Lincoln, Immigration, & Citizenship

As part of the recently renamed Mary and James Beaumont Endowed Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series, an immigration-focused reception and Lincoln Legacy lecture was held on October 15. “Lincoln, Immigration, & Citizenship” detailed a section of American history regarding Abraham Lincoln that is perhaps overshadowed by his abolitionist accomplishments.

Prior to the discussion, Chancellor Koch gave a brief overview on the past, present, and future of the Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series. It was created in 2002 with the purpose of uniting policy makers and UIS faculty and staff. Each topic covered by the program, she said, is one that concerned Lincoln and the citizens under his administration while remaining relevant to modern times. Looking forward, Koch added that the UIS Leadership Center for Lincoln Studies will be launched next year in the hopes of furthering students’ education on the groundbreaking former president.

Chancellor Koch then summoned Mary Beaumont onstage to receive a gift for her and her husband’s generous donation: books written by the speakers. Beaumont has consistently been a strong co-supporter of the Series, WUIS NPR Radio, the Student Union, and other UIS undertakings. After that interlude, Koch then stated that Lincoln’s legacy lives on today through values and opportunity for all. This opened up the floor for the speakers.

Prior to the Chancellor’s terse speech, Dr. Michael Burlingame, holder of UIS’ Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies and esteemed author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln and the Civil War, provided the audience with the key foundation on which the other two speakers built their discussion. Dr. Jason Silverman, author of Lincoln and the Immigrant and Immigration in the American South and Palmer Professor Emeritus of Winthrop University, preceded Dr. Mark Steiner, Professor of Law at the South Texas University School of Law, twofold Fulbright Scholar, and author of An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln and Citizenship.

Dr. Silverman displayed a thorough timeline of events centered around Abraham Lincoln’s political development and accomplishments. Xenophobic attitudes, particularly aimed at Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, and Jewish people, circulated through the Know-Nothing and American parties. In the face of this and the fall of the Whig party, Lincoln believed in the advancement of all men. This sentiment included universal freedom regardless of heritage and skin color.

Dr. Steiner took a more big picture approach in explaining the differences between colonization and citizenship, shining a light on the exact extent to which Lincoln believed minorities to be “equal.” Social and political equality were still far from possible for newly-freed slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation, and there is some debate about why that was. Some speculate that Lincoln was intentionally “driving the small end of the wedge in” by limiting the scope of progressivism put forth by Congress. This rail-splitting analogy was apt in describing the gradual manner in which social reform for freed slaves and immigrants had to be introduced to the American people.

After the discussion, a few questions were raised regarding immigration. Lincoln was compared to a “mighty juggler” with multiple balls in the air at the same time. He dealt with law studies, immigration, abolitionism, the Civil War, economics, labor, and other issues deftly.

For more information on Lincoln Legacy initiatives, visit cspl/initiatives/.