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  • “All the Men of Great Affairs”: The Barnard Statue, Manchester Liberalism, and Lincoln Intellectual History
  • Anthony Hutchison (bio)

The years immediately following World War I saw the unveiling of two significant statues of Abraham Lincoln in Britain. The first, which took place in Platt Fields, Manchester, in September 1919, presented a replica of George Grey Barnard’s controversial depiction of a distinctly pre-presidential Lincoln, the original of which had been presented to the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, two years earlier (see Figures 1 and 2). Barnard’s Lincoln was a stomach-clutching, somewhat anemic looking figure who, according to Lord Charnwood, the British author of the preeminent Lincoln biography of the age, resembled nothing so much as “a minor poet who had gone under” (qtd in Moffat 117). The second ceremony took place the following summer in Parliament Square, Westminster, where Prime Minister David Lloyd George, himself something of a Lincoln obsessive, accepted Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s second cast of the by then famous standing figure (see Figure 3), the original of which had been unveiled in Chicago in 1887. Saint-Gaudens’s solemn, lapel-clutching statesman mounted on a much grander base and situated at the very heart of the imperial capital, was in marked contrast to the scruffy frontier everyman tucked away in the industrial provinces.

How the Barnard statue came to find a home in Manchester is an interesting tale, one directly related to the choice of the Saint-Gaudens’s for the Westminster site. These decisions, however, made collectively by various Anglo-American art, business, civic, and political establishments, shed light on more [End Page 793] than merely art or cultural history. The Barnard controversy also offers us an illuminating basis for considering other important issues raised by the recent intensification of interest in Lincoln as a writer and thinker. Such an approach, in turn, also raises questions as to Lincoln’s intellectual legacy, particularly his bearing on liberal, socialist, and social democratic political traditions as they developed over the course of the twentieth century.

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Fig. 1.

Abraham Lincoln Statue (1919), George Grey Barnard, Original Platt Fields Site, Manchester, England. Photograph 1924, Copyright: Manchester Archives and Local Studies, Central Library.

The decision to present a statue to Britain had its origins in an Anglo-American Peace Committee formed before World War I to celebrate the centenary of the Treaty of Ghent. It fulfilled the American side of an agreement to exchange statues as a way of consolidating the ties forged between the nations since the war of 1812. However, in the intervening war years, the committee’s co-founder and chairman John A. Stewart decided to switch the gift to a replica of the Barnard statue. By the beginning of 1918, with the US having entered the war the previous spring, a transatlantic controversy over the statue had broken out that would ultimately go to the highest levels of government. After having been displayed in New York City over the winter of 1916–17 before its move to Cincinnati, Barnard’s Lincoln had provoked considerable criticism both from the American art establishment and the mainstream press.

A key player in the events was Frederick Wellington Ruckstull, the editor of Art World magazine and founding member of the National Sculpture Society. Ruckstull had won the grand medal for sculpture at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but by this [End Page 794]

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Fig. 2.

Abraham Lincoln Statue (1917), George Grey Barnard, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photograph 2006, Rick Dikeman.

time was better known for his cultural police work. According to one art historian, this role frequently manifested itself in the form of “shrill rantings against all he decided was anticlassical” (Moffatt 133). Ruckstull’s anti-modernism was underwritten by a Social Darwinist political agenda deeply hostile to ideas of reform and radical notions of democracy that questioned an existing order defined by the unimpeachable laws of natural selection. Thus, the physical aberrations he identified in Barnard’s Lincoln—with its “gigantic clod-hopper feet . . . abnormally long neck; the shirt collar sticking up like a rabbit’s gigantic ear”—were the product of what he...


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