Abraham Lincoln

Essay: 150 Years Later

Feb 1, 2011
A gun at the arsenal in Washington, D.C.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

If today Abraham Lincoln could see what has become of his country — and of the world — since the Civil War, which began 150 years ago, how might he react? That conflict began as a struggle over states’ rights in general and the right to secede in particular. He would doubtless be pleased that the doctrine of secession is dead in the United States. To be sure, a few outliers have forlornly suggested that it be revived, but they have gained no traction politically. 

Abraham Lincoln
Library of Congress

This article by renowned Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo is our latest Paul Simon Essay, which honors the late U.S. senator from Illinois, one of the founders of Illinois Issues.

Dana Heupel
NPR Illinois

We are honored this month, which marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th president, to publish an essay by one of the nation’s most distinguished Lincoln scholars, Allen Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book on Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, is another in a long line of tributes to the astute management of affairs demonstrated by the 16th president, this time focusing on the way he handled the competing egos and ambitions of his secretary of state (William Henry Seward), his secretary of the treasury (Salmon P. Chase) and his attorney general (Edward Bates).

Abraham Lincoln was very likely the first American president never to have belonged to a church. This was not simply a matter of indifference or oversight. He was very conscious of the fact that this hurt him politically. "That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true," he admitted in 1846, and this "levied a tax of a considerable per cent upon my strength throughout the religious community." But shrewd as he was politically, Lincoln made no effort to repair this damage by feigning some form of religious profession. 

At noon on March 4, 1861, the moral situation of Abraham Lincoln of Illinois was abruptly transformed. 

That morning, arising in the Willard Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington, he has been a private citizen, an individual moral agent. But that afternoon, standing on the steps of the East Portico of the Capitol before 30,000 fellow citizens, he had become an oath-bound head of state.

Was Abraham Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” a racist?

Abraham Lincoln’s legacy has impact. Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a recent example, trotted it out to justify the Patriot Act. For this reason, it is necessary for us to understand what the legacy means, how it shows itself and why it has such power.

Review Essay: At war with the Constitution

Feb 1, 2003

Judging Lincoln 
Frank J. Williams, Southern Illinois University Press, 2002 

All the Laws But One 
Civil Liberties in Wartime 
William H. Rehnquist, Vintage Books, Random House Inc., 1998

Bush at War 
Bob Woodward, Simon & Shuster, 2002

Review essay by Aaron Chambers

The Latin maxim inter arma enim leges silent is a favorite of wartime observers. It means in time of war, the law is silent.

Ed Wojcicki
WUIS/Illinois Issues

One test of leaders' greatness, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss, is how much they live on in the minds and hearts of future generations. 

"Every American has a relationship with Lincoln," Beschloss says, and every child knows that Lincoln came from the wilderness and emerged an extraordinary leader.