here's a president and a commander-in-chief that allows the elections to go forward in wartime. And initially, you know, in '64, he thought he was going to lose. That's why he wrote the "blind memorandum" in August and had all of the Cabinet members initial the back of it, that he expected to lose, and if he did, he would work with the incoming president to terminate the war or prevail in the war.
So the fact that elections were held, the soldiers -- and there's an essay about the soldier vote in this book. This was the first time in American history that soldiers in the field were allowed to cast a ballot. So he took a big gamble, and yet he believed in the basic tenets of the democracy, that you should not curtail this necessity of having elections every two years.
LAMB: You say that George McClellan was very popular with the soldiers.
LAMB: But that Abraham Lincoln, in the field vote alone, not the absentee ballots, got 121,152 votes to McClellan's 34,922.
WILLIAMS: That's correct.
LAMB: What -- how did he -- how did he get that kind of popularity if he...
WILLIAMS: Because -- because this was the -- this was the ability of Abraham Lincoln to transcend politics and to strike a responsive chord in many Americans', including the soldiers in the field. These were the people who were being sent into battle, receiving the casualties and the deaths, of course, that followed. And yet they believed in this person they came call "Father Abraham." And they were able to differentiate between him and McClellan, who, under the peace platform, would end a war that they fought so hard to prevail.
LAMB: You also report that 78 percent of the Union soldiers cast their vote for Abraham Lincoln overall, and that 53 percent of the civilians cast their vote for Abraham Lincoln.
WILLIAMS: Correct. And so you see the dichotomy and how much support that Lincoln had in the field. The fact that the soldier vote was so overwhelming for Lincoln did not, you know, affect the outcome. It probably would have affected the state tallies in two states -- I think Connecticut and New York. But what it symbolizes is just how much Lincoln was appreciated by the soldiers -- the soldiers in the field.
LAMB: What about colonization? You suggest that he was promoting -- Abraham Lincoln was promoting colonization either in Africa or South America...
LAMB: ... for blacks in the middle of this election.
WILLIAMS: Well, yes, but he -- you know, he evolved into the point where he finally realized that colonization was not going to work. And remember, colonization, or that policy of sending African-Americans back to their homes, started way back with Henry Clay. And Henry Clay was the perennial presidential candidate and a hero of Lincoln's. Both were Whigs before the Republican Party was created. And this was their way of saying, Look, this is going to avoid this dissension and the arguments between the sections of the country and also between those who are free and those who are enslaved. But as Lincoln learned, it was a wake-up call that these blacks did not want to return to some colony or to Africa. America was now their home, and we had to deal with them -- or he had to deal with them -- as part of our culture.
LAMB: In the 1860 election, what was the percentage of vote that Abraham Lincoln got?
WILLIAMS: About 39 percent, Brian.
LAMB: How many candidates were there?
WILLIAMS: There were four.
LAMB: And in the 1864 election, how many candidates were there?
WILLIAMS: There were just two that I call -- Fremont, you know, who was the first Republican candidate in 1856, almost went ahead and became another candidate against Lincoln, but the politicos, or the Republican Party operatives, worked that out so that Fremont would not become a candidate. It took the firing of Blair from the Cabinet to take care of that.
LAMB: Who was Blair?
WILLIAMS: Blair was the postmaster general.
LAMB: Why did it take the firing?
WILLIAMS: Because there was dissension between the radical Republicans and the conservative Republicans, who did not get along. And the politics, as you can imagine, were pretty intense, even among Republicans.
LAMB: And also, on the voting side, you say that the absentee ballot was first introduced in the -- in 1862 in Wisconsin.
LAMB: Absentee ballots in all of our elections
LAMB: And what happened after they started? How many other states would do it?
WILLIAMS: All but a couple of states, including my own, Rhode Island, did not have the absentee ballot.
LAMB: By the way, what is it with Rhode Island and the founding of this country and their -- you know, their -- they were not great participants at the...
