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Scholar Weighs in on Lincoln Statue

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Speaking by phone from his office in Washington, Smith seems equally delighted and amused.

After all, it is Smith, director of the American studies program at American University, who first promulgated the idea of a Lincoln statue in the former Confederate capital of Richmond.

Smith, who is black, suggested the statue in July 2001 before a crowd gathered to celebrate "Confederate Heritage Day" at Pamplin Historical Park in Dinwiddie.

He planted the seed there because "these are the people who will have to support the idea for that to happen," he said to the Richmond-Times Dispatch at the time. "If that should ever happen, the war would finally be over."

Not so fast, Smith says today.

We're a nation rubbed raw by uncertainty and divisiveness. Smith points to Trent Lott's blunders, for example, and American foreign policy considered controversial by some. And he likens President George W. Bush's cautiousness with Iraq to that of Lincoln at the outset of the Civil War when the first Confederate states pulled out of the Union.

Still, Smith says, the power of reconciliation is strong: "All of this is right under the surface."

Could a statue of Lincoln in Richmond show us this?

Smith is busy preparing a speech he'll give next month in Alexandria. It's called "The Evolution of Abraham Lincoln from Caterpillar to Butterfly Via His First and Second Inaugural Addresses."

Lincoln metamorphosed from his first term to his second, says Smith. Lincoln changed history and his mind about slavery because of his relationship with Frederick Douglas. Smith calls Douglas Lincoln's cocoon.

Likewise, after the Civil War, Gen. Robert E. Lee was transfixed. "Lee accepted a new social order," he says.

Smith expected some resistance to the statue of Lincoln and his son, Tad. And that's OK, he says. "What people don't seem to realize is it's got nothing to do with the [Civil] War but with the humiliation that came from reconstruction."

— Brandon Walters

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