The Transfer of Power: Abe Lincoln and January 6th

Photo by Ramaz Bluashvili on

I am listening to Rep. Jamie Raskin reading the audio version of his wrenching and beautiful memoir, Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and American Democracy.

Raskin (D.-MD) is a former Constitutional law professor who headed the House team that sought to persuade the Senate to convict Donald Trump after his second impeachment following the January 6 insurrection.

Raskin intertwines his personal tragedy–the suicide of his brilliant and adored son Tommy on December 31, 2020–with the national tragedy of the attempted coup just one week later.

He castigates himself for missing the subtle signals that might have led him to prevent his son’s death, as well as the less-than-subtle signs that might have led to greater preparation to prevent the bloody assault on the Capitol.

Prior to the Insurrection, he acknowledges that “everyone I know is slightly on edge.”

Still, he notes that for two centuries, America had undergone this ritual as a formality.

“We have never seen a sweeping attack…on the peaceful transfer of power from one President to another, one party to another, or one term to another.”

Yes, we came close once: February, 1861, just before the Civil War.

But, Raskin says,

“…even then, Abraham Lincoln’s electoral count was never violently interrupted or dangerously diverted by enemies of the Republic. Back then, the Baltimore Sun reported on the chances of the Capitol being blown up. And there were large and unruly pro-secessionist crowds trying to force their way into the building.”

General Winfield Scott and his armed guards prevented their breaching the Capitol.

Raskin then describes what he learned from an authoritative source: Ted Widmer, author of Lincoln on the Verge:

…The vehemently pro-slavery Vice President of the United States, John Breckinridge, personally carried the electoral votes from the Senate over to the House and proceeded to execute his duties faithfully, despite the fact that he was fiercely anti-Lincoln and would soon come not only to betray the Union but eventually to serve as the Confederacy’s Secretary of War.

“Lincoln, who was traveling across the country toward Washington to assume the Presidency, received at around 4:30 pm a telegram from Ohio that read: ‘The votes were counted peaceably. You have been elected.

“He would still have to watch out for secessionist sharpshooters bent on his assassination and mobs of brawling street criminals like the Plug Uglies and the Bloody Tubs as his entourage went past Baltimore.

“But there had been a fairly serene transfer of power in Washington when the electoral votes were counted. No violent mobs smashed the windows, attacked the police, or tried to change the results of the election.”

Knowing this history of America at its darkest times, he asked himself on the morning of January 6th, 2021:

“Why should anything be different today?”


5 thoughts on “The Transfer of Power: Abe Lincoln and January 6th

  1. An interesting historical note. There were plots to kill Mr Lincoln even before he arrived in DC. Of course, one big difference between 1865 and 2021. In 1865 they wanted to kill the man who was elected. The south never denied Lincoln was legitimately elected. Trump/Cruz/Thomas/Hawley and so on made a significantly different claim. And a much more destructive to democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it. News to me, so thank you. So easy to look back over one’s shoulder in an attempt to pinpoint exactly when things went wrong, or when one might have had a moment to act differently, to change the course of what was to come. Great respect for Jamie Raskin. I’m going to read his memoir.

    Liked by 1 person

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