Textile: The Union Forever. Designer unknown. United States, 1864. Gift of Mrs. Frederick F. Thompson.

The Union Forever

Today marks the 148th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which closed “With malice toward none, with charity for all… let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds...” This delicate design of floral wreaths encircling womanly hands clasped in friendship seems to embody the ideal of reconciliation set forth by the President as he entered his second term of office, just a few weeks before his assassination.

Inexpensive printed cotton calicos were used for commemorative and promotional purposes, much as t-shirts are today, and this design, “The Union Forever,” was created as part of his second campaign. While the economics of cotton textile production and consumption contributed to the polarization of the country leading up to the Civil War, textiles also provided an overt means to communicate political and social beliefs. Women were a strong moral voice in the abolitionist movement, and had a substantial impact on the discourse surrounding slavery in the public sphere, often using their “needles as daggers” in defense of their moral views. This fabric would have given women a means to express their support for Lincoln, even while being denied the right to vote.

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