Reading President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman 

Lincoln Ate My Homework: Being honest about Abe

As a writer, I have always taken pride in my work and can't recall ever missing an assignment or a deadline. Until now.

When the Charleston City Paper asked me to review a new book on Abraham Lincoln, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman by William Lee Miller, I thought it'd be a hoot. It's never been a secret that I take a decidedly different view from the mainstream on Lincoln, and it was safe to assume that my well advertised hatred for our 16th president had something to do with the request.

I made it to page 6 the first time I threw the book down. After reading that Lincoln did not "nurse grudges" or "hold resentments" (he most certainly did), that he was "graceful" and "humane" (exactly who did General Sherman report to?), and that he "resisted the temptation to engage in moral posturing," (Lincoln invented moral posturing in American politics), the following line sent me over the edge: "(Lincoln) was reported to have more sympathy with the suffering of his fellow creatures than was really advantageous in a ruler — not only for lost cats, mired-down hogs, birds fallen out of the nest, but also for his fellow human beings." By page 7, Lincoln might have sprouted fairy wings, but I never made it that far.

No other American historical figure is treated like this. George Washington might be the father of our country, but it is always noted that he also owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson might have written the Declaration of Independence, but his alleged relationship with Sally Hemming is always brought up. And Robert E. Lee, who genuinely did possess sterling character by every measure imaginable — is not even considered to be in the same moral realm as Lincoln.

So what's so special about Lincoln? When judged by the standards every other historical figure is subjected to, it's hard to deny that the man was a bona fide dictator. What would be said of President Bush if he shut down the Charleston City Paper and threw the editors in jail, where alongside senators, judges, politicians, and preachers they would sit indefinitely without trial? President Lincoln did this to over 300 newspapers in the North and arrested an estimated 13,000 political prisoners.

The most honest assessments of Lincoln come not from his public relations managers in the history field, but from his fellow dictators, who find much to admire in our 16th president.

When Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended his nation's constitution and declared martial law last November, he said on national television, "Abraham Lincoln had one consuming passion during that time of crisis, and this was to preserve the Union ... Towards that end, he broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary power, he trampled individual liberties."

In 1999, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji justified his country's suppression of Taiwan during a visit with President Bill Clinton. Zhu said, "Abraham Lincoln, in order to maintain the unity of the United States ... resorted to the use of force ... so, I think Abraham Lincoln, president, is a model, is an example."

And no list of dictator endorsements would be complete without Adolf Hitler, who in Mein Kampf reiterated Lincoln's justification for war; "[T]he individual states of the American Union ... could not have possessed any state sovereignty of their own. For it was not these states that formed the Union. On the contrary, it was the Union which formed a great part of such so-called states."

When harsh facts about Lincoln are brought up, it is always pointed out that any dictatorial actions were worth it to end slavery. But this is moral and historical tunnel vision. When President Bush justifies the Patriot Act, U.S. military aggression, and the killing of thousands of soldiers and civilians by saying that it was all necessary for the higher moral purpose of "liberating Iraq," millions of people around the world consider him a liar or worse. Lincoln, who never cared a lick about slavery or black Americans in general, is guilty of the same dubious posturing; history will note that every nation on earth ended slavery peacefully — with the sole exception of the United States.

To say that Lincoln was the worst American president is an easy case to make, and yet most books on the subject are little more than fan club propaganda pieces that rationalize, bury, or completely ignore his true record. As a southerner reading about Lincoln's alleged love for small animals, I imagine that what I felt is similar to what a Kurd might feel reading about Saddam Hussein's passion for haiku. It's simply too much nonsense to bear.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.

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