February 13, 2009

Library of Congress travels Abraham Lincoln’s life in bicentennial exhibit

By Diana Murray Watts

WASHINGTON - The spirit of Abraham Lincoln will take you by the hand as he shows you some of the documents, maps, prints, newspapers, books and photographs that were present to witness his life.

Rarely exhibited documents show cross-outs in Lincoln’s cursive writing, evoking the years of political struggle that he led through his presidency and the Civil War. Among the documents is his hand-written first draft of the document that finally abolished slavery from the United States.

Young Abraham Lincoln holds a solemn stare. This is a photograph of the statue by Leonard Crunelle, “Captain Lincoln-1832,” unveiled in Dixon, Ill., Sept. 24, 1930. Photo by Diana Murray Watts

These and other items make up an exhibit at The Library of Congress that demonstrates the prominence of Abraham Lincoln in American history. “With Malice Toward None” celebrates the bicentennial of the birth of the 16th president of the United States. The exhibit will be open to the public from Thursday to May 9.

Four drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation are believed to exist. The exhibit includes the first handwritten draft, dated July 22, 1862, that Lincoln presented to his cabinet. Some of them objected, and the document was amended before it was made public.

The last major exhibit commemorated Lincoln’s 150th birthday and did not travel to other cities. “This will be the first time one of this magnitude has traveled on Lincoln,” said John. R. Sellers, historical specialist on the American Civil War and the Lincoln Curator at the Library of Congress.

The exhibit “With Malice Toward None” includes the Bible used by both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama at their presidential inaugurations. Photo courtesy of the Library of CongressSellers has been a historical specialist for 39 years and a Lincoln curator for 20 years. Describing the exhibit, he said, “This tells a story of fulfilling that dream defined in the Constitution and the Declaration.”

On display are historic items such as the reward poster used to hunt down Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and his co-conspirators. The exhibit also includes caricatures of Lincoln published in newspapers showing him as the devil. Interactive computer stations present details of the rail trip he took as president-elect from Springfield, Ill., to Washington and the return of his funeral train to Illinois. Video presentations throughout the exhibit enable the audience to listen to insights from renowned Americans who have been captivated by Lincoln’s words.

“He is by far the most popular historical President, by far, over George Washington; his materials draw much more money at auction than anybody else in the presidential era,” Sellers said. “And what he stood for is just so astounding, total unselfish, you could not corrupt the man, he cared about ideals.”

Sellers said Lincoln tried to make others feel as he felt about people: equal rights for everyone, regardless of color or circumstance.

“That is Lincoln: everybody has a fair chance,” he said.

The display includes historic drafts of the Gettysburg and Inaugural addresses, items found in Lincoln’s pockets the night he was assassinated and Mary Todd Lincoln’s jewelry, including a gold and seed-pearl necklace and matching bracelet.

Another highlight is the 1861 Bible Lincoln used for his inauguration and that President Barack Obama chose for his swearing-in ceremony.

Asked if that portends a future Obama exhibit, Sellers replied the exhibit “is historical. He has to make his mark, he hasn’t done that yet.”

The exhibit will travel to five U.S. cities: Sacramento, Calif., Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and Omaha, Neb.

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