The Civil War Connections Blog

Review of Lincoln Conference

Last week the Mariners’ Museum’s neighbor, Christopher Newport University, hosted some of the foremost Lincoln scholars for the Fifth Annual Conference on America’s Founding Principles and History. This year the focus of the conference was Lincoln, the Constitution and the Nation at War which coincides perfectly with the on going sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  So of course we were there to cover it and bring the recap to you via blog post.


The Conference opened on Wednesday afternoon with a Student Panel on Abraham Lincoln, which was followed up by a lecture on Rhett Butler and the Confederacy.  Day Two of the Conference is when the fun really started!  The day was jam packed with eight different scholars speaking on Lincoln, not to mention the distinguished individuals moderating or introducing those speakers.  The first segment began at 9:30am with a substantial crowd of mostly students on hand to hear about “Lincoln and American Democracy.” Eric C. Sands, professor of government at Berry College, began as the first speaker of the day, and he discussed Lincoln’s views on the Declaration of Independence and how he thought it established natural law. Lucas Morel, head of the Department of Politics at Washington and Lee, spoke next and gave the other side of the argument saying that Lincoln viewed the Declaration as a document that recognized natural rights opposed to natural law. A brief intermission followed the question and answer portion and with substantial crowd the 11:00am session on “Lincoln as Commander in Chief” started. Mark Neely, a distinguished professor of Civil War history at Penn State, spoke about a very interesting time in history, the period between when Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and when it was actually enacted.  The next speaker was Benjamin Kleinerman, professor at Michigan State University, who spoke on Lincoln’s use on executive power (which you can read more about on the blog here).  Kleinerman’s take on Lincoln’s use of executive power during wartime was that too much attention has been given to his abuse of power and not enough his given to his restraint of power.


The two morning sessions on Thursday were followed by an exclusive Luncheon Keynote Address by Harold Holzer of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Don’t be too disappointed if you didn’t score an invite though because Holzer will be giving a lecture that open to the public on March 9th! (


The Conference reconvened at 2:30pm for the session on “Lincoln and the War for the Union.” The two speakers for this session were both from just up I-64 at the University of Virginia.  The first, Elizabeth R. Varon discussed Lincoln and his thoughts on secession. Next Gary W. Gallagher gave his speech on “Lincoln, the Loya Citizenry and a War for Union.” At 4:00pm began the last but main event, the Keynote Address by Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College. Guelzo is possibly the top expert on Abraham Lincoln and is the only person to have won the prestigious Lincoln Award twice. Guelzo gave his speech on Lincoln and his role and place in American History.


Overall the Center for American Studies hosted a great Conference filled with the rich scholarship of illustrious scholars of history and politics alike.