Wyoming, Secession, and a Dwindling National Community?

There was an article yesterday in the Houston Chronicle about the state of Wyoming rejecting new science standards “mainly because of global warming components,” although apparently the teaching of evolution was also a concern. In and of itself, this did not strike me as peculiar, or unusual. But, the president of the Wyoming State Board of Education was quoted in the article as being hopeful that “we can’t get some standards that are Wyoming standards and standards we can all be proud of.” It was this remark that got me thinking about Lincoln’s enemies, who I believe have done their work all too well. In their ceaseless agitation for the right of secession, or resistance to federal authority, I think they have produced, at least indirectly, an atmosphere whereby entire states can with good conscience reject, or alter, the best science on offer for their students. I touched on this in the last chapter of my book:

“Attacking Lincoln was part of a long-term intellectual and manifestly political strategy to educate—or reeducate—the American public and reshape debate not only about Americans’ understanding of Lincoln but about their understanding of the means and ends of American democracy as well. Lincoln’s critics knew, as Lincoln himself stated in 1858, that ‘he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.’ Two years earlier he had declared: ‘Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion can change the government.

Lincoln was exactly right, and his critics I think understand this today very well. As I also wrote in my last chapter:

“So, although Congressman Paul has correctly conceded that ‘no constitutional amendment will be passed to explicitly permit nullification or secession,’ he is nevertheless confident that ‘through a new relationship evolving out of current economic and political chaos, something approaching this goal is about to come.

The example of Wyoming, and I am sure it is not the only one readers of this blog can think of, makes one nearly lose hope over the possibilities of maintaining any sense of a national community in the face of such resistance. Nearly, but not entirely. One must “strive on,” as Lincoln once said, “to finish the work are in” to ensure that America remain a Union of hearts and hands as well as of States.”

“Lincoln Declared Him Free” – Cinco de Mayo, Latinos, and Lincoln

David Hayes-Bautista has done some excellent work on the nineteenth-century origins of Cinco de Mayo. Based on his work, and other pieces he has written (all parade banners and transalations below are from Bautista’s Latinos.Lincoln1 and Latinos.Lincoln.Obama2), I wrote this in my book about the relationship between Lincoln and the Republican Party, Latinos, and a broader understanding of liberty:

“In contrast to those with misgivings about the president and with an enthusiasm indicative of the breadth of Lincoln’s popularity, there was one group of people out west decisively in favor of Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. At the height of the 1864 campaign Lincoln found strong support among Latinos in California who directly linked voting for the president with opposing tyranny and larger ideas of liberty. In San Francisco a pro-Union club was established, while in one October parade various banners displayed pro-Lincoln, anti-French, and anti-Confederate viewpoints (Napoleon III had installed a client regime in Mexico under the emperor Maximilian). “Honest Abe is our man [Death to Maximilian]” was proudly exhibited on one sign, while another harshly declared “Maximiliano el usurpador – Davis el traidor” (Maximilian the usurper, [Jefferson] Davis the traitor). More significantly, one banner claimed, “Dios hizo el hombre y Lincoln lo declaró libre.” (God created man, and Lincoln declared him free). Such sentiments indicated that by 1864, if not much earlier, Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause were associated not only with the cause of expanding freedom for all in the United States but also as a fight for its broader definition outside the nation’s borders.”

So, today, keep this in mind as you celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

 

Loathing Lincoln in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

An excerpt from my book, Loathing Lincoln, was published this week in the preminent journal of Lincoln studies, the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (Winter, 2014). The piece is entitled “Holding Up a Flawed Mirror to the American Soul: Abraham Lincoln in the Writings of Lerone Bennett Jr.” The chief argument is as follows:

“The senior editor of Ebony magazine and the author of a landmark 1968 essay titled ‘Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?’ (he answered in the affirmative), Bennett maintained that if by 1865 the Civil War had become a contest over whether American nationalism would remain based solely on white, male ethnicity or if it would be based upon something larger and more inclusive, it was vital for Americans to acknowledge that Lincoln was in the former camp and to drop the fiction that the so-called Great Emancipator belonged in the latter. Such a stance, ironically, served the cause of more conservative or libertarian critics of Lincoln who maintained that the sixteenth president was not all that interested in liberating the slaves and therefore must have had another agenda in mind: centralizing power in Washington, D.C., and asserting the power of the federal government over the states. Consequently, the idea that Bennett’s views were absurd and unworthy of serious attention entirely misses the point that his work on Lincoln did not remain cloistered within the African American community by migrated into venues that reached even larger audiences.”

