Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War

Academy Description

This Academy, intended for more advanced students or graduates of “Telling America’s Story,” will take students on an in-depth exploration of perhaps the most difficult era in American history, the Civil War.

Through a thorough analysis of the writings and actions of Abraham Lincoln and others, participants will encounter and discuss the fundamental questions about America that nearly tore it apart during the 1860s. Did the Declaration of Independence promise equality for all? Was the Constitution written as a pro-slavery or anti-slavery document? Why did Lincoln call the idea that “all mean are created equal” a “proposition” rather than a self-evident truth? What was proven by the outcome of the Civil War?

Though many of the conflicts that caused the Civil War, most notably the institution of slavery, are now resolved in American political discourse, some persist and continue to shape American politics to this day.

“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”

“The mode is very simple… It is only to get the books, and read, and study them carefully.”

“A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so: it gives a relish and facility for successfully pursuing the unresolved ones.”

— Abraham Lincoln

Schedule and Syllabus of Readings

The Declaration of Independence: The Birth of American Self-Government

Sunday, June 16

“An expression of the American mind”: The Declaration and Its Foundations

3:00 – 6:00 pm: Arrive at the Ashbrook Academy
6:15 – 6:45 pm: Welcome and Academy Overview
6:45 – 7:30 pm: Dinner

7:30 – 9:00 pm: Evening Common Session

Topic: “The American Mind”

Seminar Questions: In what way is the American regime unique, according to The Federalist? According to Jefferson, what is the relation between the Declaration of Independence and our regime? What is the question that Hamilton says the American people have been called upon to answer?


  • The Federalist #1 (paragraph 1)
  • Jefferson, Letter to Henry Lee (May 8, 1825)
  • Jefferson, Letter to Roger Weightman (June 24, 1826)

9:00 – 11:00 pm: Free time/Study time

Monday, June 17

“Conceived in Liberty”: Slavery and the Union

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: “When in the course of human events…”

Seminar Question: What reasons does the Declaration of Independence give for the separation from Great Britain?


  • The Declaration of Independence (first sentence)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #1

Topic: Lincoln, Union, and Liberty

Seminar Questions: Why is Union so important for liberty, according to Lincoln? What are the “apple of gold” and the “frame of silver”? What is the effect of the principle of “equal liberty for all” according to Lincoln? What advice does Lincoln give for the preservation of the Union and its principles?


  • Lincoln, Address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois (January 27, 1838)
  • Lincoln, Speech at Chicago (July 10, 1858)
  • Lincoln, Fragment on the Constitution and Union (1861)
  • Lincoln, Speech at Independence Hall (February 22, 1861)
  • Lincoln, First Annual Message to Congress (excerpt) (1861)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #2

Topic: Slavery and the Founding

Seminar Questions: Is Jefferson optimistic or pessimistic about the possibility of ending slavery? Does Calhoun believe Jefferson was right or wrong in his views on slavery? What did the Founders do with regard to slavery, according to Lincoln?


  • Jefferson, Letter to John Holmes (April 22, 1820)
  • Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII (1781)
  • Calhoun, Speech on the Oregon Bill (June 27, 1848)
  • Lincoln, Address at Cooper Institute (February 27, 1860)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Campus Tour by AU Admissions
2:30 – 3:30 pm: Study time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #3

Topic: Slavery and Sectionalism

Seminar Questions: Does Garrison believe the Union is worth preserving?  What arguments do Calhoun, Fitzhugh, and Stephens make to support the existence of slavery, and what arguments does Lincoln make against slavery?


  • Garrison, On the Constitution and Union (December 29, 1832)
  • Calhoun, Slavery as a Positive Good (February 6, 1837)
  • Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South (1854)
  • Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! (1856)
  • Lincoln, Fragment on Slavery (October 1, 1858)
  • Lincoln, Fragment on Free Labor (September 17, 1859)
  • Stephens, “Corner Stone” Speech, (March 21, 1861)

5:00 – 6:00pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00pm: Free Time

7:00 – 8:30pm: Evening Common Session

Topic: “The Art and Architecture of Liberty”

8:30 – 11:00pm: Free Time/Study Time

Tuesday, June 18

“Whither we are tending”: The Deepening Sectional Divide

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: “All men are created equal”

Seminar Questions: In what way, according to the Declaration’s principles, are all human beings equal? What is an “unalienable” natural right? How is it different, for example, from a privilege or an entitlement?


  • Declaration of Independence (second paragraph)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #4

Topic: Kansas-Nebraska and Popular Sovereignty

Seminar Questions: Why did Douglas believe that “popular sovereignty” would resolve sectional tensions over slavery? Why did Lincoln call for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise?


  • Lincoln, Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act at Peoria, Illinois (October 16, 1854)
  • Stephen Douglas, Homecoming Speech at Chicago (July 9, 1858)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #5

Topic: The Supreme Court Speaks

Seminar Question: What is the question that the Supreme Court must decide in the Dred Scott case, and why does Lincoln reject the decision of the Supreme Court?


  • Taney, Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
  • Lincoln, Speech on the Dred Scott Decision (June 26, 1857)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 3:30 pm: Free time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #6

Topic: A House Divided: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Seminar Question: What does Lincoln means when he writes, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”?


  • Lincoln, “House Divided” Speech (June 16, 1858)
  • First Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Ottawa, Illinois (August 21, 1858)

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free Time

7:00 – 8:30 pm: Common Evening Session: Academic Jeopardy

8:30 – 11:00 pm: Free Time/Study Time

Wednesday, June 19

“And the war came”: The Union Split Asunder

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: Statesmanship

Seminar Question: What is statesmanship, and how is it different than ordinary leadership?


  • Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln (April 14, 1876)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #7

Topic: Secession and the Constitution

Seminar Question: Is there a constitutional right for a state to secede from the Union?


  • Calhoun, Fort Hill Address (July 26, 1831)
  • Lincoln, First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1861)
  • Lincoln, Message to Congress in Special Session (July 4, 1861)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #8

Topic: Lincoln and the War Power

Seminar Question: What executive actions did Lincoln take at the beginning of the Civil War, and how does he defend his actions against those who claim he acted unconstitutionally?


  • Lincoln, Message to Congress in Special Session (1861)
  • Lincoln, Letter to O.H. Browning (September 22, 1861)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Erastus Corning and Others (June 12, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Matthew Birchard and Others (June 28, 1863)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 3:30 pm: Free time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #9

Topic: Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief

Seminar Questions: How does Lincoln deal with the military demands of waging war? What military orders does he give to prosecute the war successfully? What advice does Lincoln give to his generals in the field?


  • Lincoln, Stay of Execution for Nathaniel Gordon (February 4, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Letter to George McClellan (April 9, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Letter to William H. Seward (June 28, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Hannibal Hamlin (September 28, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Letter to George McClellan (October 13, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Letter to George McClellan (October 25, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Joseph Hooker (January 26, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Gov. Andrew Johnson (March 26, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Ulysses Grant (July 13, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to George Meade (July 14, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to George Meade (October 12, 1863)

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free Time

7:00 – 9:00 pm: Common Evening Session: Thinking About College

9:00 – 11:00 pm: Free Time/Study Time

Thursday, June 20

“The last full measure of devotion”: The Meaning of the Civil War

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: Lincoln’s Democratic Faith

Seminar Question: What is significant about the election of 1864, according to Lincoln?


  • Lincoln, Response to a Serenade (November 10, 1864)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #10

Topic: The Challenge of Emancipation

Seminar Questions: What steps does Lincoln take toward emancipation, and how does he reply to critics who say he acted either too quickly or slowly? How does the accomplishment of emancipation reveal Lincoln’s statesmanship?


  • Lincoln, Appeal to Border States to Favor Compensated Emancipation (July 12, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Horace Greeley (August 22, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Final Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to James C. Conkling (August 26, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Albert Hodges (April 4, 1864)
  • Lincoln, Resolution Submitting the 13th Amendment to the States (February 1, 1865)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #11

Topic: “We are met on a great battlefield…”

Seminar Questions: What is the ultimate cause or purpose of the Civil War, according to Lincoln? How does Lincoln describe the sacrifice of those who gave “the last full measure of devotion”?


  • Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Speech to the 166th Ohio Regiment (August 22, 1864)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby (November 21, 1864)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 3:30 pm: Free time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #12

Topic: Lincoln Reflects on the War

Seminar Question: Why did the war come, according to Lincoln, and when does he think it will end?


  • Lincoln, Meditation on the Divine Will (c. September 1862)
  • Lincoln, Reply to Ms. Eliza P. Gurney (October 6, 1862)
  • Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Thurlow Weed (March 15, 1865)

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free Time

7:00 – 9:30 pm: Common Evening Session: Watch “Lincoln”

9:30 – 11:00 pm: Free Time/Study Time

Friday, June 21

“A new birth of freedom”: The Promise of the Civil War

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 10:30 am: Class Session #13

Topic: Binding the Nation’s Wounds

Seminar Question: What is Lincoln’s vision for the Union at the close of the Civil War?


  • Lincoln, Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction (December 8, 1863)
  • Lincoln, Speech on Reconstruction (April 11, 1865)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #14

Topic: Lincoln’s Legacy

Seminar Questions: How did Lincoln display his statesmanship in the course of the war and in the cause of emancipation, according to Douglass? How should Lincoln be remembered by future Americans?


  • Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln (April 14, 1876)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Study time

2:30 – 5:00 pm: Final Exam

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free Time

7:00 – 9:30 pm: Common Evening Session: “Reacting to the Past” Game

9:30 – 11:00 pm: Free time/Pack

Saturday, June 22

“Free at Last”? Liberty, Equality, and Education Today

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast
9:00 – 9:30 am: Finish Packing

9:00 – 10:45 am: Common Session

Topic: Citizenship and the Need for Liberal Education

Seminar Questions: What kind of education must a republic have? What is liberal education? Why are students not encountering it as they should in university?


  • Jefferson, Rockfish Gap Report (1818)
  • Bloom, Our Listless Universities (Parts I-II)
  • Foster, On Liberal Education

10:45 – 11:00 am: Evaluations
11:00 – 11:45 am: Lunch

11:45 am – 12:00 pm: Common Session

Topic: “A republic, if you can keep it”

12:00 pm: Depart Ashbrook Academy

About the Ashbrook Academy in American History

Ashbrook for…

The Ashbrook Academy in American History is a summer program designed for rising high school juniors and seniors who share a deep interest in American history and politics. Unlike other courses or programs that tend to erode young Americans’ proper pride in their country by emphasizing its historical failures, the Academy invites students to consider the American experiment as a historical triumph, a victory for reason and the human spirit that warrants grateful celebration but also demands serious study. We welcome your participation.

The Academy meets for seven days (June 16-22, 2019) at the Ashbrook Center on the campus of Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio immersing participants in a deep study of the biggest challenges that have faced our Republic. We hold two separate academies simultaneously – one that surveys the most important questions that have faced our nation from its founding to the civil rights era and a second that provides a more focused study on the Civil War era for more advanced students.

The Ashbrook Academy takes history out of textbooks and into your life. By the end of the program, students will have acquired a deep understanding of the fundamental principles that define and unite us as Americans.