On December 6, 1861, the Library of Congress lent a 1841 copy of Volksmärchen der Deutschen (German Folktales) by Johann Karl August Musäus to the White House. The folktales, written in a satirical style, were originally published at the turn of the 19th century. They were republished several times, including in the 1820s and 1840s, reportedly due to a spike in British interest in German Romanticist literature and a revival 20 years later following the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
In December 1861, President Lincoln borrowed two items from the Library of Congress, "U.S. Constitution 1783" and "U.S. Constitution 1856." He borrowed them on two separate occasions that month, returning them on December 6th and checking them out again on December 30th. Lincoln regularly referred to the Constitution in key speeches earlier that year. For example, in his Inaugural Address in March 1861, he referenced the Constitution 34 times, underscoring the oath he had just taken to preserve, protect, and defend it. On the fourth of July that same year, he referenced the Constitution 27 times and noted, “Our popular Government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled--the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains--its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it.”
By contrast, in his first annual message to Congress in December 1861, the month he checked out the items twice, he made zero references to the U.S. Constitution. Instead, he made repeated references to Union and the war, reminding Congress that, “It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government--the rights of the people.” In addition to articulating challenges and threats caused by the ongoing rebellion, the message is notable for Lincoln’s extensive treatment of foreign relations and policy. Indeed, the message is the starting point for the Foreign Relations of the United States series, the historical record of all major U.S. foreign policy decisions and activity. He was setting a course for the future.
On Wednesday, December 24, 1862, Mary Lincoln borrowed Thomas Buchanan Read’s, The Wagoner of the Alleghanies: A Poem of the Days of Seventy-Six (Philadelphia, 1862) from the Library of Congress. The setting is described as such, “The scenes of this poem are chiefly laid on the banks of the Schuylkill, between Philadelphia and Valley Forge; the time, somewhat previous to and during a great part of the war of Independence.” And the poem takes place in three major parts. Thomas B. Read also included a note to the reader, which begins, “The author is well aware of the justice of the remark made by his publisher, that the present is not a favorable time to expect the country to receive a volume of poetry with any marked attention….” Read may have been surprised to learn that the President’s own wife, and perhaps other occupants of the Executive Mansion, gave his poetry attention.
In 1864, Read, who in addition to being a poet was an artist, painted a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.