WILLIAMS: Well, very important, and it starts with Roger Williams -- no relation -- who either left or was thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay colony because he wanted to practice religion the way he believed it should be practiced. And that's why we have -- Rhode Island became such a refuge for every religion -- Jewish, the first -- the first congregation of Jews in Newport, Rhode Island -- and the fact that we became ornery and very independent. And I'm proud of the fact that we are because on May 4th, 1776, two months before Philadelphia, Rhode Island issued its own declaration of independence from Great Britain, which took a lot of guts.
Again, we participated in the -- in the Continental Congress, but we would not send -- we would not send a delegation to the Constitution Convention in 1787 because we were afraid of a strong national government. And George Washington was not happy with us. We were mostly an agrarian economy, building into a textile industry, with our own industrial revolution. And we were afraid of strong power. And that -- and that's -- and that exists even to this day, I think.
LAMB: Is it -- is there a way to describe Rhode Island's politics?
WILLIAMS: Heavily Democratic, yet we have a Republican governor, and I think independent by the voter. I think -- I think -- like the soldiers in country related to Lincoln, I think our Rhode Islanders relate to the honesty and character of a statewide officer.
LAMB: As the chief justice of the Rhode Island supreme court -- is it called supreme court or superior court?
WILLIAMS: Supreme court.
LAMB: Supreme court -- did you run on a party label?
WILLIAMS: No. We have a modified Missouri plan, which is selection by merit. And you have an independent commission, a judicial nominating commission that goes through your application, interviews, public hearing, background, criminal checks, sends three to five names to the governor. He does the same thing. And in the case of supreme court appointments, he sends one to both the house and senate for independent hearings. And then if they provide advice and consent, like the federal government, you're sworn in for life or bad behavior, whichever first occurs.
LAMB: Do you consider yourself a Republican or a Democrat?
WILLIAMS: I grew up as a Republican but became very independent during my -- during my law practice. I'm proud to say I was unanimously confirmed by an overwhelming house and senate Democratic majority.
LAMB: So you -- you have a label on you now? Are you still a Republican?
WILLIAMS: Oh, no. I -- you give all that up. You don't -- you don't really participate in partisan politics at all. I think it's good. I -- I'm not that keen on election of judges, and I'd like to see us get away from it. Those in the states where they have election of judges may feel differently.
LAMB: Where'd you get your law degree?
WILLIAMS: Boston University School of Law.
LAMB: How about your undergrad?
WILLIAMS: The same, except it was the College of Liberal Arts, before I went into the service.
LAMB: Now, when did you start in the -- like, the Abraham Lincoln Association? When did you get involved in that, and what is it?
WILLIAMS: Well, actually -- actually, Brian, I really started in Lincoln organizations as a senior in undergraduate school, when I -- when I attended meetings of the Lincoln Group of Boston. And of course, I was very passionate about Lincoln at the time, and I eventually became president. Then I became a member of the board of directors of the Abraham Lincoln Association, which is located in Springfield, Illinois, serving for nine years as president. I left as president after nine years. And then with -- with the encouragement of many Lincoln people on the East Coast, we began what's called the Lincoln Forum that meets every November in Gettysburg, from November 16 to 18, dovetailing into November 19th, which is the anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg address.
LAMB: Whatever happened between the American -- I mean, the Abraham Lincoln Association and your group?
WILLIAMS: Well, it really wasn't between my group, the Lincoln Forum, which came after. There was a disagreement in my leadership, and I was not reelected in 1995. And there were many board members that resigned. There was a feeling by many of us that the association really concentrated more on the local area of Springfield, Illinois, where some of us, and I was a leader in this that wanted the outreach of the study of Lincoln, and include other Lincoln groups to make us the umbrella and to disseminate and study about Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: John Weiss Simon (ph) from Southern Illinois University says I guess in the conclusion in this book that you were brought in to be a part of the Lincoln industry. The only thing I'm getting at here is the word "industry." What is the Lincoln industry?
WILLIAMS: Well, it's everything, the collecting, the studying, the writing, the lecturing, the conferences that we put together and, of course, there is this core group, whether it's in Springfield or Gettysburg or the Lincoln Group or the District of Columbia or the Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin, there is this group that really make up the industry, just like there's a Carl Sandberg industry because of all the writings that he did and poetry that he composed.
