Frank J. Williams: Parallel Passages that Raise Questions About a Chapter He Wrote in the 1990s
by HNN Staff
Devoted Abraham Lincoln scholar and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams acknowledged last week that he"inadvertently" used the opening paragraphs of a 1957 Journal magazine story in an article he wrote on Lincoln in 1993."I feel terrible, mortified, embarrassed," Williams said."I take full responsibility for it." --
MARK ARSENAULT, Providence Journal, April 6, 2004
The Providence Journal reported this week that Frank J. Williams wrote an article in 1993 that was substantially similar to another article (by Kenneth B. Roberts) published by the Providence Journal's Sunday magazine in 1957. Williams's 1993 article, which concerned Abraham Lincoln's visits to Rhode Island, appeared in
Rhode Island History, which was published by the Rhode Island Historical Society.
The paper found that "the opening 250 words of each article" were similar. (See below.) Williams explained that he must have come across the 1957 article when he was writing a lecture for the Lincoln Group of Boston in the 1970s. He explained that when he wrote the 1993 article he must have assumed that his notes on the 1957 article recorded his own words.
According to the Providence Journal account, Williams said "[h]e is unaware of any similar instances in his writing." But an HNN reader has brought to our attention passages that appeared in one of Williams's scholarly works that closely parallel the words used by other writers. Williams was made aware of the parallels in 2002.
The passages appear in Williams's, "Lincoln and Leadership: An International Perspective," a chapter in Abraham Lincoln: Sources and Style of Leadership, edited by Frank J. Williams, William D. Pederson, and Vincent J. Marsala (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1994). (See below.) Co-editor William Pederson told HNN that the passage taken from James G. Randall wasn't properly credited because of an error made in copyingediting.
Contacted by HNN, Mr. Williams sent us this statement:
I take very seriously my responsibility to accurately cite
sources in any scholarly work. I am sensitive to the proper protocol
for quoting and footnoting, especially since many of my dozens
of articles and writings are published in periodicals which serve
the academic world. At the same time it is surely worth
remembering that within this community sometimes even a trivial
stylistic debate arising over copy-editing can be magnified.
Such is the case regarding the passages which are referenced
from Lincoln and Leadership: An International Perspective. These
passages either involved different phrasing or were clearly
cited with proper footnotes or quotations when first written in
accordance with accepted academic standards used by many other
The stylistic debate over copywriting is not at all similar to
that of the inadvertent error involving the 1993 article in the
Rhode Island History Magazine which I have acknowledged and explained
and for which I have sincerely apologized to the History Magazine,
the Providence Journal and my readers.
Re: Frank Williams, "Lincoln and
Leadership: An International Perspective"
"It is doubtful whether
any other leader of his time could have matched him in politics, in shaping
language, in smoothing personal difficulties by a classical magnanimous
touch or a tactful gesture, in avoiding domestic and international
complications, in courageously persisting in the face of almost unendurable
discouragements, and in maintaining war morale while refusing to harbor
not only passes the test of leadership, he has become a symbol for
democracy and union." (Williams cites his source.)
Randall, Dictionary of American Biography, 9: 258
"It is doubtful whether
any other leader of the North could have matched him in dramatizing the war
to the popular mind, in shaping language to his purpose, in smoothing
personal difficulties by a magnanimous touch or a tactful gesture, in
avoiding domestic and international complications, in courageously
persisting in the face of almost unendurable discouragements, in
maintaining war morale while refusing to harbor personal malice against the
South. Not inappropriately, he has become a symbol both of American
democracy and the Union."
"The year 1864 was the
fifteenth year of a revolt to overthrow that emperor and his Manchu dynasty
- a ruinous civil war known as the Taiping Rebellion." (Williams does
not cite his source.)
Foster, Abraham Lincoln's World, p. 256
the year 1858 was the seventh year in the reign of the Manchu Emperor Hien
Feng. It was also the seventh year of a revolt to overthrow that Emperor
and his Manchu Dynasty - a ruinous civil war known as the Taiping
"Hooker, showing the
letter to newspaper correspondent Noah Brooks, described it as 'just such a
letter as a father might write to his son.' Instead of cutting off all but
official correspondence with this vexatious general, President Lincoln
turned his criticism to respect for him. Lincoln
handled criticism much better than the thin-skinned Davis."
(Williams does not cite his source.)
Neely, Jr., "Lincoln and Jefferson Davis," Lincoln
Lore no. 1763 (Jan. 1986), p. 2
"In April, Hooker showed
the letter to newspaper correspondent Noah Brooks, describing it as 'just
such a letter as a father might write to his son.' Instead of cutting off
all but official correspondence with this troublesome general, President
Lincoln reduced his critic to nearly teary-eyed reverence for him as a
father. Thus Lincoln handled criticism much
better than the thin-skinned Davis
. . . ."
"The first inaugural
address of Abraham Lincoln was delivered at 1:30 p.m. on 4 March from a platform
of unsightly planks and boards with little attempt at decoration . . .
." (Williams does not cite his source.)
Lincoln Lore no. 1401 (5 March
"The First Inaugural
Address of Abraham Lincoln, newly elected President of the United States, was
delivered at 1:30 p.m. on March 4, 1861 from a platform of unsightly planks
and boards with little attempt at decorations . . . ."
"Their style as they
assumed their respective responsibilities of leadership in the early weeks
of 1861 were, however, more important in accentuating their differences.
The queen of England
opened Parliament on February 5 with these words: . . . "
Lincoln Lore no. 1401 (5 March
"However, the words
spoken by these three representatives of different political systems as
they assumed their respective responsibilities of leadership in the early
weeks of 1861 are of more importance than their processionals. The Queen of
England opened Parliament in person on February 5 and delivered her speech
as follows: . . . ."