Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Lincoln Logs

By Shawn Healy
This year represents the 200th anniversary of the man most historians consider the best president in American history, Illinois' own Abraham Lincoln. On the day of his birth, February 12, 1809, to be exact, I would like to first recap a recent program we held at the Freedom Museum in his honor, and then place the meaning of this bicentennial celebration in greater context.

On January 15, former U.S. Senator and the 1972 Democratic nominee for president George McGovern visited the Freedom Museum and spoke about his recently-released biography of Abraham Lincoln. He recanted many of the facts we have come to know about an American with more than 16,000 books written about him. Lincoln had only one year of formal education and rose from humble means to attain the nation's highest office. A "man of ambition," Lincoln "never enjoyed the drudgery of the farm." Reading and writing were constant passions in Lincoln's life, and he was plagued throughout by what McGovern labeled "clinical depression." Lincoln preferred the diagnosis "melancholy" instead.

The former South Dakota senator was surprised to learn of Lincoln's rather large ego. For instance, Lincoln neglected most newspapers because he felt that he already knew what was transcribed within, and was a man of great self-confidence (except with women). McGovern qualified this by claiming that those who run from president are inherently egomaniacs, although my time spent with McGovern that evening calls this contention into question.

As president, Lincoln, according to McGovern, became a student of the Constitution, and for the most part, governed by its dictates. The author admitted that Lincoln erred in suspending habeas corpus and by closing down opposition newspapers, but qualified this by suggesting that the capital was surrounded by those sympathetic to the southern cause throughout the Civil War. First Amendment scholar Ronald Collins largely echoes McGovern in an extensive piece on the same subject.

Asked what Lincoln would think of President Obama, McGovern said he would commend his eventual successor for a job well done. McGovern credits Obama for running a "brilliant campaign," and also for the construction of a "powerful" Cabinet along the lines of Lincoln's "team of rivals." Obama's calm demeanor in the face of great challenges, his confidence, and oratory eloquence inspires parallels with Lincoln, McGovern suggests.

In reflecting upon the current economic crisis gripping our nation, McGovern said that Lincoln believed that reason, logic, and common sense could combine to resolve any problem. Along with a willingness to seek help from trusted advisers, Obama would be wise to draw upon Lincoln's formula during a lesser, but still perplexing challenge.

Turning to the Lincoln Bicentennial celebration, it is important to point out that it has only just begun. A commission created for this purpose has plans extending beyond the next calendar year. Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, will play a pivotal role in these festivities.

The Freedom Museum will host yet another program this evening at the Newberry Library in honor of Lincoln, where historian Ronald White will discuss his new book biography titled A. Lincoln (If you are keeping track, there is one new Lincoln book released every week during this Bicentennial celebration). Coming this summer, the Freedom Museum will open a new show examining Lincoln's record on a number of controversial issues and juxtaposing it with a number of contemporary dilemmas.

In sum, there is no shortage of narrative or celebratory examination and praise of the Great Emancipator at the end of his second century. We look to Lincoln because we see the best in America and believe that through adherence to the basic principles by which he lived and governed that we can persevere while our "house" is in disrepair, and retain our claim as the "last best hope on earth."


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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