Beginning this fall, the Miller Center will host a new lecture series based on the Historical Presidency. The theme for 2013-14 is "The American Presidency and the Crises of the Nineteenth Century." On September 18 at 5pm, series organizer Gary W. Gallagher (UVa history) will kick things off with Princeton Emeritus Professor James M. McPherson for a conversation about Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.
Last night, Daniel Day Lewis took home an Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln and became the first actor to win three lead Oscars. This week also marks an important milestone in the life of the real Abraham Lincoln, without which there likely would have been no president, and perhaps no movie or third Oscar for Lewis.
On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that played a pivotal role in his gaining the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination. In the well-researched Cooper Union Address, President Lincoln argued that of the 39 signers of the Constitution, 21 had voted at least once, some more than once, for the restriction of slavery in National Territories, thus “showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in federal territory.” The address was a stunningly effective argument demonstrating that the founding fathers intended Congress to regulate slavery and it provided a coherent justification for the Republican Party's opposition to slavery's extension.
Lincoln told the crowd of 1,500 New Yorkers, some of them prominent members of the Republican Party:
It is surely safe to assume that the 39 framers of the original Constitution, and the 76 members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called "our fathers who framed the government under which we live." And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not only "our fathers who framed the government under which we live," but with them all other living men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with them.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As the country approached the third year of a bloody civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which formally emancipated all slaves held in States or parts of States in active rebellion against the Union. Lincoln declared by executive order “all persons held as slaves” in Confederate territories to be “forever free” and, furthermore, that the “Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”
Although first unsure about the extent of his executive power and authority under the Constitution to free the slaves, eventually Lincoln justified emancipation by executive order as a military necessity that came under his constitutional powers as commander-in-chief. Just before signing the document, Lincoln said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper." But Lincoln only went as far as he believed the law permitted him. He also took into account political and military considerations. The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in that it only applied to states that had seceded from the union; it exempted areas already under Northern control; and freedom depended upon Union military victory. Although the proclamation didn’t end slavery, it set in motion a sequence of events that led to the ratification of 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.
The Emancipation Proclamation also changed the character of the war, giving the war a moral force and transforming it to a war of freedom. As Henry Ward Beecher said in a commemorative sermon to an overflow audience in Brooklyn, "The Proclamation may not free a single slave, but it gives liberty a moral recognition."
Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT will feature an inaugural speech by a previous president from the Miller Center’s archives.
November 19th will mark the 149th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and it, as well as Lincoln’s second inaugural in 1865, are acknowledged to be among the great orations in American history. Given the upcoming anniversary, this week RTT highlights the importance of both of these speeches.
Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865 was delivered just over a month before his assassination and as the end of the Civil War was rapidly approaching. The address was brief, but profound. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass called the speech a “sacred effort” and praised it for sounding "more like a sermon than like a state paper." Lincoln used the address to “look with high hope to the future” and to unite the country by propounding a providential interpretation of the cause, duration and consequences of the war for both sides. While the President rejected the triumphalism of radical Republicans, he also denounced slavery in concrete terms:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.
Lincoln concluded the address with a defense for a pragmatic approach to Reconstruction and reconciliation:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the fight as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.