Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

President Lincoln’s assassination made him a national martyr and endowed him with a recognition of mythic proportion. Lincoln was viewed by abolitionists as a champion for human liberty. Republicans linked Lincoln’s name to their party. Many, though not all, in the South considered Lincoln as a man of outstanding ability.Chesebrough, pp. 76, 79, 106, 110.

Schwartz argues that Lincoln’s reputation grew slowly in the late 19th century until the Progressive Era (1900–1920s) when he emerged as one of the most venerated heroes in American history, with even white Southerners in agreement. The high point came in 1922 with the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington.Schwartz (2000), p. 109. In the New Deal era liberals honored Lincoln not so much as the self-made man or the great war president, but as the advocate of the common man who doubtless would have supported the welfare state. In the Cold War years, Lincoln’s image shifted to emphasize the symbol of freedom who brought hope to those oppressed by communist regimes.Schwartz (2009), pp. 23, 91–98.

By the 1970s Lincoln had become a hero to political conservativesHavers, p. 96. Apart from neo-Confederates such as Mel Bradford who denounced his treatment of the white South. for his intense nationalism, support for business, his insistence on stopping the spread of human bondage, his acting in terms of Lockean and Burkean principles on behalf of both liberty and tradition, and his devotion to the principles of the Founding Fathers.Belz (2006), pp. 514–518.Graebner, pp. 67–94.Smith, pp. 43–45. As a Whig activist, Lincoln was a spokesman for business interests, favoring high tariffs, banks, internal improvements, and railroads in opposition to the agrarian Democrats.Boritt (1994), pp. 196, 198, 228, 301. William C. Harris found that Lincoln’s "reverence for the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, the laws under it, and the preservation of the Republic and its institutions undergirded and strengthened his conservatism.".Harris, p. 2. James G. Randall emphasizes his tolerance and especially his moderation "in his preference for orderly progress, his distrust of dangerous agitation, and his reluctance toward ill digested schemes of reform." Randall concludes that, "he was conservative in his complete avoidance of that type of so-called ‘radicalism’ which involved abuse of the South, hatred for the slaveholder, thirst for vengeance, partisan plotting, and ungenerous demands that Southern institutions be transformed overnight by outsiders."Randall (1947), p. 175.

By the late 1960s, liberals, such as historian Lerone Bennett, were having second thoughts, especially regarding Lincoln’s views on racial issues.Zilversmit, pp. 22–24.Smith, p. 42. Bennett won wide attention when he called Lincoln a white supremacist in 1968.Bennett, pp. 35–42. He noted that Lincoln used ethnic slurs, told jokes that ridiculed blacks, insisted he opposed social equality, and proposed sending freed slaves to another country. Defenders, such as authors Dirck and Cashin, retorted that he was not as bad as most politicians of his day;Dirck (2008), p. 31. and that he was a "moral visionary" who deftly advanced the abolitionist cause, as fast as politically possible.Striner, pp. 2–4. The emphasis shifted away from Lincoln-the-emancipator to an argument that blacks had freed themselves from slavery, or at least were responsible for pressuring the government on emancipation.Cashin, p. 61.Kelley & Lewis, p. 228. Historian Barry Schwartz wrote in 2009 that Lincoln’s image suffered "erosion, fading prestige, benign ridicule," in the late 20th century.Schwartz (2009), p. 146. On the other hand, Donald opined in his 1996 biography that Lincoln was distinctly endowed with the personality trait of negative capability, defined by the poet John Keats and attributed to extraordinary leaders who were "content in the midst of uncertainties and doubts, and not compelled toward fact or reason."Donald (1996), p. 15.