Volunteers prepare celebration of Lincoln

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(Host) Vermont volunteers are gearing up to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth next year.

Organizers say it is "altogether fitting and proper" that the celebration will take place without a penny of public funding.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Abraham Lincoln never made it to Vermont.

His wife Mary had twice visited Manchester during the Civil War. And she had booked reservations for the president and the first family to vacation there in the summer of 1865. But an assassin ended his life that April.

This February marks the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. And a group of Vermonters plans to give Lincoln the honor and welcome he never received here in person.

John McCardell is a former president of Middlebury College who chairs the Vermont Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. He says Lincoln’s words of the Gettysburg Address have strong relevance today.

(McCardell) "Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg about a proposition, a proposition that all men are created equal. And that very term `proposition’ suggests something that is very fragile, that is not necessarily self-evident, and that during that war, was, as he put it so eloquently, put to the test. And that proposition survived that test, but it is being tested still."

(Dillon) The commission sought state funding to help organize events next year, but a tight budget meant no money was available.

(McCardell) "I think it’s correct to say this is an outcome that Lincoln would have understood and certainly would not expect moneys to go to matters that may be deemed by the public to be of lesser long term priority."

(Dillon) The all-volunteer effort includes performances of Civil War songs, film screenings and talks sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council.

Hildene in Manchester, the home of Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln, is also hosting a lecture series on various aspects of Lincoln’s life.

Howard Coffin is a historian and writer who has documented the role of Vermonters in the Civil War. Coffin says Vermonters loved the 16th president. Lincoln, in turn, had a special fondness for Vermonters.

(Coffin) "In the summer of 1864, the Confederates almost captured Washington. Jubal Early was almost at the gates. Ulysses Grant sent the Sixth Corps to Washington and when the soldiers began to get off the boat, Lincoln pulled up in a carriage and the first soldiers on the docks were the Vermonters. And the Vermont officer went over and apologized to Lincoln that there were no generals there to meet him. And Lincoln‘s response was, `I did not come here to see any generals, I came here to see the Vermont brigade.’"

(Dillon) McCardell says he hopes the bicentennial commission can help people learn about a pivotal time in American history.

(McCardell) "One can’t really begin to understand not only the history of this country but so many of the issues we face in our time without knowing something about and learning more from  the Civil War period and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln."

(Dillon) Lincoln has also gained attention recently because President-elect Barrack Obama has followed his lead and picked a cabinet that includes political rivals.

McCardell said it was a skillful political move on Lincoln’s part – but it also posed management challenges as some of the rivals squabbled.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

 AP Photo/Alexander Gardner

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