The beauty of the history field is that we can build upon the foundations of our predecessors and continually improve how we remember and explore the past. This allows for historians to delve deep into a particular subject that is often overlooked, but still has powerful significance. Harold Holzer, the winner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, accomplishes such a task in his book, “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion.”
Holzer pairs the familiar subject of Abraham Lincoln with the relatively unexplored relationship Lincoln possessed with the ‘social media’ of the nineteenth century: the newspaper. Journalism was, and still is, a force to be reckoned with that could make or break a politician’s career. Politics and the press walk hand-in-hand, and Lincoln realized this. “Our government rests in public opinion,” Lincoln claimed. “Whoever can change public opinion can change the government.”
Beginning in the 1700’s, improved printing techniques and “political enthusiasm” brought about the wide popularity of newspapers. Politicians harnessed the “power of the press” to reach a larger audience and spread political beliefs. Papers that sided more with a particular politician or ideology attracted loyal readership and the funds of political parties. Holzer’s work illustrates the “vigorous, often vicious” world of the nineteenth century press that could “distort” the lens through which the public accessed and viewed politics. Continue reading ““A Foe as Dangerous as Armed Rebels”: A Review of Harold Holzer’s "Abraham Lincoln and the Power of the Press"”
Regardless of my more-than-slight obsession with our 16th President, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed when I heard the space in front of Stevens Hall was to be the spot for another Lincoln statue. When I walked on campus for the first time this semester, I saw the new walkway and the granite pedestal, which very clearly would soon be the base for a new statue. Not having heard who the statue would depict, my mind flurried with possibilities. I quickly settled on the perfect candidate: Thaddeus Stevens. Thaddeus Stevens had, after all, provided the land for the college when it was first founded in 1832. He was an avid abolitionist and supporter of freedmen during Reconstruction. A statue seemed like a perfect way to recognize his efforts during the sesquicentennial years of Reconstruction. Most importantly, the statue was going to be right outside Stevens Hall, a building that was named for him. But Thaddeus Stevens was not the subject of this new statue. Rather, “The Great Emancipator” has taken a permanent seat on our campus.
Students, faculty, and visitors to Gettysburg College have likely noticed the most recent addition to our campus. Last Friday, a brand new bronze statue of President Abraham Lincoln was dedicated outside Stevens Hall. The statue, which stands nine feet tall, depicts a seated President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and was designed by Stanley Watts, who also designed the Lincoln statue outside the Gettysburg Public Library on Baltimore Street. The statue unveiling comes almost 153 years to the day when President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which gave the Confederate States 100 days to return to the Union before emancipation would become law.
The statue dedication was preceded by a luncheon and panel discussion on the significance and legacy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. Michael Birkner moderated the panel, which featured Dr. Scott Hancock, Dr. Jill Ogline Titus, and Dr. Peter S. Carmichael. Dr. Carmichael began the discussion by explaining the context for the Emancipation Proclamation. According to Dr. Carmichael, as the war carried on, Lincoln realized that slavery was severely undermining the Union war effort and that emancipation was therefore a necessary tool to achieve victory. On September 22, 1862, a few days after the Union victory at Antietam, he issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Upon issuing the final document on January 1, 1863, Lincoln declared: “I never, in my life, have felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” Continue reading “President Lincoln Finds a Permanent Seat on Campus: The Dedication of the New Abraham Lincoln Statue Outside Stevens Hall”
A gypsy read John Wilkes Booth’s palm and predicted tragedy. “Ah, you’ve a bad hand; the lines all cris-cras [sic]. It’s full enough of sorrow. Full of trouble. Trouble in plenty, everywhere I look. You’ll break hearts . . . You’ll die young, and leave many to mourn you . . . but you’ll be rich, generous and free with your money. You’re born under an unlucky star . . . you’ll make a bad end . . . You’ll have a fast life—short, but a grand one. Now, young sir, I’ve never seen a worse hand, and I wish I hadn’t seen it, but every word I’ve told is true by the signs. You’d best turn a missionary or a priest and try to escape it.”
