OK, so I took some liberties with the title, but I had a great morning. This morning I drove on up to Greenville, TN to Tusculum College for a symposium “Lincoln’s Living Legacy: 200 Years of Interpretation”. Simply put it was excellent. The following is a brief review of the panel and their presentations. There is no way I could do the presenters justice, so I am simply going to report on my “takeaways” from their presentations.
First up was Thomas Mackie director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University. My biggest takeaways revolve around the origins of Lincoln’s memory. The public memory of Lincoln began with the eulogies after his assassination. It was brought out that the public at that time had a “social duty” to mourn. These tributes gave birth to a form of civic religion built around Lincoln. Everyone wanted “a piece of Lincoln” and places he lived, things he touched took on a near religious significance. Southern portrayals of Lincoln, however, were still unkind ranging from everything from showing his as a buffoon to monster. To demonstrate just how pervasive Lincoln is in American society it was mentioned how impossible it would be to remove all references to Lincoln.
Next was Peter Wisbey director of the William Seward House. The presentation opened with a biographical sketch of Seward. I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about Seward, so everything was new to me. For example, I didn’t know that Seward looked at and gave suggestions on Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. Or that he originally held Lincoln in low esteem, but that their relationship grew and evolved into one of mutual trust and respect. So much so that when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation the only witnesses were William Seward and his son. It was also brought up that Seward was seen in the South as the “evil” behind the Lincoln administration.
Charles Byrd, a volunteer interpreter from the Carl Sandburg Home spoke on the fascination Sandburg had with Lincoln. As a young boy Sandburg, hearing stories of the Civil War from veterans, became interested in the war and consequently Lincoln. So much so that he wrote a 6 volume biography for which he won one of his two Pulitzer Prizes. Both Lincoln and Sandburg loved words and stories; both were also champions of the “common” man.
Chris Small founder of The Lincoln Project led a Q & A session with the panel and audience.
I am sure that my Readers Digest-like summary of the presenters’ comments do not do their talks justice but do provide a snippet of the symposium.