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Lincoln and Latin America: National Heroes in Harmony on 1940s Postage Stamp

Have you ever seen Abraham Lincoln pictured with Latin American liberators Benito Juárez, Simón Bolivar and Antonio Maceo? In the third floor Aftermath Exhibits within the Center for Education and Leadership sits a Cuban postage stamp from 1942 depicting these four men. The tagline reads, “Todas las razas caben en America,” which translates as, “All races find room in America.” These four men represent different races and four different countries. What they share in common is that they fought for some form of liberation in the Americas.

This postage stamp features Latin American liberators Benito Juárez, Simón Bolivar and Antonio Maceo with Abraham Lincoln. Photo by Gary Erskine.

To better understand this stamp, let’s start by looking at the four men shown.

Benito Juárez 

Lincoln is frequently associated with Benito Juárez, who served as the president of Mexico from 1858 to 1872. Like Lincoln, Juárez came from humble roots—he was a Zapotec Indian raised in poverty—and became an attorney. Although they never met, the two presidents corresponded and shared similar beliefs in republicanism. Like Lincoln, Juárez led his country through a civil war, Mexico’s 1858-61 War of the Reform. The losing side of that conflict then invited a French invasion, which resulted in the installation of an emperor, Maximilian I, in 1864. Eventually, Juárez’s forces triumphed, expelling the French invaders in 1866 and quelling the last conservative uprisings the next year, preserving republicanism for the Mexican people.

Simón Bolivar

Simón Bolivar, a Spanish-American leader, led the liberation of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, northern Peru and northwest Brazil from Spanish rule between 1811 and 1825. His dream of a united North and South America was never fulfilled, and he did not establish democratic rule in these areas, as Juárez did in Mexico. However, Bolivar is a symbol of the removal of colonial rule from much of the continent and the unity of the Americas.

Aftermath Exhibits at the Center for Education and Leadership. Photo by Maxwell MacKenzie.

Antonio Maceo

The fourth man on the stamp is Antonio Maceo, the only figure with a direct connection to Cuba. Maceo, of Afro-Cuban descent, was one of the leaders of the First Cuban War for Independence, from 1868 to 1878, seeking to free Cuba from Spanish rule and abolish slavery. The war ended with a continuation of Spanish rule, but led to the abolition of slavery in 1886. In 1895 the Second War for Independence commenced. A year after the Second War for Independence started, Maceo died.

Symbolically United

Cuba released the stamp that’s now in the Ford’s collection as part of a series in 1942, during World War II. Tensions still flared between the United States and Cuba, but the two were united against a common threat—the Axis powers in World War II.

Throughout his time as president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt worked to establish better relations with Latin America, including Cuba. Through the “Good Neighbor Policy,” Roosevelt wanted to maintain alliances with his southern neighbors. As a result, Roosevelt’s interactions with Latin America played a crucial role in Cuba’s support of the allies in WWII. Both the United States and Cuba entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.This stamp reflects the harmonious relationship between Cuba and the United States, exemplified by the ideals of liberation they supported in their common war effort during World War II.

Picturing Lincoln, Juárez, Bolivar and Maceo together aligned Cuban and U.S. interests in World War II. In 1942, their desire for democracy and respect for Lincoln’s legacy is depicted on this iconic stamp. Despite their differences in race, country of origin and tactics, all four fought for liberation in their respective nations. In the face of World War II, these men and their unique histories are symbolically more united than they are divided.

See the stamp in person with a visit to the Center for Education and Leadership.

Kelsey S. Johnston is former Ford’s Theatre Marketing and Communications Intern with a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from George Washington University. She is passionate about the use of new media and digital technology within museums as a means to educate and communicate with visitors, both in person and online.