Afterwards, when the prophecy fulfilled, the Booth family was denounced for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and never forgiven by the country. They were hunted, hounded, and harassed for the rest of their lives. Asia Booth Clarke immigrated to England to dodge the deluge, because she was “personally unknown…” there, and never returned–permanently. Continue reading “John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir”
Bryan: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 saw citizens and students of Gettysburg crowd into the Majestic Theater for the fifty-third annual Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture. The audience listened attentively as Dr. Nina Silber, a renowned historian of the American Civil War, explored the nuanced application of the memory of Abraham Lincoln during the 1930s and ‘40s, especially as associated with the figure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A fascinating study of the evolution and utility of the public conception of an historical figure, Dr. Silber’s talk made manifest the common adage that each generation is possessed of their own Lincoln. Yet as I sat there in the Majestic pondering the implications of the lecture, I noticed a curious phenomenon. While Lincoln was every bit the pivotal character in Dr. Silber’s narrative, nowhere in her discussion could the historical Lincoln be found. The objective of the lecture was of course not to define the historical Lincoln but to explain the Lincoln of the New Deal era, so this absence could be understandable. Even with this concession, however, Silber’s strictly tangential references to the historical inspiration for memory continued to give me pause.
Heather: Silber’s more peripheral use of Civil War history in her exploration of the popular 1930s memory of Lincoln also sparked an initial uncertainty for me. In this particular case, though, I was ultimately reassured by the potential that a tangential discussion of history offers in the ongoing effort to make Civil War memory—and indeed perhaps all historical memory—more widely relevant beyond the confines of an otherwise very specialized subfield. In an area of academic study already so frequently criticized for what many perceive as a lack of pragmatic applications, the opportunity for a more general and interdisciplinary examination of historical memory is crucial.
The annual Lincoln Lyceum Lecture took place on Thursday, March 27th at 7:30pm in Gettysburg College’s Mara Auditorium. This year’s Lincoln Lyceum guest speaker was Dr. James Oakes, two- time winner of the Lincoln Prize for his books The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass (2008 Prize) and Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics and Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861 -1865 (2013 Prize). He has previously taught at Princeton University and Northwestern University and is currently the Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
On the night of March 5th, 2014, a crowd of Gettysburgians and devoted fans filtered into a small auditorium to hear Dr. Allen C. Guelzo who was giving his final lecture in his Abraham Lincoln lecture series, a four-part analysis about the president’s rise to power to his death. The fourth and final lecture focused on President Lincoln’s triumphs in his presidency and many of the challenges he overcame in the last two years of his life. Dr. Guelzo began with talking about the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and its reception in the Union and in the Confederacy. Lincoln received angry and confused questions about why the war should be fought for slave freedom rather than just the country’s reunion. Also, the Proclamation’s wider acceptance was hindered by the string of Union military failures that seemed to plague the eastern Army of the Potomac: George McClellan’s failure to pursue Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia after the tactical draw at Antietam in September 1862, Ambrose Burnside’s major blunder at Fredericksburg in December 1862, and Joseph Hooker’s large failure at the hands of Lee at Chancellorsville in May 1863.
Many historians who study the United States share a passion for studying Abraham Lincoln’s intricacies and complexities. One of those historians is none other than Dr. Allen Guelzo. Dr. Guelzo has given many lectures on Lincoln, the most noteworthy of which is his four-part lecture series on the President’s life. On January 28, 2014, Dr. Guelzo presented a lecture in Gettysburg College’s Kline Theatre called “Lincoln: The Uncertain President”. The lecture was primarily focused on Lincoln’s rise to power, starting with his debates with Stephen Douglas to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. Guelzo’s main theme throughout the lecture was showing how Lincoln, during the early years of the Civil War, was confronted with a situation that no president had ever dealt with before. Lincoln was new to the presidency and a war of secession was new to the country.
Many historians would agree that Abraham Lincoln was one of the most complex individuals of the Civil War Era. He was a strong and fascinating politician. However, Lincoln’s leadership has generated mixed reviews among historians and Civil War buffs everywhere, particularly keeping divisions between the North and South. Dr. Frawley’s lecture, held in McCreary Hall at Gettysburg College, discussed how Lincoln navigated the Union through the war. In particular, Dr. Frawley considered the legalities of war and military conduct in the 1860s.
What was the Civil War fought for? Dr. Allen Guelzo, in part four of the four-part lecture series A Walk through the Civil War, set out to resolve this question. The final lecture, titled “The Curtain Falls,” was held Wednesday, March 20 in Gettysburg College’s Kline Theater.