Program Ideas for Adults and Young Adults

Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War
Site Support Notebook

Program Formats

  • Host an exhibit “teaser” event one to two months before the exhibit arrives to generate interest—possible events include lectures, films and readings from Lincoln’s speeches and writings, including the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address.

  • Sponsor a One Book, One Community program during the exhibit using a popular biography of Lincoln or an account of the Civil War (one title for adults, one for young adults, one for children).

  • Lincoln/Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators can be found at www.lincolnpresenters.net. Successful presenters mentioned by libraries in the past include:
    Max and Donna Daniels
    Dennis Boggs
    William and Sue Wills
    James Getty
    R.J. Lindsey
    Most impersonators will do separate programs for children as well.

  • Related Exhibitions
    Related exhibits are available from the Gilder Lehrman Institute—for details and application form, see www.gilderlehrman.org/institute/public_traveling.html

  • Create displays or related exhibits of photos, oral histories and other display items about your state at the time of the Civil War.

  • Find people in your community who have family stories, diaries, artifacts from the eras of the Civil War and Lincoln’s Presidency. Create related exhibits or ask them to speak at a program. Tape their stories.

  • Ask good public speakers to read one or more of Lincoln’s speeches during the period of the exhibit. Have a historian on hand to interpret them and put them in context.

  • Create a discussion series about the Constitution. Hold a forum to discuss the text of the Constitution and its application to 21st century issues. Visit the National Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution for ideas: http://ratify.constitutioncenter.org/constitution/

  • Sponsor a book discussion group, using books from the lists in the resources section or others you think will be well received.

  • Music programs featuring Civil War era music, Gospel music and dance.
    Folksinger Chris Vallillo presents Abraham Lincoln in Song, a historically accurate show that weaves period folk songs, Lincoln's stories and his own words together into a new way to shed light on the life and times of one of our nation's favorite sons. For details, visit www.lincolninsong.com  

  • Genealogy Programs
    Tony Burroughs, author of Black Roots, presents programs on “Voices of Freedom: African American Soldiers in the Civil War” www.aagsnc.org/articles/tbbio.htm

  • Develop a film series on Abraham Lincoln.

  • Host a public discussion on Abraham Lincoln, his legacy and relevance to today. Discussions may be led by historians, Lincoln scholars, local college professors, or authors.

  • Create intergenerational programs for community members to discuss and learn about historic and contemporary issues.

  • Develop a walking tour of local sites connected to the exhibit. Highlight the people and places connected to the Civil War era in your community. Create a Web version of your research.

  • Create a public forum for discussion by making library space available for written exhibition feedback. For example, pose a question to library visitors and make a bulletin board/wall space available for public feedback and comments.

Program Topics

  • Compare Presidential leadership in times of crisis, with an emphasis on Lincoln. How far can a President stretch powers without violating the Constitution?

  • Create a program about Lincoln’s personal, political and moral evolution. Trace Lincoln’s positions on slavery throughout his life.

  • Create a program on Presidential speechwriting and the power of language.

  • Make the themes of the exhibition particular to your area—e.g., nationhood, equality, civil liberties—what was the reaction to Lincoln’s constitutional crisis? How did your community view Lincoln during the Civil War? What were the primary political attitudes? How did local papers cover national politics?

  • Examine the contribution of black soldiers to the Civil War effort through biography, film, diaries.

  • Discuss the crisis of civil liberties. Was Lincoln justified in suspending habeas corpus? Do you think the government should have the right to restrict civil liberties in the interests of national security? Discuss the balance between individual rights and national security during the Civil War era and contemporary times.

  • If you have access to 19th century American newspapers, compare how they covered Lincoln’s presidency and personal life with newspaper coverage of presidents in later periods, e.g., World War II, the 1990s.

  • Examine Civil War era African American perspectives on Lincoln’s emancipation policies. Was Lincoln the Great Emancipator or a flawed politician?

  • Who were major figures in the Abolition movement? What did they want from Lincoln?

  • How was Lincoln viewed in the United States and abroad during his own lifetime?

  • Lincoln believed the secession of Southern States was not only unconstitutional, but undemocratic. Do you believe the United States is truly one nation today? Why?

  • The Civil War was a national crisis which resulted in the abolition of slavery. What are other examples of national crises resulting in major political upheaval and change? Is it better for political change to happen quickly or slowly? Why?

  • Today the United States faces great domestic and international challenges. Examine the ways Lincoln’s presidency and legacy might impact 21st century policy decisions.