By David J. Kent
Thursday, March 9, 2023
It all started rather innocuously in 2013, and now ten years later the Lincoln Group of DC’s book study forum is going full swing. What a ride it has been!
The group was the brainchild of then-president Karen Needles. Part of the Lincoln Group’s mission is “to study the life and leadership of Abraham Lincoln.” With this in mind, the study group’s goal was to study and discuss current scholarship to better understand the man and the times of our 16th president. We would pick a book and dive deep into a group reading of it, meeting monthly to evaluate and discuss. Our members all have a common interest in Lincoln but otherwise come from a wide variety of backgrounds. There are lawyers, scientists, government bureaucrats, professors in various fields, lay ministers, corporate executives, historians, financial wizards, psychologists, insurance salespeople, and many more. This diversity of backgrounds means each of us approaches our study of Lincoln from different perspectives. We learn a great deal not just from the books but by how the group members interpret what they are reading.
Eric Foner’s, The Fiery Trial, was the first book tackled. Not a bad start, given that the book won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize. Meeting in the Martin Luther King Memorial Library, a short walk from Ford’s Theatre, the initial contingent included names everyone should recognize: Karen Needles, John Elliff, John O’Brien, Richard Margolies, Wendy Swanson, Susan Dennis, and others. Participants took turns facilitating the discussion.
By the second book – Herndon’s Lincoln - the group had moved to the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education & Leadership abutting the Petersen House. Eight books by authors such as Michael Burlingame, William Lee Miller, James McPherson, Richard Carwardine, and Edna Greene Medford were discussed over the next six years from our perch in the fifth-floor conference room. Roughly 12 to 15 people were present in any given meeting (give or take a few), with some stalwarts sticking through most books and others joining or departing depending on their interest in the particular book being discussed or vagaries in their schedules. Richard Margolies took over as the regular facilitator with Herndon’s Lincoln and continued until 2020.
Then COVID hit us in the middle of our discussion of Medford’s book, Lincoln and Emancipation. It coincided with Richard’s unavailability as he planned for his Visioning America conference, which like everything else was disrupted by the pandemic before finally taking place virtually in September 2021. COVID pushed us virtual as well, meeting via our new-found friend in Zoom. The transition also brought us John O’Brien as the new facilitator. We’ve since covered eight more books on Zoom, which has the added advantage of allowing the participation of Lincoln Group members living far away from the Washington, DC area (including John O’Brien himself after moving to Denver in the summer of 2021).
The group continues to meet via Zoom and is finishing up our most recent book, Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig Symonds. Membership is open to all current Lincoln Group of DC members. Just send us an email and we are happy to get you involved.
[Note: This post is a teaser. I’ll have a more comprehensive history of the study forum with additional details and some insider information in the next Lincolnian newsletter!]