Lincoln, larger than life

Reprinted with permission of the News-Register. Find more News-Register stories about Linfield College here.


Photo by Marcus Larson/News-Register

Marcus Larson/News-Register
Displays lead viewers through the history of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his leadership through the Civil War and the fight to abolish slavery.

April 25, 2014

By Starla Pointer of the News-Register

Abraham Lincoln looks young, fresh and awkwardly almost-handsome in a photograph from 1858, the year he debated Stephen Douglas and lost a Senate race. Three years later, on the eve of his inauguration as the 16th president, he still looks vital, with bright eyes shining above his brand-new beard.

But in photos taken three and four years later, after Lincoln has been fighting to keep his country together and pass the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, the president looks haggard. His eyes are dull and the sockets bruised-looking, his cheeks sunken and skeletal. In the picture from February 1865, Lincoln is 56, but could pass for 76.

We’ve all seen those pictures — more frequently, the later ones — but not always in such close proximity and not often in the context offered by the “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” exhibit at Linfield College.

The photos are among the first things viewers see when they enter the free exhibit, which continues through May 16 in Linfield’s Nicholson Library. Lincoln’s likenesses set the stage for display of more photos, drawings, editorial cartoons and documents that give viewers a glimpse at what made Lincoln’s term of office so grueling.

Lincoln was elected in 1860 with only 40 percent of the vote. Northerners hoped he would be better than his predecessor, James Buchanan; Southerners feared he would keep his promise to fight against slavery.

By the time he was sworn in on March 4, 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union. In his inaugural address, he called for a unified nation, asking Americans to rededicate themselves to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as called for in the Constitution.

But a month after he took office, on April 12, the Civil War began. The bitter struggle would continue for four years, at a cost of thousands upon thousands of lives.

When it ended, the county was again a union, rather than a collection of separate states. And Lincoln’s quest to assure that “all men are created equal” was on the way to fruition: In January 1865, Congress had passed the 13th Amendment, which says “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the U.S.”

Lincoln, who fought to abolish slavery, didn’t live to see the 13th Amendment become law. It wasn’t ratified by all the states until that December, eight months after he was shot by John Wilkes Booth.

The “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” exhibit consists of several wall-sized, free-standing panels covered with pictures and text. Many of the illustrations look so lifelike and three-dimensional, viewers will want to touch them to see if they are real — the depiction of the Bible used for Lincoln’s swearing in, for instance, looks like the real thing set into a niche in the wall.

The display includes only one actual document — and not quite “actual,” at that: a 1900 reprint of the April 15, 1865, New York Herald’s front page, which includes breaking news updates of the shooting of Lincoln the previous night and his death that morning. Look for the page in a glass case just northeast of the exhibit’s first panel.