Bronze portrait statue on red granite pedestal. Extensively inscribed.
The origin of George Grey Barnard's bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln was a scheme to raise a memorial to Lincoln in Cincinnati, Ohio to mark the centenary of his birth. The outcome of a lengthy commissioning process, which revealed the jealousies and resentments between the city's rich merchant families, was that Mr and Mrs C. P. Taft gave a $100,000 commission to the American sculptor, Barnard, for a statue of Lincoln. Charles Phelps Taft was one of Cincinnati's most wealthy businessmen and the half- brother of William Howard Taft, the president of the United States, 1909-13. He and his wife Anna were also important collectors of art. By 1910 Barnard, who had trained in Chicago and Paris, had carried out a number of significant private and public commissions, and was recognised as one the key figures of a new generation of American sculptors. His reputation was soon to be further enhanced by the completion of the sculptural groups on the Pennsylvania State Capitol, Harrisburg. Barnard embarked on a lengthy period of research for the Lincoln statue, determined to produce a work that challenged the ever-rising number of staid and conventional portrait statues of the president. His Lincoln was to be a Lincoln of the People; Lincoln the man before he became president. His inspiration and sources were various including using a former farmer as his model for Lincoln's body, a man that Barnard found through an advertisement placed in a Louisville newspaper. The statue was not completed until 1916 and, having been exhibited in New York, it was sent to Cincinnati where it was unveiled by W. H. Taft in March 1917.
Around the same time it was announced that Charles Taft had agreed to pay for a replica of Barnard's Lincoln which was to be sent to London to stand outside the Houses of Parliament. The genesis of this decision can be traced back to some years before when the American Peace Centenary Committee was established to identify ways of commemorating the century-long peace between the United States and Britain which had followed the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. Discussions between the American and British Peace Centenary Committees led to the decision to mark the peace with an exchange of statues. The Americans eventually decided on presenting a copy of Saint-Gaudens' Lincoln, one of the most admired statues of the president. The British government agreed to provide a site in Parliament Square between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Plans to send the statue to London, however, were interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. When the scheme was revived early in 1917, it had undergone a significant change in that Saint-Gaudens' Lincoln had been replaced with a copy of Barnard's Lincoln. To what extent the American Peace Committee's co-founder and chairman, John A. Stewart, consulted other committee members in this decision was to become an important issue in the public controversy that engulfed Barnard's Lincoln. It was a controversy that had diplomatic as well as aesthetic dimensions. But at the heart of the public criticism was Barnard's depiction of the physical appearance of Lincoln - the lugubrious expression, the stooped shoulders, the shabby clothes, the gigantic hands and feet - a representation that was condemned as grotesque and defamatory. Robert Lincoln, the son of the dead president, was a prominent voice in what became a large chorus of objectors. The arguments and scathing judgements over Barnard's statue reverberated in England where by September 1917 The Times was alerting its readers to the possibility that a 'thoroughly unworthy statue' might be placed outside parliament. Consideration also had to be given to relations with their new ally: 'It is exactly the kind of careless trifle which might easily cause bad blood between two peoples with less complete unanimity and less reverence for each others great men.' What was required was a more statesman-like representation of Lincoln rather than a caricature depicting an awkward, shambling figure with big feet. Considerable political and diplomatic manoeuvring followed before it was agreed to return to the original scheme and present Britain with the Saint-Gaudens' Lincoln. In fact, this decision was only finally reached as the war was ending, and, as a copy needed to be made, it was not until July 1920 that the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln was unveiled in Parliament Square.
