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Saturday, 12 January 2013


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He was a funny fish, Lincoln. Perhaps the most amusing bit was when he declared the emancipation of the slaves in the Confederate states - which he didn't control - but left them enslaved in the Union states, which he did control.

He believed that blacks intrinsically couldn't compete with whites and so would fail to thrive once they were freed. Consequently he wanted them shipped out to Africa, the Caribbean or Latin America.

The Confederates were idiots to bombard Fort Sumter, but it was awfully costly to respond to that idiocy by pursuing such a war on them. If you really want to see everything in perspective, I suggest you read that mendacious drivel The Declaration of Independence and then ask yourself why the principles it purports to espouse were not applicable to the Confederacy. When I've raised this question on American blogs I've received what are in effect only two answers: (i) might is right, or (ii) the Confederacy was eevil (this from people who seem to approve enthusiastically of the terrorist John Brown). In other words, either a stupidity or a non sequitur is all that's offered. Oh dear.

Fair enough, DM, but where is your recommendation for a good - and detached - biography of the man?

I've never read one. But I can tell you what Mencuius Moldbug says.

"The titanic book that smashed my delusions and forced me to recognize the awful reality of the era was, without a doubt, Albert Beveridge's unfinished Abraham Lincoln (1928). Here is a review by a modern historian, with whose few negative comments I would quarrel if it mattered. Beveridge died before completing his third volume, which would have started in 1858, but it scarcely matters. If time is short, you can just read the second volume. Also excellent, and even more brutal, is Edgar Lee Masters' Lincoln the Man (1931).

Almost all Lincoln biographies are completely worthless. They explain Lincoln as a saint, rather than the extraordinarily talented politician he was. Their method is as follows: tell us what Lincoln said, assume that he was saying what he was thinking, then praise this noble thought. When Lincoln emits "darky" jokes or other crass noises, this can be put down to necessary political opportunism, in which he had to engage if he was to fulfill his Father's mission. (Note that the same method, with the same results, can be used for Barack Obama.)

Masters and Beveridge put Lincoln in his political context, and they explain his speeches as what they were: not thoughts but actions, with intended results. Masters was America's leading poet and Beveridge a major senator, and neither of them have any patience with the "great man" act. Their books are hard to find, unfortunately, but there's always interlibrary loan."


Greeting form the "Land of Lincoln." Soon to renamed.

As my African American friend would have said "Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves!!'

The quote you have could be called ignorant but I rather think it was a deliberate misstatement and with malicious intent.

Lincoln was a strange combination. An idealist, a very pragmatic but brilliant politician and of course a darn good lawyer. (What did Shakespeare say about lawyers?) If you concentrate on the zigzags of being pragmatic you miss the overall direction of his idealism.

He positively hated slavery, though as noted he did not have high regard for the abilities of persons of African descent.

During the war his first priority was preserving the union, which was his duty, and which was necessary to free the slaves in the south anyway.


Go to Amazon and look for books by Carl Sandburg. He wrote a several volume biography and some shorter works. Generally approving but will discuss difficult and unfavorable issues.

US Amazon has reprints that are reasonably priced.
Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

You see the problem, Duffers - the American tendency to hagiography and belief in Exceptionalism.

Gentlemen, thank you for your suggestions. I have checked them out on Google & Amazon and they are available but none of them fill with me enthusiasm. This link provided some other suggestions:

Given his saint-like status I can see the difficulties for historians (and publishers!) in portraying him as all too human. I *sense* from the brief descriptions of various books that the writers simply indulge in hagiography. Perhaps I should try and get hold of a suitably detached history of the civil war as a whole and see how Lincoln is treated in that wider context.

ADDITIONAL: DM, your last comment arrived just as I was about to print mine!

The Morris book is well written and a pleasant read, I would say, for someone who already has some knowledge. It represents very much Morris's own 'take' and is not a straight Lincoln biography. I would recommend it, but in conjunction with one of the others.

Thanks 'H' and JK.

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