Presidents' Day Review-Remembering Lincoln

Today is Presidents' Day, a day commemorating not only our first president George Washington, but also all subsequent American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln (who would've turned 207 this past Friday, February 12). Although busy schedules have prevented us from putting together a full Lincoln Week like last year, we did think it would be appropriate to share all our Lincoln-related posts on this reflective day. It would do a disservice to Lincoln to make him a marble man, to allow the glow of his current position in America's civic pantheon to overshadow the very real, very human struggles he faced during the Civil War. We hope this collection of posts helps shine light on Lincoln the leader and Lincoln in American public memory.

 Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America

Lincoln the Leader:

"Which Lincoln is Your Lincoln?" Kerry LiBrando

The time I spent working at Ford’s Theatre and President Lincoln’s Cottage exposed me to research that left me with one common-sense conclusion: there were many different Abraham Lincolns. Just like we are one person with old friends from college and another person with our students, people are complex. One of my favorite catch phrases in my classroom is how our goal is to bring these people and events to life and make them “jump off the page and not lay flat like our paper.” I do not want anyone to think “Lincoln was such a giant and so iconic, that he must be different than all of us.” On the contrary, Lincoln was very much like us: multi-faceted. Here lies the question: Which Lincoln is your Lincoln?

"Illegal Lincoln? Abraham Lincoln and Habeas Corpus," Zac Cowsert

Abraham Lincoln, who in our collective memory resounds as a strong, certain and triumphant leader, was forced to make incredibly difficult decisions throughout the Civil War, and some of these decisions have not always been applauded.  Lincoln may have, as some scholars have put it, a “dark side.”  His actions were not always approved of at the time; in fact, Lincoln decried as a tyrant in many quarters.  In the spring of 1861, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland—allowing American citizens to be locked up indefinitely without the opportunity of a trial.  Lincoln’s suspension of the writ stands as one of the strongest uses of presidential power in United States’ history.  Three simple questions are here considered:  Were Abraham Lincoln’s actions legal?  What were his constitutional views that would permit such a bold use of presidential power?  Lastly, were his actions justified?

"'Wrap the World in Fire,' Part II: Union Foreign Policy with Great Britain," Zac Cowsert

Abraham Lincoln and Union leaders realized from the war's outset the grave threat British intervention posed.  Intervention likely meant successful Confederate independence.  No matter what form, be it mediation, recognition, or literal intervention, any attempt by the British to interfere was based upon separation of North and South.  The causes of the Union and Confederacy were mutually exclusive; either the Union remained whole or the Confederacy earned independence.  British intervention could doom the Union cause. Thus, from the conflict's earliest days, Union leaders shaped a clear, strong foreign policy with Great Britain: oppose and prevent foreign intervention in any form...

"The Twilight Between War and Peace: Lincoln's Assassination One-Hundred and Fifty Years Later," Chuck Welsko

April 14, 1865 dawned as a good day in Washington, D.C., not merely because of the religious importance of Good Friday to the city’s Christians, but more due to the events of the past eleven days. In just over a week and a half the Civil War began to rush towards a momentous finish. For many in Washington, including Abraham Lincoln, the final act of the conflict was near at hand. As Richard Carwardine noted in his biography of Abraham Lincoln, these were “twilight days between war and peace.” Indeed, by the end of Good Friday, a day which began so promising in the nation’s capital, that twilight would seem all the more deeper...

 The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln in Memory:

"Sculpting the Lincoln Image: The Lincoln Memorial and Mount Rushmore in Popular Memory," Becky Oakes

To Americans both in the 1920s and now, Lincoln is less of a person than a myth, a martyr, and a legend. Despite scholarship highlighting negative aspects of Lincoln’s presidency, those critical of his use of executive power, and less critical attempts to humanize our sixteenth president, images of Lincoln as the Savior of Democracy, the Great Emancipator, the Rail-splitting Statesman persist. Abraham Lincoln has become larger than life, and it is fitting that the two most famous representations of Lincoln on the American memorial landscape are massive sculptures...

"Looking for the American Dream: Lincoln Statues in the Great Depression," Katie Thompson

During the Depression, Abraham Lincoln meant more to the country than a great president, he was a symbol of hope and the American Dream, and in this period Lincoln statuary reflected the attitudes and needs of the American people...

"Stone Heroes North and South: The Connection Between Mount Rushmore and Stone Mountain," Katie Thompson

One displays the heroes of the Confederacy—Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson—all on horseback riding across the wide gray canvas that is Stone Mountain near Atlanta, Georgia.  The other features four bust-style depictions of famous American presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—gazing formally from Mount Rushmore over the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Each was created out of pride for heritage and nation.  Each inspires awe at its size and wonder at the artistic skill necessary to carve such massive. And each have very different meanings...