By Erin Carlson Mast
With contribution from Douglas L. Wilson
We are privileged to have amongst our advisors Douglas L. Wilson, Co-Director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College and author of such books as Lincoln’s Sword, 2007 winner of the Lincoln Prize. Wilson agreed to deliver the keynote address at the President Lincoln’s Cottage Grand Opening Ceremony, February 18, 2008.
Wilson chose to tell a story about the critical decisions facing Lincoln while he lived here at the Soldiers’ Home in the summer of 1864, and the many meetings and visits around that time and at the Soldiers’ Home that centered on re-election, emancipation, and the war effort. Wilson began:
For Abraham Lincoln, the Soldiers Home was obviously a place of retreat for a man who desperately needed one, but he never needed it more in the summer of 1864. If you are familiar with this period of American history, you know that for President Lincoln, everything was going wrong. The war to preserve the Union had been grinding on for three long years and was proving stubbornly unwinable. The public had become wearied and sickened with the unrelenting bloodshed of a long, drawn-out war that showed no signs of letting up.
It was, as James M. McPherson has called it, “the rock-bottom point of Northern morale.” As a result, the President was becoming vastly unpopular, and by August it was agreed on all sides that he would not be re-elected in November. The radical members of his own party were actively plotting to replace him on the Republican ticket. This is the period when the President himself prepared a sealed memorandum spelling out what he would do upon losing the election. The story that I want to tell is from this dark and desperate time, the absolute nadir of the Lincoln administration. It’s a story involving a public letter that Lincoln drafted but never sent, and it also involves a visit to the Soldiers Home by the former slave, Frederick Douglass, that never came off. But far from being a narrative of non-events, it is story that, in its own way, illuminates one of the most decisive moments of Lincoln’s presidency.
Read the full story of the events between Lincoln and Douglass as Wilson told it here:
Opening Ceremony Remarks from Douglas L. Wilson
Remarks from other speakers at the Grand Opening Ceremony will be posted as they become available.