LAMB: How big is it? How many people are involved in it?
WILLIAMS: Well, I suppose if you say the bragging rights, if you wanted to use that, several thousand but for hard core, I would say under 1,000.
LAMB: So, for hard core Lincolnites, here we come with this event in Springfield with the opening of a library and a museum, how important is that to the industry?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think it's important because Lincoln does not have a presidential library. There certainly was none in his day or at the time of his passing in 1865, so it's good to see a library and museum that's devoted to him and his works.
LAMB: But will that change?
WILLIAMS: I think it will change the ability of people to study him and to have more ready access to him than heretofore.
LAMB: And what difference will that make?
WILLIAMS: Well, that's the whole point. The whole point is to tell the Lincoln story, not to embellish it, but to have the resources there for people who really want to discern the truth to be able to do that rather than the perception.
LAMB: So, you were president of the Abraham Lincoln Association, now president of the Lincoln Forum, and also co-chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, bicentennial of his birth?
WILLIAMS: No, I'm a member of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Harold Holzer, Senator Richard Durbin and Congressman Ray LaHood are the co-chairs. There are 15 of us that are Commissioners. We've created an advisory board of about 100 to assist in the planning for the celebration of Lincoln's 200th birthday on February 12, 2009.
LAMB: How much time goes into that?
WILLIAMS: Not a lot. I think as we organize into committees and begin the grunt work of what publications there should be, what is our constituency, reaching across the seas like we did in 1959 on the 150th, reaching into schools to assist the teachers and the students with a core curriculum, it will take more and more time. We just retained an executive director, Michael Bishop, a fine historian and very energized and I hope that this will be a big help in our organization.
LAMB: How often do you meet as a commission?
WILLIAMS: At least two or three times a year but I think that's going to increase.
LAMB: And what kind of people keep participating in all this?
WILLIAMS: Well, as commissioners you've got historians and Lincoln people, historians like Professor Jim Horton, who you know from...
LAMB: George Washington?
WILLIAMS: George Washington and, of course, Gabor Borett (ph) from the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Harold Holzer who we all know is a peripatetic author, and founder of the Lincoln Group of New York, and we have Joan Flinspach, who is the president and CEO of the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Daryl Bigam (ph) from Indiana, who really heads our education subcommittee. So, you have a wide variety, Judge Tommy Turner from Hodgenville, Kentucky who is very active.
LAMB: Where he was born?
WILLIAMS: Right, exactly, where Lincoln was born and, of course, Tommy Turner was very much responsible for turning over one of the Lincoln boyhood homes to the National Park Service this year, Knob Creek, which is just a few miles from Hodgenville.
LAMB: Now, go back to the collecting chapter in here and your involvement. How many books, not pamphlets, but books have been written about Abraham Lincoln?
WILLIAMS: Say about 13,000.
LAMB: How does that fit with all the other human beings in this country?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know it used to be Jesus Christ, Napoleon, and Abraham Lincoln. I'm not sure about that anymore. I think Abraham Lincoln may be the leader on books for any historical figure.
LAMB: In your chapter, you talk about Malcolm Forbes having a big impact on the collecting world.
WILLIAMS: He did.
LAMB: Who was he and when did it start?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know Malcolm Forbes was the publisher of "Forbes" magazine, now deceased, and in the '70s he began collecting Lincoln assiduously. He had been a collector of many other things like Faberge Easter eggs, miniature lead soldiers, and he acquired a fortune in Lincoln documents, many of which were sold this last March by his heirs or the Forbes family at Christie's and the second auction of his presidential collection, not just Lincoln but material relating to other presidents, will take place in October of this year by Christie's.
LAMB: So, what was that first purchase that started this big expense?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was this letter to Major Ramsey by Lincoln and you can tell Lincoln's sense of humor and character, and I'm paraphrasing now, of course, because I don't have it in front of me but he's writing to Major Ramsey and he says this woman wants to work. See if you can find her job. Wanting to work is so rare an event it ought to be encouraged.
