Immigrants and Immigration in the Age of Lincoln, led by Harold Holzer

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While the issue of slavery understandably dominated American political discourse and debate in the nineteenth century, the roiling subject of immigration persisted as a major area of contention. Through the lens of Abraham Lincoln’s rise in local, regional, and national politics, this course will follow the growing nativist response to the rise of Catholic immigration in the 1840s, through to Lincoln’s 1863 and 1864 proposals to expand—and even underwrite—immigration to fill the depleted ranks of the Union military as well as American farming and industry. We will explore the role of German and Irish voters in the crucial presidential election of 1864, and deal with the role of the foreign-born in pre-war and wartime politics.

Lincoln struggled with the explosive issue of immigration long before his presidency, yet eventually proposed the first major immigration reforms in generations, and diversified the American armed forces to preserve the Union and destroy slavery. This course will explore and assess the impact, along with its ironies and limitations, of Lincoln’s personal and political evolution on immigration.


  • Twelve lectures
  • Primary source readings to complement the lectures
  • A certificate of completion for 15 hours of professional development

Readings: The suggested readings for each session will be listed in the “Resources” link on the course site. You are not required to read or purchase any print materials. The quizzes are based on the lectures.

Course Access: After your purchase, you may access your course by signing into the Gilder Lehrman website and clicking on the My Courses link, which can be found under My Account in the navigation menu.

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LEAD SCHOLAR: Harold Holzer

Harold Holzer is the Jonathan F. Fanton Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. A 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize laureate, he served as chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and co-chair of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, appointed by President Clinton. President Bush awarded Holzer the National Humanities Medal in 2008. And in 2013, Holzer wrote an essay on Lincoln for the official program at the re-inauguration of President Obama.