[Marxism] Elizabeth Keckley

Mark Lause markalause at gmail.com
Thu Jan 10 08:56:41 MST 2013

Elizabeth Keckley was a fascinating figure, who helped to shape my own
view of Lincoln.

Mrs. Keckley drew Mrs. Lincoln into the spiritualist circles in
Washington.  Despite the presence of numerous con artists, the
spiritualists were a very diverse and nondoctrinnaire current of
immense size in the 1850s. It included virtually every native born
American with unorthodox ideas about religion.  Politically, virtually
every native born American radical fell into this category, including
the founders of the socialist movement in the U.S.  (I've been working
on and off for years on a book about the spiritualist movement of the
period, and expect to finish it over the next couple of months.) When
they sanitized an image of Lincoln after his murder, they either
ignored or minimized the spiritualist connection.

In racial terms, spiritualism opened / reflected more egalitarian
views among many of its adherents--on gender issues, as well, it
should be added.  In the context of the Civil War years, the
Washington circles became immersed in aid work for the freedmen and
establishing schools and hospitals for black war refugees.  Keckley
provided a conduit between these efforts and the White House.  When we
read a note from Mary Todd Lincoln to the president mentioning that
she was passing money on to Keckley for these projects, we see the
differences between how things worked then and now, in terms of how
quietly this was done.  I doubt that even the abolitionists realized
this was going at the time.

As an aside, Mariah Vance, Lincoln's housekeeper in Springfield was
the subject of an oral history that was transcribed and published in
the 1990s under the title _Lincoln's Unknown Private Life_.  For all
the second-handedness of it, it is worth a look for those interested.


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