Lincoln’s Famous Letter of Condolence to a Grieving Mother Was Likely Penned by His Secretary

Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain
Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Abraham Lincoln was a famously eloquent writer. One of his most renowned compositions is the so-called “Bixby letter,” a short yet poignant missive the president sent a widow in Boston who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. But as Newsweek reports, new research published in the journal Digital Scholarship in the Humanities [PDF] suggests that Lincoln’s private secretary and assistant, John Hay, actually composed the dispatch.

The letter to Lydia Bixby was written in November 1864 at the request of William Shouler, the adjutant general of Massachusetts, and state governor John Albion Andrew. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” it read. “But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.”

Unknown to Lincoln, Bixby had actually only lost two sons in battle; the others had deserted the army, were honorably discharged, or died a prisoner of war. Nevertheless, word of the compassionate presidential gesture spread when the Boston Evening Transcript reprinted a copy of the 139-word letter for all to read.

Nobody quite knows what happened to Bixby’s original letter—some say she was a Confederate sympathizer and immediately burnt it—but for years, scholars debated whether Hay was its true author.

During Hay’s lifetime, the former secretary-turned-statesman had reportedly told several people in confidence that he—not Lincoln—had written the renowned composition, TIME reports. The rumor spread after Hay's death, but some experts interpreted the admission to mean that Hay had transcribed the letter, or had copied it from a draft.

To answer the question once and for all, a team of forensic linguists in England used a text analysis technique called n-gram tracing, which identifies the frequency of linguistic sequences in a short piece of writing to determine its true author. They tested 500 texts by Hay and 500 by Lincoln before analyzing the Bixby letter, the researchers explained in a statement quoted by Newsweek.

“Nearly 90 percent of the time, the method identified Hay as the author of the letter, with the analysis being inconclusive in the rest of the cases,” the linguists concluded.

According to Atlas Obscura, the team plans to present its findings at the International Corpus Linguistics Conference, which will take place at England’s University of Birmingham from Monday, July 24 to Friday, July 28.

[h/t Newsweek]

Millennials Get Blamed for a Lot, But They Could Help to Save the U.S. Postal Service

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iStock

Millennials get a bad rap for destroying everything from homeownership rates to fabric softener sales, but there's one important traditional industry they're enthusiastic about: the U.S. Postal Service. According to CityLab, a new USPS report [PDF] finds that young people's appreciation for snail mail could help boost the often-struggling agency's fortunes in the future.

Probing for insights into the minds of young people ages 18 to 34 (a little off from the Pew Research Center's definition of Millennials as being people ages 22 to 37), the USPS conducted surveys and hosted live chats online to figure out what Millennials think of the agency, and how the Postal Service can ignite their love of snail mail.

That's vital, because as it is, technological innovations like email and online bill payments are putting the USPS out of business. It lost money for the 11th year in a row in 2017, and while shipping packages is getting more popular (thank you, online shopping habits), it hasn't been enough to offset the decline of mail during that year—mail rates declined by 50 billion pieces in 2017. Young people ages 18 to 34 received an average of 17 pieces of mail each week in 2001, while they only receive 10 now.

But Millennials, it turns out, love mail, even if they don't want to pay their bills with it. As the report observes, "many Millennials still delight in receiving personalized notes or cards around holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions." Three-quarters of respondents said that getting personalized mail from friends and family "makes them feel special." According to the report, around 80 percent of Millennials say they're satisfied with the USPS, around the same rate as older, stamp-loving generations. More Millennials than Boomers, meanwhile, have a USPS.com account, and 59 percent say that the USPS is an innovative organization.

Millennials mentioned several ideas for USPS improvements that already basically exist, like self-service kiosks, at-home package pickup, and Informed Delivery emails, meaning the Postal Service isn't always the best at getting the word out about the cool things it already does. The report also shows that the Postal Service is still working on an augmented reality service that could give you a look at what's inside a package before you open it. (The idea debuted in 2016, but the app was largely limited to showing animated messages.)

The surveys and discussions did come up with a new idea to endear the post office to Millennials: a rewards program. The young people surveyed suggested that members could earn points by buying stamps or mailing packages and use them to redeem discounts or enter contests.

Millennials: They may be ruining vacations, but at least they're ready to save the mail.

[h/t CityLab]

And the Most Miserable State in America Is …

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iStock

Where you live has a huge impact on your health and happiness: Location dictates everything from your local weather to crime rates. Each year, the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index interviews 160,000 U.S. adults about their lives, scoring different regions of the country on their residents' well-being and ranking the states based on the overall happiness of the people who live there. This year, according to USA Today, 24/7 Wall Street decided to add to that dataset by analyzing even more socioeconomic data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI, and elsewhere, such as poverty rates, crime, social ties, and health across the U.S. The result is a more complete picture of how happy some states are, and how miserable others are.

Some of the rankings might surprise you. Both Dakotas made it into the top 10, with South Dakota taking the overall prize for the happiest state. In the survey, residents reported a high sense of purpose, saying they like what they do each day and have reached most of their goals in the last year. More than 80 percent of respondents said they like what they do daily, more than any other state. In other high-scoring states, residents report a strong sense of security, good public health, and strong social ties. (Low crime and unemployment rates help.)

Here are the 10 happiest states in the U.S., according to the rankings.

1. South Dakota
2. Vermont
3. Hawaii
4. Minnesota
5. North Dakota
6. Colorado
7. New Hampshire
8. Idaho
9. Utah
10. Montana

Meanwhile, economic concerns and high crime dominate the responses within the rankings of the most miserable states in the U.S. West Virginia, the least happy state on the list, is plagued by financial insecurity and poor health outcomes. In the survey, West Virginians had the lowest numbers of people who said they were in "near perfect" physical health, liked what they do every day, or have strong social ties. Other states in the top 10 list of least happy states include Louisiana and Arkansas, both of which have some of the highest rates of poverty and violent crime in the country. In Oklahoma, one out of five people who responded to the survey said they struggled to afford food, and in Kentucky, 23 percent of respondents said they have been depressed in their lifetime.

These are the 10 most miserable states, according to these calculations.

1. West Virginia
2. Louisiana
3. Arkansas
4. Mississippi
5. Oklahoma
6. Kentucky
7. Ohio
8. Nevada
9. Indiana
10. Rhode Island

Head to USA Today to see the full list.

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