Adam Goodheart: On Lincoln’s Legacy

By Molly Igoe

News Editor

Adam Goodheart, director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and a lecturer at Washington College in American studies and history, is featured in the April cover story of “National Geographic” with his article “Lincoln’s Funeral Train.” It explores Abraham Lincoln’s death and legacy in honor of the 150th anniversary of his assassination.

In the article, Goodheart revisits the route that Lincoln’s funeral train traveled on, while also discussing the late president’s legacy with people he encountered. Goodheart is most interested in discovering different views various Americans have concerning what freedom is.

Goodheart followed the funeral train’s journey this June. Like Lincoln, Goodheart started in Washington D.C. and ended in Springfield, Ill., totaling 1,600 miles.

“I wanted to do a trip that was more about Lincoln’s living presence and legacy. I talked to all kinds of people who reflected his life and who have different ideas of what freedom is,” he said.

A good amount of the people Goodheart spoke to on the trip were just ordinary people he. Their diverse views reflect how the definition of freedom varies from person to person.

The first person he mentioned was the owner of a gun store in southern Pennsylvania who defined freedom as the ability to own a gun. Goodheart also spoke to one of the first gay rights activists in the United States, who sees freedom as civil rights continually expanding.

Goodheart recently wrote an article about Lincoln in “National Geographic.”
Goodheart recently wrote an article about Lincoln in “National Geographic.”

In Chicago, Goodheart talked to an Iraqi war veteran, who he said was especially relevant to his trip because Lincoln was so eloquent about the Civil War and the human sacrifices made during the War.

Goodheart previously published a book about Lincoln called “1861: The Civil War Awakening,” and said, “The Civil War era and Lincoln have always fascinated me.” He added that Lincoln is one of the most magnificent prose writers in American history, and while the Gettysburg Address is his most well known speech, he has written other lesser known speeches that are just as profound, like his Message to Congress in 1861.

This is Goodheart’s fourth time writing for “National Geographic,” but this is the first time one of his articles has appeared as a cover story. He said, “Since I was 10 years old I had always dreamed of writing for ‘National Geographic.’ It’s funny because when I was a little boy I had a vision of getting to travel to exotic places to cover stories, but the farthest I’ve gotten so far has been Illinois.”

The article discusses what happened after Lincoln was assassinated, and how, through mourning for Lincoln, the nation came together. “In the process, it not only defined the legacy of an American hero, it also established a new ritual of American citizenship: the shared moment of national tragedy.”

Throughout the article, Goodheart describes the impact Lincoln still has on people today, demonstrated by the words of an elderly African American woman in Manhattan who said, “He died for me. He died for me. God bless him.”

When asked what he believes Lincoln’s lasting legacy is, Goodheart said, “He is a touchstone for freedom, for both the liberal and the conservative side, and is an inspiration for Americans.”

Perhaps Lincoln himself expressed what most Americans think today about freedom when he wrote on Aug. 1, 1858, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”

The link to Goodheart’s article can be found online at

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