LAMB: Did he write all this in longhand?
WILLIAMS: Yes, he did.
LAMB: Did he dictate to anybody?
WILLIAMS: He may have dictated a few times to his secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, but most of this was done in his own hand by him.
LAMB: Now, after Malcolm Forbes, you say Ross Perot got in the act.
WILLIAMS: They competed. I remember one event where they were competing over a printed copy, printed now, not holographic, not in Lincoln's handwriting on a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation that was signed by Lincoln and his Secretary of State William Seward. I think it sold for $270,000.
LAMB: What's the minimum it would cost you today to get an Abraham Lincoln signature?
WILLIAM: Well, if you were to get that clip signature that we saw on the monitor which was my first Lincoln document, it went for $200 in 1970. I think to get one like it today would be $5,000. And, remember, people in olden days thought that by clipping the signature from the document would make more value to the signature which, of course, is ridiculous because you really want the whole document.
LAMB: So, what about today if somebody wants to get into this collecting business, you've got to have a lot of money?
WILLIAMS: Well, yes and many don't have, including institutions, libraries. But, the hope that Mark Neely and I tried to portray in the chapter on collecting is that you don't need to collect everything. You don't need to have wealth to get Lincoln documents. You can start modestly, campaign documents, prints,(UNINTELLIGIBLE), the photographs, the little photographs, sheet music, coins, anything that represents the middle period of American history and, of course has a story to say about Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: You also have a lot of Abraham Lincoln or some Abraham Lincoln in your chambers at the court?
WILLIAMS: I do.
LAMB: Is there a reason for that? Are you trying to send a signal?
WILLIAMS: Well, one is that I like having him around me and second, it's an inspiration to me during my own days at work.
LAMB: Now, on the screen we have the court.
LAMB: Where is this?
WILLIAMS: This is the Providence County and Supreme Court of Rhode Island in Providence. This is the conference room where me and the other four Justices of the Supreme Court deliberate after we hear oral arguments and when we have conferences during the month.
LAMB: Is there any Abraham Lincoln in that room?
WILLIAMS: No. I want to spare my colleagues. This is the beautiful appellate courtroom, the Rhode Island Supreme Court, one of the most beautiful appellate courtrooms in the country. This was all built in the 1930s during the Depression, Brian, with cash, no bond money.
LAMB: Any Lincoln in this room?
LAMB: Where do you start putting Lincoln in your court activities?
WILLIAMS: It would be in my office for my law clerks and assistant and mostly in my chambers.
LAMB: Does everybody know that you're a Lincoln follower?
WILLIAMS: They do. They knew this long before I was a lawyer. Of course, this is my chambers or the Chief Justice's Chambers. I'm only the temporary occupant and you can see some Lincoln in the background. I know that bust of Lincoln which is a copy of the full bust of head since I was 13 years old. I'm especially enamored with these Marquettes, these small copies of Lincoln. This is John Hay and John Nicolay's biography of Lincoln, first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, a working model of Daniel Chester French's Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial.
Don't mind the chefs hat. That was given to me by Roger Williams University for a Lincoln lecture. This is a full-scale model of Lincoln's patent that's in the U.S. Patent Office, Lincoln's idea of lifting a vessel over the shoals with those ballasts that are underneath the deck. This is a presentation copy by the free colored people of New Orleans to President Lincoln in honor of his issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
LAMB: Now, when somebody goes in front of you in the court, do they ever try to slip in quotes from Abraham Lincoln?
WILLIAMS: Yes, they do and to the amusement of me and my colleagues, but we appreciate that. It's not going to make a tinker's damn in the way the case comes out but it's something to break up, let's say, the oral argument.
LAMB: Now, in your collecting chapter you have these two. What is this right here?
WILLIAMS: Well, that's Jeff Davis and it's really an editorial cartoon that works with a sliding thing of the bottom and you see him happy on the left as I face you because Fort Sumter has fallen, and then you see him - you move the little slip underneath to the frown on the right side and he's frowning because the Confederacy just lost Vicksburg to General Grant.
