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Lincoln Scholar and W&L Politics Professor Releases New Book

Abraham Lincoln scholar and Washington and Lee University professor Lucas Morel’s new book, Lincoln and Liberty: Wisdom for the Ages, will be released Jan. 2, 2015. The book, which is a collection of essays by prominent Lincoln scholars, has earned advance praise for being one of the finest collections of essays to date about Lincoln and his era.

Morel, who has been a politics professor at Washington and Lee University since 1999 and is the university’s preeminent Lincoln scholar, teaches American government, political philosophy and black American politics.

“The latest conventional wisdom is that Lincoln evolved as a thinker, but most of the essays in this volume don’t follow that script,” said Morel. “What makes Lincoln great is that—very early in his political career, back in the Illinois legislature—he had a pretty set idea of the meaning of America, the problem of slavery, and how we needed to deal with it. He took his cue from the founders, who despite owning slaves, set out to establish a nation upon principles and structures that would secure freedom for the governed as fast as circumstances could permit.”

Since Lincoln’s death, generations of Americans have studied his life, presidency and leadership, often remaking him into a figure suited to the needs and interests of their own time. In Morel’s essay collection, he explores the notion that it was Lincoln’s reverence for old ideas, not new ones, that influenced his most important political decisions.

The book uses a variety of lenses—like literature, race, religion, statesmanship and public opinion—to examine Lincoln’s political thought and practice. Biographer Fred Kaplan, who wrote Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, contributes an essay, “Lincoln and Literature,” and Mackubin Owens, editor of the foreign policy magazine Orbis, submitted the piece, “Abraham Lincoln as War President.” Morel’s essay, “Lincoln, Liberty, and the American Constitutional Union,” advances the argument that Lincoln believed the only just way of securing liberty was through the consent of the governed, which entailed the preservation of the constitutional union established by the American founders.

“Some see Lincoln as progressive with a capital P. I think of him as conservative with a small c. He saw things in the American regime—the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the structures of the U.S. Constitution—that were worth conserving, and used those things to address the crises of his time, which still offer the best approach to solving the problems of the future,” said Morel.

The book was inspired by a conference, funded in part by the Apgar Foundation, that Morel held at Washington and Lee University in 2009 to honor the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. In addition to the conference, the university hosted a speaker series during the 2009-10 academic year, which brought more Lincoln scholars to campus, including noted Civil War historian James McPherson, who wrote Battle Cry of Freedom, and Diana Schaub, professor of political science at Loyola University in Maryland, who recently co-edited What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the Morel’s book’s introduction, “Lincoln, Dred Scott, and Preservation of Liberty,” was a guest speaker at the university in 2009.

Morel is a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society. This past November, he gave a talk, “Justice and Justices in Lincoln’s Civil War Presidency” as part of its Leon Silverman Lecture Series. He is also a board member of the Abraham Lincoln Association and a past president of the Abraham Lincoln Institute. Morel is currently at work on a forthcoming book, Lincoln and the American Founding, which will be published by Southern Illinois University Press.

Copies of Lincoln and Liberty: Wisdom for the Ages are available for sale online.