After 146 years, Gettysburg College's connection with President Abraham Lincoln is still going strong.
From students who annually visit the site where Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address to faculty scholars featured in the media to a $50,000 prize for the best book on Lincoln, the unique link between Gettysburg College and Lincoln is being celebrated in honor of his 200th birthday, Feb. 12, 2009.
Each year, the newest class of students participate in the First-Year Walk process through town to hear a reading of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address at the Soldiers' National Cemetery. The walk looks back to Nov. 19, 1863, when Gettysburg College students, townspeople and Abraham Lincoln walked along Baltimore Street to the National Cemetery site, where the president dedicated the Soldiers' National Cemetery and delivered his Gettysburg Address. In fact, it was David Wills, an 1851 graduate of Gettysburg College (then Pennsylvania College) who invited Lincoln to speak. Lincoln stayed at Wills' house on the town square the night before the Address. The David Wills House is open to the public for tours.
The 2009 Lincoln Prize was awarded to James McPherson for Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief and Craig Symonds for Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War. Each author will receive $25,000 and a bronze replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens life-size bust, "Lincoln the Man." The Lincoln Prize is one of the nation's most generous awards in the field of American history. It is endowed by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman and administered by Gettysburg College.
Gettysburg College faculty scholars have long focused on Lincoln. Several have recently been featured in numerous media outlets and have spoken to hundreds of people about Lincoln.
The Feb. 16 issue of TIME magazine featured Gabor Boritt, director of the college's Civil War Institute, in the article, "What Lincoln Would Do About the Economy." The article says that 100 years after Lincoln's birth it was Boritt, in his first book Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, who recognized Lincoln's economic philosophy of "the right to rise." Lincoln championed a huge public-works program and a state-chartered bank to back it up in Illinois before becoming president. "He wanted the government to develop Illinois, to make it a great state in which success would be open to anyone, poor or rich," said Boritt. Boritt will attend bicentennial celebrations in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12, as he is a member of the National Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
Civil War Era Studies Prof. Allen Guelzo was featured in two PBS documentaries, "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" and "Looking for Lincoln," and on the National Geographic Channel, "The Real Abraham Lincoln." He published op-eds on Lincoln in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Christian Science Monitor, and was featured in USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and The National Review. In the Washington Post, Guelzo tried to explain the fascination with Lincoln: "He's like the cliffhanger that never gets resolved. Here's the man who saved the Union, and we think, 'Boy, if we get into another crisis, we want to know the formula.' We want to discern another Lincoln. But they are elusive, which means we invent them. So we impute to Lincoln the qualities we hope will lead us through the wilderness. It's called myth. It's called legend." Guelzo is also slated to appear on CNN and will speak at the Union League of Philadelphia's annual Lincoln celebration on Feb. 12.
History Prof. Michael Birkner will deliver a keynote address to the New Hampshire legislature on Lincoln's birthday, joining celebrations around the country to honor the nation's 16th president. Birkner is the Benjamin Franklin Professor of the Liberal Arts and professor of history at Gettysburg College, where he serves on the Faculty Advisory Council for the Eisenhower Institute. He chaired the Pulitzer Prize in History Jury for the 2006 award. His scholarship has focused on 19th- and 20th-century America.
Lincoln's 200th birthday serves as the kick-off to a year-long nationwide bicentennial celebration. The college's former President Gordon Haaland and Boritt serve as members on the Pennsylvania Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission appointed by Governor Edward Rendell.
The college cancelled classes on Feb. 12, 1909, to mark the centennial birthdays of Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Students attended a lecture on Darwin in the morning and one on Lincoln in the afternoon. According to the student newspaper The Gettysburgian, both men had worked to achieve "the freedom of man from the shackles which so long had held him down."
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