News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 6, 2014

VIDEO: Taking a closer look at Lincoln’s presidency

Civil War exhibit on display at ISU through March 21

TERRE HAUTE — A traveling exhibit that takes a closer look at Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during the Civil War has arrived in Terre Haute.

“Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” opened Thursday in Cunningham Memorial Library at Indiana State University. It will be on display through March 21.

The exhibit is one of six similar exhibits currently touring the United States.

“[It] gives people an opportunity to understand the Lincoln presidency in terms of the constitutional conflicts he had to manage during his presidency,” said Cinda May, chair of special collections at the library.

The exhibit opens with an introduction of Lincoln, who became the nation’s 16th president in 1860. Several panels examine how Lincoln used the Constitution to confront three crises of the Civil War.

A panel called “Divided,” explores the question: “Was the ‘United States’ truly one nation, or was it a confederacy of sovereign and separate states?”

A section called “Bound” explores the issue of slavery. while “Dissent” asks, “In a national crisis, would civil liberties be secure?”

The display also features photographic reproductions of original documents, including a draft of Lincoln's first inaugural speech, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.

Visitors can access a computer game in which they are able to interact with a computer “Lincoln,” discuss his decisions and ponder whether they would have done the same.

The exhibit leaves the visitors with the question: “Has America lived up to the ideals Lincoln fought for: equality, freedom and democracy?”

Those three issues are just as relevant today as they were for people of Lincoln’s time, May said.

“We’ve inherited the legacy. We were charged by Lincoln to continue his legacy and to address these issues and to work toward their resolution,” just as Lincoln did, she said.

The traveling exhibit is based on an exhibition of the same name developed by the National Constitution Center. It was also organized by the American Library Association Public Programs Office and was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The exhibit’s opening program on Thursday — attended by ISU students,  staff and members of the community — included a keynote speech, a question-and-answer section, reception, a tour of the exhibit and a performance by Indiana State's Ebony Majestic Choir.

One student who attended was a freshman history major at ISU who was interested in topics on Lincoln and the Civil War.

 Civil War is mostly talked about, Jacqueline Cook said, and it was “a pivotal point. “Civil liberties were created and had further impact on our lives.”

A speaker, David Gellman, professor of history at DePauw University, discussed slavery and civil liberties in the 19th century. He described events leading up to the Civil War and figures central to abolishing slavery, particularly William Jay.

He examined the implications of abolitionism and how it tests the limits of civil liberties.

“By speaking out against slavery, they [abolitionists were] testing out the nation’s and the north’s commitment to civil liberties,” he said. Often, the nation’s leaders failed that test, he said.

Acts of black resistance — such as those surrounding the Amistad (a ship that transported African captives), as an example — fueled the ability of abolitionists to speak out,  another point he shared.

Gellman left the audience with the quote from John Jay Chapman in 1912: “This great wickedness … is the wickedness of all America and of three hundred years and is a part, not only of our national history but of the personal history of each one of us.”

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