Abraham Lincoln, who is ranked our greatest President in survey after survey of historians, political scientists, and the public was born on February 12, 1809. A two year bicentennial commemoration of Mr. Lincoln’s life and legacy is underway. It began in Kentucky with a “Lincoln on Leadership” symposium and dramatic presentation about his life Programs and events have followed in our nation’s capital and across the country as a result of planning by the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and individual state commissions. There are many reasons why.
Mr. Lincoln recognized that our Declaration of independence offered, “liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.” When the U. S. Congress established the federal commission it expressly recognized President Lincoln’s humble roots, his leadership in preserving our Union, his leadership in ending slavery, his generous heart, and his ultimate sacrifice in dying from an assassin’s bullet in 1865. According to the Congress, “All Americans could benefit from studying the life of Abraham Lincoln, for his life is a model for accomplishing the ‘American Dream’ through honesty, integrity, loyalty, and a lifetime of education.”
Delaware formed its own Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission by an Act of the General Assembly, sponsored by Representative Wayne Smith and Senator Nancy Cook, which was signed into law by Governor Ruth Ann Minner on July 10, 2006. Our commemoration in Delaware began where Mr. Lincoln spoke in Wilmington.
Abraham Lincoln visited Wilmington as a Congressman on June 10, 1848 to speak in favor of General Zachary Taylor’s campaign for President. According to news reports at that time Congressman Lincoln was received with “three hearty cheers”, gave an “eloquent and patriotic speech on some of the principles of the Whig party” and vigorously criticized President James K. Polk and his administration for the Mexican War, which Mr. Lincoln challenged as a “war of conquest.”
There is no doubt that Mr. Lincoln’s visit to Delaware made a lasting impression upon him. In 1861 he explained “I have since carried with me a fond remembrance of the hospitalities of the City [of Wilmington] on that occasion.” He added, “[t]here are no people whom I would more gladly accommodate than those of Delaware.” A Historic Marker was unveiled near the site of his speech on 4th & Market Streets on June 10, 2008. Lincoln presenter Jim Rubin portrayed Abraham Lincoln in Wilmington on the occasion.
Abraham Lincoln viewed education “as the most important subject we as a people can be engaged in.” Our Commission presented to the Delaware Social Studies Coalition curricula for Delaware students on President Lincoln and his legacy. And we engaged in outreach to higher education in Delaware to focus on Abraham Lincoln at the university level.
A major exhibition, “Abraham Lincoln: a Bicentennial Celebration,” is on view at the University of Delaware Library from January 27, 2009 through June 5, 2009. The exhibit is drawn from the Library’s extensive Lincoln Collection of documents, books, photographs and memorabilia. The exhibit includes three duplicate copies of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution engrossed by Issaac Strohm and signed by President Lincoln on February 1, 1865, as well as one of 48 printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Notable, too, is President Lincoln’s shawl, which he gave on a Virginia battlefield to a shivering Colonel John Schoonover of Delaware. A selection of materials from this exhibition will also be on display in Dover at the Public Archives Building beginning June 12, 2009 through September 19, 2009.
Our State figured prominently in Mr. Lincoln’s unsuccessful plan for federally compensated emancipation to bring an early end to the Civil War. The Historical Society of Delaware has published an Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial issue of Delaware History devoted to Mr. Lincoln and Delaware. An essay contest has been held for Delaware students to write about Abraham Lincoln. Scholarships are being awarded to the three Delaware high school seniors. The opportunity to participate in a national “teach-in” about Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 2009 also has engaged Delaware students.
The Lincoln Bicentennial Dinner on February 10, 2009 at the Chase Riverfront Center in Wilmington was an evening to remember and a highlight of the celebration. It featured Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, founding chairman of The Lincoln Forum, and Harold Holzer, Co-Chair of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, discussing The Legacy of Abraham Lincoln in the 21st Century. Justin Carisio, a director and former president of The Lincoln Club of Delaware moderated.
On February 19, 2009 Lincoln presenter Jim Ruben returned to Delaware for a “Lincoln Comes to Sussex” program at Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown to speak and participate in an open forum with students, faculty and the public.
Finally, no commemoration of Abraham Lincoln is complete without touching upon Mr. Lincoln’s experience and integrity as a lawyer. He practiced law before taking office longer than any other American President and his legal experience was reflected in his presidency. A program on Lincoln and the Law was held on February 23, 2009 at Widener University Law School. The program focused on Lincoln and legal ethics and upon civil liberties during the Civil War. The week of Law Day, May 1, 2009, presents a special opportunity for students to learn more about Abraham Lincoln from Delaware lawyers and judges, specifically Abraham Lincoln’s legacy to American Constitutionalism and Citizenship.
In Delaware, we proudly commemorate Mr. Lincoln’s extraordinary life and legacy.