Gilder Lehrman Institute Brings Abe Lincoln To Capitol Hill
More books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other American, but when he sought a seat in the U.S. Senate from Illinois—once in 1855 and again in 1858—he was defeated both times and never served in that legislative body.
Lincoln’s incredible life and legacy, however, recently provided some much needed inspiration for current senators coping with difficult issues, thanks to a traveling exhibition from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
“Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, A Man for All Times” made a special, week-long stop at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., arranged by Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The setting couldn’t have been more majestic. The exhibition anchored the building’s magnificent three-story rotunda, surrounded by Corinthian columns and topped by a coffered dome. For visitors and staff of U.S. Senators who are grappling with two wars and an economic meltdown, it was impossible to miss.
Inspired by the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, the exhibition explores the life, accomplishments and legacy of the President who successfully led the country through the American Civil War, preserving the Union and ending slavery.
It features six sections on Lincoln: Young Mr. Lincoln, Paths to the Presidency, Civil War President, The Union Preserved, The President Assassinated and Lincoln’s Legacy.
The exhibition draws from Lincoln’s own words in speeches, letters and proclamations, and invites visitors to go beyond the series of iconic images we usually see of our most famous President.
Highlights include a large reproduction of an 1862 photograph of Lincoln towering above a relatively short, slouching George B. McClellan, general-in-chief of the Union Army.
It also includes a rare copy of Lincoln’s second inaugural speech in blue ink, printed in the precious few weeks between the speech and the President’s assassination. After Lincoln’s death on April 15, 1865, twenty copies were printed in black ink with a black mourning border.
Upstairs and down the hall, past the offices of Senators Ted Kennedy and Judd Gregg, Gilder Lehrman hosted about 100 Senate staffers, educators and historians at a reception celebrating the exhibit’s display at the Russell Senate Office Building.
“Two sets of this traveling exhibition on Abraham Lincoln are traveling to forty libraries across the country for the next two years,” said James G. Basker, President of Gilder Lehrman. “The exhibits will visit many communities that normally do not have access to big cultural institutions as we do in New York and Washington and places like that.”
Librarians hosting the exhibits are brought to New York for a two-day orientation with Lincoln scholars and curators, Basker told Education Update.
The traveling exhibition has been made possible in part through a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
“This exhibition and this celebration of Abraham Lincoln have special meaning for me personally,” said Carole M. Watson, appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “There is no doubt that the path of freedom in this country has not been an easy one and that he [Lincoln] defined the second great turn on that path,” she said. “We’re still on that path and we continue on it to this day.”
The exhibition is expected to reach millions of people by the summer of 2010. You can see the schedule by going to www.gilderlehrman.org/institute/Lincoln_Notebook.pdf.#