Archive for Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Speaker: Lincoln practiced pragmatic version of democracy as president

February 11, 2004


Abraham Lincoln's views on democracy spanned a range of thoughts and emotions when he was the nation's 16th president.

During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and cracked down on newspapers that overzealously preached dissension.

Yet with his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln not only freed the slaves but took the first step toward allowing them to vote.

About 150 people gathered inside Kansas University's Dole Institute of Politics Tuesday night to hear author and historian Phil Paludan talk about "Lincoln Against Democracy." It was the third of five nights of the Lincoln Week Lecture Series.

"Lincoln's focus on democracy was how it worked, not how it claimed to be," said Paludan, a former KU history professor who is currently the Naomi Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois.

Lincoln seemed to put true democracy behind government and law, according to Paludan. But he still had faith in people, which he showed during an address to Congress in July 1861, Paludan said.

"'The people will save the government if the government will do its part only indifferently well,'" Paludan quoted Lincoln as telling Congress.

After the Civil War, Lincoln warned the public about democracy, saying that it needed the instruction and "humble guidance" of the nation's leaders and of God himself, Paludan said.

For David Dewar, listening to Paludan was like going back in time and sitting in the professor's class again. Dewar was one of Paludan's students at KU. Few people have an understanding of Lincoln like Paludan, Dewar said.

The Dole Institute of Politics will play host to speeches by Abraham Lincoln scholars this week. Each free lecture begins at 7 p.m.¢ Today -- Jean Baker, professor of history at Goucher College in Baltimore. Baker is an expert on Lincoln's personal life and wrote "Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography."¢ Thursday -- James McPherson, professor of history at Princeton University who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era." He also won the Lincoln Prize for "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War."

"He was one of my favorites and just a real great person," said Dewar, who is assistant director of humanities and Western civilization at KU.

"I loved his class. I was enthralled by him."

Paludan was available after his lecture to answer questions and sign copies of his books. He is noted for writing "Victims: A True Story of the Civil War" and "The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln."

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