MARSHALL?- Civil War buff and Southwest Minnesota State University Economics Professor Gerry Toland was the keynote speaker for the spring session kickoff of Senior College Thursday afternoon at SMSU. In honor of President Abraham Lincoln's birthday Feb. 12 and the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed Jan. 1, 1863, Toland discussed Lincoln's public letter to a Union rally in 1863. He said the letter was critical to the public's acceptance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was an order to free the slaves.
In August 1863, after Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, pressure mounted for a peace compromise with the South, Toland said. Such a reunion would nullify the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln's detractors claimed was unconstitutional.
"The Emancipation Proclamation wasn't the most popular thing," Toland said. "It divided the country."
Lincoln, committed to both freedom and the Union, needed a forum to make his case for the continuation of the war. Lincoln was invited to a Union rally in Springfield, Ill., in September 1863 by his friend and fellow Republican, James Conkling. Unable to attend, he wrote a letter to the 10,000 people in attendance, knowing his letter would also appear in northern newspapers.
Toland said a letter was a great way to get his message of continuing the war out to the public.
"In the 1860s literacy was up, and people read the newspapers for entertainment," he said. "It was the golden age of newspapers."
Toland said the letter's intent was to get three things across: Lincoln wanted people to know that he stood behind the Emancipation Proclamation and would not retract it. He wanted people to know that black men who had joined the Union Army were key to the Union's success and if they were willing to put their life on the line, they should have freedom as a reward.
Lincoln wrote, "I know, as fully as one can know the opinions of others, that some of the commanders of our armies in the field who have given us our most important successes believe the emancipation policy and the use of the colored troops constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the Rebellion, and that at least one of these important successes could not have been achieved when it was but for the aid of black soldiers."
Toland said Lincoln said that Ulysses S. Grant, who was not an abolitionist, was nevertheless impressed with the black soldiers' contribution to the war effort. Toland said that Grant told Lincoln, "the use of colored troops is the heaviest blow yet to rebellion."
Senior College is sponsored by SMSU and United Way. Courses will run from Feb. 25 through April 4. Registration will be accepted Feb. 25, said coordinator Betty Roers. The lifelong learning courses are for adults of all ages.