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October 16, 2018 - John Muller: John Muller – Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass
October 20, 2018 - Book Discussion Group
November 10, 2018 - Book Discussion Group
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Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period.
--March 9, 1832 - First Political Announcement

Abraham Lincoln Readings Seminar

History 460-01 Daniel W. Crofts
Abraham Lincoln Readings Seminar Office: Social Science 236
Fall Semester 2010 Phone: 609-771-2216
Mon., Thurs., 2:00-3:20 e-mail: crofts@tcnj.edu

Let me first tell you about the “big ideas” that hold this course together:

Why Lincoln looms large. During Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, an enormous war took place, slavery came to an abrupt end, and the shattered Union was forcibly restored. This was the watershed moment in American history. It assured that the United States would become a powerful nation—indeed, a continental and world colossus. It sanctified American nationality, most memorably in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural. The American nation’s most revered shrine is the Lincoln Memorial.

The Civil War was the most protracted armed conflict in the western world between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the outbreak of World War I. Over 600,000 American soldiers (Union and Confederate) died in the Civil War—almost as many as in all the other wars of American history combined. Keep in mind that the population of the United States in 1860 was a tenth of what it is today. An equivalent loss of life today would be the entirely unimaginable figure of six million wartime deaths. For the sake of comparison, the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 killed three thousand people.

A century and a half later, we still live with the legacy of the Civil War. The South, long a region apart, has become more like the rest of the country during the past half century. But significant cultural differences persist. The United States also continues to be afflicted by racial inequality, the perverted stepchild of slavery. A moment of enormous symbolic importance was reached in January 2009, with the inauguration of the first African-American president. But too many black children continue to be handicapped by broken families and schools that fall far short. They grow into adulthood with multiple disadvantages—a tragic waste of human potential.

Who was Abraham Lincoln? Everything that happened before Lincoln became president is now seen through the lens of what happened once he became president. We tend to see the story of his earlier life and career as the lead-in or first act to the more important action that would follow. But in so doing, we are likely to narrow our perspective. Tunnel vision that looks only at known outcomes blinds us to things that we should know about.

This course will look not only at the wartime president, but also at the man before he became president. We shall study the evidence that sheds life on Lincoln’s origins—his childhood, his young adulthood, his personal life, and his quest for success and advancement. We shall find that he was a career politician. I do not use the term “politician” with any sense of contempt. For him and for me it was a demanding task to marshal popular majorities toward worthy ends. It required skills and patience that most of us do not possess. It required that you find allies who might not share many of your values, and whom you might not like. It required pretense—the ability to emphasize your agreement or affinity with a wide spectrum of persons.

The North, the South, the Nation, and the Wider World. In the mid-nineteenth century, most people in the world were peasants. Few could read or write and few enjoyed any political rights or economic independence. Typically living under the thumbs of the rich and powerful, peasants had no choice but to continue doing what their parents and grandparents had done. Their mental horizons were local, with identity rooted in attachments to community, family, and clan. In many parts of the world promoters were attempting to build national consciousness, but the impact of their work mostly lay in the future. Few peasants considered themselves citizens of nations. And most parts of the world were, as yet, untouched by what soon would be called the “industrial revolution.”

The United States of America was full of exceptions to the patterns just described. It was the first “new nation.” Americans had an emphatic national identity. They revered the architects of national independence, the “Founding Fathers.” The European-derived male population in the United States either owned land or could reasonably consider moving to frontier regions where new land was available for settlement. Most could read and write. White males enjoyed broad legal equality, and by mid-century all, whether landowning or not, could exercise the franchise. No white male American considered himself a peasant. By 1850, it also was plain that the United States was rapidly embracing industrial development, mechanized transport, and the substitution of fossil fuel (coal) for wood.

In many ways the Old South shared these national characteristics. White Southerners considered themselves patriotic Americans, and the most celebrated Founding Father of all (“first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”) was a Virginian. From the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, rapid population growth pushed the agricultural frontier westward as pioneer farmers settled ever-larger sections of the interior. White male Southerners gained full political equality, just as did their counterparts in the North.

Nevertheless, the Old South was also very different. The backbone of its most productive agricultural labor force was an enslaved and racially stigmatized peasantry. Slaves produced the single most valuable American export, cotton, together with large amounts of sugar, rice, and tobacco. As the system expanded rapidly to fertile land in the Gulf South, slave prices appreciated. The Old South's investment in slaves came to exceed the combined value of southern lands and improvements. Embracing slavery both as a social system and a sound investment, slaveholders vigilantly defended their prerogatives. They built a social and economic order less committed to industrial development and more tightly bound by tradition than in the free states.

