Civil War Night at Messiah College

Tonight was the annual Messiah College American Democracy Lecture. Our keynote speaker was Darrell Bigham, professor emeritus of history at Southern Indiana University in Evansville, IN and a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Bigham was not only here to deliver this year’s lecture, but he was also awarded the Messiah College Alumnus of the Year Award. (Class of 1964). Bigham’s lecture was titled “My Life with Lincoln: Memory, History, and Irony. The lecture explored his long career as a student of Abraham Lincoln and offered a Niehburian interpretation of Lincoln’s life and presidency, with particular focus on the Second Inaugural.

This afternoon I served on a roundtable of Civil War historians that included Pulitzer-prize winning historian Mark Neely and Dickinson College’s Civil War historian Matt Pinsker. The roundtable focused on Lincoln’s legacy for American Democracy. I spoke briefly on the irony of an event like this at Messiah College. I found it ironic that Lincoln, an ardent nationalist who used “total war” to justify his quest to preserve the Union, would be featured in a lecture at a college that, because of its Anabaptist roots, does not fly a flag and embraces pacifism. I concluded with a discussion of Lincoln as an American theologian and compared his views of the war with many of the clergymen of his age. While 19th century clergymen wanted to condemn the south for slavery and relegate them to the pit of hell, Lincoln reminded us that the “Almighty has his own purposes.”