Lincoln Presidential Museum, Illinois
“Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”
The Lincoln Presidential Museum is a fascinating examination of the life of Abraham Lincoln and in particular the conflicts and issues that distinguished his presidency. Beginning with the story of his childhood and continuing through to his legacy, the exhibits present in-depth characterization of important people in his life with compelling storytelling, investigate the division of the north and south on issues of slavery and state sovereignty, thoroughly summarize the key events in the Civil War, and illuminate the inherent political complexity of his time prior to and during his presidency.
The museum has some of the best exhibit design I’ve ever seen: high quality recreations of places and settings, the implementation and presentation of artifacts and first person narratives that enhance the understanding of the history and conflicts, and interactive maps that illuminate the timeline of state secession and changing land claims during the civil war. The most effective exhibit however was probably the narrow hallway lined with recordings of shouting historical figures from slave holders to abolitionists who accuse Lincoln of treason, cowardice, incompetence, and ineffective leadership. Here the visitor is besieged by complaining citizens on all sides of the issues, illuminating the unpopularity of Lincoln’s actions and the crushing pressures of his responsibility as president.
“I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my best each and every day.”
More than anything, the museum makes visitors appreciate the gravity of the divide in American society leading up to the civil war and the backlash against the Emancipation Proclamation – instilling respect for the man who went against the counsel of his advisers and against the wishes of the large majority of citizens – in order to reunite, and save, the country. On a more personal level, the museum celebrates a man of character, integrity, and resolve who believed in his primary duty to preserve the United States of America and who had the courage to choose a third option according to his conscience when called upon to free either all the slaves or none of the slaves. It is commonly agreed upon that Lincoln fought bouts of melancholy and depression during his terms as president, and the museum directly links this to the treacherous navigation of the political landscape in his quest to fulfill his responsibility, highlighting the toll of dealing with a nearly impossible situation.
“As our case is new, we must think anew, and act anew.”