Lincoln had opposed slavery all is life. Observing blacks in chains for the first time, while on a visit to New Orleans as a young man, he is said to have vowed: "If I ever get the chance to hit this thing, I'll hit it hard." Though some historians question that story, there is no doubt but that as a young legislator in Illinois, he was one of the few state lawmakers to sign a resolution condemning slavery. Years later, he angrily denounced the idea that settlers in Americas new territories could vote to import slavery into the west. At the very least, he insisted, slavery must be limited to those states where it had so long existed, and there placed on what he called "the course of ultimate extinction."
True, Lincoln did not then believe in equality for African Americans. He did not yet think blacks should be permitted to vote or to serve on juries. But he differed with the overwhelming majority of the white citizens of the day when he declared: "In the right to eat the bread which his own hands earn,"a black man "is my equal and....the equal of every living man." Surprising as it seems today, such pronouncements still shocked many mid-19th-century Americans.
The embittered Confederates are no surprise, since they never forgave Lincoln for their loss of power and the destruction of race-based slavery. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, the son of former President John Tyler and himself president of the College of William and Mary (from 1888 until 1919), denounced Lincoln in terms which would have caused even Mme. Defarge’s knitting needles to drop stitches:
President Abraham Lincoln signed the national proclamation designating the last Thursday of November as a national day of “Thanksgiving” in October 1863. Hopeful that the end of the Civil War was in sight, he believed that the November holiday would give a weary people time to pause and give thanks. Given this historic precedent, it is only natural that the Lincoln Family Home at Hildene, the Georgian Revival home built by the president’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln would mark the beginning of the festive holiday season with Thanksgiving.
President Lincoln had to balance the different viewpoints in the Union coalition that was opposing secession with pressure from Radical Republicans for him to act forcefully against southern slavery. Historian James Oakes wrote: “Far from inhibiting emancipation, Lincoln actually paved the way for it by carefully securing the loyalty of the border states. By late 1861, as it became clear that Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland would remain loyal, Lincoln began pressuring them to emancipate their slaves on the own. Abolition by state legislature was still the only legally certain route to emancipation. Everyone knew that as soon as the first slaveholder sued his way to the Supreme Court, the chief justice – Roger Taney, author of the Dred Scott decision – would instantly declare that contraband and confiscated slaves could not be freed by an power of the federal government, congressional or executive.”132 Mr. Lincoln’s first attempt to free slaves came in Delaware in November 1861. He called in the state’s lone congressman to the White House and asked him to try to get a law for compensated emancipation through the Delaware legislature. The congressman tried, but the state legislature did not act on a proposal that the president had developed.
The 2009 Hildene Winter History Series will be decidedly focused on Abraham Lincoln in this 200th anniversary year of his birth. With Lincoln bicentennial celebrations ongoing across the nation, The Lincoln Family Home is pleased to be presenting four thematically unified lectures that look at the complexity and character of the 16th president of the United States. In the 2006 Hildene Winter History Series entitled: “Who is Our Greatest President?” Lincoln earned the majority of attendee’s votes to capture the title over George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and “sleeper candidate,” John Polk.
Frank William Taussig, , 5th edition (1910; Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2010), pp. 138, 144; Ida Tarbell, (New York: Macmillan, 1911), pp. 10–11; Heather Cox Richardson, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 110–111, 123–126; Reinhard H. Luthin, “Abraham Lincoln and the Tariff,” , Vol. 49, No. 4 (July 1944), pp. 618–619.
On January 31, Dr. White will deliver the keynote address at the Lincoln’s Birthday Luncheon following the presentation of Lincoln Writing Competition Awards at the Equinox Hotel in Manchester. It is anticipated that the author will draw on his vast experience chronicling the life of Lincoln the leader and specifically Lincoln the gifted writer in his remarks to the students, parents, teachers and friends gathered for this annual event honoring the birthday of the nation’s 16th and most revered president.
Participating young eighth grade writers were asked to submit an essay of no more than 500 words explaining why President Lincoln wrote his response to “The Prayer of the Twenty Millions,” an open letter written to him in the press by abolitionist and influential editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley. The letter called upon the president to free the slaves as a way of weakening the confederacy. 88 students from 14 schools, representing 7 counties throughout Vermont responded by submitting their essays, from which an independent panel of judges from Vermont’s four corners selected the winners.
Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home, is especially pleased to announce that in this bicentennial year celebrating the birth of the nation’s 16th and greatest president, the first presentation of the 2009 Winter History Series gives the podium to Executive Director, Seth Bongartz. He will begin with “Lincoln the Leader.” This year’s series of thematically connected lectures will focus on the complexity and character of President Lincoln.
This year’s Hildene luncheon celebrating Lincoln’s birthday and honoring the winners of the fourth annual Lincoln Essay Competition takes place at the Equinox Resort on January 30 at 12:00 noon. The keynoter will be Charlie Smith of the Snelling Center for Government. Smith will address students, teachers, parents and guests on the importance of instilling the principles of good governance and civic responsibility, and how Abraham Lincoln, in word and deed, exemplified the same. The speaker and his topic are particularly appropriate in light of the fact that the challenge posed for this year’s competition involved an examination of Lincoln’s motives as leader, when he made his famous response to an outspoken critic of his policies regarding slavery in 1862.
The challenge for participating students was to first read “The Prayer of the Twenty Millions,” the open letter to President Lincoln published by abolitionist and influential editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, on August 19, 1862 calling on the president to free the slaves as a way of weakening the confederacy. They then readLincoln’s reply. Hildene Executive Director, Seth Bongartz, said of the research each young writer was required to do, “The hope is that understanding the letters will help the students understand the underpinnings of the political and sociological process that Lincoln went through building up to the emancipation of the slaves.” Each student was asked to write an essay explaining why Lincoln wrote his response to Horace Greeley.
In his talk Bongartz will examine five key decisions made by the president during his tenure, proposing how those decisions provide insight into why Lincoln was such a remarkable leader. The presenter has been honing his own leadership skills lifelong along with a growing respect for the role the Great Emancipator played in American history. Bongartz earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Skidmore College and his J. D. from Case Western Reserve School of Law in 1987. Prior to taking the helm at Hildene in 2002, he served in the House and Senate of the Vermont State Legislature between 1981 and 1985 and practiced law for more than a decade in Manchester. Admittedly passionate about history, preservation and education and in particular Lincoln’s legacy and the Civil War, when his schedule permits, Bongartz lectures on the topic he will address on the 22nd.