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:
The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now
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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

Niagara-Falls! By what mysterious power is it that millions and millions, are drawn from all parts of the world, to gaze upon Niagara Falls? There is no mystery about the thing itself. Every effect is just such as any inteligent man knowing the causes, would anticipate, without [seeing] it. If the water moving onward in a great river, reaches a point where there is a perpendicular jog, of a hundred feet in descent, in the bottom of the river,---it is plain the water will have a violent and continuous plunge at that point. It is also plain the water, thus plunging, will foam, and roar, and send up a mist, continuously, in which last, during sunshine, there will be perpetual rain-bows. The mere physical of Niagara Falls is only this. Yet this is really a very small part of that world's wonder. It's power to excite reflection, and emotion, is it's great charm. The geologist will demonstrate that the plunge, or fall, was once at Lake Ontario, and has worn it's way back to it's present position; he will ascertain how fast it is wearing now, and so get a basis for determining howlong it has been wearing back from Lake Ontario, and finally demonstrate by it that this world is at least fourteen thousand years old. A philosopher of a slightly different turn will say Niagara Falls is only the lip of the basin out of which pours all the surplus water which rains down on two or three hundred thousand square miles of the earth's surface. He will estim[ate with] approximate accuracy, that five hundred thousand [to]ns of water, falls with it's full weight, a distance of a hundred feet each minute---thus exerting a force equal to the lifting of the same weight, through the same space, in the same time. And then the further reflection comes that this vast amount of water, constantly pouring down, is supplied by an equal amount constantly lifted up, by the sun; and still he says, ``If this much is lifted up, for this one space of two or three hundred thousand square miles, an equal amount must be lifted for every other equal space, and he is overwhelmed in the contemplation of the vast power the sun is constantly exerting in quiet, noiseless opperation of lifting water up to be rained down again.

But still there is more. It calls up the indefinite past. When Columbus first sought this continent---when Christ suffered on the cross---when Moses led Israel through the Red-Sea---nay, even, when Adam first came from the hand of his Maker---then as now, Niagara was roaring here. The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now. Co[n]temporary with the whole race of men, and older than the first man, Niagara is strong, and fresh to-day as ten thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastadon---now so long dead, that fragments of their monstrous bones, alone testify, that they ever lived, have gazed on Niagara. In that long---long time, never still for a single moment. Never dried, never froze, never slept, never rested,
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The note on this from the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln say:
[1] AD, DLC-RTL. The dating of this document by Nicolay and Hay [July 1, 1850?] has been rejected because the editors can find no reason for so dating it. The date, c. September 25-30, 1848, is based on two principal facts: (1) Lincoln visited Niagara Falls en route from Boston to Chicago, September 23-October 5, 1848; (2) the document is in appearance of paper and handwriting contemporary with the documents of speeches written in 1848 in Washington. The content suggests the sort of meditation and recapitulation of observations and reflections which would be psychologically apropos following a visit to the Falls, and one suspects that Lincoln's boat trip from Buffalo provided the leisure to begin, if not to conclude, the meditation. Nicolay and Hay entitle the piece ``Notes for a Lecture,'' but the subject itself should suffice. The manuscript stops abruptly with an unfinished sentence.
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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/

At first when I read this I thought that he was talking about mastodon bones, since he mentions mastodons just a couple sentences later. A similar confusion has attended the writings of Jefferson, who took to the shorthand of describing the mastodon bones he examined as those of “giants,” meaning giant elephants. But mastodon bones do not fill the architectural “mounds of America,” and it would have been weird to describe the giant elephants as gazing with aesthetic appreciation upon Niagara Falls as we do. Lincoln’s mention of mastodons follows as a repetition, making clear that both giant mound-builders and mastodons had looked upon Niagara Falls:

“The Mammoth and Mastadon—now so long dead, that fragments of their monstrous bones, alone testify, that they ever lived, have gazed on Niagara.”

So Lincoln was showing off his naturalist acumen in distinguishing between mammoths and mastodons, and in breaking the story of giant humans, whose bones fill the mounds, and who constituted a separate and extinct species, in Darwinian terms. That would not be such an unusual reference since there were dozens if not hundreds of reports of “giant skeletons” found in the mounds, the result of aforementioned hucksterism, speculation, and ignorance.

