Abraham Lincoln


As we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, join Active Minds for a look at the man and the legend. He is rated by many as the greatest president in our country's history, yet there are as many fascinating myths as there are great true stories of his life. We will tell a few of these tales as well as reflect on how he changed history in ways that continue to this day.

Key Lecture Points

  • 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin, three miles south of Hodgenville, in Hardin County, Kentucky. Lincoln is undoubtedly one of the most studied and celebrated individuals in American history and one of the United States’ greatest presidents. In discussing the life of Lincoln, we have an opportunity to acknowledge his accomplishments and consider their impact upon the country.
  • Despite early political setbacks, Lincoln’s perseverance, cunning, and strategy lead him to the presidency and eventual success in sustaining the Union. With very little national level elected office experience, Abraham Lincoln was able to craft a masterful team of leadership from ex-opponents and adversaries into a functioning successful administration. His legend and methods have been studied and emulated by U.S. politicians and statesmen ever since.
  • The presidency of Barack Obama can be seen as connected to the policies of the Lincoln Presidency. The Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation were major steps in the process of initiating full civil and political equality for African-Americans in the United States. That said, while it is clear that Lincoln strongly opposed slavery, he never publicly disclosed a belief that black and white people were equal in all regards.
  • President Obama faces challenges comparable to those President Lincoln faced – the cost of war and division between Americans on significant social issues, for example. An Illinois politician like Lincoln, Obama notably announced his bid for presidency in 2007 in Springfield, Illinois, the adult hometown of Abraham Lincoln. Obama has repeatedly acknowledged his admiration for Lincoln’s strategies and successes.

Exploration Questions

  • How can a nation pursue peace while simultaneously defending itself against very real threats to its sovereignty and security?
  • How do communities and nations resolve opposing views on social issues, such as access to rights or the right to citizenship?
  • How is the election of an African-American president changing racial dynamics within the United States? How is it affecting our relations with other countries?

Reflective Questions

  • What qualities do you feel make an effective leader? What are some of your most memorable moments when serving as a leader?
  • Does your family have stories from the Civil War era? Stories from other wars in which the U.S. fought?
  • How do you overcome hardships and disappointment? What are some of the moments in your life when you successfully overcame a setback and eventually succeeded?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. Simon & Schuster, 1996. 720 pages. Donald's profile of the 16th president focuses entirely on Lincoln, seldom straying from the subject. Donald's Lincoln emerges as ambitious, often defeated, tormented by his married life, but with a remarkable capacity for growth. What really stands out in the lively narrative are Lincoln's abilities to hold together a nation of vastly diverse interests during the turmoil and tragedy of the Civil War.
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  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster, 2006. 944 pages. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were once his opponents. These men originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience. Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his administration, he ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well.
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  • Thornton, Brian and Richard W. Donley. 101 Things You Didn't Know About Lincoln: Loves And Losses! Political Power Plays! White House Hauntings! Adams Media, 2005. 256 pages. An easy-to-read and thorough collection of short summaries of both personal and professional information on Lincoln. It includes obscure and surprising facts and stories about the 16th U.S. president.
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