Law Library Hosts Traveling Exhibition on Abraham Lincoln’s Struggle to Meet the Constitutional Challenges of the Civil War

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“Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” a traveling exhibition opening at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Library January 4, examines how President Lincoln used the Constitution to confront three intertwined crises of the Civil War—the secession of Southern states, slavery and wartime civil liberties.

Lincoln is widely acknowledged as one of America’s greatest presidents, but his historical reputation is contested. Was he a calculating politician willing to accommodate slavery, or a principled leader justly celebrated as the Great Emancipator? This exhibition provides no easy answers. Rather, it encourages visitors to form a nuanced view of Lincoln by engaging them with Lincoln’s struggle to reconcile his policy preferences with basic American ideals of liberty and equality. This exhibition develops a more complete understanding of Abraham Lincoln as president and the Civil War as the nation’s gravest constitutional crisis.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860, at a time when the nation was on the brink of war. Lincoln struggled to resolve the basic questions that divided Americans at the most perilous moment in the nation’s history: Was the United States truly one nation, or was it a confederacy of sovereign and separate states? How could a country founded on the belief that “all men are created equal” tolerate slavery? In a national crisis, would civil liberties be secure? President Lincoln used the Constitution to confront these three crises of war, ultimately reinventing the Constitution and the promise of American life.

 The National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office organized the traveling exhibition, which was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): great ideas brought to life. The traveling exhibition is based on an exhibition of the same name developed by the National Constitution Center.

The traveling exhibition is composed of informative panels featuring photographic reproductions of original documents, including a draft of Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Law Library will host an opening reception and free program Thursday, January 19 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Law School Atrium. The program will feature presentations by Professors Dennis Keating, David Forte and Lolita Buckner Inniss on topics inspired by the exhibit’s main themes, including post-war attitudes toward segregation in the legal profession; Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the interest of national security; and African-ancestored slavery among the Cherokee. The event is open to the public and offers 1.5 hours of free Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit.  Contact Jan Ryan Babbit at 216-687-6913.

“Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” will be on display at the Law Library until February 17.