The piece is from the fifth and sixth chapters of my book and it examines Bennett’s writings about Lincoln. It renders, I think, a fair but tough judgment on his work regarding Lincoln. My essay closes with this line, which is consistent with the article’s overall argument:

“For Lerone Bennett, whose writings indicated a belief that freedom and equality were inextricably linked and necessitated a strong federal government, and that because of a lack of consistent national commitment to racial equality there had never been a true Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, such a result must have been bittersweet indeed.”

If you do not subscribe to the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, you should. It contains excellent and up-to-date scholarship on Lincoln and is well worth the cost.

 

Loathing Lincoln in May

Sorry I haven’t posted lately, but it has been an extraordinarily busy week. I wanted to note some upcoming events for this month, all of which are excellent opportunities to discuss my book.

On May 21,  May 19, between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. I’ll be interviewed on WPFT KPFT Radio (90.1 on the FM dial) by Egberto Willies on his “Politics Done Right” show. A few days later, on May 24, I’ll be in Chicago, the city where Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party for the presidency. I’ll be doing a “virtual book signing” at the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop. Five days after that, on May 29, I’m going to be taping a segment on Houston’s “Red, White, and Blue” TV show, with Gary Polland, David Jones, and Linda Lorelle. Previous guests on this program have included former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and Congressman Ted Poe. I’m not certain when this will go on air, but rest assured you’ll find out once I do. So, a busy month discussing Lincoln’s critics.

Lincoln, Voting Rights, Radicals, and Human Rights

1. Here is Abraham Lincoln to Michael Hahn (all italicized words are my emphasis):

Private Executive Mansion, Hon. Michael Hahn Washington, My dear Sir: March 13. 1864.

I congratulate you on having fixed your name in history as the first-free-state Governor of Louisiana. Now you are about to have a Convention which, among other things, will probably define the elective franchise. I barely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in—as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom. But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

2. Here is Abraham Lincoln writing about Owen Lovejoy, perhaps one of the most radical members of Congress.

Hon. John H Bryant Executive Mansion, My dear Sir. Washington, May 30, 1864.

Yours of the 14th. Inst. inclosing a card of invitation to a preliminary meeting contemplating the erection of a Monument to the memory of Hon. Owen Lovejoy, was duly received.

As you anticipate, it will be out of my power to attend. Many of you have known Mr. Lovejoy longer than I have, and are better able than I to do his memory complete justice. My personal acquaintance with him commenced only about ten years ago, since when it has been quite intimate; and every step in it has been one of increasing respect and esteem, ending, with his life, in no less than affection on my part. It can be truly said of him that while he was personally ambitious, he bravely endured the obscurity which the unpopularity of his principles imposed, and never accepted official honors, until those honors were ready to admit his principles with him. Throughout my heavy, and perplexing responsibilities here, to the day of his death, it would scarcely wrong any other to say, he was my most generous friend. Let him have the marble monument, along with the well-assured and more enduring one in the hearts of those who love liberty, unselfishly, for all men. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

3. Here is Abraham Lincoln delivering a speech to the “One Hundred Sixty-Fourth Ohio Regiment”:

“SOLDIERS – You are about to return to your homes and your friends, after having, as I learn, performed in camp a comparitively short term of duty in this great contest. I am greatly obliged to you, and to all who have come forward at the call of their country. I wish it might be more generally and unviversally understood what the country is now engaged in. We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed.”

You can find all of these in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Sadly, these types of remarks are far less quoted by the president’s critics than those which they believe reflect poorly on him. I wonder why that is?

Loathing Lincoln at Lone Star College – Kingwood

I had a reading/book signing yesterday at my home campus in Kingwood, Texas (just north of Houston’s George Bush International Airport). There were probably 100 people in attendance, including students, faculty, and a few parents of my ex-students. Also there was Trey Beathard and his wife Trish. Trey was a colleague of mine at Kingwood High School in the 1990s. As you might imagine, this was very gratifying. We also had a photographer from the Houston Chronicle there as well and I believe they’ll have a story on the book in their paper in the next day or two. I spoke for about 40 minutes, took a few questions from the audience, and then signed not a few books. So, what questions did the audience ask?

