When you’re known as the “conscience of the Democratic Party” – with regular op-ed pieces on current events in major newspapers – people are keenly interested in your views.
A large group from the campus community and wider community gathered in Jackson Library to hear former senator and 1972 presidential nominee George McGovern speak about Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 27. McGovern has written a book titled “Abraham Lincoln.” The talk was held in conjunction with the Lincoln-focused exhibition “Forever Free.”
Provost David H. Perrin introduced him. They’d had lunch together, Perrin said. “I can attest to his political convictions.”
Perrin noted he had been UNCG’s commencement speaker in 1969.
McGovern acknowledged that, saying, “I want to pick up where I left off.”
He spoke of his love of libraries and books. And spoke specifically about Lincoln. “He read everything he could get his hands on … King James Bible, Aesop’s fables, Pilgrim’s Progress, Shakespeare.” Lincoln was reading till the day he died.
Lincoln did not like manual work, but he worked tirelessly on his speeches. “He worked on those speeches night and day.” He’d write a draft, then call in cabinet members for their input and reaction. They’d take notes, give comments. For example, Secretary of State William Seward suggested the phrase “better angels of our nature” when he heard a draft of Lincoln’s first inaugural address.
Lincoln battled with depression, McGovern said. McGovern’s daughter Terri died as a result of depression and alcoholism. It shows the strength of Lincoln, he said, who refrained from alcohol, that he was able to cope without the treatments and medications that are available today.
Lincoln’s greatest achievement was not the Emancipation Proclamation, McGovern said. “It was saving the Union – that’s what the war was all about.”
An audience member asked McGovern what he would have done as president at that time, what would he have been? “I may very well have been an abolitionist,” he said. But Lincoln was a cagey politician, he added. “Sometimes you have to be that way.”
McGovern touched on the need to address world hunger. McGovern saw the devastating effects of hunger during the Great Depression, when Dust Bowl storms and grasshoppers ravaged South Dakota. He saw even worse hardship while stationed in Italy as a bomber pilot during World War II. He ended a question and answer session with a story about a bomb from his plane obliterating a particular Austrian farmhouse, which nagged at him for decades. He told the story on a European television station, not so long ago. An older farmer called his hotel late that night. “That was my farm, “he said. “We saw the bomber coming. We got in a ditch. No one got hurt. … Tell the senator to forget about it.”
McGovern’s Jackson Library talk was the first of two on January 27. He also spoke at the screening of Matt Barr’s “Hungry for Green” documentary.