Sunday, July 7, 2013

Reclaiming Lincoln


You would think with a title like Lincoln Unbound, Rich Lowry would have plenty to say about Lincoln, but looking at the amazon preview there are 6 modest chapters totaling about 240 pages with 20 pages of notes.  This is less a history than an attempt by neoconservatives to reclaim Lincoln.  This book has been duly approved by William Kristol, Bill Bennett and surprisingly Michael Burlingame, who not so long wrote an epic account of Honest Abe.

The introduction is interesting as Lowry appears to set up a battle not only with progressives, who have long adopted Lincoln as one of their own, but the Libertarian right wing of the Republican Party, who has had a very unfavorable impression of the first GOP president, especially Thomas DiLorenzo, who saw Lincoln as little more than a tyrant, hell bent on creating a empire to rival that of Great Britan.

Lowry sees Lincoln as an advocate of free market economics, allowing him to find ground on which to build his much more favorable impression of a man, who he feels rekindled the American Dream by allowing more persons to have opportunities to participate in an open economy.  Lowry notes the land grants that were issued in the new territories and the great expansion of the railroad that took place during Lincoln's administration.

He looks at slavery from the perspective of Lincoln's earlier attempts to offer compensation to plantation owners to free their slaves, which Lowry feels is perfectly in line with neo-conservative thought.  After all, this was exactly what Ron Paul felt Lincoln should have done, rather than declare war on the South. But, as Lowry points out the Southern states, as well as the little border states like Delaware and Maryland were not interested in the compensation the federal government offered.  For them, it was a state's rights issue.

I have to wonder what the Dixiecrats-turn-Republican think of all this recent Republican fascination in Lincoln.  Even Rand Paul was extolling the virtues of Lincoln in his attempt to reach out to potential black voters at Howard University.  The former Dixiecrats specifically distanced themselves from the "Party of Lincoln," only embracing the party when Reagan re-invented it in the 1980s.  Even then it was more in response to the passage of the Civil Rights Bill under Democratic leadership.

It would be interesting to read a historiography of how Lincoln has been interpreted over the years, but it doesn't seem that Lowry makes that his mission.  For him it is a reclamation project.

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