Honest, Abe at the library
November 25, 2006
If Abraham Lincoln was watching on Election Day, he probably would not have been impressed.
That assessment comes from Bruce Dain, a University of Utah history professor who recently spoke to a crowd of seven Parkites about the nation’s sixteenth president.
Dain’s remarks came as the Park City Library and Education Center hosts a traveling exhibit about Lincoln, called ‘Forever Free,’ which traces the life of Lincoln and his pivotal role in American history.
"I don’t think Lincoln today would be real happy with either party," Dain says, describing that Lincoln’s opinion of modern-day politics would be "pretty grim."
Lincoln, who was a Republican, would not recognize today’s GOP and he would be considered on the political left, Dain says. But Lincoln’s opinion about American politics today might not matter if he were alive because, Dain says, he likely would not be a successful politician in the television age. He was a "tall, gawky guy" who gave long speeches and he would not look good on TV, Dain says.
The exhibit remains on display at the library through Dec. 22 and is heavy on information about the Civil War and Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation. Two copies of the exhibit traveled to 40 libraries in the U.S. starting in 2003 and the tour ends in December, the library says.
Recommended Stories For You
At the Park City library, the exhibit is on the second floor. The library’s hours are Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Dain said during his remarks that there has been little written about Lincoln’s opinion of race relations and that lots of authors instead show him as a hero.
"Most Lincoln scholars avoid race like a plague," he said, noting that some authors who do address the topic take what he described as a jaded, Southern perspective.
Lincoln, though, began forming opinions about race relations in the 1850s, relying on what Dain describes as "grim pragmatism," opposing the expansion of slavery but not addressing prejudice. Lincoln kept many of his opinions about race to himself because the issue was so divisive, Dain said.
He grew up poor, working hard, despising the idea that slaves worked hard as well but not for compensation, Dain said.
For most of his life, however, he did not welcome the idea of equality for blacks, Dain said, but added that Lincoln rejected the theory of "biological racism." Instead Lincoln believed that God’s help was needed and the Civil War-era Lincoln saw himself as "God’s instrument," the professor said.
"Lincoln knew, in the end, equality had to be won," Dain said.
Dain’s address was the first of two scheduled discussions at the library. Another, planned by Bob Voyles, the director of the Fort Douglas Military Museum, is planned on Dec. 12 at the Library and Education Center. He is scheduled to discuss Lincoln and Utah during the Civil War. The speech is scheduled at 2 p.m. in the Santy Auditorium.
Roger Harlan, a Park City Councilman who attended Dain’s speech, places Lincoln, with George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt, as the most important people in American history. He calls Lincoln a "very complex man" and says he recognized the divide between the agrarian South and the industrial North.
"Lincoln, on moral grounds, saw that slavery had to stop," Harlan says, acknowledging that, before he was president, Lincoln was a centrist about abolishing slavery.
Rob Bishop, the Republican congressman who represents Summit County, agrees with Harlan that Lincoln is one of America’s most important figures. Bishop, who taught high-school history before becoming a congressman, says the greatest president was either Lincoln or George Washington, even if historians who lived when Lincoln was alive were not impressed.
"The only time they liked Lincoln was after he died," Bishop says, noting that Lincoln’s most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, was panned when he delivered what became part of America’s canon. "The papers at the time were so brutal."
He says that history showed that Lincoln’s decisions were smart.
"He was doggedly determined that what he was doing was right," the congressman says. "The qualities that were criticized at the time were exactly the qualities you want."