This left open the question of what was to happen to the second Barnard Lincoln which had been cast in the autumn of 1917 in expectation that it would soon be standing outside the Houses of Parliament as a symbol of Anglo-American friendship. The Sulgrave Institution of Great Britain and the United States and the Anglo-American Committee, the successor to the American Peace Centenary Committee, made it known that Taft still wished for the statue to go to Britain. Barnard's Lincoln was to be offered to a provincial city. The possibility of Manchester acquiring the statue was raised in an editorial in the Manchester Guardian in late November 1918, the newspaper's readers being spurred into action by the warning that if nothing was done then the statue might be presented to Liverpool. Manchester took action. Members of the Art Gallery Committee were prominent in advancing Manchester's claims for the statue, basing the city's case on its 'long standing and friendly commercial relations with America; its honourable record, second to no other city, in the fight for freedom in the European War; and its leading position in the world of art outside London.' Manchester's formal request for the Barnard Lincoln followed shortly after Woodrow Wilson's visit to the city, an occasion that saw the president made an honorary freeman. It was a successful application, the statue would come to Manchester not Liverpool or Norwich. Barnard's Lincoln arrived in Manchester in early April 1919 and was stored in the fire station, Whitworth Street, before being formally handed over to the city in the following month. The Manchester Guardian, which had reproduced a photograph of the statue some months before, predicted that it would provoke argument as it had done in America 'where it has sifted out the sighted from the blind art critics more successfully than any masterpiece of recent years.' But Mancunians appeared to show little concern about the 'tramp with the colic'; a critical letter from the Massachussetts sculptor, Alex Doyle, failing to ignite a correspondence. Exactly where in the city the statue was to be sited remained undecided though a special statue committee appeared to favour locating it in Piccadilly, in front of the art gallery that the city council were considering building there. The final decision, however, was left to the Sulgrave Society and Anglo-American Society. Following a visit by members of these societies, including John A. Stewart, it was decided to place the statue in Platt Fields, a park in Rusholme acquired by the council before the war. This location was in the inner suburbs rather than the city centre though it was understood that the statue might be removed to Piccadilly at a later date assuming that it harmonised with the new building. When Stewart was asked why the Barnard Lincoln had been given to Manchester, the justification was no longer couched in terms of a general harmonious relationship between the city and the United States but more specifically by reference to the events of the Civil War. Stewart observed:
'The sentiment of London was quite against the Northern States, but Lincoln found in John Bright and Cobden and in all the men of great affairs in Manchester warm friends and sympathizers. It is owing not a little to the way in which the English cotton spinners stood by us which enabled us to preserve the Union and bring the war to a successful conclusion. For that reason we are very grateful.'
In August the statue was installed in Platt Fields on a low granite plinth similar to the one at Cincinnati. The second Barnard Lincoln was unveiled in a ceremony attended by Judge Alton Parker, president of the Sulgrave Institution, and J. W. Davies, United States Ambassador. In handing over the statue Judge Parker acknowledged the appropriateness of Manchester as a location because of its special relationship forged during the Civil War. The crowd cheered at the mention of Cobden and Bright and the conclusion that 'Lincoln in Manchester stands at once for the high ideals of the American pioneer and of the Manchester spinner. An important consequence of recalling and memorialising this special Lancashire relationship was that the original purpose of the statue - the celebration of the long peace between the two countries - was marginalised, an emphasis evident in the official inscription.
To what extent ordinary Mancunians concurred with the Lord Mayor who spoke of 'this fine and beautiful statue' is uncertain. The Manchester Guardian's critic however was in no doubt that whilst London was to receive Lincoln the president, Manchester had got Lincoln the man; a statue of power and dignity, whose face had that 'something fitted to touch the spirit of the children of future generations like the great Stone face of another American imagining.' The Manchester City News concurred, contrasting Barnard's representation of Lincoln with those 'fantastical sculptures which give us heroes in foolish postures, as they never were and never could be.'
