Introduction to Illinois History Teacher
Abraham Lincoln is certainly the most seriously studied and perhaps the most fabled person in American history. There is seemingly no end to new insights into his strategies, principles, and combinations of the two. Fortunately, in the century and a half since Lincoln's death historians have winnowed out less meaningful interpretations to arrive at a stage of truly mature scholarship about this endlessly intriguing man. Some of that scholarship is summarized here.
Allen C. Guelzo opens this issue with a discussion of Abraham Lincoln, a man of serious ideas. What were they and how did they originate in Lincoln's thinking? At a time of considerable popular doubt about the role of principles in politics, your students will learn to appreciate the intellectual commitments to which Lincoln adhered. Much more, of course, will be learned about the specifics of those intellectual commitments from Barry L. Witten, whose curriculum materials accompany the Guelzo article.
Douglas L. Wilson explores the meaning of the legendary Lincoln-Douglas Debates. What could possibly make the lengthy rhetorical exchanges of the two men campaigning in a frontier state for a senatorial seat of importance to the nation? Make no mistake: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 have taken on far greater meaning than campaign rhetoric in a distant past. Wilson explains both the debates in the context of their time and why they have meant so much since. Lynn R. Nelson extends Wilson's invitation to those subjects into practical applications for student learning.
Gary L. Bunker breaks new ground in his discussion of Thomas Nast's comic imagery of Lincoln. Bunker keys his interpretation to a series of specific cartoons. Here learning is geared not only to Lincoln and American life in the 1860s but to the visual culture of today. Craig L. Pfannkuche's curriculum materials guide students through exercises about the composition and meaning of the comic images with the intent that students will increase their capacity to decode the powerful nonverbal medium.
William E. Gienapp closes this volume in the fourth article. Gienapp guides the reader through a discussion of the issues influencing Lincoln's conduct of the presidential campaign of 1864. It was a particularly bitter campaign. How did Lincoln's opponents conduct themselves? How did Lincoln? How did an idea—the abolition of slavery—emerge triumphant, asks Gienapp? Frederick D. Drake's curriculum materials will help students appreciate and understand that intriguing presidential election.
These articles do not mean that we have arrived at a full understanding of Lincoln. History permits no final word or definitive treatment. Each age inspires the quest for relevant insights. Teachers will be perhaps the first to sense these new possibilities. Students, even the youngest of them, will sometimes utter the basis for an age's own spirit and its unique precepts; teachers can learn from their students. Discussion of the articles and review of the curriculum materials invites students to reconsider what they know about Lincoln and his times. It may well stimulate the future work of a budding historian in your classroom. Although that possibility is an inspiration, we know that the great number of students using these materials will have enriched their understanding of important events in the life of our nation and the contribution of Abraham Lincoln to them. It is clear too that we are indebted to some of the foremost scholars of Lincoln as we learn from the materials in this volume. This volume is not the final word of Abraham Lincoln in Illinois history, but what a fine start it is.
Finally, a special word of thanks is due Thomas F. Schwartz, State Historian, who all but functioned as this volume's guest editor. Despite his busy schedule, he was always available to help with questions on the subtleties of Lincoln scholarship. Most importantly, he invited the four research and narrative authors into the project.