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  • The Headless Prime Minister and Other Tales: A Response to Anthony Hutchison
  • Matthew Hart (bio)

By connecting the transatlantic movements of George Grey Barnard’s statue of Abraham Lincoln to the political history of Anglo-American liberalism, Anthony Hutchison reminds us that apparently insular intellectual debates in fact take shape within a broadly transnational context. In his closing paragraph, Hutchison suggests that there was something about Barnard’s representation of Lincoln that made it especially suitable for cultural mobilization across borders: “Here was a piece of public sculpture monumental only in the magnitude of its reverence for the common man, a work of public art that gave expression to a universal quality identified in Lincoln.” Hutchison sets the stage for this celebration of Lincoln’s universality by addressing Parliament’s belated adoption of the monumental statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, criticizing its metropolitan depiction of Lincoln as a “grandiose modern statesman, a transcendental unifier of peoples the likes of which had been championed earlier in the year at the close of the Paris Peace Conference.” In responding to Hutchison’s paper, I want to affirm the productive tension between—and within—these different versions of transnational cultural value. In the first quotation, Barnard’s statue is affirmed as a symbol of universal ethical fraternity, but such fraternity is also social and particular: the interpretive community that the Barnard statue imagines is the “common man,” the industrial working classes of the English (and American?) North. In the second quotation, the same double discourse is put to different ideological use; for the Parliamentary elite’s commitment to “transcendent” principles of statesmanship is in fact determined by the contingencies of international relations after the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. In the last half of my response, [End Page 810] I sketch a structurally similar story about how the 1861–65 Lancashire cotton famine helps reveal the underappreciated commitment of vernacular subjects to the humanity of peoples they have never seen, whom they do not know, and whose lives and struggles are quite unlike their own. In so doing, I want to highlight my strong approval of Hutchison’s emphasis on this tale of vernacular cosmopolitanism.1 I begin, however, with a rather less profound set of tales about the political meanings attributed to civic statuary in millennial Anglo-America.

I grew up in Macclesfield, on the southern edge of the Manchester textile zone. I have walked by the Barnard statue many times but did not previously know the story of its arrival in the Northwest or its transfer from Platt Fields to the city center. Some desultory research established, however, that Barnard’s sculpture continues to be the object of local controversy. At the time of the statue’s 1986 resurrection in the newly redeveloped Lincoln Square, a small scandal broke out around the wording on the plinth. Hutchison refers, quite correctly, to the way the new plinth made room for Lincoln’s testimonial to “the support that the working people of Manchester gave in the fight for the abolition of slavery.” What he does not emphasize, however, is that Lincoln’s original testimonial referred to the “working ‘men’” of the city (Wyke 91; emphasis added). In a period in which “loony left” Labour city councils were routinely attacked for so-called political correctness, this silent shift to gender-neutral language became a predictable political football.2 Today, the Barnard statue continues to fulfill its historical function as a sculptural index of contemporary political concerns. Thus, a 2007 article in the Manchester Evening News describes how the director of the Manchester Museum was forced to find national government funding in order to make the statue fit to be featured in local celebrations of the bicentenary of the slave trade’s abolition. In the years since 1986, it turns out, Lincoln’s inspirational message of transnational fraternity was slowly rendered illegible by “the ravages of pollution and the weather” (Craig). The article uses this news to rather dutifully report on the history of Lincoln’s tribute to the Manchester workers. But the center of the story reflects on the more contemporary meanings of the museum director’s “shameful” request, with the statue functioning as an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-4365
Print ISSN
0896-7148
Pages
pp. 810-817
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-25
Open Access
No
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