Episode 43 – Selim I versus Abraham Lincoln

In the Leaders bracket, we start with yet another person from the House of Osman, Sultan Selim I also known as Selim the Grim. His opponent, the President of the United States during its most trying time, the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln.

My primary resource for information about Selim I is Caroline Finkel’s monumental work, Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire as well as The Ottoman Empire:1300-1600 by Halil Inalcik and Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes. As for Lincoln, I’ve decided to use Abraham Lincoln by James M. McPherson, Father Lincoln: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and his Boys – Robert, Eddy, Willie, and Tad by Alan Manning and Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness.

Sultan Selim I
Sultan Selim I

Selim I also known as Selim the Grim or Selim the Resolute was born in 1470 to Bayezid II and Gülbahar Hatun, a Turkish princess. His reign from 1512 to 1520 saw the largest percentage growth in Ottoman history, having expanded by 70% in those short, eight years. 

Selim was not the chosen one when it came to the line of succession, that honor would go to his half-brother Şehzade Ahmet. When Bayezid II announced that Şehzade would indeed become the Ottoman Sultan after his death, Selim was infuriated and decided to rebel against his brother and father. 

In 1509, Ahmed won a battle against the Karaman Turks and their Safavid allies in Asia Minor and then marched on Constantinople. Fearing for his safety, Selim staged a revolt in Thrace but was defeated by Bayezid and forced to flee to Crimea in 1511. At this point, Bayezid II became paranoid that Ahmed might try to overthrow him to gain the throne which is why he did not allow his son to enter Constantinople. 

Selim returned from Crimea and, with support from the Janissaries, defeated and killed Ahmed. Bayezid II then abdicated the throne on April 25, 1512. He left Constantinople to head toward retirement in Demotika, but either died or more likely was killed before he got there.

From here we begin to see why Selim was known as the Grim because he had both of his half-brothers and numerous nephews murdered. His justification was to remove the threat of civil war which was a problem within the Ottoman Empire at the time. Selim wanted to focus on external enemies which in his mind were the followers of the Shia faction of the Islamic religion. 

The conflict between the Shiites and the Sunni’s is as old as Islam itself. Basically, it started at the death of the Prophet Muhammad and who was to take the lead of the faith. The Sunni’s, of which Selim was a follower, believed that Muhammad did not name a successor but wanted Abu Bakr to take the lead. The Shia faction believed that the founder of Islam had designated a new leader and it was Ali ibn Abi Talib. Of course, there is more to it, but it did cause a deep divide leading to centuries of warfare and conflict that continues to this day. 

The initial target of Selim was Shah Ismail, founder of the Safavid dynasty. The war between the two was brutal, but in the end, Selim’s army was victorious. The aftermath of the Battle of Chaldiran on August 23, 1514, was that the Ottomans annexed Eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq from Safavid Iran. We can see the effect this had in our times with the animosity between modern day Iraq and Iran with a war being fought between the two nations from 1980 to 1988.

Next up was the Mamluk Sultanate led by Tuman Bay II.  The war which went on between 1516 and 1517 was to lead to the end of the Mamluk’s and the annexation of the Levant, Egypt and the Hejaz into the Ottoman Empire. The aftermath fundamentally transformed the Ottoman Empire from one of the players in the Islamic world, mainly located in Anatolia and the Balkans, to the vast empire it was to become, controlling much of the traditional lands of Islam, including the cities of Mecca, Cairo, Damascus, and Aleppo.

Selim had succeeded in making the Ottoman Empire the most powerful force in all of Islam, something that would continue for centuries to come. In just nine years, Selim the Grim took Osman’s dream way beyond the founder of the Ottoman’s wildest vision. Unfortunately for Selim, he was to die on September 22, 1520. His son, Suleyman the Magnificent, who we met in episode 37, would do an excellent job as his successor as we found out.

Next up is the 16th President of the United States of America.

President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln

Born on February 12, 1809, Abraham was the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, living in a one-room log cabin on Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Contrary to the popular myth, Lincoln only moved to Illinois when he was 22 years old and not when he was a young man.

The family moved to Indiana because of land disputes that Abe’s father had in Kentucky. The Lincoln’s belonged to the Separate Baptist Church which was a fairly strict denomination which banned the use of alcohol, was against dancing, and most importantly for the future of Abraham, they were against slavery. Some historians point out the anti-slavery issue as the reason the Lincoln’s moved away from Kentucky, but Abraham later said it was only a minor reason.

After the move, Abraham helped his father build their new log cabin home which is where he gets his image of being a woodsman. Life was hard, but he had a strong family with his mother’s aunt and family, the Sparrow’s moving with the Lincoln’s. Unfortunately, Nancy Hanks Lincoln died along with the Sparrow family in 1818 due to milk poisoning. The reason for this is when milk comes from a cow that has fed on white snakeroot plant, which contains the poison tremetol.

The relationship between Abraham and his father began to deteriorate after his mother’s death and his father marrying Sarah Bush Johnson just a year later. It was not the marriage that disturbed him but the law that stated that any money the young man earned had to be turned over to his father. Abraham would view this as a form of slavery. Things got so bad that when Thomas died, Abraham refused to go to his funeral and had denied his father’s bedside request to see his son one last time. His comment was, “If we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant. 

When Lincoln was 21, he and his family moved to Illinois and in particular, New Salem, near Springfield. It is here he began his maturation and his turning to politics. While Abraham lost his first election, he noted that he received 94% of the vote in New Salem where people knew him best. In 1834, he ran again and won a seat in the Illinois legislature.  

