Civil War Scholar James McPherson Talks to
Toll Gate Students About Lincoln
James McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who served as a consultant for the movie Lincoln, spoke about the Civil War president to Toll Gate Grammar School students on Monday.
His grandson, James Long, a Toll Gate fifth grader, introduced McPherson, a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University and a pre-eminent scholar of the Civil War era. Kindergarten students hosted the President’s Day assembly, wearing homemade patriotic hats and reciting the names of all 43 U.S. presidents.
McPherson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2003 book Battle Call of Freedom, in 2009, authored an authoritative biography of Lincoln.
After students sang the Pledge of Allegiance to open the assembly, McPherson noted that America was far from living up to the ideals in that pledge during Lincoln’s time.
“One-hundred and fifty-two years ago, when Lincoln was president, there was not liberty and justice for all,” he noted. He then told the story of Lincoln’s life as a self-taught son of farmers who freed 4 million slaves, first through the Emancipation Proclamation, and then with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865. It is the story of that amendment that is told in Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, now showing in theaters.
“Lincoln completely changed the course of history and turned us into the nation we are – a nation of freedom where we try to extend justice to all. We don’t always succeed, but we try,” said McPherson.
McPherson, as a consultant on the Spielberg film, spent a day giving a tour of Gettysburg to the director and the film’s star, Daniel Day-Lewis.
“They are both very modest,” he noted of the actor and director. Spielberg, he said, was recognized several times, while Lewis, known for his remarkable immersion in his characters, wasn’t recognized at all. “That’s really a testament to his acting,” said McPherson of the British performer, who has won wide praise for his transformation, on screen, into the 16th president.
“They were trying to soak up the atmosphere, and get a feel for the important events (of the war),” said McPherson of the star and director. “We spent a lot of time in the cemetery.”
McPherson was invited to the school by Toll Gate’s PTO. His daughter, Jenny Long, is co-president of the group, and her daughter, Annie, a 2nd grader, was also on hand to hear her grandfather speak.