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.

In other words, Lincoln himself was the “giant” who made the giant-reporting business lucrative, and the fad did not spread in earnest until after the notorious Cardiff Giant hoax of central New York state in 1869. That episode made Honest Abe’s posthumous role in the duplicitous giant trade rather obvious: George Hull duped workers into fashioning a ten-foot-tall “petrified” man out of gypsum by telling them he was commissioned to make a statue of Lincoln. Both Hull and the infamous P.T. Barnum then collected small fortunes from audiences of the “unearthed petrified giant,” and from a fake copy of the fake, engraving in stone self-abasement as the great American pastime.

Nobody finds giant human bones nowadays, since DNA analysis has been available. Yet in the fertile soil of Ohio and on the Internet, shards of the crackpottery of mound-giants still surface like buried refuse after a rainstorm. Invariably, the same mangled biblical authority is cited that inspired Hull, an atheist, to exploit the gullibility of the godly in New York. “The Nephilim,” were the antediluvian giants mentioned in the Book of Genesis, it is said, and therefore they must have been the supernatural helpers of ancient architects around the world. Problem is that nephilim means “giants” only in Greek and English mistranslation. In Hebrew, the word is of dubious etymology but has no literal reference to height.
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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;
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. For the more romantically inclined is the tale of Arogo, a young and very strong giant who fell in love with an ordinary mortal girl called Aloya. After she died, the giant Arogo cried bitterly. His tears then turned into hills, as a lasting proof of his grief.
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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.
The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now.
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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. ??
Jefferson and others were aware of "many" barrows, as he called them, in the area .[4] This particular mound or barrow was known locally as "the Indian Grave"[5]and he excavated it in order to ascertain which of several views of the Indian burial customs was correct: "That they were repositories of the dead, has been obvious to all: but on what particular occasion constructed, was matter of doubt. Some have thought they covered the bones of those who have fallen in battles fought on the spot of interment. Some ascribed them to the custom, said to prevail among the Indians, of collecting, at certain periods, the bones of all their dead, wheresoever deposited at the time of death. Others again supposed them the general sepulchres for towns, conjectured to have been on or near the grounds; and this opinion was supported by the quality of the lands in which they are found, (those constructed of earth being generally in the softest and most fertile meadow-grounds on river sides) and by a tradition, said to be handed down from the Aboriginal Indians, that, when they settled in a town, the first person who died was placed erect, and earth put around him, so as to cover and support him; that, when another dies, a narrow passage was dug to the first, the second reclined against him, and the cover of earth replaced, and so on."

Jefferson wrote that the mound was "of spheroidical form, of about 40 feet diameter at the base, and had been of about twelve feet altitude.. http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-excavation-indian-burial-mound

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Jason

Senior Member
My read was that he was referring to Indians in some way.
The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now.
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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. ??
Jefferson and others were aware of "many" barrows, as he called them, in the area .[4] This particular mound or barrow was known locally as "the Indian Grave"[5]and he excavated it in order to ascertain which of several views of the Indian burial customs was correct: "That they were repositories of the dead, has been obvious to all: but on what particular occasion constructed, was matter of doubt. Some have thought they covered the bones of those who have fallen in battles fought on the spot of interment. Some ascribed them to the custom, said to prevail among the Indians, of collecting, at certain periods, the bones of all their dead, wheresoever deposited at the time of death. Others again supposed them the general sepulchres for towns, conjectured to have been on or near the grounds; and this opinion was supported by the quality of the lands in which they are found, (those constructed of earth being generally in the softest and most fertile meadow-grounds on river sides) and by a tradition, said to be handed down from the Aboriginal Indians, that, when they settled in a town, the first person who died was placed erect, and earth put around him, so as to cover and support him; that, when another dies, a narrow passage was dug to the first, the second reclined against him, and the cover of earth replaced, and so on."

Jefferson wrote that the mound was "of spheroidical form, of about 40 feet diameter at the base, and had been of about twelve feet altitude.. http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-excavation-indian-burial-mound

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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.

Within the Pequot Tribe at that time, a dispute erupted between
the Pequot Sachem (head chief) Sassacus and Uncas.
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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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