Imagine Effect Saturday Night Live Would Have Had on the Civil War

I listened as someone passionately condemned the satirizing of the American presidential race.

Pressing home her point, she asked what effect Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live, Dave Letterman, et al, would have had in Civil War Days.

It brought to mind the most recent part of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals.”

Loaned to me by Donna Kurtz, the book is about Lincoln and his cabinet.

I’m not too far into the book, but Thursday while donating blood at the Heartland Blood Center in Crystal Lake, I read about William Seward’s family’s 1835 trip south of the Potomac River.

“…crossing into Virginia, the Sewards entered a world virtually unchanged since 1800…’our rough road conducted us…[past] low log-huts, the habitations of slaves…How deeply the curse of slavery is set upon this venerated and storied region of the old dominion.’”

He went on to compare is it only with France where 40 years of war and “whose population has been … decimat[ed] by the sword as much decayed as Virginia.”

“Slavery trapped a large portion of the Southern population,” Kearns writes, “preventing upward mobility…[and] the creation of a sizable middle class.”


Seward’s wife Frances “responded to the human plight of the enslaved.”

“We are told that we see slavery in its mildest form, [but] disguise thyself as thou wilt, still, slavery, thou are a bitter draught,” she writes her sister.

“One day Frances stopped the carriage to converse with an old blind slave woman, who was at work ‘turning the ponderous wheel of a machine,’ in a yard,” it says on page 78.

“The work was hard, but she had to do something, she (the old lady) explained, ‘and this is all I can do now, I am so old.’ When Frances asked about her family, she revealed that her husband and all her children had been sold long ago to different owners and she had never heard from any of them again.

“A few days afterward, the Sewards came across a group of slave children chained together on the road outside of Richmond. Henry Described the sorrowful scene:’

Ten naked little boys, between six and twelve years old, tied together, two and two, by their wrists, were all fastened to a long rope, and followed by a tall, gaunt white man, who, with his long lash, whipped up the sad and weary little procession, drove it to the horse-trough to drink, and thence to a shed, where they lay down on the ground and sobbed and moaned themselves to sleep.’

“The children had been purchase from different plantations that day and were on their way to be auctioned off at Richmond.”

“Frances could not endure to continue the journey:

‘Sick of slavery and the South, the evil effects constantly coming before me and marrying everything,’” she “begged her husband to cancel the rest of their tour.”

He did.

Now, imagine what Saturday night live might have done with these scenes of slavery and the visage of Abraham Lincoln in the early 1860’s.

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Illustrations from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals.”


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