Jennifer Weber is an associate professor of history at the University of Kansas. She will be delivering a speech at the University of Saint Mary’s annual Lincoln Event at 7 p.m. Monday in the Xavier Theater at the USM campus. The event is free and open to the public.
1) When and how did you become interested in the Civil War?
When I was about 6 and learning to read. I was making my way through the biography section of my local library and hit on Lincoln. That was it. I was hooked.
2) You're scheduled to be delivering the Lincoln Lecture at USM Feb. 18. What will be the focus of your talk?
Lincoln and the Constitution. Basically, why Lincoln does not get in more trouble with historians for some of the actions he took. At the time, many Americans believed that much of what Lincoln and Congress did violated the Constitution.
3) You also have a stated interest in the American presidency in general. What do you see as Lincoln's place in the history of U.S. presidents?
The top. He saved the country as we know it, and his actions led to the permanent eradication of slavery. Only Washington can compare.
4) Your bio on the KU website mentions that during the Civil War the "seams where political, social, and military history" met. What do think that means for us today?
If I understand your question correctly, it's a more holistic approach to thinking about the Civil War. Most books are about the military aspect, or the political, or the economic, or the social. But these did not exist in compartments at the time; they were all mixed up together. I'm interesting in thinking and writing about how those elements all pushed on and influenced each other.
5) What do we still have to learn from the Civil War and from Lincoln's legacy?
The war shows us, among other things, what happens when there's a complete breakdown in the political system, when issues are viewed as fundamentally moral questions and therefore no one believes they can compromise. It shows us, as all wars do, that they're easy to start and hard to end. The end of slavery shows us that war brings about unintended consequences. Certainly the South did not go to war to end slavery. Lincoln's legacy shows us the value of having a smart, deliberate, wise, honest, and humble person as president -- one who is not afraid to ask questions or change his mind if events dictate a new plan. Lincoln had tremendous leadership qualities. He was usually just out in front of public opinion. Not so far out as to lose the public, but just ahead of it. And this was in an age before public opinion polls. He was also very good at communicating with the public about what he was doing and why, and what the goals of the war were and why. You see this most with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural.