Students get closer look at Honest Abe

Harold Holzer speaks to one of the Upper School’s U.S. history classes.

Harold Holzer speaks to one of the Upper School’s U.S. history classes.

Living up to its “leadership” theme for the 2012-2013 academic year, Greenwich Academy recently welcomed Abraham Lincoln expert Harold Holzer to the school to give a lecture on the famed president and his role in one of the nation’s historical turning points.

Mr. Holzer is one of the country’s leading authorities on President Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era and his lecture quickly had students enthralled, according to the school. He started his talk by describing the social and political climate of America in the 1860s and explained that while many believe that today’s news outlets have political biases, in the mid-1800s newspapers were openly partisan. Republican papers lauded the president as “an American Moses,” while Democratic papers portrayed him as a dictator seeking to destroy the country.

Mr. Holzer went on to describe other complexities of the atmosphere in which President Lincoln had to maneuver in order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, including an upcoming election and the well known, “team of rivals.”

Mr. Holzer also shared some lesser-known anecdotes about the signing of the proclamation including the fact that the signing was delayed because the president found that two words had been transposed in the first copy that he was given to sign. While waiting for the new copy to be written, he hosted a New Year’s party where he shook so many hands, he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to sign the proclamation with a steady hand. According to Mr. Holzer, he was quite aware that if he was to be remembered for anything, it would be the Emancipation Proclamation, and did not want his signature on that document to appear as if he had signed it with any hesitation.

During the question and answer portion of the lecture, the girls asked questions about everything from Mr. Holzer’s experience as a consultant on the award-winning movie Lincoln, to his assertion that the Civil War was about slavery — nothing more, nothing less. One of the girls asked Mr. Holzer how he ended up becoming a Lincoln historian. His response offered a reminder of how a special educational experience, even at a young age, can be transformative.

When Mr. Holzer was in fifth grade, his teacher had each child pick the name of a historical figure out of a hat for the purposes of further study. He picked Abraham Lincoln. The young Mr. Holzer then went to his school library and read his first book about the president titled, The Lincoln Nobody Knows.

He described the experience of working on that project as the, “magical moment” that sent him down the path of becoming the Lincoln authority that he is today.

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