Honest Abe was a white supremacist, a trade protectionist, a pro-industrialist—in short, a Henry Clay Whig whose greatest contribution to history was his insistence that the experiment in American freedom had relevance for the rest of the planet.
Neo-con Lind (Vietnam: The Necessary War, 1999, etc.), a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, administers a much overdue beating to the vast carpet of Lincoln studies. As he illustrates throughout this corrective work, the complex Lincoln of history has gradually been simplified into a 1960s liberal; the Boy Who Read by Candlelight, the Young Man Who Split Rails, the Great Emancipator, the Benevolent Big Brother in the Fraternity of Man. But the author demonstrates that Lincoln believed blacks were inferior to whites and that the races shouldn’t mix. He thought long and planned hard for the transportation of American blacks to colonies in Africa or Central America (or even Texas); he freed slaves only in the states that had seceded, and only after those states refused to rejoin the Union. Credit for emancipation, Lind writes, properly ought to go to the intransigent Southern leaders who forced Lincoln’s hand. The author reminds us that Lincoln wished mainly to preserve the Union and to adhere to the Founding Fathers’ principles (including deism: the 16th president had little use for traditional Christianity). Lind is most interesting and convincing in his long discussion of Lincoln’s place in the history of American’s emerging racial attitudes. Other sections are primarily cut-and-paste rehashes, not particularly well buttressed by numerous endnotes of the “as quoted in” variety. The text also slows down when the author discusses trade, tariffs, immigration and Reconstruction. And some readers may raise eyebrows at his implication that the current President Bush is a scion of Lincoln, at least as far as the extension of freedom is concerned.
A man with Lincoln’s beliefs could never win a presidential election today, but as portrayed in these pages he could very well get shot.