Abraham Lincoln, Washington Nationals fanRoundup
tags: baseball, Abraham Lincoln, Washington Nationals
Sidney Blumenthal is the author of "All the Powers of Earth 1856-1860," the third of his five-volume biography, "The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln," and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and to Hillary Clinton.
During the darkest days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln would look south from the windows of the White House and distract himself from news from the battlefields by watching the Washington Nationals run the bases. The newly formed baseball team played on what is now the South Ellipse, then called the White Lot, enclosed with a whitewashed fence.
Lincoln was almost certainly a Nationals fan: He knew the team’s founder well. When Lincoln served his one term in the House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849, he lived in a boardinghouse facing the Capitol on the current site of the Library of Congress. It was known as “Abolition House” for being a center of antislavery activists in Washington. (Among Lincoln’s mess mates were Rep. Joshua Giddings of Ohio, the leading abolitionist in the House, who helped Lincoln write a bill for emancipation in the District of Columbia, along with a variety of Whig members and federal employees.)
Edmund F. French, a clerk at the Treasury Department, daily dined and lived in the house with Lincoln. In 1859, while still working at Treasury, he wrote the “Constitution and bylaws of the National Baseball Club of Washington, D.C.” It was the founding document of the Washington Nationals; French was the club’s James Madison. The Nationals’ constitution laid down the rules for sportsmanlike conduct as well as the charge for monthly dues.
Lincoln loved baseball. He had played a primitive and popular version called “townball” as a young man and lawyer in Illinois. There are several accounts of him playing in Springfield and in towns throughout the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois that he traveled as a lawyer during the 1850s. “Here Abraham Lincoln and his friends played townball,” reads a marker placed before the Postville Park, Ill., courthouse by the Illinois Historical Society.
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