Music for the Bicentennial

Indiana won't begin observing the Lincoln Bicentennial until May 10, which means there will be no celebratory events on the Emancipator's birthday - a remarkable piece of scheduling (see here).

I notice the organizers have some Stephen Foster on tap; let me raise an objection. They should play the music current in 1809 instead, say selections from "A Collection of the Most Celebrated Country Dances and Cotillions (published in 1809)," or "A Collection of Country Dances and Cotillions" (1808).

They could be daring and play some Felix Mendelssohn (born nine days before Lincoln); or some Haydn (he died just over 100 days after Lincoln's birth in May, 1809). Foster would not be born until Lincoln was 17. His heyday began ten years before the secession which is why he is so stubbornly associated with that era.

His association with the immediate antebellum should not carry over into an association with Lincoln. Foster is today a cultural token in the hands of the "gathering storm" historiographers. By constructing a "gathering storm" these writers have appropriated bright little cultural counterpoints, like Foster's success, to (tragically, ironically) lighten their narratives' aura impending doom.

Those of us, like Ayers, who reject the inevitability powering the "gathering storm" master narrative, have a right to view Foster as having been polluted or tainted by association with this particular meme.

If you are writing in terms of a blundering generation, in terms of missed opportunities and political mistakes, you don't have a lot of ink to divert from analysis to entertain completely irrelevant cultural history. If you're selling the inevitability of war, however, it's the color, nothing but the color, so help you God.

The Indiana organizers, wading in the shallow end of the culture pool, are not even aware that it was their readings in "inevitability" that suggested a (false) Foster connection to Lincoln. They made a list, approved it in haste, and are off to the (Camptown) races.