LAMB: Of all the things you've collected, what's your favorite?
WILLIAMS: I think my favorite is that presentation copy that we saw on the monitor of the Lincoln Douglas debate signed by Lincoln.
LAMB: You've mentioned a couple times the Emancipation Proclamation, and then in the book you write a lot about the 13th Amendment.
WILLIAMS: I do.
LAMB: One of the more interesting things to me about the 13th Amendment is that you talk about Abraham Lincoln trading votes, bribing to get the 13th Amendment passed. First of all what's the 13th Amendment?
WILLIAMS: Of course, the 13th Amendment outlawed involuntary servitude to use the exact language, slavery, forever and was added to the Constitution at the end of 1865. But, Lincoln campaigned for this amendment long before the reelection in '64 which took a lot of guts and courage. He didn't have to say anything but he did campaign for it and it was so important to him that he log rolled, used patronage. We never found any illegal acts that he may have committed to get votes but the important thing, Brian, is he wanted the old Congress, that is the Congress that would go out of existence after his inauguration in 1865, to be the one to pass the resolution that would go to the states for ratification and he succeeded in February, 1865.
LAMB: You write about the bribery statute though?
WILLIAMS: Yes and it's a close call on whether his offer of patronage to Congressmen to get their vote ran afoul of an anti-bribery statute that was already part of the United States code.
LAMB: How far did he go?
WILLIAMS: Very close we think, no money but clearly the implication that if you were to vote for this resolution, you might be taken care of with one of your constituents or relatives being given a job in the government.
LAMB: When did the 13th Amendment pass?
WILLIAMS: December of '65 by enough states to make it part of Constitution but, in February of '65 by the House and Senate to send to the states for ratification.
LAMB: What was the letter between Abraham Lincoln and Jeff Davis back in February of '65? He died in April?
LAMB: And he was reelected in November?
LAMB: And so, in between there was that exchange where something about slaves, I remember writing it down. Do you know what I'm talking about?
WILLIAMS: I think it's the fear that Lincoln or the interest that Lincoln may have had in bringing the war to closure and there was an issue on whether the primary object was to reunify the north and South, and I think the issue between Lincoln and the peace delegation that came to Hampton Roads with Vice President Alexander Stevens of the Confederacy is whether or not it would be reunion with slavery or without slavery, and Lincoln held to the view that the war aims were now reunion and no slavery.
LAMB: On your back, I'm jumping around here, but on your collections chapter, the forgery of the Ann Rutledge letters, what year was that?
WILLIAMS: Yes, that was in the '20s in the "Atlantic Monthly."
LAMB: And they were forgeries?
LAMB: What did they say?
WILLIAMS: And, it was ostensibly, well it purported to show this love affair between Ann Rutledge and Abraham Lincoln. You know there's been an issue ever since her death and this was a New Salem romance where Lincoln spent over six years in the 1830s and she was engaged to another man who really left to come back East and deserted her, died, and people have always questioned whether or not this was a true romance between Abraham Lincoln and her, and these letters that were forged attempted to show that there was. But, of course, they have no credibility at all.
LAMB: Here's a photo in the book of a controversy?
WILLIAMS: Clement Laird Vallandigham from Ohio, a copperhead, one who was active in the Democratic Party. He was the Democratic Congressman who vociferously opposed the war and, of course, the curtailment of civil liberties by Lincoln and especially the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. You know that's where an imprisoned person has the right to appear before a magistrate to check why you're imprisoned. There has to be probable cause and some crime alleged. And, of course, during the war Lincoln with the ratification of Congress suspended the precious Writ of Habeas Corpus.
LAMB: What's a copperhead?
WILLIAMS: A copper head is a euphemism or metaphor for the snake of the same name and this is the loyal Unionist called these peace Democrats copperheads, those who would meet secretly and protest and object to the government.
LAMB: So, Clement Laird Vallandigham was from what state?
LAMB: And, what office did he hold?
LAMB: How vociferous was his opposition?
