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Lincoln exhibition reveals constitutional challenges of Civil War

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” a traveling exhibition opening at Kauffman Museum at Bethel College Feb. 23, examines how President Abraham Lincoln used the Constitution to confront three intertwined crises of the Civil War: Southern secession, slavery and wartime civil liberties.

“Lincoln” is composed of informative panels that feature photographic reproductions of original documents, including a draft of Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Bethel College Department of History and the Newton Public Library are collaborating to bring the exhibition to Kauffman Museum. The library is currently featuring a mini-exhibit, “The Many Faces of Abraham Lincoln,” from the collection of Loyette Polhans Olson.

The exhibition and related programs at Kauffman Museum – two Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum events, March 3 and March 10, both at 3:30 p.m. – are all free to the public.

Lincoln is widely acknowledged as one of America’s greatest presidents, but his historical reputation is contested. Was he a calculating politician willing to accommodate slavery, or a principled leader justly celebrated as the Great Emancipator?

This exhibition provides no easy answers, but encourages visitors to engage with Lincoln’s struggle to reconcile his policy preferences with basic American ideals of liberty and equality. The exhibition develops a more complete understanding of Abraham Lincoln as president and the Civil War as the nation’s gravest constitutional crisis.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860, when the nation was on the brink of war.

He struggled to resolve the basic questions that divided Americans at the most perilous moment in the nation’s history: Was the United States truly one nation, or was it a confederacy of sovereign and separate states? How could a country founded on the belief that “all men are created equal” tolerate slavery? In a national crisis, would civil liberties be secure?

President Lincoln used the Constitution to confront these three crises of war, ultimately reinventing the Constitution and the promise of American life.

“We are delighted to have been selected as a site for this exhibition,” said Rachel Pannabecker, Kauffman Museum director. “This exhibition shows how Lincoln struggled with issues of secession, slavery and civil liberties, thus helping us understand why the Constitution still matters today.”

The National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office organized the traveling exhibition, which was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): great ideas brought to life. The traveling exhibition is based on one of the same name developed by the National Constitution Center.

“Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” will be on display at Kauffman Museum through April 5. For more information, contact Pannabecker at 316-283-1612.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. The special "Lincoln" exhibit is free; admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website,

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