After receiving his license to practice law in 1836 and joining a law firm with John T. Stuart, a prominent Springfield attorney and member of the Whig party, Lincoln got more and more involved in politics. He also met the woman who would become his wife Mary Todd whom he married on November 4, 1842. They were to have four sons. It was a tumultuous marriage with both of them having opposite personalities. He was moody while she had a bad temper that some scholars have claimed to be bi-polar behavior. 

As many know, Lincoln won the Presidency of the United States of America in 1860 and was reelected in 1864. It was a highly contentious election as Abraham was deeply anti-slavery and the South threatened to secede if he won the election. He did, and they did, leading to the US Civil War which we will cover in greater depth in episode 47 when it faces off against the arrival of the Black Death in Europe.

Instead of going much deeper into Lincoln’s life, I’m going to list eight things you probably didn’t know about the President. I found this list from the History Channel website and then verified it from several other sources. I know, there is so much more to know about Lincoln, I have a strange feeling that we will be hearing more about him in a future round.

1. Lincoln is enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame.

The Great Emancipator wasn’t quite WWE material, but thanks to his long limbs he was an accomplished wrestler as a young man. Defeated only once in approximately 300 matches, Lincoln reportedly talked a little smack in the ring. According to Carl Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln, Honest Abe once challenged an entire crowd of onlookers after dispatching an opponent: “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” There were no takers. Lincoln’s grappling exploits earned him an “Outstanding American” honor in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

2. Lincoln created the Secret Service hours before his assassination.

On April 14, 1865, Lincoln signed legislation creating the U.S. Secret Service. That evening, he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Even if the Secret Service had been established earlier, it wouldn’t have saved Lincoln: The original mission of the law enforcement agency was to combat widespread currency counterfeiting. It was not until 1901, after the killing of two other presidents, that the Secret Service was formally assigned to protect the commander-in-chief.

3. Grave robbers attempted to steal Lincoln’s corpse.

Secret Service did come to Lincoln’s protection, but only in death. In 1876 a gang of Chicago counterfeiters attempted to snatch Lincoln’s body from his tomb, which was protected by just a single padlock, in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. They schemed to hold the corpse for a ransom of $200,000 and obtain the release of the gang’s best counterfeiter from prison. Secret Service agents, however, infiltrated the group and were lying in wait to disrupt the operation. Lincoln’s body was quickly moved to an unmarked grave and eventually encased in a steel cage and entombed under 10 feet of concrete.

4. John Wilkes Booth’s brother saved the life of Lincoln’s son. 

A few months before John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln, the president’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, stood on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. A crowd of passengers began to press the young man backward, and he fell into the open space between the platform and a moving train. Suddenly, a hand reached out and pulled the president’s son to safety by the coat collar. Robert Todd Lincoln immediately recognized his rescuer: famous actor Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes.

5. Lincoln is the only president to have obtained a patent.

After being aboard a steamboat that ran aground on low shoals and had to unload its cargo, Lincoln, who loved tinkering with machines, designed a method for keeping vessels afloat when traversing shallow waters through the use of empty metal air chambers attached to their sides. For his design, Lincoln obtained Patent No. 6,469 in 1849.

6. Lincoln personally test-fired rifles outside the White House.

Lincoln was a hands-on commander-in-chief who, given his passion for gadgetry, was keenly interested in the artillery used by his Union troops during the Civil War. Although there was a standing order against firing weapons in the District of Columbia, Lincoln even test-fired muskets and repeating rifles on the grassy expanses around the White House, now known as 

7. Lincoln came under enemy fire on a Civil War battlefield. 

When Confederate troops attacked Washington, D.C., in July 1864, Lincoln visited the front lines at Fort Stevens on two days of the battle, which the Union ultimately won. At one point the gunfire came dangerously close to the president. Legend has it that Colonel Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a future Supreme Court justice, barked, “Get down, you fool!” Lincoln ducked down from the fort’s parapet and left the battlefield unharmed.

8. Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.

When he occupied the White House, the 16th president used the current Lincoln Bedroom as his personal office. It was there that he met with Cabinet members and signed documents, including the Emancipation Proclamation.

Now is the time to head off to the scorer’s table.

The first fifteen points are for the length of time in power. Selim I was Sultan of the Ottoman Empire for nine years while Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States for a little over four years. Selim gets 15, Lincoln receives 8.

Next up is the twenty points for how they affected the rest of the world in their time. Selim’s effect was enormous as he created a dominant world power with his conquests in his brief time as Sultan. Lincoln’s impact was more localized to the United States, so I’m going to have to give the 20 points to Selim with Lincoln receiving 10.

Twenty-five points need to be handed out for their lasting effect on world history. Selim’s expansion of the Ottoman Empire would last until its collapse 500 years later. Lincoln saved the United States of America from splitting in two which would have had an enormous effect on our world today. For these reasons, I’m going to give Lincoln the 25 with Selim receiving 20.

Now for the big point giveaway, the forty points for how they affected their country for the better. Selim left his homeland in great hands with his son Suleyman and left a legacy as the architect of the greatest expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Lincoln saved the Union and allowed for the United States to become the great power it would become in the 20th century. I have decided that Lincoln would get the full 40 points with Selim receiving 35.

The final point total gives us a kind of upset with Lincoln receiving 83 and Selim I receiving 90. Selim the Grim moves on to the next round to face the Roman Emperor Augustus. I will be placing Lincoln in the loser’s bracket for another go at the tournament.

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Mark Schauss has been podcasting for over 8 years. His Russian Rulers History was a top history podcast for 7 1/2 years. Discover his new entry into the podcast world.



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