Panel 4 Emancipation Today: The Politics of Immigration Reform

Amanda Sherman, Managing Editor for Business and Production for the Government Law Review

 Lincoln & Immigration:  Angela Alexander, Instructor of History and Humanities, York Technical College 

           Instructor Alexander began discussing the nativist movement of the mid-1800s.  This group, whose motto was “America for the Americans” believed that no foreign-born citizens should govern in America.  The voice of the anti-nativist at this time was much softer, although it may not have been less popular.  Instructor Alexander said that Lincoln saw each ethnic group as distinct; he had a unique conception of those who were not born in America.  In the instructor’s words, “Lincoln treated people as people.”  In her presentation, Instructor Alexander detailed President Lincoln’s encounters with several minority groups as a depiction of Lincoln’s conception of non-natives.

           The group that Lincoln was most in contact with was the Germans, which was the most common immigrant group in Illinois in his day.  Lincoln owned a German language newspaper in Springfield, and also worked and corresponded with many Germans.  In a letter, circa 1858, Lincoln wrote, “Our fellow German citizens, ever true to liberty . . . not for special classes of men, but for all men.  True to the union and the constitution as the best means to advance that liberty.”[1]

           Additionally, Lincoln wanted to ensure that Germans could read his speeches in their own language.  Although, Instructor Alexander says this was politically advantageous for Lincoln, it was mutually beneficial to the Germans.  Germans and others were to be judged by their individual merit and not their nativity.  The instructor went on to detail Lincoln’s encounters with the Jewish and Irish population.  She spoke of Lincoln’s handling of General Ulysses S. Grant’s denial of orders to pay permits for Jewish individuals in 1862 as a demonstration of his ability to divorce himself from certain political or social pressures in order to do what he felt was necessary.

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Lincoln’s Legacy: Sobota Lecture Featuring Lewis E. Lehrman

Marisa Floriani, Managing Editor of Government Law Review Fireplace Blog

           Thomas Guernsey, President and Dean of Albany Law School, gave a brief opening remark to the Government Law Review’s Symposium: Lincoln’s Legacy.  Although he described the connections Albany Law founders had to Abraham Lincoln as “a powerful group of Albany Law attorneys,” it is not a phrase that has to be limited to men and women of Albany Law’s past.  Starting tonight and continuing until 5pm on Thursday, October 1st, “a powerful group of Albany Law attorneys” as well as attorneys and spectators from across the region and country will gather at Albany Law to discuss the expansion of executive power. 

          On Wednesday night, Lewis E. Lehrman, whose educational accomplishments include a B.A. from Yale University and a Masters in History from Harvard University, spoke at the Sobota Lecture as part of the Government Law Review’s Symposium.  He articulated a spectrum of Lincoln’s political career, focusing mainly on Lincoln’s “extraordinary speech” at Peoria, Illinois.  It was at Peoria that Lincoln debated Senator Stephen Douglas about the constitutionality and morality of slavery.  Lehrman told the story of Lincoln’s struggle with America’s hypocrisy – it was the land of the free and home of the brave, but only for white males.  Although present day society can understand the inherent evil in slavery, it took a free, brave white male of the past to argue for those who had no political voice.  Lincoln’s opponent at Peoria, however, believed that his role should merely represent the American popular vote – that slavery was an accepted practice.  But Lincoln believed that slavery was a moral wrong, and he hoped that the American dream could be, in fact, colorblind.  But that is what made Lincoln different; that is what made Lincoln unique; that is what made Lincoln iconic – he saw the integrity in the law and spoke out for the inalienable right that all men were, and are, created equal.

          Lehrman described how farmers, townspeople and visitors gathered to hear the debate between Douglas and Lincoln at Peoria.  Although Lincoln would have felt peace witnessing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or the election of the nation’s first African American President Barack Obama, he probably would have enjoyed the practice that people still gather to discuss the ideologies of politics, government, and law.  Lincoln would have made an honorable lawyer today, for he had a strong moral code with a pure and clear understanding of the law.  Lehrman stated that Lincoln was jealous of those with law degrees; therefore, we owe this symposium to Lincoln and his legacy to freely discuss the controversial issues inherent in the law.  Please join the Government Law Review to observe and participate in the debate panels on October 1st at Albany Law School in the Dean Alexander Moot Court Room at Albany Law School.