WILLIAMS: It was very vocal and very vicious and to Lincoln's credit, he would not move against him because of the First Amendment. You allow dissention but Ambrose Burnside after Fredericksburg was sent to the department in Ohio and he had a captain dressed in civilian clothes go to a speech where Vallandigham held forth and Burnside had issued a general order that made it treasonable to udder utterances against the government. He had him arrested. He was tried by a military tribunal. He was to be sentenced for a long-term in prison. It embarrassed Lincoln. Lincoln had Vallandigham sent into the Confederate lines. The Confederates weren't that happy to have Vallandigham. He finally left by way of Bermuda and landed in Canada and ran for the governor of Ohio from Canada unsuccessfully.
LAMB: So, what would happen if a president did this today?
WILLIAMS: Well, look what's happening right now where this administration is planning for military tribunals some day and look at the objections by many liberals and other people who are against the use of military tribunals, even non-citizens of the United States. That's why there's about 600 in Guantanamo Bay.
LAMB: What's your own personal feeling about it?
WILLIAMS: That there is a place for military tribunals in this kind of a war, as long as there is due process and there are not summary executions. I think to require federal trials, that's the forum in which these combatants or unlawful combatants or detainees as they are called in Guantanamo, if they were to be in the federal system, I think it would bring great risk to the security of jurists and also affect intelligence, not to mention the logistical problems that our judicial system would have when you think of how long the trial was for World Trade Center 1. There's a place for them.
LAMB: Where is this from?
WILLIAMS: That's an unknown artist of the Lincoln family. There were so many prints of the Lincoln family. This is an unusual one. The Lincolns were never photographed. Photography was still in its infancy. There was never a composite photograph of the Lincoln family, so all of the artists would make this composite of the family.
LAMB: This photograph?
WILLIAMS: That's the man himself standing behind the fence, beardless, of course, with two of his children that you see, Willie and Tad, and their friend Gumpert (ph), who was fading out because he moved during the taking of the photograph because you were required to sit or stand still for several minutes for the chemicals to set on a glass plate. If you moved you would get what you just saw there.
LAMB: And that was the photograph from Springfield?
LAMB: What is Frank Williams, the chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, going to do with that collection in his basement?
WILLIAMS: The plan that Virginia and I have is that someday it will go to a school that has no Lincoln or Civil War collection as our legacy so that other people, more people can use it as a resource in understanding and studying Lincoln.
LAMB: Has anybody asked you for it yet?
WILLIAMS: Yes, there have been interest by Brown University, which already has a great Lincoln collection, the McClellan Lincoln collection. He was one of the big five after Lincoln's death; Louisiana State University in Shreveport, which has a triennial conference on the presidents; and an international Lincoln Center headed by Professor Bill Peterson.
LAMB: So, you got any instincts as to where it's going to go?
WILLIAMS: Not right now because I still need this for my own research. I'd like to begin sending out duplicates, different printings, because I'm really out of room here.
LAMB: At what stage in your life do you want to give this away?
WILLIAMS: Well, I hope while I'm still alive but if I'm not, there is a provision in my estate plan with the committee to determine where the collection will go.
LAMB: When the truck pulls up outside your home, is that going to be hard for you?
WILLIAMS: No, I don't think so. I've already come to terms with that. You know, it's like any material item, Brian, you know we're only here temporarily and then we pass, just as I'll pass the baton for being chief justice someday to a successor and, the collection ought to go the same way.
LAMB: Now, what about in this collection can others come into your home and use it?
WILLIAMS: By appointment they can, and many have.
LAMB: What's this from?
WILLIAMS: That is a ….They are called the Apotheosis because this is Lincoln being received in heaven by George Washington, the father of his country.
LAMB: Now, you say in your book that Abraham Lincoln's hero was George Washington.
LAMB: And did he read Parson Williams?
WILLIAMS: He did as a youth, not a very factual biography but to a young boy to see Washington lead the Continental Army and the story of Valley Forge and the battles where the Continental Army was outnumbered, I think made a great impression on the young Lincoln.
LAMB: You say in the book that he had a feminine side.
