Rich Lowry’s argument that modern conservatives can claim a kindred spirit in Lincoln has been generating some interesting responses. George Perkovich claims that by emphasizing Lincoln’s respect for economic and property rights, Lowry ignores Lincoln’s commitment to government as a guarantor of justice. ”Lincoln’s focus on justice,” he writes, “like that of progressives more broadly, extends the purpose of government beyond the protection of individual liberty and private property to which libertarian-conservatives reduce it today.”
Category Archives: Lincoln and Memory
In Lincoln Unbound, which hits bookstores this month, Rich Lowry examines Lincoln’s belief in America as a land of opportunity and upward mobility. Lowry’s new piece in National Review offers a preview of his book, arguing that conservative attempts to depict Lincoln as a tyrant or proto-liberal are misguided, and that Republicans can still learn a great deal from the first member of their party to win the presidency:
…Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the foremost proponent of opportunity in all of American history. His economics of dynamism and change and his gospel of discipline and self-improvement are particularly important to a country that has been stagnating economically and suffering from a social breakdown that is limiting economic mobility. No 19th-century figure can be an exact match for either of our contemporary competing political ideologies, but Lincoln the paladin of individual initiative, the worshiper of the Founding Fathers, and the advocate of self-control is more naturally a fellow traveler with today’s conservatives than with progressives.
In his recent commencement address to the graduating class of Villanova Law, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett named Lincoln and Sir Thomas More as worthy of emulation:
Both “chose honor over convenience,” Corbett told 233 graduates and their friends and family at Villanova’s Pavilion.
Corbett, who was state attorney general and had a private practice for many years before becoming governor, gave a short speech exhorting the graduates to work hard, act ethically, think logically, and always look at the facts.
“Leaders who combine these qualites make great lawyers. They make great citizens. And they make great history,” he said.
Historical autograph dealer Nathan Raab muses on the current Lincoln craze in a piece for Forbes. ”The 16th President, widely admired for so long, is now coming to us via so many compelling and varied interpretations, both popular and scholarly, that it seems to pervade all aspects of our culture,” he writes. ”We have loved him for a long time, but somehow this feels different.”
Our last post linked to a piece on Lincoln at American Thinker. Yesterday another Lincoln-related article appeared at the same website, this one invoking his approach to the Confederacy in the context of the modern tension between Israel and Palestine.
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison, both fellows with the Family Research Council, argue that conservatives shouldn’t rush to condemn Lincoln and his war for the Union:
Some folks say the Civil War was not about slavery, but about states’ rights. We strongly support states rights — especially when it comes protecting our essential liberties from the dangers of Obamacare. But in 1861, the secessionists’ new constitution prohibited any free state from joining the Confederacy. It forbade the people of any Confederate state from voluntarily freeing their slaves. And the framers of that constitution even debated — and soundly defeated — a provision that would have allowed states to secede from the Confederacy. Clearly, the war was not about states’ rights.
Some think Abraham Lincoln gave us the Big Government we all deplore today. He did give us the Trans-Continental Railroad, to be sure, but that was privately built and owned. And the Homestead Act turned over millions of acres of public lands to private owners who would farm and improve them. Even the military — which had mushroomed to over a million men in wartime (including some 200,000 free men of color) — quickly shrank after the war. By 1870, it was little larger than before the war.
By Michael Lynch
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been teaching a section of the introductory course on Abraham Lincoln which all freshmen at Lincoln Memorial University are required to take. On the first day, I asked the students to write down five things they think of when they hear Lincoln’s name. I didn’t require correct answers, and I told them not to consult any books or other sources. I was just curious to see what comes to the mind of the average American eighteen-year-old when Lincoln is mentioned.
The most common responses by far involved some aspect of the assassination, with all but five of the students mentioning Lincoln’s murder. About one-third of them referred to the fact he was shot in a theater, and one-fifth mentioned John Wilkes Booth by name. One of them mentioned Booth’s close proximity to Lincoln at the 1864 inauguration.
Lincoln’s height was the second most common thing that came up, followed pretty closely by references to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s opposition to slavery, and his “Honest Abe” moniker. One-quarter of the students mentioned the fact that he was the Sixteenth President of the United States, and the same number mentioned his iconic stovepipe hat. One-sixth of them referred to Lincoln’s whiskers, his Kentucky background, his appearance on American currency, his “railsplitter” nickname, or his association with the Civil War.
