Robbing the Past

My first reaction was quizzical interest. My second was a forced laugh of disbelief. Ultimately, I ended up mourning how despicable an act this was.

This article tells the story. An Abraham Lincoln researcher admitted to altering a presidential pardon for a Civil War soldier by President Lincoln. The researcher altered the date by making it the same day as Lincoln’s tragic death, so that he could claim to have found one of the final official acts President Lincoln made during his life. The researcher then cited the evidence in a book that he authored.

This is abhorrent.

According to the article, the researcher actually took a pen into the National Archives and physically altered the document. This is the equivalent of painting a mustache on a Van Gogh or a Picasso. Did he do so for fame? Did he do so to contribute to the sales of his book? In any case, the article reports that he confessed. I’m grateful in a way that the statute of limitations has passed on the offense, because there’s no point in his serving a prison sentence for this. Hopefully, his book will lose all credibility, and that will be enough.

The event makes me think of the Roman style of conquest, in which the history of a conquered civilization was re-written in order to include the Roman conquerors. This is the ultimate way to wipe out a society, the cruelest of erasures. When memories and records are robbed, they will eventually cease to exist. This is the most invasive and complete form of what we might today call identity theft. This leads to the massacre of a culture’s psyche and identity.

To think that someone would engage in a version of that action, however small, in order to further their own personal gain, leaves me…sad. I’m sad for this man.

When I was in high school, I fell into the fault of most modern teenagers: I was over committed in academics and extra-curricular activities. One day I had a test that I had either forgotten about or had neglected to study for, I can’t remember which. I tried to get my friend who sat in front of me to pass answers to me. That friend, thankfully, refused.

That was one of those moments that one looks back on with profound regret. Something that I can gladly say that I am horrified that I did and learned a lesson from; something that I would not do now.

My hope is that this researcher feels the same way about this incident, or that he will come to a point at which he does.

In the meantime, perhaps profits from his book could be taken to pay for the restoration of the artifact. That would be justice.

Image Credit: National Archives, Public Domain

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