If Lincoln scholars could choose
which Lincoln quote best describes their world, it
probably would not be "with malice toward none, with
charity for all."
But that phrase's chances are better if the next
couple of days go well.
Today and Monday, more than 20 of the nation's top
Lincoln and Civil-War era scholars, plus one from Oxford
University in England, will be meeting for a sold-out
academic conference at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
For some scholars, the conference offers a chance to
mend damaged fences from what's been called a "civil
war" within the Lincoln academic community.
It began with guns fired in Springfield 10 years ago.
In early 1995, several acclaimed historians abandoned
the Springfield-based Abraham Lincoln Association and
formed their own scholarly group, the Lincoln Forum. The
reasons for the split were complex, but centered around
ALA policy disagreements, alleged conflicts of interest,
strong personalities and claims from out-of-town
historians that they had been refused access to Lincoln
Since then, some of the tension has dissipated.
Because there are dozens of Lincoln- and Civil
War-related conferences annually, sharing the podium
several times a year with someone on the other side of
the fence is inevitable. Today, some scholars are
members of both organizations, including some who fled
the ALA in 1995.
At least three main organizers of the Lincoln Forum
are participating in the Springfield conference, which
was put together by state historian Tom Schwartz, a
prominent figure in the affairs of 1995 from the ALA
side of the fence.
"It's funny, people talk about the divide in the
Lincoln field today," says Schwartz. "It existed all the
But he concedes this conference could help with
issues that continue to smolder.
"As they say, 'time heals old wounds.' It is at least
worth a try," Schwartz says.
The ALA controversy "was a big deal," says Harold
Holzer, a Lincoln scholar from New York City who
resigned from the ALA board in 1995. "But I would say,
and I hope that I'm right, that the opening of the
(Abraham Lincoln Presidential) Library and Museum is a
bigger deal - and an opportunity. It's a new leaf, new
page, new direction, all the metaphors that suggest a
Holzer and others who split from the ALA ten years
ago and are returning to Springfield for the conference
have been back to Springfield since then. But
participating at the conference is more symbolic, they
It's the first time many of the scholars have seen
the new library and museum, both of which are expected
to draw renewed interest in Lincoln studies.
"We all want to do research (at the library)," Holzer
says. "We want to do talks there and see the museum and
the rotating scholarly exhibitions."
Conference participants will be given an exclusive
tour of the museum by its director, Richard Norton
"There are still issues," says Frank Williams, a
Lincoln scholar and chief justice of the Rhode Island
Supreme Court. Williams was ousted as president of the
ALA in 1995. His forced departure sparked the civil war
"I'm honored to be asked to participate," Williams
says. "I'm looking forward to it."
Williams and Holzer both credit Smith with reaching
out to them and smoothing things over. For Williams, the
conference might not be a fresh start, but it is a
"positive tilt" in the right direction.
He also says the conference is necessary - no
dedication of a Lincoln museum should take place without
a strong scholarly event.
"Whenever (scholars) get together, despite the
differences, it's a good thing," Williams says. "And it
speaks to the mission and what should be the basis: the
study and dissemination of Abraham Lincoln and (his
The conference covers the gamut of Lincoln research,
including discussions of his intimate life, his views of
slavery and race, leadership and communication styles
and approach to war. Scholars also will talk about
Lincoln's assassination and artifact collecting.
The conference runs all day today and Monday,
culminating in a discussion of "three generations of
Lincoln scholarship" involving Holzer, David Herbert
Donald and Matthew Pinsker and moderated by C-SPAN
founder Brian Lamb. C-SPAN will televise the museum
dedication on Tuesday.
Roughly 275 people have paid to attend at least a
portion of the two-day conference, which includes a
breakfast in the library's first-floor atrium this
Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or