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THE LAST WORD

Civil War historian James McPherson lectures on Lincoln

Saturday, September 14, 2013 - 12:01 am

I’m a fan of Civil War history, so I was eager to attend Tuesday’s annual R. Gerald McMurtry Lecture at the Allen County Public Library, which featured James M. McPherson.

I guess I’m not the only Civil War buff in town, because the library auditorium was packed, and my wife and I had to stand through the entire lecture. Many others sat in a spillover room where audio was piped in.

McPherson is a Civil War historian and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Battle Cry of Freedom” (he signed my copy after his talk and many books others brought along as well). That book, considered by many as the definitive single-volume history of the war between the states, is one of five of his works I have in my personal library and one of many more he has written dating back to 1964.

Another of his books on my shelf is “Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution.” Being a Civil War scholar, McPherson is also a renowned Lincoln scholar, and his lecture Tuesday was about Lincoln and the West.

The presentation by the Princeton University George Henry Davis ’86 Professor Emeritus of United States History was hosted by Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana and Friends of the Allen County Public Library and sponsored by Lutheran Health Network.

A question-and-answer session following his 45-minute lecture included a couple notable highlights.

One was how Lincoln grew in his principles and beliefs throughout his life, and especially his presidency. In answer to one question, McPherson stated that the most important thing to know about the man was Lincoln’s growth during his Civil War presidency.

Lincoln was a man who never stopped learning, and his aptitude for being teachable helped him become the right man at the right time to lead the Union through the horrors of the Civil War. Not only did he learn how to manage a military blended with political extremes, but he actually evolved in formulating his moral opposition to slavery.

And the issue of race was not exclusive to African Americans. As McPherson pointed out in his lecture, Lincoln believed blacks and Native Americans were both included in the phrase, “all men are created equal.”

The other thing that came up after his lecture was the fact that he neglected to say anything about Lincoln’s time in Indiana, which covered the critical, formative years from ages 7-21. During the question-and-answer session, that omission was quickly brought up by a member of the audience, and McPherson acknowledged to the many local Lincoln fans that Indiana was, indeed, a critical element in the making of the man.

In fact, when someone later asked the author what were the three most important things to know about Lincoln, McPherson deftly said No. 1 was that he grew up in Indiana, which elicited laughter and applause.

Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel