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.