1. What did I think of the movie “Lincoln”? Was it accurate?

One of my students in my History 1302 course, Justin Denton, asked this. I think the “Lincoln” movie was good – with some qualifications (see the Review of Lincoln by Michael Vorenberg and Kate Masur for some of these objections). I thought that Daniel Day Lewis was outstanding as Lincoln and I was shocked and gratified when I attended on a Saturday afternoon that the movie theater was packed. For all of the flaws of the film, it did interest people, and that, in my view, is a good thing. Still, I think they missed some opportunities. One example might be at the beginning of the film when Lincoln is speaking to a couple of black soldiers. Now, I would have preferred that they do a scene where Lincoln met with Frederick Douglass in 1864 and he thinks he is going to not be re-elected. Lincoln asked Douglass for assistance in getting word to the slaves in the Confederacy that they are free, because once he is beaten, their prospects for emancipation would have dimmed considerably. I think this could have been very powerful and shown the influence of Douglass on Lincoln and led in quite nicely to the president’s worries about the permanence of emancipation.

2. What was my inspiration and my greatest challenge in writing the book?

I answered that it was something that I had been thinking about for a while, ever since I wrote my Masters Thesis on Lincoln’s assassination. As for the challenge, I think the biggest one was simply being exposed and having to read and write on a daily basis about people who were/are very much discontent with America. Of course, this also provoked me to think hard about my own discontents, such as they are, with my country. Here I would say that when Lincoln’s critics bemoan the “warfare state,” I sympathize. But I would think that we differ in thinking that Lincoln is responsible for that state, when it seems to me that he is not. Lincoln and the Republicans were not imperialists.

3. Tell me more about Murray Rothbard?

This came from a student who had read only a little of Rothbard and I immediately encouraged him to read more of “Mr. Libertarian.” Agree with him or not, Rothbard is worth reading and the student promised me he would do so. By this point we were running out of time as students needed to get to their next class. So, one more question.

4. Why do people loathe Lincoln if he is popular? It seems that this would work against them.

Maybe so, but I explained that many of Lincoln’s critics today are inspired by the difficulty of their task and are in this for the long game. I don’t think they think in the short-term, or in terms of election cycles. And, they think they are right and enjoy (I believe) telling audiences why they are right.

So, another good day of talking about the book. As I said above, I signed a few copies and then went downtown to meet with a former professor of mine, Stephen Deyle, for dinner at Little Pappasittos.

My next speaking engagement, tentatively, is on WKPFT radio here in Houston on May 12 at 9:00 p.m. and, definitively, at the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop on May 24 in Chicago.

 

 

Brazos Book Signing

I had my first book signing last Tuesday, April 15, at Brazos Bookstore in downtown Houston. Brazos is I believe Houston’s finest bookstore and its manager, Jeremy Ellis, was a splendid host for the evening’s event. Over 30 people were in attendance (most of whom were colleagues or friends) and although I did not get a specific count, I think I signed about half that many books, maybe more.

I was asked several questions by the audience and I thought I would elaborate more on my answers here.

1. What new “loathing Lincoln” books have appeared since my book came out?

In short, because my book has only been out about two weeks, none. Still, that does not mean that there is not anti-Lincoln sentiment prevalent in the country (see the “King Lincoln” archive at the Lew Rockwell link on this website), or that works attacking Lincoln are not being written/published. I would imagine, with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War drawing to a close next year (which is also the 150 year anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination), there will be books castigating Lincoln coming out.

2. Has your book been reviewed yet by any Lincoln loathers?

No, it has not. Again, it has only been out a couple of weeks, so I would have been surprised if it had.

3. Will Lincoln continue to be a revered hero to young Americans?

Here I answered that I don’t know if Lincoln is a revered hero to young people. In fact, I’m not sure that young people have political heroes any more, although perhaps Ronald Reagan or Ron Paul (who has little, if any, affection for Lincoln)  might serve as iconic figures. I do think, however, that Lincoln’s story does attract and/or interest youngsters. At least that has been my experience in teaching my class on Darwin and Lincoln. I would say that more students sign up for the course because of their interest in Lincoln than Darwin. I also think, as I said Tuesday night, that Lincoln’s critics, especially those affiliated with the Ludwig Von Mises Institute (see link on this website) have been effective at reaching the young. It is my understanding (from a conversation I had once with Michael Burlingame) that some of the best Lincoln scholars in the country, namely Michael Burlingame and Allen Guelzo, while they teach undergraduates, do not teach graduate students, and this is in my view unfortunate for the future of Lincoln scholarship. This is not to criticize, far from it. It is simply an observation and one that I think has long-term consequences.

