Class offers a look at Lincoln’s life

This year marks the sesquicentennial of many crucial developments in the American Civil War, and to commemorate the occasion, Vintage House senior center will be offering a six-week course on the life of Abraham Lincoln.

The classes will meet on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. beginning Jan. 14, and ending Feb. 18.

The class will be taught by local historian Mick Chantler, who teaches Lincoln and Civil War era classes in the Osher Lifelong Learning Programs at Sonoma State and Dominican universities.

The course will examine six different visions Americans have held about Lincoln from his own time to the present. While most Americans have regarded him as a “secular saint” and granted him a place in the pantheon of the nation’s greatest heroes, others ridiculed Lincoln or denounced him as a dictator.

“In our talks, we will sift through the kaleidoscopic images of Lincoln as they evolved over the years, and assess which views are valid, and which are unfair,” Chantler said.

Week one will break down the wide range of opinions on Lincoln during his lifetime. Through examining the views of his many critics participants will see that the living Lincoln was far from universally regarded as the hero figure he subsequently became.

Week two will lay-out the argument for a liberal understanding of Lincoln’s politics. American reformers have generally tended to embrace Lincoln as a proto-progressive. But the class will also see how, with equal fervor, conservatives have claimed Lincoln as their political ancestor.

“In week three, we will tackle the charge that Lincoln was a racist. This theory holds that Lincoln did not really believe the rhetoric of equality he preached, and that he was really only interested in preserving the benefits of American society for upwardly mobile whites,” Chantler said.

The image of Lincoln as a dictator has a long, complex history, and merits a full session. During the war, Northern anti-war Democrats castigated Lincoln’s “tyranny.” And, of course, most Southerners decried what they regarded as a brutish dictatorship. The class will examine selected writings and speeches of his contemporary enemies to gain a better understanding of the virulent anti-Lincoln rhetoric which has resurfaced in recent years.

Numerous writers have dealt with Lincoln’s mental health problems, showing how he had to battle through serious depression to achieve greatness.

“Since we seem to have an insatiable curiosity about the psychological mainsprings of our heroes, we will devote week five to tracing the roots of Lincoln’s acute emotional suffering,” Chantler said.

Finally, “Lincoln’s Religion,” will describe how Lincoln was posthumously drafted to serve as a model standard bearer by churches of all stripes. To balance this view, the class will also look at a dissenting tradition which casts Lincoln as an “infidel” freethinker.

Vintage House is located at 264 First St. E., and people can register by phone at 996-0311. The six-week course fee is $90. Drop-ins can also attend by paying a $20 fee per class.

In April, Chantler will also teach a class at Vintage House on the History of Baseball. The dates for the baseball class are Tuesdays April 8, 15, 22, and 29.