Barnard's Lincoln was never moved to Piccadilly but remained in Platt Fields until the mid-1980s when, at a time when the council were examining ways of encouraging public art in the city centre, it was decided to move the statue. Its new location was a new open space created around Queen Street, between Deansgate and Albert Square. The property company, MEPC plc, which had been responsible for the re-development of the area, agreed to meet the costs of moving and re-erecting the statue into the public space which would be named Lincoln Square. This proved an acceptable proposal. However, concerns over vandalism and security in the city centre appear to have led to the decision that the statue would be placed on a tall polished granite pedestal rather than at ground level as Barnard had insisted. But it was not the size of the new pedestal, (however inappropriate), that was to prove controversial when the statue was unveiled. The city council had agreed not to reproduce the original inscription on the new pedestal but to include extracts from documents by Abraham Lincoln and Abel Heywood to explain in greater detail what the original plaque had referred to as the 'Lancashire friendship to the cause for which he lived and died.' It was the presentation of this extended history lesson of Lancashire's support for the Union in the Civil War that turned a public celebration into a public embarrassment when the statue was unveiled by Arthur Mitchell of the Harlem Dance Theatre in November 1986. The Manchester Evening News, not even bothering to print a photograph of the statue or ceremony, revealed to its readers that the speeches inscribed on the pedestal had been altered in the name of political correctness: references to the working men of Lancashire having been replaced by working people of Lancashire. These textual alterations were regarded by the newspaper as further evidence to support its critique of an increasingly detached and arrogant council, riddled with left-wing groups in pursuit of the irrelevant. When Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, a former Conservative Lord Mayor, was approached by the newspaper for a comment, she did not disappoint, being characteristically critical about a political party that was contemptuous of tradition.
'These people are re-writing history. History is history. You cannot violate history and change, for example, what Winston Churchill said. I've never heard such bloody nonsense.'
THIS MONUMENT OF
THE WORK OF GEORGE GREY BARNARD
WAS, THROUGH THE FRIENDLY OFFICES OF
THE SULGRAVE INSTITUTION AND
THE ANGLO-AMERICAN SOCIETY,
GIVEN TO THE CITY OF MANCHESTER
BY MR & MRS CHARLES PHELPS TAFT,
OF CINCINNATI, OHIO, U.S.A,
IN COMMEMORATION OF LANCASHIRE'S
FRIENDSHIP TO THE CAUSE FOR WHICH
LINCOLN LIVED AND DIED, AND OF THE
CENTURY OF PEACE AMONG ENGLISH-
SPEAKING PEOPLES. 1919.
On the new pedestal the inscription reads:
ABRAHAM LINCOLN 1809-1865
This statue commemorates the support that the
working people of Manchester gave in their fight for
the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War.
By supporting the union under president Lincoln
at a time when there was an economic blockade
of the southern states the Lancashire cotton workers
were denied access to raw cotton which caused
considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry.
Extracts of President Lincoln's letter to
the working people of Manchester thanking them
for their help are reproduced around this plinth.
This statue was unveiled by Arthur Mitchell,
Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem,
on 13th November 1986
at the dedication of Lincoln Square.
Estates Director MEPC plc Chair of the Planning Committee
J.L. Tuckey Councillor Arnold Spencer
Sponsored by MEPC plc of Manchester
Abraham Lincoln Born 12th February 1809
Assassinated 15th April 1865
President of the U.S.A 1861-65
American Civil War 15th April 1861 to 9th April 1865
Extract of a letter
to the working people of Manchester 19th January 1863
I know and deeply deplore the suffering which the working people of Manchester
and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously
represented that the attempt to overthrow this government was built on the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one what should rest exclusively
on the basis of slavery, was likely to obtain the favour of Europe.
Through the action of disloyal citizens the working people of Europe
have been subjected to a severe trial for the purpose of forcing their sanction
to that attempt. Under these circumstances I cannot but regard your decisive
utterances upon the question as an instance of sublime christian heroism which has
not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is indeed an energetic
and re-inspiring assurance of the inherent truth and of the ultimate and universal
triumph of justice, humanity and freedom. I hail this interchange of sentiments
therefore, as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune
may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists
between two nations will be as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.
lhs of pedestal
Lancashire Cotton Famine 1861-1865
Free Trade Hall public meeting 31 December 1862
Chairman Abel Heywood
Extract of address from the working people of Manchester to His Excellency
President of the United States of America.
....... the vast progress which you have made in the short space of twenty months
fills us all with hope that every stain on your freedom will shortly be removed, and
that the erasure of that foul blot on Civilisation and Christianity - chattel
slavery - during your Presidency will cause the name of Abraham Lincoln to be
honoured and revered by posterity. We are certain that such a glorious
consum??ation will cement Great Britain and the United States in close
and enduring regards.......
Rear, at foot of pedestal
This statue is the work of sculptor George Grey Barnard and was presented to
the City of Manchester by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft of Cincinnati, Ohio.
PMSA recording information