The American Civil War may have ended before President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, but his death did not allow him to accomplish much of what he had aspired to do.
Lincoln’s unfinished work is the subject of a conference at Clemson University next week organized by Judge Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Professor of History and endowed chair Dr. Vernon Burton.
“As I interpret it, Lincoln’s unfinished work seemed to be about race relations,” Burton said “At first, I thought the South specifically. But, as events unfolded in the last few years, it seems America’s unfinished work would be race relations.”
The author of The Age of Lincoln said he started pondering Lincoln’s unfinished work when he was working on the Congressional Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation Commission in 2009.
While Lincoln famously signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the document only referred to slaves held by those states in rebellion against the Union. It took the 13th amendment, passed eight months after Lincoln’s death, to officially end slavery in the United States.
Burton said the scholars and experts who have been invited to participate in the conference have different opinions on Lincoln’s legacy.
“I let scholars interpret what they think is Lincoln’s unfinished work and several have said it is labor. It is politics. It is gender,” he said. “So it’s about a number of issues. Some are talking about nationalism.”
Although there are different opinions, Burton said the purpose of the conference is to engage people of all backgrounds, education levels, ages and races in the conversation.
“We have 40 international renowned scholars who will be here and will be presenting in panels and discussion and we’ll have discussion with the audience so that people who come can participate,” he said.
Burton said Lincoln’s unfinished work is important in our country today.
“All these parallels of division where people are misunderstanding each other, I think democracy is under strain today as much or as close as it could be to the last time, which was Lincoln’s age,” he said. “I think we need the kind of leadership that Lincoln was able to provide. . . Lincoln was a compromiser.”
The conference is free and open to the public. It also includes a workshop for teachers to help them present Lincoln in their classrooms.
“Lincoln really believed that you can’t have a democracy without education,” Burton said.
The conference is November 28-December 1. Click here for more information about the conference.