North-South Differences. The question of North-South differences is absolutely central to this course. Anyone who attempts to understand the coming of the war must confront it. On the whole, modern scholars tend to emphasize the differences.

• Eugene Genovese established the paradigm of a South that ceased to enjoy any real commonality with the North. He depicts a fundamentally separate culture and civilization that had no choice but the strike for independence in 1861. His South was ruled by and for the planter class. These leaders had tangible material reasons for seeking new slave territory, knowing that “the system had to expand or die.” The Republican party’s opposition to any new slave territory confronted them with a deadly threat. [The World the Slaveholders Made (1965) p. 267].

• James M. McPherson, whose writings on the wartime era probably have reached a wider general audience than any other modern academic historian, quotes with approval the comments of a Georgia secessionist who observed that Northerners and Southerners had become “so entirely separated by climate, by morals, by religion, and by estimates so totally opposite of all that constitutes honor, truth, and manliness, that they cannot longer exist under the same government” [Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) p. 41].

On the other hand, the dominant paradigm may well overstate North-South differences.

• David M. Potter, whom I regard as the wisest and most discerning analyst of the political crisis that led to war, never accepted the view that North and South had become culturally polarized. He depicted southern feelings of estrangement and separatism as products of “anger and fear.” In Potter’s view, “southern nationalism was born of resentment and not of a sense of separate cultural identity,” and “the crisis of 1860 resulted from a transfer of power, far more than from what some writers have called the divergence of two civilizations.” [The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (1976) p. 29-50, 469, 471-72].

• Michael F. Holt notes that most Republicans, including Abraham Lincoln, expected a peaceful sequel to the 1860 presidential election because they had no plan to attack slavery in the states where it already existed. Republicans did hope that white Southerners would eventually come to realize that free workers were more productive than enslaved workers. And Republicans did want to undercut the political power slaveholders had amassed in the southern-dominated Democratic party, but only by winning an election, not by starting a revolution. The average Republican “disliked white slaveholders more than black slavery” (this did not apply well to the Kentucky-born Lincoln, who hated slavery but liked white Southerners). Holt likewise contends, I believe correctly, that a majority of white Southerners opposed independence until Lincoln called for troops and undermined the antisecession coalition in the Upper South [The Political Crisis of the 1850s (1978) p. 183-259, quote on p. 189].

The Centrality of National Party Politics. You need to understand why Lincoln was a long-time Whig. You need to know how Whigs differed from Democrats, and how both parties had a national following from the mid-1830s into the 1850s. You need to know why Lincoln became a Republican, and why that new party had strength only in the North. You need to know that the Republican party was a coalition in which former Whigs were most numerous, but that Republicans could not win elections without support from some former Democrats and some former nativists (Know-Nothings), plus new voters. Never forget that partisan political antagonism led to war. The Deep South states refused to accept the election of a Republican in the 1860 presidential election, and instead attempted to establish an independent government, the Confederate States of America.


All students should purchase copies of the following four books. They are available at the college textbook store:

David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster) 9780684825359

Michael P. Johnson, ed., Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War: Selected Writings and Speeches (Bedford/St. Martin’s) 9780312208547

Richard N. Current, The Lincoln Nobody Knows (Hill and Wang) 9780809000593

Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven E. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds., Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (The New Press) 9781565841208

Class Format

Each class until early November will involve a discussion based on the assigned readings for the day. This will not be a lecture class, centered upon and dominated by the teacher. Instead, students must take responsibility, starting with a faithful commitment to read and think about the readings in advance of each class. Students are expected to attend each class and participate in each class.

As you do the assigned reading for each class, learn to identify main ideas and points of view. When there are readings from more than one source for a class, ask yourself whether you can see differences in interpretation, and why these differences might exist.

From early in the course through the first week of November, two discussion leaders will be designated for each class. The discussion leaders should make brief presentations at the beginning of each class, in which they identify topics that the class should examine and discuss.


You will write three essays. See general instructions below for September 30, the date of the first essay assignment. Good writing is just as important as mastery of material: each essay will receive two grades, one of which will be for writing. Graded essays will also contain comments and suggestions designed to help you strengthen and streamline your writing.

