Gilder Lehrman Student Symposium: A Debate on Lincoln’s Greatness
Was Abraham Lincoln a true abolitionist who deserves the title of “The Great Emancipator?” Did he go too far in restricting civil liberties during the Civil War?
These were the core questions debated at the first annual Gilder Lehrman student symposium, “Debating Lincoln’s Greatness,” held recently at Lehman College in the Bronx, one of the constituent colleges of the City University of New York.
Students from seven Gilder Lehrman history high schools examined the life, politics and legacy of our sixteenth president, debating Lincoln’s most controversial views and actions.
“It’s moving to see these students in action: their eloquence, passion and love of American history,” said Dr. James Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a non-profit that promotes the study and love of American history. “I foresee great futures for all of them.”
Gilder Lehrman history schools are rigorous, college-preparatory schools with a focus on American history. They have a track record of raising test scores and sending more than 90 percent of graduating seniors to college.
Students prepared for the debates and panel discussion for more than five months. It was a rare opportunity for the students to access Gilder Lehrman’s vast document collection.
Five schools took part in each debate, with one serving as the introduction team. Two paired schools worked together to prepare both the affirmative and negative sides of the debate.
Students participated in two debates; one focused on Lincoln’s views on abolition of slavery, and the other on civil liberties, specifically his suspension of habeas corpus (the right to challenge unlawful detention) during the Civil War. Students also filled the roles of master of ceremony and moderators of each debate.
A student panel was also convened to discuss the connections made between Lincoln and President Barack Obama, examining similarities in their previous experience, paths to the presidency, tone of the country when they took office, and oratorical skills.
“These high school students have been energized by the election of President Obama,” said Dr. Basker, who moderated the panel. “That Lincoln and Obama represented major watersheds in the history of race relations in America makes today’s panel discussion all the more meaningful.”
Prior to the debates and panel discussion, Professor Mathew Pinsker, Dickinson College, presented on the topic of Lincoln as a private citizen. Pinsker encouraged student interaction and questioning and helped to facilitate the two debates later in the day.
The day-long event at Lovinger Theater, hosted by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, and the Academy of American Studies in Long Island City, coincided with the celebration of the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial year.
Participating schools included the High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx, the Academy of American Studies in Long Island City, All Hallows High School in the Bronx, Constitution High School in Philadelphia, Midwood High School in Brooklyn, Notre Dame School of New York, and Patchogue-Medford High School of Medford, New York. #