People are often their own worst enemies, as a misadventure at the Lincoln museum in Springfield demonstrates.
A couple months ago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, suddenly and without explanation, fired the executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
A couple days ago, a report prepared by the state’s Office of Inspector General gave the explanation for the firing of Alan Lowe that the governor should have provided.
Lowe was dismissed for irresponsibly and inappropriately loaning a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address handwritten by the president to a new Texas-based museum overseen by commentator Glenn Beck. After conducting a seven-month investigation into the loan, the inspector general contended that Lowe should be terminated.
“The people of Illinois are fortunate that the Gettysburg Address and other artifacts ultimately returned safely to the ALPLM in June 2018, despite the risks that were taken,” the report says.
Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., four and a half months after Union forces defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.
One of the best-known speeches in American history, Lincoln’s words that day — just 271 of them — have been described as a masterful statement of American national purpose in the middle of a war that threatened to divide the country in two.
The inspector general’s report outlined a curious set of circumstances regarding the ill-advised loan of the document. One raised serious questions about Lowe’s judgment and the other created doubts about his willingness to operate under the rules. Frankly, the facts indicate that he seemed to think that whatever he wanted to do as the man in charge of the museum was OK.
That kind of thinking is both arrogant and delusional. It’s arrogant for obvious reasons — Lowe wasn’t a king. It’s delusional because Lowe loaned the document in a hurried fashion, ignored underlings’ advice that he was acting inappropriately and apparently forgot the possibility that a complaint could be lodged about his conduct with the inspector general. That, in fact, is what occurred.
Lowe’s professed reason for loaning the document is reasonable — the library was paid $50,000 and needed the money. Lowe also said that he thought putting the document on display in Texas would provide valuable publicity for the Springfield-based museum.
But the fact is that overseers of this precious document had passed a resolution prohibiting future loans of this copy. Lowe professed to be unaware of the ban on the loans.
The museum’s copy of the Gettysburg Address is one of five known copies written in Lincoln’s hand. It was lent to the new Mercury One museum in June 2018.
The state of Illinois obtained the copy in 1944. Prior to Lowe’s decision to loan it to Mercury One, the state had lent it out just twice — to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2008 and to the Chicago History Museum in 2009.
At the time of Lowe’s firing, news reports focused on the loan of the speech as well as internal squabbling at the museum.
The public would have been well served if, after firing Lowe, Pritzker had simply explained the situation and indicated that a report would spell out all the details. Pritzker didn’t, allowing rumor to fill the vacuum he needlessly created.
Lowe isn’t going to get another chance to loan out the Gettysburg Address. But Pritzker most likely is going to be confronted with another personnel issue like this one. Let’s hope he learned something from the Gettysburg Address experience.