4. Jacobin magazine recently ran a piece that argued that Lincoln was out to destroy slavery. What do you think?

This refers to an article by James Oakes (see link above). Well, Jim was on my dissertation committee, he came up with the idea of entitling my book Loathing Lincoln, and he has written, I think, one of the most important books ever published on the Civil War, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. He also has a new work coming out in May called The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War. Jim’s essential point is that the southern slaveholders were right to be worried: the Republican Party (at the head of which stood Abraham Lincoln) was deeply and idealistically antislavery and they were going to put a “cordon of freedom” around slavery and in essence kill it. So, yes, I agree with Oakes and I think he has marshaled an impressive amount of evidence that getting rid of slavery was at the heart of the Republican platform. Jim, I might add, does have graduate students!

5. Was the purging of Lincoln loathing by conservatives after 1945 primarily strategic or done out of genuine admiration for the president? It would seem that anti-Lincolnism would mesh nicely with the Republican “Southern Strategy”?

As I said Tuesday night, I think it was both strategic and done for genuine reasons. As I said in my book, “in the Southern Tradition at Bay, Richard Weaver clearly saw that ‘considerations of strategy and tactics forbid the use of lost causes. There cannot be a return to the Middle Ages or the Old South under slogans identified with them. The principles must be studied and used, but in such presentation that mankind will feel the march is forward.’ Jeffrey Hart, an editor at the magazine, agreed, and in his memoir of  National Review said ‘the myth of the Lost Cause’ was poisonous ‘as a political recommendation.'” So, yes, I think there was some strategy behind “getting right with Lincoln” (the phrase is David Donald’s). But, one cannot read the works of Harry Jaffa, or other conservatives such as Thomas Krannawitter or Rich Lowry (the editor of National Review) and not see the evident and genuine admiration that such conservatives have for Lincoln. Still, I think there will always be a tension within conservatism over how Lincoln ought to be seen. In my view at least, Lincoln was simply too much a believer in government, not to mention his emphasis on equality, for conservatives to be completely at ease with him.

6. What was Lincoln’s view of equality?

Here I am shortening the question a bit. I think that the best readings on this would be the works by Jaffa, Krannawitter, and Lowry. Of course, Allen Guelzo’s books would also be worth taking a look at as well. In short, I think that conservatives would argue that Lincoln believed in equality of opportunity. I think that is correct, but might be inadequate. As I said, Tuesday night, we all believe in (or pay lip-service to) equality of opportunity. The question is how we achieve that and what role government has to play in such an endeavor. And it is here that the disagreements get quite heated, for Lincoln believed that government had some role to play. This is something I am continually thinking about and may have some longer postings on soon.

7. Did people in the 1930s (especially conservatives) notice the adulation of Lincoln by “Popular Front” era American Communists?

Well, Lincoln loather Lyon Gardiner Tyler certainly did. In a letter to Milton Shutes, a California physician, Tyler said that the “consequences of his [Lincoln’s] doctrines is Bolshevism.” As Merrill Peterson showed in his masterful book, Lincoln in American Memory (1994): “Like Karl Marx before him, Earl Browder, chief of the Communist party, recognized in Lincoln ‘the single-minded son of the working class,’ a genuine revolutionary. . . .’Toda it is left to the Communist Party to revive the words of Lincoln,’ said Browder.” Now, I do think this is quite interesting and poses a dilemma of sorts for conservatives: if Lincoln was a conservative, then why did men such as Marx and Browder, not to mention others on the left, embrace him?

That, of course, is a question for another post. All in all, we had a nice, intellectually stimulating evening at Brazos. My next speaking event will be at Lone Star College – Kingwood on Tuesday, April 22, at 12:30 in CLA 114. I hope you can be there and I’ll be happy to sign a few books!

 

 

 

Anniversary of Lincoln’s Assassination

On April 11, 1865, Abraham Lincoln became the first president in U.S. History to advocate suffrage (albeit limited) for African Americans. In response, Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, turned to his companion David Herold and angrily remarked “that means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through.” Three days later Booth killed Lincoln. As I put it in my book: ” it would not be too much of an exaggeration, considering that it was Lincoln’s recommendation in April 1865 of limited suffrage for male African Americans that prompted Booth to assassinate him, to say that Lincoln was a white American who, whatever his motives, tried to do and did some good things for blacks in the United States and was killed for it.” I’m not certain that this makes Abraham Lincoln the first martyr for civil rights in the United States (a position I have heard advocated by others and one with which I am sympathetic). Sadly, we more often hear from the president’s critics of Lincoln’s alleged racism, as expressed in his debates with Stephen Douglas, than we do of this broadly expansive political and cultural milestone in American life.

 

The Problem with “Liberty”

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible [sic] things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.
—Abraham Lincoln, April 18, 1864