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"Lincoln was a politician beyond compare," said Dr. Damon Eubank, professor of history at Campbellsville University, at "The Legacy of Abraham Lincoln, Relevancy for the 21st Century" forum presented by Campbellsville University's Kentucky Heartland Institute on Public Policy recently.
This event was part of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration.
The Rev. John E. Chowning, founder of KHIPP and vice president for church and external relations and executive assistant to the president of Campbellsville University, moderated the event as well as introduced the three Campbellsville University historians.
Eubank discussed Lincoln as a politician and commander in chief. He listed Lincoln's contributions to the country, which included his strong, talented cabinet, his coalitions of Democrats and Republicans, his ability with the written word, his ability to sustain the country's morale and his creative politics. Lincoln used his power as president in a way no previous president had ever done, Eubank said.
Overall, Lincoln was able to keep fighting to the bitter end, Eubank said.
"(Lincoln is) a Kentuckian, we can let Illinois and Indiana think what they want but he was a Kentuckian," Eubank said.
Dr. Mary Wilgus, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of history at Campbellsville University, discussed "Lincoln's Legacy: Change and Continuity."
Wilgus said Lincoln used his presidency in unprecedented ways by laying the groundwork for a large navy as well as suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War. He crossed the lines between the presidential and legislative powers, and Lincoln redefined America as a modern state, she said.
"He felt our nation was not defined by contract but by common customs, language and the culture of its people," Wilgus said.
She quoted many authors as well as some of Lincoln's own speeches.
Wilgus said Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation laid the groundwork for change in America, like the 13th Amendment.
Dr. Wendy Benningfield, associate professor of history at Campbellsville University, spoke on "Lincoln: The Great Emancipator and the African-American Community."
On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln freed all slaves in the states of rebellion.
"Lincoln was like a Moses who led people out of the desert of slavery," Benningfield said.
Benningfield focused on what Lincoln was and is to the African-American population. She said that the march to the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was the pivotal moment for the myth of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked, "Where is our dream? We are here (at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.) to collect on it," she said.
"The 1960s gave America new heroes for the equality movement, heroes that recreated Lincoln to move the dream forward," Benningfield said. "Lincoln signed a piece of paper, slaves freed slaves by walking off the plantations."
In a question and answer session, an audience member commented on Lincoln's role as a great politician instead of an emancipator.
"The Emancipation Proclamation gained support from the New England region for the war. Lincoln freed slaves he had no control over but didn't in areas he did have control over. It was a diplomatic move," Benningfield said.
"Lincoln did not really emancipate but his assassination made his myth grow bigger. I think Lincoln was against slavery but wouldn't commit political suicide. The symbolism of this document created something Lincoln didn't have to," Benningfield said.
Another audience member asked the panel about the influences Kentucky had on Lincoln.
Eubank said, "Lincoln's wife was a Kentuckian, his best friend was a Kentuckian and Henry Clay was his hero and a Kentuckian. (Lincoln) was a typical border state Southerner."
The panel listed Lincoln's exposures to slavery in Kentucky, seeing the horrors of slave trading as a child.
"I don't know anybody but God himself who could change who we were in America," Benningfield said to conclude the topic of Lincoln's impact on slavery.
Dr. Frank Cheatham, vice president for academic affairs at Campbellsville University, began the evening with a welcome and a prayer.
The National Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth began on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Although inclement weather cancelled the ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Lincoln-related events are scheduled in Kentucky and the rest of the nation throughout the next two years. For more information go to www.kylincoln.org or call (270) 358-3137.
For more information about KHIPP, contact Chowning at 789-5520 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Madeline Kitchens is a student news writer at Campbellsville University.