By Frank Milligan
This past week end I had the very great honor of participating in the Lincoln and the South conference which was brilliantly organized by the staff of American Civil War Center at Tredegar. The Conference brought together on the beautiful University of Richmond campus an incredibly interesting mix of Lincoln and Civil War scholars from both sides of the Mason Dixon line, members of Lincoln associations that included the DC Lincoln Group, and a number of history teachers from area elementary and high school levels. In Friday’s sessions “Northern” scholars, including Michael Burlingame, who arrived in Richmond fresh from his terrific Thursday night President Lincoln’s Cottage Conversations speaking engagement, traded points of view with southern scholars including William (Bill) Cooper of LSU and Emory Thomas, Professor Emeritus from the University of Georgia. Topics included Lincoln’s views on colonization, his “mis-reading of pro-Union sentiment in the south,” and the degree to which the President’s purported “ignorance of the South” influenced his opposition to compromise.
Saturday morning I joined with educators for a working breakfast and a sharing of personal stories on teaching Lincoln in the classroom and the challenges of doing so “without biases.” The breakfast was the perfect lead in to my morning plenary session presentation that addressed our approach to using the historic Cottage and modern media enhancements to engage our visitors in conversation concerning Lincoln’s ideas on emancipation and the role of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in guaranteeing “an equal start in the race of life” for all Americans. Later, a number of representatives from Civil War Roundtables and institutes extended invitations to address their associations or inquired into booking members’ tours of the Cottage. The conference wrapped up with a stimulating session moderated by Jim McPherson and his panel of David Blight, Fitzhugh Brundage, and Nina Silbur , on the topic of “Lincoln and Southern Memory.”
Not surprisingly, the undercurrent running through most week end sessions defaulted to Lincoln’s views on race. Despite the fact that precious new primary material has been unearthed on this subject in recent years, there remains immense public and professional interest in Lincoln’s views on race. At least three new books on the subject are now being written. After 16,000-odd books and hundreds of conferences, Lincoln still intrigues us and I suspect most would not want it any other way!