Context: "The Eyes of that Species of Extinct Giants ..." - Abraham Lincoln

Mick West

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Often quoted out of context as evidence that a race of giants recently lived in North America, is this quote from Lincoln:
For example, it occupies pride of place as the epigraph of Richard Dewhurst's book: The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America:


It is variously reported as being from a speech he gave, or even something he said before congress. However the actual quote simply comes from some unfinished rambling notes that that Lincoln wrote after visiting Niagara, and the quote about "extinct giants" may simply be about mammoths. Here's the full quote in context
http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln2/1:6?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
The note on this from the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln say:
Example misleading usages:
http://tnephilim.blogspot.com/2013/10/abraham-lincolns-quote-about-ancient.html
[bunk]
Abraham Lincoln, is quoted as saying before Congress in 1848
“The eyes of that species of extinct giant, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara as our eyes do now.”
[/bunk]

http://bearfabrique.org/History/giants.htm
[bunk]It was common knowledge in the United States in the 1800s that there were burial mounds at numerous sites containing the bones of giant humans, and even Abraham Lincoln mentioned this once in a speech given at Niagara Falls[/bunk]

But did Lincoln actually mean humanoid giants? Arguably so, as Geoffrey Sea discusses:
http://portcitiesreview.com/lincolns-mystery-mound-tour-by-geoffrey-sea/
 

Hevach

Senior Member.
If we assume, just for argument, he was talking about humanoid giants and not mastodons, my question then is, "Uh... Yeah, so?"

Lincoln wasn't there to see them, and his background was in law and literature, not archaeology or anthropology. If he were talking about humanoid gaints, it would be in the same biblical context that he talked about creators and angels. From a position of belief, maybe even piety, but not from a position of knowledge or authority. He would not have been creating a new source, just citing the existing one, so he added nothing to the body of evidence.
 

Jason

Senior Member
If we assume, just for argument, he was talking about humanoid giants and not mastodons, my question then is, "Uh... Yeah, so?"

Lincoln wasn't there to see them, and his background was in law and literature, not archaeology or anthropology. If he were talking about humanoid gaints, it would be in the same biblical context that he talked about creators and angels. From a position of belief, maybe even piety, but not from a position of knowledge or authority. He would not have been creating a new source, just citing the existing one, so he added nothing to the body of evidence.
Agreed, but I think the point the OP is illustrating is that how a simple quote from over a century ago has given rise to the ideology that is giants who lived among the "mounds". Its funny because my wife is from the Philippines and in their culture they have strong beliefs about giants. Chocolate Hills in the Philippines is known to locals as a legend;


I guess there's something "mystical" about mounds and giants in every culture
 
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NoParty

Senior Member.
Legend has it that the hills came into existence when two giants threw stones and sand at each other in a fight that lasted for days. When they were finally exhausted, they made friends and left the island, but left behind the mess they made.[/EX]
Just great...now Snopes will have to debunk 500 paranoid "Two Giants Are Throwing Stones & Sand" e-mails next week...
 
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deirdre

Senior Member.
I guess there's something "mystical" about mounds and giants in every culture
My read was that he was referring to Indians in some way.
either as in the phrase "giants of industry" (ie warriors) or "stand on the shoulder of giants" type thing. although I don't know if the word 'giant' was used in such a way back then.

Or more poetically, since the indian burial mounds were giant in size vs a single grave, one could 'imagine' a giant person in them. ??
 

Jason

Senior Member
My read was that he was referring to Indians in some way.
either as in the phrase "giants of industry" (ie warriors) or "stand on the shoulder of giants" type thing. although I don't know if the word 'giant' was used in such a way back then.

Or more poetically, since the indian burial mounds were giant in size vs a single grave, one could 'imagine' a giant person in them. ??
I didn't get that in the first read, must be my lack in literary acuity. But you're right I can see the analogy now..
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I didn't get that in the first read, must be my lack in literary acuity. But you're right I can see the analogy now..
well by Lincolns time everyone knew what filled the mounds of America was Indian bones. and since he mentioned everyone and their brother, seems odd he's leave out the Indians who obviously definitely would have gazed upon Niagra.
 

markseifert

New Member
If we assume, just for argument, he was talking about humanoid giants and not mastodons, my question then is, "Uh... Yeah, so?"

Lincoln wasn't there to see them, and his background was in law and literature, not archaeology or anthropology. If he were talking about humanoid gaints, it would be in the same biblical context that he talked about creators and angels. From a position of belief, maybe even piety, but not from a position of knowledge or authority. He would not have been creating a new source, just citing the existing one, so he added nothing to the body of evidence.
Hey all, I hope you'll indulge me on adding some context to this thread. Let me preface saying that of course Lincoln didn't have actual knowledge of giants. But he probably believed that he did.

