Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and the Struggle Against American Slavery

This course will examine the life of the republic's most celebrated president and its most revered reformer in order to probe the transformations in American politics, culture, and society across the nineteenth century. Using as a starting point the contrasting yet overlapping personal experiences of Lincoln and Douglass, participants will explore the fierce struggles over slavery, freedom, territorial expansion, nationalism, and sectionalism that culminated in the cataclysmic Civil War. That seismic conflict not only saved the Union but also -- by destroying the largest slave society in world history -- made it "forever worthy of the saving," as Lincoln put it. And yet, the war produced as many questions as answers. Despite Douglass' postwar assertion that it was now "self-evident that no class or color should be the exclusive rulers of this country,” Americans continued to wrestle with the meanings of liberty, equality, citizenship, and race at century's end. Foregrounding the experiences, actions, and -- most importantly -- words of Lincoln and Douglass, students will develop a deeper understanding of the broader changes and continuities across the American nineteenth century, as well as an appreciation for the connections that still reverberate today. Moreover, considering the shifting reputations of Lincoln and Douglass over the past 150 years, students will also ponder the usefulness of biography to the larger historical project and the importance of memory and myth in the ways we repeatedly reconstruct the past.

Academic Director

Daniel Graff

Dr. Daniel Graff is a faculty member in the Department of History and Director of the Higgins Labor Studies Program, an interdisciplinary research and education unit of the Center for Social Concerns that facilitates exploration and discussion of the past, present, and future of work in the United States and beyond. His scholarly interests include the political, social, and cultural history of the nineteenth century United States, as well as labor history more broadly across time and space. His current research projects include the decline of organized labor since the 1970s; the uses and limits of biography to understand larger social and cultural historical processes; and a book-length study of race, labor, and citizenship in nineteenth-century St. Louis. He is also interested in public history, working closely with with local non-profit organizations and museums, and he leads regular workshops for elementary and secondary education teachers on ways to integrate labor history into the social studies curriculum. A recipient of a 2011 Edmund P. Joyce Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and a 2013 Dockweiler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, he offers a variety of undergraduate courses, including “Labor and America since 1945,” “Abraham Lincoln’s America,” “Food, Work, and Power in American History,” “Jacksonian America,” and "Labor & Dignity in the Catholic Social Tradition." He received his B.A. in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in United States history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.