By Scott Ackerman
On Saturday October 18th, Professor Matt Pinsker of Dickinson College came to President Lincoln’s Cottage to lead a teacher workshop on Lincoln and Presidential Power. Pinsker’s specific focus was Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and whether or not the suspension of habeas corpus, the imposition of martial law, and the imprisonment of 18,000 Confederates and southern sympathizers was a wartime necessity or a violation of civil liberties.
Pinsker delved into reactions during the time period, while also connecting the debate over Lincoln’s war powers to the ongoing debate we have over the President’s war powers today. He noted that while the debate over the President’s war powers is not new to us today, it was during the Civil War, and in many ways, Lincoln defined the war powers of the presidency that we still use today. Much of the discussion also centered on the intense fire that Lincoln came from Democrats (and some Republicans) who claimed that Lincoln had far exceeded his constitutional authority when he suspended the writ. Lincoln of course noted that the U.S. Constitution provides for the suspension of the writ in times of war or rebellion, while Democrats claimed that many of the arrests were arbitrary, and done to suppress political dissenters who either claimed Southern sympathies, or were vocal opponents of the Lincoln administration. Pinsker then connected Lincoln’s actions to modern day by looking at some of the claims made by President Bush about his use of war powers during the current war in Iraq.
As their first assignment the teachers were asked to submit their ideas for lesson plans incorporating what they learned in the workshop. They were also asked to prepare journal entries reflecting on what they felt was the most valuable information they learned from discussions with Pinsker and lead teacher Jim Percoco. Additionally the teachers were asked to expand on their ideas for lesson plans, describing what they felt would be useful classroom strategies for implementing these lessons.
The next workshop is scheduled for November 15th at President Lincoln’s Cottage. Professor Edna Greene Medford of Howard University will be speaking about Lincoln, Emancipation, and how Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation established important precedents for Civil Rights.
Those interested in more information on the workshops may contact Scott_Ackerman@nthp.org.