“Remember the last time Lincoln packed a room?” joked Richard Norton Smith, who returned to Lawrence on Sunday to kick off the Dole Institute of Politics’ Presidential Lecture Series.
Smith, the first permanent director of the Dole Institute, returned to Kansas University’s West Campus to participate as an expert on Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president, and to discuss “Lincoln at 200: The Measure of a President.” The institute is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday, which is Thursday, with the series.
“The public’s interest in Lincoln continues to know no bounds,” said Jonathan Earle, the institute’s associate director for programming. “This year, with a bicentennial and a new president from Illinois who frequently quotes the 16th president, we’re hoping to put the Dole Institute and KU at the center of the discussion.”
Smith noted that Kansas played a large part in getting Lincoln to the White House in 1860.
“He made some very important political connections,” he said. “The whole ‘Bleeding Kansas’ issue is what, as much as anything else, gave rise to the Republican Party and the election of Lincoln in 1860.”
After his stay at the Dole Institute, Smith became the director of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. He is currently a Scholar in Residence at George Mason University in suburban Washington, D.C.
But Smith also noted why Lincoln still remains an important historical figure today.
“Look at where Lincoln’s story begins and where it ends,” said Smith. “We believe the conditions of one’s birth do not limit or strain the possibilities of one’s life. ... No one embodies that more than Lincoln.”
Plus, Smith gave his reason on why Lincoln remains at the top of the list when it comes to best presidents: “He was the most brilliant politician who ever occupied the White House.”
The series continues at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 17 with historian and author Michael Burlington discussing his two-volume biography, “Lincoln: A Life.”