ABOUT​

I always get a thrill standing near the spot where something important happened. Reading history opens the mind to the people and events, but nothing beats actually visiting the place and sensing a connection with that moment. If not the actual “room where it happened,” then at least the address.  Here in Washington, D.C., these notable places are everywhere, if only you know where to look.

I love Abraham Lincoln.  His life story, his character, tenacity, wisdom, humor, and humanity all combined to create a model for leadership in perilous times.  His practice of getting out of the White House and seeking out whomever he needed for information or counsel broke the mold of an imperious presidency.  The places that he visited to find those individuals are not well known. With a little patient research, I was able to connect many of the stories of his adventures in the national capital with sites very near his Washington home.  I want to share with you my ideas about the experience of “being Lincoln” in Civil War Washington with a tour that lets you in on what the president’s neighborhood was like over 150 years ago. I also realize that Lincoln was a flawed human-being and consider arguments by scholars that his role in ending slavery was overblown. I speak to these views in my presentations.       

  

I had wanted to trace Lincoln stories from the many biographies I had read to their actual locations in Washington.  It was only after trying to walk these sites that I began to realize how little agreement there was between authors on where to place the president for the more common episodes described about his life.  There have been a few publications by some writers who were interested in identifying the sites, but there seemed to be nothing comprehensive available.  But in general, it seems that most Lincoln authors have relied on several early 20th century authors who asserted local lore as evidence for establishing the key sites.  His unaffected courtesy led him to leave the Executive Mansion to seek out those people who had information he needed, and to develop the relationships that were so important to his political success and emotional well-being.

While it doesn’t seem that the president had any trouble finding people where he expected, it has been very difficult for his biographers to accurately determine those sites.  We can’t be harsh with them, however, Washington during the war was a very tumultuous and confusing place.  The change from the Buchanan administration was the most thorough turnover of political appointees in the history of the Republic.  The growth of government for the war effort gave Lincoln more opportunities to make appointments than ever before.  And the military growth and transitions completed the absolute picture of confusion for anyone trying to pinpoint offices and residences.

Lincoln historian Michael Burlingame has said that he believes that most of what we will know about Abraham Lincoln has yet to be discovered.  There are primary sources that are being discovered often and are being mined for new information.  I hope that interested folks like you will join me in making this website a forum to develop more useful facts and data about Lincoln’s movements through the capital.  I also intend to have some fun with his role in modern American culture.  The goal is to improve our understanding of the significant impact that the president’s outreach in the City of Washington had in defining his leadership during the Civil War.

Affiliations
  • Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia, history education and research, president

  • Historical Society of Washington, Annual Conference on D.C. History, past co-chair

  • Lincoln Forum, Gettysburg, PA, board of advisors

  • Prince George’s Community College, adjunct assistant professor. ​

Qualifications
  • Licensed D.C. Tour Guide

  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, Bachelor of Arts, Journalism

  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, Master of Healthcare Administration  

Contact
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(202) 725-7779

lincolninwashington@gmail.com

 

© 2019 John O'Brien