The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln: What’s Fact and What’s Fiction?

Rutgers University

Louis Masur is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. A cultural historian who has written on a variety of topics, his most recent work is The Sum of Our Dreams: A Concise History of America (2020). A specialist on Lincoln and the Civil War, he is the author of Lincoln’s Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction & The Crisis of Reunion (2015), Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union (2012), and The Civil War: A Concise History (2011). Masur’s essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington PostSlate, and on CNN. He has been elected to membership of the American Antiquarian Society, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and the Society of American Historians and has received teaching awards from Harvard University, the City College of New York, Trinity College and Rutgers University. His website is www.louismasur.com.

 

Overview

Abraham Lincoln & The Civil War: Facts and Fiction

Abraham Lincoln is considered our greatest President and one of the most controversial. People have debated various aspects of his personality and politics. Was he depressed? Why did he tell so many stories? Was he truly opposed to slavery? Did he free the slaves? Did the Union prevail because of his leadership or despite him? This class aims to uncover the man and not the myth. In 1922, the historian W.E.B. DuBois proclaimed that Lincoln was “big enough to be inconsistent.” To be sure, there were tensions in Lincoln’s character and ideology: he could be happy and melancholy, could promote democracy and suspend civil liberties, could oppose slavery yet have doubts about the place of blacks in American society.

How Did Abraham Lincoln Impact The Civil War?

Some of what DuBois saw as inconsistency had more to do with political reality, especially in regard to the issue of the abolition of slavery. Lincoln had to contend with various pressures knowing that any misstep could very well lead to the destruction of the Union. Here is where his temperament becomes so important. As we shall see, Lincoln’s storytelling had a purpose, as did his gradual approach to decision making. But once he made up his mind, he seldom looked back. In the end, it is not that he was inconsistent, but that he was thoughtful and deliberate and was not afraid to change his mind and grow in the process.

More on Abraham Lincoln & The Civil War

Learn more about Abraham Lincoln by checking out other great videos at OneDayU, including The Mind of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Before the War & ‘The Presidency Emerges: From Washington to Lincoln all on-demand now.

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