A crowd quickly developed around Brian Alnutt as he guided visitors through the Civil War exhibit on loan toNorthampton Community College.
Alnutt is an assistant professor of history at the college and was acting as a docent during the grand opening of “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” in the college’s Kopecek Hall.
Northampton is one of 200 sites to be selected to host the free, traveling exhibit, which delves into how President Abraham Lincoln tackled the war’s constitutional and political challenges.
This is the only local showing of the exhibit, which was created by the National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office. It is funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.
It runs until Dec. 13 and dovetails into Northampton’s yearlong educational programming around the Civil War.
Alnutt’s tour of the exhibit began with a small group of four or five people and quickly grew as visitors stopped to hear him share tidbits about Lincoln.
Before becoming president, Lincoln only served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, he said. Lincoln was not a national political figure but he’d spoken out against slavery so states seceded before his inauguration, Alnutt explained.
More slave states followed but not all seceded, he said, leading to some slave owners fighting against the Confederacy. The states that seceded initially hoped for a peaceful secession but Lincoln fought to preserve the union.
The exhibit explains Lincoln called the secessions undemocratic. If a minority group who lost an election could just break up the government, government by the people could never survive, Lincoln said.
It was only later that Lincoln decided to tackle slavery, Alnutt said, predicting that if the South had fallen quickly slavery may have survived. Alnutt noted that most other countries had abolished slavery by 1861.
“Lincoln” made an appearance at the event. James Hayney wowed a crowd of about 100 people in Lipkin Theater as he assumed the persona of Lincoln, down to the beard and stovepipe hat.
Earlier Thursday morning, a group of fourth- and fifth-graders from Fountain Hill Elementary School and kindergartners from the college’s child care center were treated to time with Hayney. Students clamored to have their photo taken with Lincoln, to shake his hand and even high-five.
Northampton sophomore Claire Mulicka, of Bethlehem, came to the event to earn extra credit for a class. She left touched by Lincoln’s speeches and his determination to finish the fight.
“I thought it was fantastic,” she said of Hayney’s performance.
Hayney, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lincoln, never missed a beat as he talked about his life as the nation’s 16th president.
Lincoln would’ve retired from politics if not for Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas’ introduction of the Kansas Nebraska Act, which extended slavery into the new territories by repealing the Missouri Compromise, he said. Lincoln ran for the Senate twice and lost but he gained national recognition debating Douglas on slavery.
Lincoln actually beat Douglas in 1860 to become president. Hayney spoke about the difficulties his Kentuckian wife Mary Todd faced as one of 16 children, whose family was split between the war’s two sides. The Eastern press tore his wife apart, calling her the mole in the White House, Hayney said.
ENDOWMENT FUNDS CIVIL WAR ANNIVERSARY EVENTS
The exhibit is open 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
Prior to being selected to host the exhibit, Northampton was planning events based on the theme of “The Meaning of Freedom: Civil War 1865 to Today.”
The yearlong events are funded through an endowment built with donations and a separate $800,000 National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant Northampton was awarded in 2008. The endowment is meant to annually fund humanities-focused educational programs surrounding a theme.