Traveling Exhibition Tells Of Lincoln’s Struggle To Meet The Constitutional Challenges Of The Civil War

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SPRINGFIELD – “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” a traveling exhibition opening at the Springfield Free Public Library on June 16, examines how President Lincoln used the Constitution to confront three intertwined crises of the Civil War—the secession of Southern states, slavery and wartime civil liberties.

Lincoln is widely acknowledged as one of America’s greatest presidents, but his historical reputation is contested. Was he a calculating politician willing to accommodate slavery, or a principled leader justly celebrated as the Great Emancipator? This exhibition provides no easy answers. Rather, it encourages visitors to form a nuanced view of Lincoln by engaging them with Lincoln’s struggle to reconcile his policy preferences with basic American ideals of liberty and equality. This exhibition develops a more complete understanding of Abraham Lincoln as president and the Civil War as the nation’s gravest constitutional crisis.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860, at a time when the nation was on the brink of war. Lincoln struggled to resolve the basic questions that divided Americans at the most perilous moment in the nation’s history: Was the United States truly one nation, or was it a confederacy of sovereign and separate states? How could a country founded on the belief that “all men are created equal” tolerate slavery? In a national crisis, would civil liberties be secure? President Lincoln used the Constitution to confront these three crises of war, ultimately reinventing the Constitution and the promise of American life.

“We are delighted to have been selected as a site for this exhibition,” said Library Director Dale Spindel. “As a new president, Abraham Lincoln was faced with enormous challenges. This exhibition shows how Lincoln struggled with issues of secession, slavery and civil liberties—all questions our country’s founding charter left unanswered. Each section of the exhibit features information about a different aspect of Lincoln’s presidency. For example, the section about slavery examines the various policy options Lincoln once embraced and how his thoughts about slavery evolved over time. Most importantly, the exhibit helps visitors understand why Lincoln’s struggle with the Constitution still matters today.”

The National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office organized the traveling exhibition, which was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): great ideas brought to life. The traveling exhibition is based on an exhibition of the same name developed by the National Constitution Center.

The traveling exhibition is composed of informative panels featuring photographic reproductions of original documents, including a draft of Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Library is sponsoring free programs and other events for the public in connection with the exhibition. These programs have been planned with funds from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities, supplemented with funds from the Library. The opening reception will take place on Sunday, June 16 at 1:30 p.m. and will feature the Music of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, performed by Anne and Ridley Enslow, who will place each piece in historical perspective.

Seven more programs will be offered over the course of the six week period during which the exhibit will be displayed. Lectures include The Lincoln Family and the White House presented by Glenn LeBoeuf on June 19th at 7:00 p.m., Abraham Lincoln—Separating Fact from Fiction presented by Louis Masur on June 26th at 7:00 p.m., Abraham Lincoln and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution presented by Abigail Perkiss on July 1st at 7:00 p.m., and Civil War Journal of Private Hayward Emmell presented by Jim Malcolm on July 10th at 7:00 p.m.

A second concert called Music of the Civil War—The Lighter Side, will be performed by The Cracked Walnuts on July 17th at 7:00 p.m.. A dramatic performance entitled Belle and the Backwoodsman will be presented by Bob Gleason and Pat Jordan of the American Historical Theater on July 24th at 7:00 p.m. The Library will also be screening Lincoln (2012) starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, and directed by Steven Spielburg, on Monday, June 17th at 1:00 and 6:30 p.m. Call 973-376-4930, e-mail: or visit for more information. “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” will be on display at the library until July 24.

The Springfield Free Public Library is located at 66 Mountain Avenue, Springfield.

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