History for the Rest of Us

Abraham Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ Speech

Abraham Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ Speech

Jun 16, 2015

Abraham Lincoln delivered his ‘House Divided speech, one of the best known of his career, on June 16, 1858 in the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. He had won the Republican Party’s nomination as Illinois’ US Senator. He was unsuccessful in his campaign for the seat which was held by Stephen A. Douglas, a campaign memorable for the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. The most well known section of the speech is: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.” The following is the text of Abraham Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ Speech delivered June 16, 1858; Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it...

Theodora – Byzantine Empress or Crazy Woman

Theodora – Byzantine Empress or Crazy Woman

May 9, 2014

Procopius, the principal historian of the 6th century, became disillusioned with the Empress Theodora and her husband Justinian and wrote the following (doubtfully true) story in his Secret History about the Empress Theodora: ‘Often, even in the theatre, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above…whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.’ …gives new meaning to the term ‘being goosed’. Of course, the author of the above commentary, Procopius, was also the one who said the following in his Secret History(so his credibility is obviously in question): ‘One man said that the Emperor suddenly rose from his throne and walked about, and indeed he was never wont to remain sitting for long, and immediately Justinian’s head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to ebb and flow; whereat the beholder stood aghast and fearful, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. But presently he perceived the vanished head filling out and joining the body again as strangely as it had left...

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra – Summary

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra – Summary

May 7, 2014

Zenobia had a deep understanding of affairs of state, and her husband’s successes (recovery of the Roman East), were said to have been due to her counsel. She became Queen of Palmyra when her husband died in 267. Within two years she had conquered Egypt and expelled the Roman prefect, who was beheaded when he attempted to reclaim the territory. Zenobia claimed descent from Cleopatra and was said to profess the Jewish religion. She was beautiful and intelligent, with a dark complexion, pearly white teeth and bright black eyes. She was more beautiful than Cleopatra, and had a reputation for extreme chastity. Zenobia’s forces were dealt a crushing defeat by Aurelian’s forces near Antioch in 272. She and her son escaped initially, but were captured on the Euphrates by the Emperor’s horsemen. She appeared in golden chains in Aurelian’s military triumph parade in Rome. There are varied theories on her final...

Theodora, Empress of Byzantium – Summary

Theodora, Empress of Byzantium – Summary

May 5, 2014

When the Nika riots broke out in the hippodrome of Constantinople in January 532, Theodora saved her husband Justinian’s throne. Public buildings were set on fire and Hypatius proclaimed the new emperor. Justinian and his officials were ready to flee, but Theodora convinced them that ‘royal purple is the noblest shroud’. Justinian took courage and (according to Procopius) killed 30,000 rebels in the hippodrome. Together with her husband, Theodora transformed the city into one of the most splendid in the world. She made significant advancements in women’s rights, passing laws prohibiting forced prostitution and closed brothels, and created a convent where ex-prostitutes could support themselves. She expanded women’s rights in divorce, property ownership, rights over children, and forbade killing of a wife who committed adultery. She also instituted the death penalty for rape. ..OR was she a crazy woman?…....

Mary, Mother of Jesus – Summary

Mary, Mother of Jesus – Summary

May 5, 2014

Mary, or Virgin Mary was the mother of Jesus Christ, a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee. While betrothed to Joseph the angel Gabriel told Mary that she had ‘found favour with God’ and that she should ‘conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.’ Mary, asking the angel how this could be, since she knew not a man, was told that ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ see Luke 1:26-35 According to Jewish custom, the betrothal would have taken place when Mary was around 12, with the birth of Jesus occurring about a year later. She was present at the marriage where Jesus performed his first miracle and among the women at his...

Cleopatra VII, Pharaoh – Summary

Cleopatra VII, Pharaoh – Summary

May 5, 2014

Cleopatra (at age 18) began to assert herself as sole ruler of Egypt at the expense of her co-ruling brother Ptolemy XIII (10), but within three years her enemies placed Ptolemy on the throne as the sole ruler. Thinking he would please Caesar, Ptolemy instead angered him by murdering the great Roman military and political leader Pompey. Cleopatra saw an opportunity and had herself smuggled into Ptolemy’s palace in a carpet to meet with Caesar. She became his mistress and with the defeat of Ptolemy’s army at the Battle of the Nile, Caesar backed her claim to the throne naming Ptolemy XIV as co-ruler. After allegedly poisoning her new co-ruler, Cleopatra made her son (by Caesar) Caesarion her co-regent and successor. After Caesar’s death, she would align herself with Mark Antony with whom she had three children. After Antony’s defeat at Actium and his subsequent suicide, Cleopatra would follow – committing suicide with an asp bite on the...