Lincoln could well have seen bones from mounds. I'd be somewhat surprised if he hadn't.

There are 3 major mound sites here in Illinois in the area that Lincoln lived and worked in. One of them is pretty close to where he lived for awhile as a boy, and another is very near Springfield, IL -- the state capital, Lincoln lived there for a time.

That mound is so close to there that it is often made part of the field trip when schoolkids around here go see Lincoln's house at the state capital.

***

That said, other important points:

This was not an unheard of belief in Lincoln's day (that there existed the bones of giants in mounds. When you trace the stories, any real reference becomes "friend of a friend saw them" stuff. But people were just learning about the mounds in that era too, and were amazed by the possible history.

On the plus side: Lincoln really was a smart and well rounded guy. He wrote about the importance of science to the country. He was extremely well read and had curiosity about the scientific and natural world. He was also a patent holder.

On the minus side: His wife held at least 7 seances in the White House while he was President.

Bottom line: He saw mounds almost certainly, may have seen normal human bones. He read about giants elsewhere, perhaps even in the local news.
 

markseifert

New Member
But did Lincoln actually mean humanoid giants? Arguably so, as Geoffrey Sea discusses:
http://portcitiesreview.com/lincolns-mystery-mound-tour-by-geoffrey-sea/

However, that wave of “giant” hucksterism is rather precisely dated. It occurred between 1865 and 1920, with a spate of “giant” discoveries in the first decade of the 1900s. Indeed, it’s the time stamp on those reports that marks mound-giantism as an artificial phenomenon, of cultural creation. Going by newspaper reports, which are really the only so-called evidence available, nobody seems to have started discovering mound-builder giants until after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, which may say more about his larger-than-life image than about any ancient bones found in the ground.
And... Sorry, but what's good for the goose is good for the gander. :)

These quotes by Geoffrey Sea are bunk:

that wave of “giant” hucksterism is rather precisely dated. It occurred between 1865 and 1920,
In other words, Lincoln himself was the “giant” who made the giant-reporting business lucrative

Attatched are 4 noteworthy datapoints from 1831, 1838, 1841, and 1845, from US newspapers. They are respesentative examples of many others, and each of these were repeated in numerous newspapers. 1831 and 1845 show the idea of this being popular enough to pass into pop culture.

Note that this corresponds to Lincoln at age 20s through his 40s. The 1845 event seems noteworthy as a particular influence here.

Again: I'm certainly not claiming giants are real. Of course they're not. The above above evidence claiming that Lincoln played a role in this trend is simply false as well.
 

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deirdre

Senior Member.
Attatched are 4 noteworthy datapoints from 1831, 1838, 1841, and 1845, from US newspapers. They are respesentative examples of many others, and each of these were repeated in numerous newspapers.
the middle two are not about giant human bones at all.

although the second is interesting as they do call him "giant of ancient days". he was a Chief.
https://www.mohegan.nsn.us/explore/heritage/our-history/sachem-uncas





the 4th about Mammoth cave, i found a book excerpt:
bones.png
 
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markseifert

New Member
the middle two are not about giant human bones at all.
I think I disagree, but here are some other examples you might find more compelling re this matter. :)

The Niagra Falls trip by Lincoln during which some theorize this was written is said to have taken place c. September 25-30, 1848.

Working back from that date for a bit, we see these examples of giants and giant bones in the news:

Sept 16, 1848 short fiction called "Legend of Owl Creek", which was reprinted in numerous papers as was customary at the time.

"I stood with reverence on the mound that pressed on the giant forms and stout hearts of the mighty dead."

[the story goes on describing an excavation of a burial mound]

"Their mournful death songs were heard day and night in the dim forest arches, and one by one their giant bodies were floating down the stream. They met death bravely in those old days."
May 23, 1848 -- Here's a beauty (attached): Scientific American calls BUNK on claims of giants.

April 22, 1848, numerous American newspapers report on the "Spanish Giant" Joaquin Eleizequi. Said here to be 7'10" and 450 lbs. A little off point, but gives context of what a "giant" was considered to be (and also keeping in mind that men were 4-6" shorter on average then... more or less). Anyone or any skeleton approaching the 7 foot range, with the help of a foot or so of exageration in some cases, might be called a giant.



March 9, 1848 American newspaper reports on the lecture "Giants of Olden Times" by "Professsor Silliman". The professor details the specifics of a number of giants, including:

The giant exhibited at Rouen in 1836, the Professor said, measured over 18 feet.

In 1814, near St Germain, was found the tomb of the giant Isorent, who was no less than twenty feet high.
In any case, my admittedly minor point is that the notion that this trend started in earnest in after Lincoln is untrue.
 

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