Day Seven:

Tuesday, June 25
Reading Between the Lines: Abraham Lincoln's Handwriting

Visiting Scholar: Jason Frank (Department of Government, Cornell University)

Coffee will be available starting at 9:00 AM. Session will begin at 9:30 AM and end at 12:30 PM with a break. After lunch activities will begin at 2:00 PM.

For this session we will be joined by Jason Frank, a scholar of the relation of literature to political thought. Together we will look at the language and implications of the "Emancipation Proclamation," read closely Lincoln's famous address at Gettysburg, and consider the poignant wishes of the "Second Inaugural Address." We will also reflect on the tension between the abolitionist visions of Frederick Douglass and the remarks that Douglass made after Lincoln's assassination in addresses such as "Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1876." Speaking on the occasion of the dedication of the Freedmen's Monument, Douglass memorably declared that Abraham Lincoln was "preeminently the white man's president." This ambivalence about celebrating the legacy of the man otherwise known as the savior of the union will guide some of our reflections this week about how memories of Abraham Lincoln shifted after his assassination.

In the afternoon, we will have the extraordinary opportunity to observe a handwritten copy of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" (one of only five copies known to exist) in the library archive will be one of the highlights of the day. Cornell's copy was written in response to a request from George Bancroft, a famous nineteenth century historian of American democracy. The documents in Lincoln's hand include his response to that request as well as his signature on a copy of the Thirteenth Amendment. These items will form part of an investigation into the matter of the archive, the handling of evidence from nineteenth century sources. Such sources have a local resonance: Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell, collected material culture artifacts such as trading cards, shirt collars, and recruitment posters in an early effort to preserve popular culture artifacts. Cornell's archivists will curate a display of items from the White collection to enhance the themes of this day's session.


Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address,” “Emancipation Proclamation,” and “Second Inaugural”; Lyceum Address (On the Perpetuation of our Political Institutions); 13th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution; Frederick Douglass, “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1876"; introduction to Martha Hodes, Mourning Lincoln.

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this seminar do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

View of the Erie Canal by John William Hill (1829)