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Six Historians Talk About Abraham Lincoln

By David J. Kent

Washington D.C.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Everyone knows everything about Abraham Lincoln, right? Six historians think otherwise and tell us what we are missing.

The six include Lincoln Group members and others who have spoken to the Group in recent meetings. All are well known experts on the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. They join many others who appear as "talking heads" on the new six-part CNN series "Lincoln: Divided We Stand," which began February 14th.

Edna Greene Medford, a historian at Howard University, reminds us that Lincoln was not the only one who freed the slaves. He did issue the Emancipation Proclamation and fight for the 13th Amendment, but there were many others who worked hard to end slavery, including the enslaved men and women themselves.

World-renowned Lincoln expert Harold Holzer notes that Lincoln was "naturally anti-slavery," his anti-slavery sentiments going back to his upbringing in northern Kentucky. Early in his political career he stated that slavery was "founded on both injustice and bad policy," and he continued to look for ways to end slavery throughout his life.

Rutgers University professor Louis Masur tells us that, contrary to his "backwoods naif" persona, Lincoln was an ambitious politician, a man his law partner called "a little engine that knew no rest." Despite setbacks, he never stopped working to better himself and the nation.

Mary Francis Berry, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment show his evolution. She explains how Lincoln balanced his personal feelings on slavery against his responsibilities to uphold the Constitution.

Ted Widmer, whose most recent work, "Lincoln on the Verge" tracks his 13-day trip from Springfield to Washington for his first inauguration, talks about how Lincoln's more moderate politics enabled him to get elected - and then go on to radical accomplishments.

Finally, Kate Masur, a professor at Northwestern University, notes that Lincoln likely would not have been able to stop the racial injustice that followed the Civil War if he had lived. The myth that he could misreads the history of Reconstruction. In fact, radical Republicans in Congress were not able to impose their views of equality on a continuing white supremacist, racist, society. We see the truism of this even today.

All of these historians participate in the CNN series, which continues each Sunday evening for six weeks.

More detail on what the six historians have to offer can be found here, as well as links to the programs:


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