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!