This is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday…although the observance will be lumped together with George Washington’s birthday on Monday as President’s Day.

Lincoln was in Missouri from time to time, but only briefly..As a prominent railroad lawyer, he appeared several times in St. Louis courtrooms. He was in St. Joseph a couple of times. Local lore says he visited Boone County once but there’s no evidence in his records or in Boone County records.

But State Historical Society Executive Secretary Gary Kremer says Missouri was significant to him.

“Missouri was of incredible value and concern to Lincoln. There’s some evidence that Lincoln thought that if Missouri was lost the cause would be lost, the Civil War would be lost,” he says.

Lincoln had two Missourians in his cabinet: Attorney General Edward Bates and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, the first two cabinet officials from west of the Mississippi. His top two generals at the end of the war, Ulysses Grant and William Sherman, were Missourians when the war began.

But Kremer says Lincoln did something that changed the war in Missouri. into a more violent area: “He authorized the use of black soldiers in 1863 and that resulted in the recruitment of slaves and free blacks into the Union army. That enraged rebels and rebel supporters. It enraged bushwhackers.” As a consequence, he says, thousands of African Americans fled rural areas and congregated in larger towns where the Union Army had garrisons.

Kremer says Lincoln’s greatest legacy in Missouri is the scores of schools created after his death for black students. The most prominent education institution carrying Lincoln’s name is Lincoln University in Jefferson City, founded by black Civil War veterans as Lincoln Institute a year after Lincoln’s death.

“Lincoln Institute…stills stands today as a memorial to the vision of Lincoln as The Great Emancipator,” he says.

Bob Priddy interviews Gary Kremer 12:38 mp3