WILLIAMS: Every man does. The question is how strong it is and that comes out in the compassion and the way he treated other people not just women but, of course, his contemporaries and the citizens that he served.
LAMB: Why did you feel the need to compare the feminine side with his masculine?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that's part in the essay on the women in Lincoln's life and the influence they may have had on him in his development as a youth and a man and, of course, there were some women in Lincoln's life that were very influential on his growth. Of course, his mother Nancy Hanks, who died when he was young and his stepmother Sarah Bush Johnson Lincoln and, of course, his sister Sarah who we don't hear much about, and Mary Owens who he was supposedly engaged but they fell out of I think love if they had love, and of course finally and the most important woman I think in Lincoln's life was Mary Todd, his wife.
LAMB: Now, every year when you get together, your groups the Lincoln Forum and all this, is there much disagreement among people that like Abraham Lincoln about anything?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think so because you know the fascinating part about Lincoln, Brian, is that he was an enigma that as much as we know about him in the historical record in his utterances, in the collected works of his writings and speeches, almost a million words, he still kept many things very close to his chest. He was a very private person. So, I think the challenge is to try to detect what was really going on his mind and what his motivations were and the Machiavellian nature of his personality.
LAMB: Is there a book today that you would recommend to somebody who wanted to start their process of understanding Abraham Lincoln?
WILLIAMS: There are a couple. Certainly, the latest is David Donald's "Lincoln." Benjamin Thomas wrote a great one-volume biography in the '50s. Stephen Oates' biography, "With Malice Toward None" in the '70s all serve a great purpose in trying to understand Mr. Lincoln.
LAMB: Take David Donald's Lincoln book, he referenced in that book James Randall as his hero who taught him all about Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: And you talk about James Randall in here as kind of changing the nature of how people looked at Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: Explain who he was?
WILLIAMS: Well, James Randall was a professor at the University of Illinois who wrote many volumes about Abraham Lincoln, and what he did in shorthand is change the study of Lincoln from the amateur to the professional, or the professional and amateur because he was a trained historian. And, his work is still solid today even if you might disagree with his opinions. He wrote a great book on Lincoln and civil liberties as well, along with a four-volume set on Lincoln's presidency.
LAMB: How long are you going to stay the president of the Lincoln Forum?
WILLIAMS: Well, if I can find someone that's willing to take the task, I'd be pleased to give up the mantel but I'm having a good time now with this great group of people who are from all walks of life with all different interests in Lincoln and the Civil War. So, we have a great time when we get together in Gettysburg.
LAMB: Is it just for insiders or can people listening that have never been involved go?
WILLIAMS: It's spouses of those interested in Lincoln, students, truck drivers, professionals, academicians, anyone who has an interest, even a smattering.
LAMB: What does it cost to become a member of the Lincoln Forum?
WILLIAMS: Like $25 for a membership.
LAMB: How often do you meet a year?
WILLIAMS: We meet at this conclave in Gettysburg every November as I indicated earlier and we publish two bulletins a year as to what is going on in the forum and what we're doing in the way of outreach to study and spread the story about Lincoln.
LAMB: Now, finally, this is a photograph I want to ask you what is this doing in a book on Abraham Lincoln? Who's in it?
WILLIAMS: It's a story of, you can see seated Winston Churchill on my right and Franklin Roosevelt in the center and General Charles De Gaulle and an opponent of his for the Free French. It's in an essay where I compare the leadership of Lincoln, FDR, and Winston Churchill and I have to say it was probably the most difficult essay that I did on this comparative leadership.
LAMB: Quickly compare the three.
WILLIAMS: Lincoln is number one and FDR is number two and Winston Churchill, along with FDR, I would consider the best leaders of the 20th Century.
LAMB: Why in that order?
WILLIAMS: Well, because Lincoln has a legacy that transcends his period. I think FDR does too but not to the extent of Lincoln. Winston Churchill was really the savior of Britain despite his own frailties. He would like to see the empire, of course, continue and that was not going to happen after World War II.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. Our guest has been the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Frank J. Williams and the book is "Judging Lincoln" and we thank you very much.
WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me, Brian.
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