Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War

“Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” is a national traveling exhibition which focuses on Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to meet the constitutional challenges of the Civil War. vThe exhibit is viewable during library hours May 17 through July 13, 2012 at the James City County Library, 7770 Croaker Road.

Abraham Lincoln was elected the sixteenth President of the United States in 1860, at a time when the nation was falling apart. By the time he took the oath of office, seven states had already seceded from the Union. The exhibition vividly evokes Lincoln’s struggle 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?

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

These free programs in connection with the exhibition are supported through a grant from Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library.

Thursday, May 3, 6:30 p.m. - Constitutional Conversations - Was Secession Southern Realpolitik?

Williamsburg Library Theatre

A special program on constitutional issues that prompted the Civil War wraps up the second season of Constitutional Conversations, the award-winning series of programs about the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Robert F. Engs, professor of history emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and distinguished visiting professor of history at the College of William of Mary, will discuss the view of many southern leaders that secession had a basis in the Constitution and was a rational, carefully reasoned decision for that particular time. They argued that the Constitution was essentially a contract between sovereign states — with the contracting parties retaining the inherent authority to withdraw from the agreement. To these Southern leaders secession was a form of realpolitik, since changing demographics impelled them to withdraw from the Union when they did.

The Institute of Bill of Rights Law at the William and Mary School of Law, Williamsburg Regional Library and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation organize the award-winning Constitutional Conversations series. For more details visit


Saturday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. - The Civil War 150 Legacy Project

Schell Room, Williamsburg Library

Do you have Civil War-era documents in your possession?  Come to the Williamsburg Library and have your historic letters, diaries and other collections scanned by the Library of Virginia to preserve their valuable intellectual content. The project focuses on manuscript materials created during the period 1859-1867 that reflects social, political, military, business and religious life in Virginia during the period of the Civil War and the early period of Reconstruction. Scanned materials will be made available on the web via the Library of Virginia web site and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission web site.

To schedule an appointment on May 5 or for more information, contact Patrick Golden at 259-4071 or

Learn more about the Legacy Project here.


Saturday, May 5, 10:30 a.m. - Prelude to the Battle of Williamsburg

Williamsburg Library Theatre

Events leading up to the May 5 battle of Williamsburg presented by Michael Cobb, curator of Hampton History Museum.  Presented as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Williamsburg Civil War Weekend.


Saturday, May 5, 12:30 p.m. - Forward to Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign of 1862

Williamsburg Library Theatre

The Peninsula Campaign's conception, the arrival of the Union Army of the Potomac on the lower Peninsula, the advance up the Peninsula, and the subsequent siege operations along the Warwick-Yorktown Line presented by Michael Moore, curator of Lee Hall Mansion.  Presented as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Williamsburg Civil War Weekend.


Saturday, May 5, 5 p.m. - The Battle of Williamsburg

Williamsburg Library Theatre

John Quarstein, noted local and regional historian, makes the Battle of Williamsburg come to life on its 150th anniversary, profiling the people and places associated with the conflict.


Opening Reception for the Exhibit - 7 p.m.

Thursday, May 17, 7:30 p.m. - Abraham Lincoln:  A House Divided and Forever Free

Kitzinger Community Room, James City County Library

A panel discussion touching on the major themes of the exhibit by Hampton University faculty.  The discussion is moderated by Robert Watson, assistant professor of history at Hampton University

  • Dr. Eugenie Blang - Lincoln and the habeas corpus issue in Maryland during the Civil War
  • Dr. Patrick Lewis - Lincoln's options for solving the slavery issue by focusing on the Emancipation Proclamation
  • Dr. Natalie Robertson - The contradiction inherent in American democracy, relative to the idea of liberty, as expressed in the language of the Declaration of Independence vs. the reality of slavery.  She will also explore the impetus for slavery smuggling during the Civil War.
  • Dr. William Young - Article I, Section 9, of the US Constitution restricts the power of Congress.  Professor Young contends that Lincoln's course of action on the Civil War was based on his interpretation of South Carolina's seccession which he labeled "the states were rebelling"


Tuesday, May 22, 7:30 p.m. - Abraham Lincoln and Citizens' Rights during the Civil War

Kitzinger Community Room, James City County Library

During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln used the military to arrest and try thousands of American citizens who were suspected of disloyalty or of aiding the Confederate war effort.  In this talk, Jonathan W. White will explore Lincoln's various internal security policies and will discuss several perennially controversial legal and constitutional issues in American history, including the nature and extent of presidential war powers, the development of national policies for dealing with disloyalty and treason, and the protection of civil liberties in wartime.

Jonathan W. White is assistant professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University and author of Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman (LSU Press, 2011).


Thursday, May 31, 7:30 p.m. – John Tyler and Abraham Lincoln:  “Who Was the Dwarf?”

Kitzinger Community Room, James City County Library

Lyon G. Tyler, the 14th child of President Tyler and emeritus president of William and Mary College, contested the claim made in 1928 by the editors of Time magazine that in any comparison to Lincoln, John Tyler was a “dwarf” and a virtual non-entity. Defending his father’s reputation and historical legacy, Lyon G. Tyler forcefully argued that in truth it was Lincoln, and not Tyler, who was “historically a dwarf.”  Was this an accurate assessment of Lincoln, widely regarded to be one of the nation’s greatest presidents?  

