Lincoln as Baseball Champion in The National Game
by Currier and Ives
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From the year baseball stepped forward as the national sport: Lincoln, the ‘Rail Splitter,’ is depicted as a victorious player, with candidates Bell, Douglas and Breckinridge looking on. This not only is the first identified reference of baseball as the “national game,” but also can be considered the start of the tradition of sports metaphors in American politics. [BASEBALL; ABRAHAM LINCOLN].
Lithograph (attributed to Louis Maurer). The National Game. Three ‘Outs’ and One ‘Run.’ Abraham Winning the Ball.
New York, N.Y.: Currier & Ives, 1860. 16 x 11 ¾ in.
The print portrays three candidates holding baseball bats inscribed with their respective political positions -- “fusion” for John Bell of the border state Constitutional Union party; “non-intervention” (on the slavery issue) for Stephen Douglas, a northern Democrat; and “slavery extension” for John C. Breckinridge, a southern Democrat. Lincoln’s bat is a rail, labeled “equal rights and free territory.” He is also raising a ball, signifying that he was the winner.
The words in each figure’s text bubble contain the baseball slang of the era. Bell thinks that it is “very singular that we three should strike ‘foul’ and be ‘put out’ while old Abe made such a ‘good lick.’”
Douglas explains: “That’s because he had that confounded rail, to strike with. I thought our fusion would be a ‘short stop’ to his career.”
Breckinridge, holding his nose and turning away, proclaims: “I guess I’d better leave for Kentucky, for I smell something strong around here, and begin to think that we are completely ‘skunk’d.’”
Lincoln has the last word: “Gentlemen, if any of you should ever take a hand in another match at this game, remember that you must have ‘a good bat’ and strike a ‘fair ball’ to make a ‘clean score’ & a ‘home run.’”
The image is widely known from reproductions of the Library of Congress copy, but the print is particularly rare. No other copies have been found in WorldCat; only one other copy -- also handled by Kaller -- appears in major auction records
Expertly cleaned, mended, and de-acidified; conservation treatment report available on request.