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Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War


Aug. 5, 2012 – An exhibition that presents the American Civil War through Abraham Lincoln's eyes and examines how the U.S. Constitution both empowered and restrained his leadership will soon visit Newman Library on the Virginia Tech campus. A series of lectures about Abraham Lincoln and other programming will allow residents of the New River Valley to contemplate the life and legacy of America's 16th president.

Lincoln, the Constitution and the Civil War will be on exhibit on the second floor of Newman Library from September 7 through October 16, 2012. The exhibition is free and open to the public, and comes to Virginia Tech thanks to a grant from the National Constitution Center, the American Library Association, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Virginia Tech's library is the only place in the region, and one of two places in the commonwealth, to host the exhibition.

"Abraham Lincoln's role as president is a frequent topic of research in our library," Aaron Purcell, professor and director of Special Collections at the University Libraries, said. "The exhibition brings into focus the crisis of the Civil War and the difficult decisions Lincoln faced. Visitors to the exhibition will gain a better understanding of Lincoln, and will come away thinking about how America has lived up to the ideals Lincoln fought for — equality, freedom and democracy," said Purcell, who is the grant's principal investigator.

A series of lectures about Abraham Lincoln will be held at Virginia Tech in conjunction with the exhibition. The first lecture, entitled "A Man Called Lincoln," will be given by Civil War historian and Virginia Tech emeritus professor James I. Robertson Jr, on Thursday, September 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Alumni Assembly Hall at the Inn at Virginia Tech (September 3 editor's note: the location of this event was changed to Latham Ballroom A at the Inn at Virginia Tech). The lectures are sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the University Libraries.

"Modern generations have all but deified Abraham Lincoln," Robertson said. "What I hope to show was that beneath the rough appearance, frontier spirit, and political acumen was a very human man of deep emotions."

Other Lincoln lecture events include "The Age of Lincoln, Then and Now" with Vernon Burton, director of the Clemson CyberInstitute, on September 11; "Abraham Lincoln, the 1862 Morrill Act, and the Early History of Virginia Tech" with Peter Wallenstein, professor of history at Virginia Tech, on September 18; "Saving the Last Best Hope on Earth: Lincoln and the Constitution" with Charles Hubbard, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy at Lincoln Memorial University, on September 27; and "An Inestimable Jewel: Abraham Lincoln and Civil War Era Constitutional Amendments" with Thomas Mackey, professor of history at the University of Louisville, on Oct. 8. These lectures will all be held in Torgersen Hall room 3100 at 7:30 p.m. on the Virginia Tech campus and are free and open to the public.

The Blacksburg branch of the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library will also have programming to support the exhibition. "We're delighted to partner with Virginia Tech to bring this wonderful educational display to the New River Valley," Paula Alston, Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library director, said. "We want people to understand the importance of Lincoln to our history. There will always be a debate around his convictions and his actions to preserve the Union, and we are hoping for many great discussions in the coming weeks," Alston said.

Events at the Blacksburg Library include a discussion with high school students who edit the Outlier Magazine about their perspective on the life and accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln through original illustrations, prose and poetry on Sunday, September 23 from 3-4 p.m.; a performance by the Music School of the Performing Arts Institute of Virginia entitled the Ballad of Abraham Lincoln on Thursday, September 27 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.; a film showing on Monday, September 10 at 5:30 p.m.; a book club talk on Monday, September 24 at 11 a.m.; and a make-and-take craft for children on Friday, September 28.

The exhibition comes to Virginia Tech just after the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which Abraham Lincoln signed into law on July 2, 1862, to create the land-grant university system in the United States. The exhibition will be at Virginia Tech during the anniversaries of two major Civil War battles, the Battle of Harper's Ferry, which was fought September 12-15, 1862; and the Battle of Antietam, which was fought September 17, 1862 and is the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. The exhibition is open during regular library hours, and school groups and others are encouraged to attend. For information about scheduling a group visit, contact Marc Brodsky, public services and reference archivist, at 540-231-6308.


Virginia Tech celebrates 150 years of American land-grant universities

    Spotlight on impact

A sweep of Abraham Lincoln’s pen 150 years ago led to the creation of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, now called Virginia Tech. Without Lincoln’s decisive action, the land-grant system, which gave Americans greater access to higher education, might never have happened.

Delivering the land-grant promise

Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger writes an open letter to the Virginia Tech community on the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act

Video: The Morrill Act and Virginia Tech

    Morrill Act and Virginia Tech

The Morrill Act paved the way for Virginia Tech to change lives and change the world.

The war of the colleges

The fight to become Virginia’s land-grant college went on for more than three years.

Legislator William T. Sutherlin argued for a “purely agricultural and mechanical” school, which would become “a nucleus around which the accretions of time would gather a really great institution.” The financially strapped Preston and Olin Institute in Blacksburg vowed to make agricultural and mechanical education the school’s first priority.

The Blacksburg school finally won the majority vote. A combination that paired Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia came in a distant second. 

After approval from the House, Gov. Gilbert Walker signed the measure into law on March 19, 1872, creating the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.

Land-grant to Cooperative Extension

    Kentland Farm

In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension system, which broadened the mission of land-grant institutions.

The act marked the beginning of a partnership among federal government, state government, and higher education working cooperatively to find solutions for social and economic problems. The Smith-Lever Act changed the view of the university as a training ground for the elite by expanding its mission to the public domain.