Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy B-Day, President Lincoln

Guest blog post by, Dr. Steve Frank, Vice-President, Education and Exhibitions and self professed Lincoln-phile.

Here's a suggestion on how to honor Abraham Lincoln on his 200th birthday and how the National Constitution Center can help you do it. The suggestion first: Help your students remove Lincoln from his marble perch in the Lincoln Memorial and return him as a flesh-and-blood president to his own time. Far from being the secular saint he has (deservedly, in my opinion) become in American memory, Lincoln was a controversial president in his own day, criticized as a "tyrant" for abridging civil liberties, criticized from the left for moving too slowly to abolish slavery and from the right for sacrificing the Union on the altar of ending slavery. Lincoln, of course, saw things quite differently. To preserve the Union in a manner in which it was worth saving, he came to believe over the course of his presidency, slavery had to be abolished.

Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist, orator, writer and newspaper editor, had decidedly mixed feelings about Lincoln's policies as president, although over time he came to admire Lincoln and they became personal friends. Here are two Douglass quotes that can help your students arrive at deeper and more nuanced understandings of Lincoln:

1. "He was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men .... The race to which we [African Americans] belong were not the special objects of his consideration .... You [my white fellow citizens] are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren."

2. "Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union," he would have alienated large numbers of people and "rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined."

Now for the resources. The Naitonal Constitution Center's online game "Abraham Lincoln's Crossroads" puts your students in Lincoln's shoes as they wrestle with the decisions he had to make about slavery and civil liberties during the Civil War. The Center also has two classroom posters with accompanying lessons on the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, which will help you engage your students with the constitutional constraints Lincoln faced as he struggled to save the Union and end slavery.

1 comment:

  1. An outstanding treatment on the Emancipation Proclamation has been authored by Dr. Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College in Pensylvannia entitled "Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery". This book is truly an eye- opener in scholarship involving the Proclamation. Dr. Guelzo is the recipient of the prestigious Lincoln award not once but twice for his scholarship and research of our 16th president.

    Correction: National not Naitonal