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About the Conference

Lincoln's Unfinished Work

Lincoln’s Unfinished Work: Wednesday, Nov. 28 - Saturday, Dec. 1


In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln spoke of the need to conclude “the unfinished work which they who fought here so nobly advanced.” In his second inaugural address, he spoke in a similar vein: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”

In Lincoln's mind, it was likely that the most immediate “unfinished work” was the war itself. Doubtless, he also was considering the “new birth of freedom” as articulated in the Gettysburg Address, the status of formerly enslaved persons, the future of race relations, and the redefinition of American citizenship. Also on the national agenda were other issues: the fate of a nation riven by war; the role of labor and of capital in post-war America; the full incorporation of the western lands into the country and the status of its native people, and the growing clamor of women for equal citizenship.

This conference discussed many of the dimensions of Lincoln’s “unfinished work” as a springboard to explore the task of political and social reconstruction in the United States from 1865 to the present day.


More than 40 internationally renowned scholars spoke at this conference. Their keynote addresses, panel presentations, and discussions are available by the presenter under the "Program" menu option and the full sessions and photos are available under the "Videos and Galley" option.

Clemson University is the ideal location for a conference on the legacy of Lincoln precisely because of the American South’s racial history. The University is built on pro-slavery theorists and U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun’s Fort Hill plantation. Clemson was established in 1889 with the help of South Carolina Governor Benjamin Ryan Tillman, the prototype of a southern demagogue and the architect of the disenfranchisement of black South Carolinians. Campus buildings bear the names of Tillman and J. Strom Thurmond – a Clemson graduate, long-serving and powerful U.S. senator, and 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate.

Clemson University is confronting its racial past. With the court-ordered enrollment of Harvey Gantt in 1963, Clemson became the first South Carolina school to desegregate since Reconstruction. In recent years, the University has begun telling a more complete story that includes the convict laborers who built the original campus. The past provides a stark contrast to the present University’s commitment to inclusion and cross-cultural awareness. Clemson continues to move forward through such programs as Call Me MISTER, the FIRST program, Men of Color National Summit and the Task Force on the History of Clemson, a significant step in sharing the university’s history. The institution’s progress – and remaining challenges – exemplify many aspects of Lincoln’s and the nation’s “unfinished work.”

Thanks to sponsorship from the SC Rural Social Action Team, part of the Middlebury Bread Loaf NextGen Network, funded by the Ford Foundation's Civic Engagement and Government initiative, the conference will include diverse high school students from economically disadvantaged areas of the state, along with their teachers. These promising young students will conduct video interviews with the conference scholars and produce three- to five-minute videos that will be archived online. This additional dimension to the conference is aimed at bringing conference dialogues into the next generation.

Workshop on Teaching about Race Relations

After a Saturday luncheon and keynote, sociologist James W. Loewen, historian Vernon Burton, public school teacher Paul Harleston, and Clemson graduate student Amanda Arroyo led a workshop for public school teachers, including those with SC Rural Social Action Team, on teaching about the history of race relations.


The Lincoln’s Unfinished Work conference and workshop, co-directed by Vernon Burton and independent historian Peter Eisenstadt, was made possible by the generous support of the Congressional Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation; Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.; South Carolina Humanities; Self Family Foundation; University South Caroliniana Society; Jean Soman; Friends of the Library and Special Collections of the College of Charleston; and, at Clemson University, Office of Inclusion and Equity; Watt Family Innovation Center; Humanities Hub; College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Department of History and Geography; Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Chair of History; Clemson University Libraries; Department of Economics; Department of English; Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice; Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management; Department of Political Science; Pearce Center for Professional Communication; Calhoun Honors College; Department of Historic Properties; History Graduate Student Association; Rutland Institute for Ethics;  Pan African Studies program; Department of Philosophy and Religion; and Clemson University Press.

Watt Family Innovation Center

Rutland Institute for Ethics

SC Humanities

Lincoln Bicentennial

Inclusion and Equity

Humanities Hub