Hall Center For The Humanities


Jonathan Earle
Jonathan Earle
Associate Professor of History

"'If I Went West, I Think I Would Go To Kansas': Abraham Lincoln, the Sunflower State, & the Election of 1860"
Public Symposium

Wed., Apr. 27, 2011, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Special thanks to Hall Center Advisory Board members in Wichita (Dana Hensley, Carol Nazar, Martha Selfridge Housholder) and the Lattner Family Foundation. Co-sponsored by the KU Alumni Association and its Wichita Chapter
Location: Wichita Museum of Art

What role did the Sunflower State play in the life and career of our nation's greatest president, Abraham Lincoln? How did Kansas, both as a real place and as a metaphor-or a symbol- change the course of this man's trajectory, and that of our nation? Why should we residents of this geographic entity take particular pride in our home's intersection with our greatest president? In his 2010 KU in Wichita lecture, Jonathan Earle, Associate Professor of History, will endeavor to answer these questions, and explain how if it wasn't for Kansas, Abraham Lincoln would never have been president at all.

Dr. Earle's current book project is about the presidential election of 1860-the election that catapulted Abraham Lincoln to the White House, ushered into power the new Republican Party and precipitated the secession crisis and Civil War. Through his research, he has discovered numerous examples of "historical contingency" during that fateful time. This concept is one of the most useful tools historians wield, the idea that things do not have to happen the way that they did, and even seemingly-small changes at pivotal moments can and do affect large historical forces. To cite just one example from Dr. Earle's research: no seasoned political observer in any party considered Abraham Lincoln a legitimate contender for the Presidency at the beginning of the campaign. In fact, one 1859 book Dr. Earle unearthed at the Huntington Library contained biographical sketches of 21 likely Presidential candidates-and didn't even include one on Lincoln!

Historical contingency is part of what makes history so inherently interesting-no one knows what twists and turns could turn a humdrum story on its head. Dr. Earle will show how the unlikely event of a truly sectional Presidential election-one that brought to the White House a one-term Congressman who hadn't won an election since 1846-could have occurred at a pivotal moment in our history. To do so he will focus on a journey Abraham Lincoln took to Kansas Territory during the last month of 1859, a time when the union itself seemed to be fraying in the aftermath of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Emphasizing the contingency of these and other historical events can help us return human action and decision-making to its central place in the writing and teaching of history.

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