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Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation

January 23 through June 7, 2015

This exhibition focuses on Abraham Lincoln’s mastery of language and how his words changed the course of history. Today, nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War, he remains an exemplar of exalted leadership in a time of great crisis, and people the world over continue to look to him as a standard-bearer for principled governance. The exhibition explores Lincoln as a writer and public speaker whose eloquence shaped the nation and the world in his own time and still reverberates in ours.

Lincoln Speaks is presented thematically and chronologically. It was organized in conjunction with scholars at the Gilder Lehrman Institute and draws heavily on its renowned collection of American historical documents. With additional contributions from the Shapell Foundation, Harvard College Library, the Library of Congress, and the Morgan’s collection of Lincoln manuscripts and letters, the exhibition includes photographic portraits and books owned and used by Lincoln. It highlights the range of his rhetorical powers from the elevated style of his proclamations and great speeches to the forceful, incisive language of his military memos and the intimate prose of personal letters to family and friends. Lincoln drew upon his powers as a writer and orator to sustain the country during its greatest crisis and to inspire Americans to embrace the end of slavery. The show coincides with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination and assesses the scale of Lincoln’s achievement as well as his national and global legacy through an examination of of his powerful words.

A complete online version of the exhibition, along with supplemental materials, is available at The Lincoln Institute.

Lead funding for this exhibition is provided by Karen H. Bechtel and the Gilder Foundation, with additional generous support from Richard and Ronay Menschel.

Publication: 

President Lincoln by Alexander Gardner. Washington, D.C., November 8, 1863.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC 245.