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Glorifying Lincoln

October 15, 1989

Don E. Fehrenbacher's new collection of Abraham Lincoln's speeches and writings and the review of the book by Hans Trefousse (Book Review, Sept. 24) are unabashed glorifications of our 16th President. We are told of his "extraordinary character," "his religious tolerance, his kindness, his tendency to pardon wrongdoers, his love of literature, etc."

Trefousse assures us that "these writings show what a genuine democrat and true man of the people Lincoln was, and how, after 125 years of efforts to denigrate him, he appears greater than ever." As I read these inspiring lines I found myself slipping into that state of sullen melancholy felt by people like me in North Korea or the People's Republic of China upon reading similar tributes to some great party leader. When "distinguished" academicians start using that special patronizing, reverential tone to praise some chief of state, I immediately suspect that some terrible authoritarian deeds have been committed and covered up. Exactly what did "Honest Abe" do, as compared for example with Washington and Jefferson, to require this partisan canonization?

Well, for starters he systematically and deliberately destroyed the visions of the Founders. He took the loose confederation of semi-sovereign states, many of which were in a pre-industrial level of social organization, and by brutal force of arms forged a new industrial-factory society. Lincoln did not "preserve" the Union. He created the U.A.S., the Union of American States, a centralized nation run by a party that controls the military, industry, press. This political apparatus is known as the Republican Party.

As the Patron Saint of the Republican Party, Lincoln has always been the icon prophet of that tough-minded, highly partisan clique which has run the country for its own benefit since the Civil War. Perhaps these speculations seem far-fetched. So let us consult the words of the Great Emancipator himself:

On Slavery: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery."

On Readiness to Change for the Future: "What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?"

On Power: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it."

On the Inflexibility of Ideology: "Important principles may and must be inflexible."



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