In Pursuit of Liberty and Lincoln

I receive a electronic newsletter from the Kansas City Public Library, usually on Sunday afternoons, alerting me to any special events hosted or sponsored by the Library in the coming week.  All three signature events tugged my interest, starting with a lecture Tuesday evening from a religious scholar on the King James Bible ‘From Ancient Texts to Literary Masterpiece.’  Wednesday’s ‘Meet the Past’ planned to interview William Rockhill Nelson, founder of the Kansas City StarBut Thursday’s ‘Hail to the Chiefs’ event appeared to be the crown jewel of the week, featuring Mark E. Neely, Jr., Pulitzer Prize winning author of numerous books on Lincoln and the Civil War, including last year’s Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War, examining charges that Lincoln played ‘fast and loose’ with Constitution during his presidency.

I decided to attempt to attend the lecture, which meant moving Heaven and Earth (or so it seemed to me).  At least the lecture would be held in the same building where I work, a small consolation for the hoops I soon jumped through and vehicles I juggled into position.  First, I asked my backup vanpool driver if she could drive the van on Thursday.  She could.  Second, I asked my husband to drive one of our cars to my backup driver’s house on Wednesday afternoon to leave it there for me to drive on Thursday morning.  He did and rode home with the rest of my vanpool riders Wednesday.  Now, I could drive the van on the first leg of the commute Thursday, hand it off to my backup driver, and take my car to work (for the first time in months), so I could stay late for the lecture.

All of the above went off without a hitch.  My workday flew by and I left the building briefly to run an errand and grab a quick bite for dinner.  I returned to the building in time to catch some of my coworkers and managers leaving for the day.  They were all shocked to see me still at work, so I cheerily explained my plans to attend the lecture in an hour.

The Library opened the doors to the Truman Forum about ten or fifteen minutes before six o’clock.  I did not realize a reception had been planned, whereby fruits, vegetables and wine would be served.  I bypassed the reception and headed straight to the auditorium, as I could tell from the number of people waiting, a good seat would be hard to find and hold on to.  I also wanted to save two seats for friends of mine who were also attending the event.

I found suitable seats in the fourth row and settled in for the short wait.  I reviewed my email and RSS feeds via my Nook Color and continued reading one of the books I’m currently plodding through.  My friends arrived with twenty minutes to spare so we chatted and got caught up on family and things.   The hum of conversation around us kept to a dull roar despite the place being packed with people, including the overflow areas to the left and behind us.

The person tasked with introducing Mr. Neely couldn’t resist the siren’s call of his soap box (and a microphone) and began a brief tirade (for which he apologized prior to his actual introduction of the speaker) on an editorial published the day before in the Kansas City Star (I believe it’s this one:  Protect Public Money in KC’s Development Deals).  His call to arms for the civic minded audience urged us to protest the City Government ‘stealing’ tax dollars from libraries, community colleges, mental health organizations, etc. and giving that money to wealthy corporations as incentives to build (develop) luxury hotels in the Country Club Plaza or Crown Center.  Not being a citizen of Kansas City, nor having a vote or a say in what it does or does not do with its tax money, I did not know how helpful or fruitful any protesting I might do would be.  I can see his point, as I don’t care for the practice of providing tax incentives to large corporations in the dubious hope that they will produce a boon in the local economy or provide more jobs (which will most likely be outsourced to the Asian continent as soon as the incentives expire).  And on that sour note, with much applause and cheering from the audience, the introduction continued and Mr. Neely ascended the stairs to the podium.

I enjoyed Mr. Neely’s talk and took several pages of notes (if you really want to give yourself a headache, try and decipher my scribblings here).  I have not read any of Mr. Neely’s books, but I may in the future.  He began with a dissection of the Corning letter.  He fascinated me with contextual tales of the ‘true’ use the Writ of Habeas Corpus was put to during the Civil War, specifically several cases across one hundred days during the Summer of 1863.

Mr. Neely rated and graded several Presidents (only dead ones) on his civil liberties scorecard, using three questions as criteria:  1) Was the internal security system proportionate to threat?  2) Once the system was in place, was it used for other purposes, particularly against vulnerable people (minorities, dissenters, non-citizens)? and 3) When the threat ends, is the system sunsetted?  He gave John Adams a D, Woodrow Wilson a C- and FDR a D.  Lincoln, he left to us, asking ‘What grade would you give him?’

The Question and Answer session began at 7:30 p.m.  The audience asked great questions and the event began to wrap up shortly before 8:00 p.m.

I spent a great evening with friends and learned several things I didn’t know before.  I also have a better understanding of the movie I watched just a few days ago, The Conspirator, and the legal landscape during and after the Civil War.