Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lincoln Legacy lecture discusses presidential elections

By Courtney Westlake

In the midst of one of the most important presidential elections in decades, the Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series drew parallels between the presidential campaigns of 1860 and 1864 and the current campaign on Wednesday evening.

The topic of the 2008 Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series, which was held on Wednesday, October 15, in Brookens Auditorium, was "Lincoln and Presidential Campaign Politics." The Lincoln Legacy lectures bring Lincoln scholars and experts from around the country to Springfield to discuss issues and topics relevant to society today as well as in Lincoln's era.

Dr. Jennifer Weber, assistant professor of History at the University of Kansas, discussed "How Lincoln Handled the Anti-war Movement." Dr. Silvana Siddali, associate professor of History at St. Louis University, spoke about "Lincoln and the Constitution in Civil War Era Presidential Campaigns." Illinois State Historian Dr. Thomas Schwartz served as moderator for the event.

Lincoln faced harsh criticism from the outset of the Civil War. Weber discusssed some of Lincoln's qualities that Americans today believe made him a great leader.

"Those same qualities, had the North lost the war, would be the qualities I think that we would cite for Lincoln being a failed president," Weber said. "What it comes down to, a lot of Lincoln's reputation rests on the victories of the military armies."

Siddali examined the relationship between the Constitution and presidential campaigns. Presidential campaigns of the time caused American voters to consider a number of crucial issues, including the issue of slavery.

"The Civil War era elections changed the Constitution and were in many ways an important referendum on the U.S. Constitution," she said.

The biggest similarity between the current presidential election and the election of 1864 is the impact of the election on the future of the country, Weber said.

"The great comparison at this point with the election of 1864 is this: we are in a nation that is experiencing a profound economic crisis, and everyone in the country is aware of that. Likewise, everyone in the country is aware that however they cast their ballot in this election is going to decide the future of this country for at least the next generation," Weber said. "It's a transformative election."

Both speakers commended UIS for hosting the Lincoln Legacy series.

"I've been to Springfield many times, and I love it every time I'm here; it's a joy to be here," Weber said. "I think the Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series is a terrific idea, and there's no better place to have it."

The speakers agreed that the relevance of the topics were crucial at this point in time in the country's history.

"We're facing one of the most important presidential elections, certainly the most important of this century. It's going to be a crucial decision," Siddali said. Remembering Lincoln's ongoing legacy during this time is important, she said. "We have to remember that Lincoln was the president who made the United States what it is today because the Civil War endangered the union of the states, and what better place to honor his legacy than Springfield."

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