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Democracy Men: Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln

Case1This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and the 160th anniversary of the publication of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855). This exhibition was designed in remembrance of these anniversaries and also, as a means of exploring the relationship between Lincoln and Whitman, two iconic figures in American history whose influence on American culture continues today.

Though they never met, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman were each working toward a goal they unknowingly shared: national unity. Lincoln’s goal as President of the United States was to preserve the Union, and Whitman similarly promoted unity among humanity in his poetry. Specific examples of each man’s promotion of unity can be seen in their writings: for Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, and for Whitman, in his book of poetry, Leaves of Grass (1855), which was a cry for unity and equality among men.

With his delivery of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln called for unity in the Nation, especially amongst the people, as he declared, “all men are created equal.” Whitman made a similar declaration in his poem “Song of Myself:” “For every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you.” These two texts continue to occupy an important space in education and culture today. Whitman’s poetry has inspired musicians, artists, other poets, and is even referenced in movies and TV shows, and references to Lincoln occur frequently in the media. Both of these men remain monumental figures in popular culture today.

This exhibition was curated by Erika L. Jenns. Jenns is a second-year dual Master’s degree student in English and Library Science. Her studies in English focus on 19th-century American literature, and her MLS will be accompanied by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship specialization. At the Lilly Library, Jenns is the Assistant to the Head of Public Services, and she also works in the Conservation Department.

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