• The first essay, on Lincoln’s pre-presidential life and career, will be due in class on Thursday, September 30. It will count for 20% of your course grade.

• The second essay, on your “research week,” regarding Lincoln as war president, will be due in class on Monday, November 15. It will count for 10% of your course grade.

• The third and final essay, a Lincoln research paper, will be due no later than the last class of the semester. It will count for 40% of your course grade.

Course Grades

70% of course grades will be determined by what you have written—see above. But 30% of the course grade will reflect oral contributions (quality matters even more than quantity). You cannot sit there speechless in a seminar course and earn a top grade. The two instances in which you serve as a discussion leader will be weighed as part of your oral performance, as will your presentations on your “research week” and your final paper.

In determining final course grades, the instructor also will give weight to intangibles such as interest and effort. The instructor will not necessarily be bound by strict mathematical averages. Because the final paper is the most important graded work for the semester, it will weigh heavily in determining final course grades.

Academic Integrity

The College of New Jersey’s official Academic Integrity Policy prohibits “any attempt by the student to gain academic advantage through dishonest means.” It specifically prohibits “submitting a work for credit that includes words, ideas, data, or creative work of others without acknowledging the source.” It also prohibits “using another author’s words without enclosing them in quotation marks . . . or without citing the source appropriately.” Teachers at The College of New Jersey are obligated to report any instance in which they believe that a student has intentionally violated Academic Integrity Policy. The typical penalty for infractions of the Academic Integrity Policy is a grade of “F” for the paper or the course. Repeat violators may be dismissed from the college.

Reading Schedule

It is essential that you keep up to date with the readings. Students must complete readings by the dates listed and be prepared to discuss these reading in class.

Thurs., Sept. 2 – Introductory and get acquainted

Tues., Sept. 7 – What we knew about Lincoln fifty years ago, first class
Current, Foreword, Chapters 1-2, 4-5, 8 (p. 187-203)

Thurs., Sept. 9 – What we knew about Lincoln fifty years ago, second class
Current, Chapters 3, 6-7, 8 (p. 203-13), 9-11

Mon., Sept. 13 – Childhood and Young Adulthood
Johnson, Introduction and Chapter 1; Donald, Preface and Chapters 1-2; review Current, Chap. 2

Thurs., Sept. 16 – Frontier Politician and Congressman
Donald, Chapters 3-5

Mon., Sept. 20 – Rise of the Republican Party
Johnson, Chapter 2; Donald, Chapters 6-7

Thurs., Sept. 23 – The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
Johnson, Chapter 3 (p. 60-81); Donald, Chapter 8

Mon., Sept. 27 – The 1860 Presidential Race
Johnson, Chapter 3 (p. 81-95); Donald, Chapter 9; Review Current, Chap. 8 (p. 187-203)


TOPIC: For the sake of this essay assignment, assume that white Southerners would have accepted Lincoln as president, even though they had not been happy about it. Had there been no secession and no war, what might Lincoln’s presidency have looked like? Base your essay on what you have learned about Lincoln’s personality, character, and politics, up through November 1860.

Shoot for six or seven double-spaced word-processed pages, with reasonable margins. Keep certain points in mind when writing these essays. DON'T SUBMIT FIRST DRAFTS! Write and then rewrite. Make each sentence and paragraph count. Make sure the paper is organized logically, and that it has a clear train of thought. Use the first paragraph to explain where the paper is going: recheck when you are finished writing to make sure your paper is properly introduced. A tightly written and well-organized six-page paper beats a sprawling and poorly organized eight-page paper any day of the week.

Whenever you refer to an idea you have read, paraphrase words you have read, or use a direct quotation, you MUST so indicate. Words directly quoted MUST be enclosed in quotation marks, “like this.” For this paper, simple references in parentheses generally will do the job (Donald, p. 153). No need for footnotes, endnotes, or bibliographies when referring to the books that you have been assigned to read. But any additional sources, either printed or electronic, must be plainly annotated.

