By Nancy Spannaus
March 8, 2022—Can there be any better time to study Abraham Lincoln than today? As in the 1830-1860 period, our nation appears to be split down the middle, the economy is a mess, and there is despair over the future from all sides of the political spectrum, not to mention the controversy over race and slavery. Some people are even projecting the outbreak of a new civil war.
On March 17, I will begin a four-part class on Lincoln at the Lifelong Learning program at Shepherd University. My decision to switch from Alexander Hamilton, my usual subject, to Lincoln, was partially due to the fact I’ve given the Hamilton class in this venue before. Even in that context, I have been teaching about Lincoln, in line with the chapter of my book (Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles of the American System of Economics) entitled “Abraham Lincoln, Hamiltonian.”
But this class will delve more deeply into Lincoln the man, his ideas, and his lasting impact on this nation and the world. My idea is that we not only learn about him, but from him.
A Figure of Controversy
Like Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln remains a figure of great controversy in our country. There are endless debates, for example, on when and how did Lincoln first form his ideas on slavery? Where did he learn his economics? What were his key animating principles? How did they develop over time? Was he really a racist, a would-be dictator?
We will utilize a lot of Lincoln’s speeches, which are readily available from AbrahamLincolnonline and other resources, and show how they shed light on his actions and fundamental motivations.
As for his legacy, we will focus heavily on Lincoln’s economic program, which had an impact far beyond meeting the nation’s immediate needs. (Perhaps we didn’t need to rely on it quite as long as we did – I recall hearing of water systems from the Civil War era still in use into the end of the 20th century!) Leading examples include the land grant colleges, the Transcontinental Railroad, and certain revolutionary changes in our Constitution, specifically the 13th amendment.
No study of Lincoln should strictly stick to policy, of course. His personal characteristics are also quite relevant. I give you one story as a teaser. It comes from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book The Team of Rivals (p. 512). There she reports on the visit of an army colonel to Lincoln’s summer “cottage” in the spring of 1862, where the distraught officer was hoping to get the President’s aid in recovery the body of his wife, who had died in a steamboat accident. Lincoln responded querulously to having his relaxation interrupted and sent the man on his way. “Am I to have no rest?” “Why do you follow me out here with such business as this?” he is reported to have exclaimed.
The man returned to his hotel in Washington in disappointment. But, to his surprise, he was awakened the next day by none other than the President, declaring that “I was a brute last night,” and offering to help as he could.
An extraordinary man.
While my course at Shepherd University is only available for a fee, my hope is that a growing number of our fellow citizens will turn to the study of Lincoln in this period to learn of and from him. As a resource, I can confidently recommend this blog.
When I launched www.americansystemnow.com nearly five years ago, my intent was to provide “a resource for re-establishing Alexander Hamilton’s American System of Political Economy.” From that standpoint, I have sought to concentrate not only on posts about Hamilton’s economics, but also on those largely unsung, or mis-understood, leaders who followed in his footsteps during the 19th and 20th centuries. I have striven to be “history-rich,” addressing issues and events which I believe are relevant to today’s developments, without engaging the debates in today’s terms.
I am happy to report that, in terms of Lincoln, I think I have achieved a modicum of success. In reviewing the blog’s posts on Lincoln in preparation for my class, I found an abundance of in-depth material, largely utilizing his speeches on critical issues of his day, and our own. Many of the posts let Lincoln speak for himself, and where they do not, ample source material is footnoted, or linked to. Just search for “Abraham Lincoln,” and you will find them.
I am hopeful my class will be able to be posted on my You Tube channel, but the good news is that AmericanSystemNow provides you will an excellent start on learning about Lincoln, the Hamiltonian. In this time of crisis, I think you will find it an educational, and even uplifting experience.