Did you ever wonder how President Abraham Lincoln used the Constitution to confront three intertwined crises of the Civil War: the secession of Southern states, slavery and wartime civil liberties?
Examining that question is a traveling exhibition, “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” on display in the Parker Nellis building on the Clarkesville campus of North Georgia Technical College.
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. It will be on display until Jan. 8.
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?
The 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 Lincoln as president and the Civil War as the nation’s gravest constitutional crisis.
Lincoln was elected president in 1860, at a time when the nation was on the brink of war. He 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,” NGTC Librarian Chris Bryant said. “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.”