In an attempt to answer this question, Ed Crapol, Pullen professor emeritus at William and Mary, will evaluate and discuss the merit of Lyon G. Tyler’s challenge to the mythical and god-like Abraham Lincoln. 

Copies of Professor Crapol's book, John Tyler, the Accidental President, will be available for purchase and signing at his talk.


Thursday, June 7, 2 p.m. - Thursday Afternoon Film Series – Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)

Williamsburg Library Theatre

This film views Lincoln's life, from his early days as a young woodsman to his election to the presidency in 1860. Includes his first love with Ann Rutledge, his marriage to Mary Todd, his early law practice, and his debates with Stephen Douglas.


Thursday, June 7, 7:30 p.m. - The Old College Goes to War: Exploring William & Mary's role in the American Civil War

Kitzinger Community Room, James City County Library

When most people think of the College of William and Mary, they usually associate it with the colonial era.  However, the College had an equally rich and eventful history during the American Civil War.  This presentation will explore key Civil War-era events on the William and Mary campus, as well as the wartime contributions of its students, faculty, and alumni.

Sean Heuvel, Instructor, Dept. of Leadership and American Studies, Christopher Newport University


Saturday, June 9, 7:30 p.m. – A concert by Southern Horizon

Williamsburg Library Theatre

Southern Horizon presents music popular of the period from 1816-1865. The music and arrangements are researched to present an accurate portrayal of the music heard in that period. The band performs in costume on instruments similar to those that would have been found in the homes of the citizenry of the 19th century.


Thursday, June 14, 2 p.m. - Thursday Afternoon Film Series – Shenandoah (1964)

Williamsburg Library Theatre

A Virginia farmer during the Civil War refuses to support either the Confederacy or the Union until his son is taken prisoner and, seeing the horrors of war first-hand, he is forced at last to take his stand.


Thursday, June 21, 2 p.m. - Thursday Afternoon Film Series – Glory (1989)

Williamsburg Library Theatre

Two idealistic young Bostonians lead the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, America's first Black regiment in the Civil War. (Rated R)


Thursday, June 21, 7:30 p.m. - He Came as a Peacemaker: Abraham Lincoln in the Confederate Capital

Kitzinger Community Room, James City County Library

The April 1865 visit of Abraham Lincoln to Richmond was more than just a sightseeing excursion as it is sometimes portrayed, and certainly more than a triumphant visit by a conquering commander.  Rather, it was the first stop on the road to reunion, a trip that Lincoln had been trying to make for four long years. 

Mike Litterst of the National Park Service pieces together this fascinating and remarkable tale.


Thursday, June 28, 2 p.m. –  Thursday Afternoon Film Series - Stealing Lincoln's Body (2009)

Williamsburg Library Theatre

A gang of Chicago counterfeiters attempt to steal the tomb containing the body of Abraham Lincoln.


Thursday, June 28, 7:30 p.m. - John Henry and Jefferson Davis: Black and White Citizenship in a World Changed by War

Kitzinger Community Room, James City County Library

The trial of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was empanelled the same day - May 10, 1866 - as the trial of the legendary African- American railway worker, John Henry.  The fate of both men turned on the conflict between Congress and the President over the status of persons in the states being reconstructed. The fate of both Davis and Henry were shaped by Lincoln’s legacy, particularly his expansion of the wartime powers of the presidency.  Scott Nelson, professor of history at the College of William and Mary is the presenter.


Saturday, June 30, 3 to 5 p.m. - Juneteenth

Williamsburg Library Theatre

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States and has been an African-American tradition since the late 19th century.  WRL marks the event with a variety of music, celebrations and lectures, including: history professor Sharrieff DeJohnette and Dr. Jerrold Roy, both from Hampton University; singer Liz Montgomery; Sylvia Tabb-Lee, portraying Harriet Tubman; Dakari Taylor-Watson performing African drumming; and Legacy of Weyanoke, an a cappella vocal ensemble specializing in the songs and stories of the African Diaspora.  (Note: the previously advertised Angela Bartlett and New Zion Baptist Church Sunbeams Praise Ministry is unable to participate.)


Thursday, July 5, 7:30 p.m. - "They... will ever be our natural enemies"

Kitzinger Community Room, James City County Library

Decimus Et. Ultimus Barziza, who was born in Williamsburg, was typical of his generation reared on the verge of the Civil War. However, his story of the Civil War is far from average. Fighting with the famed 4th Texas and escaping from a Union prison, he was doggedly determined to support the new Confederacy. After the war Decimus defended the way of life he knew in Williamsburg before the war, becoming a vehement anti-reconstruction Democrat. Come hear about his life and a Williamsburger's colorful experience during the volatile years before, during and after the Civil War.

Drew Gruber, a resident of Williamsburg has worked for the American Battlefields Protection Program as well as several other preservation organizations and is currently employed by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.