The early deaths of several of Lincoln’s relatives was mentioned twice. So was the Thirteenth Amendment, the date of his birth, his election to the presidency, and the association of his name with LMU.
Only two incorrect statements appeared in the responses. One student claimed that Lincoln was “stern and serious,” perhaps confusing his appearance in formal portraits with his actual demeanor. Another wrote that Lincoln got into hot water with his dad for chopping down a cherry tree, but I half suspect that this answer was an intentional joke rather than an honest mistake.
The following references each appeared once:
- Member of the Whig Party
- He dressed badly
- Born in a log cabin
- Was a Republican
- His wife shopped a lot
- Carried letters in his hat
- A public speaker
- Had many enemies
- Was a great leader
- Loved reading books
- Had “defined” facial features
- Had disturbing dreams
- Mentioned the names of attending doctors at his deathbed
- Gettysburg Address
- Wrote about giant bones at Niagara Falls
- Grew up poor
Only one student mentioned the Gettysburg Address, which came as a surprise to me. Also surprising was the reference to Lincoln’s short meditation on Niagara Falls, one of his more obscure written works. In addition, I expected to see more references to his humble origins and log cabin birth, since that’s been such an important aspect of the Lincoln cultural phenomenon over the years. In fact, of the five major aspects of “Lincolnian memory” identified by historian Merrill Peterson (the savior of the Union, the great emancipator, the man of the people, the first American, and the self-made man), only the notion of Lincoln as emancipator was prominent in the students’ responses.
Finally, three students mentioned the recent “vampire hunter” meme. I leave it to you to decide whether that number is alarmingly high or reassuringly low.
—Michael Lynch graduated from LMU with a degree in history, worked at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum as an assistant curator, and now teaches survey-level history courses on campus. He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Tennessee and blogs about historical topics at pastinthepresent.wordpress.com.
Spielberg’s Lincoln is getting slightly tweaked for overseas audiences who might not be as familiar with the historical background. From The Hollywood Reporter:
Instead of opening with a Civil War battle scene, onscreen messages first will contextualize the story against actual black-and-white images designed to provide insight into what was going on in America in 1865. It lasts about a minute.…Fox research showed that, while nearly everyone outside the U.S. had heard of Abraham Lincoln, most didn’t know about his role in the Civil War or ending slavery. So the studio has created a series of country-specific promotional shorts featuring political figures explaining the larger context.
Barack Obama will use two historic Bibles during his second inauguration this month. One of them is the Bible used during Lincoln’s first swearing-in, and is the same volume on which Obama took his first presidential oath. The other belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lincoln’s first inaugural Bible was an edition that was widely available at the time, provided by a clerk of the Supreme Court. The widow of Lincoln’s son Robert gave the book to the Library of Congress in 1928.
Ironically, the man who administered the oath to Lincoln in 1861 was Roger Taney, who issued the controversial Dred Scott decision and challenged Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus.
Abraham Lincoln spent the morning of Dec. 31, 1862 meeting with his cabinet to revise the final text of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was due to go into the effect the next day. On the morning of January 1, 1863, after an 11 A.M. reception at the White House, he signed the final, official copy of the document, which had been prepared by the State Department. Frederick Seward, the son of Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was an eyewtiness:
At noon, accompanying my father, I carried the broad parchment in a large portfolio under my arm. We, threading our way through the throng in the vicinity of the White House, went upstairs to the President’s room, where Mr. Lincoln speedily joined us. The broad sheet was spread open before him on the Cabinet table. Mr. Lincoln dipped his pen in the ink, and then, holding it a moment above the sheet, seemed to hesitate. Looking around, he said:
“I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. But I have been receiving calls and shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, till my arm is stiff and numb. Now this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled they will say ‘he had some compunctions.’ But anyway, it is going to be done.”
So saying, he slowly and carefully wrote his name at the bottom of the proclamation. The signature proved to be unusually clear, bold, and firm, even for him, and a laugh followed at his apprehension. My father, after appending his own name, and causing the great seal to be affixed, had the important document placed among the archives. Copies were at once given to the press.
Many abolitionist churches in the North and communities of contraband slaves in Union camps in the South held watch night services on Dec. 31 to await the final proclamation. This year, on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation, some organizations are continuing this tradition, and the document is on exhibit for a limited time at the National Archives.
You can read the final proclamation’s text in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln:
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, towit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James[,] Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New-Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina, and Virginia, (except the fortyeight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth-City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk & Portsmouth [)]; and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.