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Lincoln Would Be Appalled

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Professor Edna Medford of Howard University

A host of Abraham Lincoln scholars gave a packed audience at History Miami on January 22, 2012 a taste of what America's most popular president thought and said. But it was how Lincoln would view the current state of affairs in this country that drew the greatest response.

"Lincoln would be absolutely appalled at the way we behave towards each other today," declared Professor Edna Medford of Howard University in Washington DC. ""America is a great country but America can be a better country if we learn to behave better toward each other," a sentiment that was greeted with sustained applause.

Medford said it's "amazing how much we are suffering under incivility today. I never imagined it could get this bad. People have lost all sense of reason."

In her prepared speech, Medford talked about the Emancipation Proclamation, which was promulgated by Lincoln 150 years ago in 1862. "We can't just blame the South for slavery," he said. In the early period of his Presidency, Lincoln "set a course of appeasement" with the Southern states, some of which had already left the Union before he became President. "His strategy in the first few months ws to keep the border states such as Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware and Maryland, in the Union. Lincoln urged black people to seek colonization elesewhere such as Haiti, and a few hundred did leave for an island off Haiti- an ill-fated venture."

The concept of leadership was a common thread running through the remarks of several speakers at the symposium. "Without his judicious leadership the country would not have survived," Said Medford. "He was a paradigm of what a leader should be," declared former Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. And Stephen Engle, Professor of history at Florida Atlantic University said Lincoln "had the gift of leading with an almost invisible hand."

Vernon Burton holds his book The Age of Lincoln in front of a display at the History Miami event. The photo of Lincoln was taken before he became president.

Vernon Burton, Professor of History at Clemson University in South Carolina, made it clear to the audience how the Emancipation Proclamation was viewed at the time, 150 years ago. "It changed the definition of liberty. It inspired the world." Burton, author of an award-winning book The Age of Lincoln, said the that President was "a gifted politician. Lincoln knew where the people were, and throughout his career he led public opinion. "

Another principal speaker at the symposium was Craig Symonds, Distinguished Professor of American History at 

The focus of his presentation was the naval blockade of all the Southern ports, a strategy that caused the Union navy to grow from just 42 ships to 671 ships, many of them merchant ships converted to warships. "The blockade stated in 1861 and Lincoln knew it was an act of war," Symonds said. But it proved advantageous to the North, as "Britain used it for a declaration of neutrality by treating both sides as belligerents.

Neither could use British ports, and this hurt the South more."the U.S. Naval Academy. He noted that the Civil War "took place "at a period of technological change. It sits on a fulcrum, or pivot point, between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. It was the first war of armoured warships, submarines and the railway."

Professor Craig SymondsEven though the Confederacy was able to smuggle in enough powder and shot to continue the war, "the cumulative effect weakened the Confederacy, and undermined the Confederate government. The blockade made the war shorter and saved lives."

Lincoln said "we cannot escape history," and the audience at History Miami certainly received the full benefit of the scholarship of that history from the assembled academics.

For further reading, Professor Burton's book is a fine way to understand more about Lincoln and his impact on the country. Visit his website at

This is the first in a series of feature articles by Cliff Cunningham featuring Lincoln and the Civil War.

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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