Mon., Oct. 4 – The Secession Crisis
Johnson, Chapter 4; Donald, Chapter 10 (p. 257-84); review Current, Chap. 4

Thurs., Oct. 7 – Fort Sumter
Johnson, Chapter 5 (p. 116-21); Donald, Chapter 10 (p. 284-94); review Current, Chap. 5

Mon., Oct. 11 – The War President, 1861-summer 1862
Johnson, Chapter 5 (p. 121-46), Chapter 6; Donald, Chapters 11-12; review Current, Chap. 6

Thurs., Oct. 14 – Lincoln and Emancipation
Johnson, Chapter 7; Donald, Chapter 13-14; review Current, Chap. 9

FALL BREAK (no class on Mon, Oct. 18)

Thurs., Oct. 21 – War and Politics in 1863
Johnson, Chapter 8; Donald, Chapters 15-16

Saturday, October 23 – All Day Trip to Gettysburg! Bring a friend—there probably will be room on the bus for some guests. The cost will be only $20 apiece, because Ben Rifkin, the Dean of Culture and Society, has provided a welcome subvention.

Mon., Oct. 25 – War Turns to Revolution
Free at Last, Chapters 1-2.

Thurs., Oct. 28 – The War for Freedom
Free at Last, Chapters 5-6

Mon., Nov. 1 – War and Politics in 1864
Johnson, Chapter 9; Donald, Chapters 17-19; review Current, Chap. 8 (p. 203-13)

Thurs., Nov. 4 – Lincoln’s Last Months—late 1864 and early 1865
Johnson, Chapter 10; Donald, Chapter 20-21; review Current, Chaps. 10-11

Mon., Nov. 8 – Lincoln the War President: one week

Select a week from mid-April 1861 through early April 1865 (each student needs to choose a different week). Read all of Lincoln’s outgoing and incoming mail for that week. Also read the lead stories and the editorials (pages one and four) in the New York Times for that week.

Most important of all, be thinking of ways to build on your primary-source research base in order to define a Lincoln research paper topic that will be your focus for the rest of the semester. Figure out something that you want to know more about. Come in and chat with me when you have an idea—I may be able to point you in the right direction. A research essay should frame a question that has to do with Lincoln as war president and try to answer it. Above all, you need a topic that interests you. The Lincoln research paper should include at least ten high-quality pages, double spaced and with appropriate margins.

I will schedule five oral presentations today on your “research week”

Here is a website that offers a convenient calendar of the years 1861-1865. This will help you to define a week:


Use the following sources for the “research week”:

1. All of Abraham Lincoln’s incoming mail is now are available on the web and searchable by name, keyword, date, etc. You will see images of actual manuscripts, and you will get to read mid-19th Century handwriting! Use “keyword” to search:


2. All of Abraham Lincoln’s outgoing mail also is now available on the web and searchable by name, keyword, date, etc. You will see printed copies of original manuscripts, as published in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1953-55), and the few other Lincoln documents that have since come to light:


3. Every day of the New York Times since 1851 is available electronically, and the Times also has splendid search capabilities for specific names and topics:


The following may be useful for the “research week,” and certainly they will be useful as you develop your final research paper:

4. American National Biography, a key reference work, is located in the reference room of the Library at CT213 .A68

5. Michael Burlingame’s two-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2008), is available on line with fuller annotation than in the published volumes:

6. The full text of Douglas Wilson, ed., Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln. Edited with Rodney O. Davis, University of Illinois Press, 1998., is now on line and searchable at the University of Illinois Press website:


7. All the debates in Congress are collected in the Congressional Globe. Some of the speeches appear in the separate Appendix for each Congress, rather than in the verbatim record for each day.


Thurs., Nov. 11 – second round of oral presentations on your “research week”

Mon., Nov. 15 – third round of oral presentations on your “research week”
All students submit up to two written single-spaced pages on “research week” projects.
All students also submit a paragraph and preliminary bibliography on your proposed final research paper topic.

Thurs., Nov. 18 – instead of a regular class, I want to have one-on-one consultations—either today or next Monday—with each student regarding final papers. Sign up lists will be circulated in advance.

Mon., Nov. 22 – no regular class; more one on one consultations.

THANKSGIVING BREAK (no class on Thurs., Nov. 25)


Mon., Nov. 29 – oral presentations on research essay topics.

Thurs., Dec. 2 – oral presentations on research essay topics.

Mon., Dec. 6 – oral presentations on research essay topics.

Thurs., Dec. 9 – oral presentations on research essay topics.
All Lincoln research papers are to be handed in no later than this class.

Shoot for at least ten double-spaced word-processed pages, with reasonable margins.

For the research paper, you need a system of footnotes or endnotes, because you will be using a number of different sources. Footnotes are best, and they are easy to do if you use Microsoft.