Abraham Lincoln as Wartime President: 4 Questions for Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

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Image courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Mr. Harold Holzer, one of the nation’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era.  A prolific writer and lecturer, as well as a highly sought-after guest on television, Mr. Holzer served for six years as the Chairman of The Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and for ten years as the co-chair of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.  In 2008, he was the recipient of the National Humanities Medal.  He currently serves as the Jonathan F. Fanton Director of Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.  Mr. Holzer has authored, co-authored, or edited 52 books and 560 articles and reviews for both popular magazines and scholarly journals.  His most recent major work, Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War For Public Opinion (Simon & Schuster, 2014), won numerous prestigious awards, including the Lincoln Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

CWI:  How did Lincoln’s relationship with the Constitution, the American people, his political allies and adversaries change or evolve over the course of the war?  What were Lincoln’s priorities as a wartime president, and how did he strive to balance conflicting priorities?

HOLZER: Lincoln did a Blondin-like tightrope act as Civil War President—Blondin, by the way, was the most famous tightrope walker of his day—most adroitly when he tried to balance the interests, and maintain the support, of both abolitionists and conservatives.  Nowhere was this delicate touch more urgently required than in his effort to maintain the loyalty of the slaveholding Border States, many of whose residents were dubious about Union, and certainly opposed to emancipation.  That Lincoln actually gained support over the years in a once-hostile state like Maryland, where he had been driven in 1861 to wearing a disguise and sneaking through the state to reach Washington for his inaugural, represented one of his greatest political triumphs.  He thought so, too. Continue reading “Abraham Lincoln as Wartime President: 4 Questions for Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer”

Re-Thinking James Buchanan

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

On Saturday, September 19th, local citizens, historians, Civil War enthusiasts, and the rare college student alike converged at the LancasterHistory.org Campus of History for the second day of the President James Buchanan National Symposium. The theme for the symposium was “The Worlds of Thaddeus Stevens and James Buchanan: Race, Gender, and Politics in the Civil War Era,” thus it featured the lives of two of Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s most prominent historical residents and two of the most colorful characters of the Civil War era.

A photo of Wheatland, taken from the back yard. The house served as James Buchanan’s Lancaster home, located just next to the LancasterHistory.org Campus of History. Photograph by author.

The tone for the day’s discussions was perhaps set out from the beginning by Gettysburg College’s own Professor Michael Birkner as he introduced the first panel, alleging that the traditional historical narratives of the era, such as the unshakable legend of Buchanan dithering away his presidency as the Union collapsed, are old and tired. Instead, he went on to say, we should make way for a body of new, fresher, and more contentious scholarship – one that shall continue to grow thanks in large part to the scholars on hand at the event.

To summarize the full proceedings of the day’s event would be a task far unsuited for a blog post. As such, rather than going through the details of each historian’s paper point-by-point, here are what I believe to be the most pertinent themes and topics of the symposium: Continue reading “Re-Thinking James Buchanan”