Contrasting seminars look at Lincoln, legacy
By Brian Hicks The Post and Courier
Monday, February 2, 2009
Some folks around here joke that Charleston not only is where the Civil War began but also where it one day might end. Come downtown this weekend, and you'll see what they mean.
Two conferences with very different views on the war and Abraham Lincoln's place in history will run simultaneously — and just a few blocks apart — on Friday and Saturday. The University of South Carolina and College of Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art will host "Lincoln and the Civil War in Contemporary America" at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. At the same time, the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Stephen D. Lee Institute will convene at the Francis Marion Hotel for "Jefferson Davis vs. Abraham Lincoln," a conference that will offer some the ideas of various writers and professors about the causes of the war and of the 16th president.
You need not worry about any new bombardment of Fort Sumter, the chance of another Shiloh on Marion Square — these are two scholarly meetings between groups who seem willing to agree to disagree."What we're trying to do is put a fair and balanced perspective on different issues of the war," Brag Bowling, chairman of the Lee Institute said. "It's part of our educational outreach. Davis and Lincoln are the two most important political figures of the 19th century; Lincoln's bicentennial is this year, Davis's was last year." The institute, which is named after a Southern lieutenant general from Charleston, was formed by the SCV as something of a "Confederate think-tank" to offer a more academic argument about their positions on the war. The group thinks history has been sanitized, the South demonized."
The Sons of Confederate Veterans felt they weren't getting a fair shake," said Clyde Wilson, a USC history professor and one of the speakers at Davis vs. Lincoln. "The academic world is so politically correct they dismiss anything in defense of the South."Many of the people who will speak at the Francis Marion will offer perspectives on the war crimes of Union soldiers, defend the South's right to independence and even argue that Davis was much more of a Christian than Lincoln. Wilson will speak Saturday on the way Davis was treated in the years after the war, when he was a pariah in the North, and a hero in the South.
The Lee Institute speakers will discuss the myriad causes that, in their opinion, led to war, and offer evidence to support their claims that Lincoln was in the wrong, that the South was within its rights to secede."
Lincoln and the Civil War" is not exactly the polar opposite of the SCV meeting. One presentation will center on the connection between Lincoln and President Obama, while others focus on Juneteenth, southern Civil War fiction and even the hobby of re-enactment. Thomas Brown, a history professor at USC, said their conference will focus more on what's going on today. "I think there is a tremendous interest in Lincoln right now, and we will look at what's different between now and 50 years ago," Brown said. Brown said it is "preposterous" to think there is some liberal political view of Lincoln that affects the academic community. He notes that serious Lincoln scholars have a balanced and not entirely positive view of the former president's views on race. But Brown has little interest in hearing convoluted excuses about what caused the war.
The SCV says the war largely was fought over Southern independence and states' rights. Brown said it was, in fact, about the states' rights — to own slaves."Everybody who studies the Civil War for a living realizes slavery was the central issue of the Civil War," Brown said. Georgette Mayo, director of the Avery Research Center, said the conference was planned before Obama's win but that the timing could not be better, the subject matter more apropos. After all, Obamas' daughters will do their homework on a desk Lincoln used to write the Gettysburg Address.Maybe, Mayo said, people should attend both events."We will always have two sides to every story," she said.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: 'Jefferson Davis vs. Abraham Lincoln,' sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Stephen D. Lee Institute
WHEN: Friday and Saturday at the Francis Marion Hotel, 387 King St.ADMISSION: $150, $125 for students (includes breakfast, lunch and banquet).
INFORMATION: stephendleeinstitute.com/events.html or call 1-800-MY-DIXIE.