Vindicating Lincoln

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This morning we conclude our preview of the Summer issue of the invaluable Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here). Hillsdale College Professor Thomas Krannawitter is in the process of establishing himself as one of the important Lincoln scholars of the younger generation. See, for example, his CRB reviews of books on Lincoln by the libertarian Thomas DiLorenzo and the liberal Mario Cuomo.

Professor Krannawittter’s own Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Ideals of Our Greatest President is forthcoming this summer. Who better to review it than the prominent Lincoln scholar Allan Guelzo? In the book, Guelzo writes, Krannawitter confronts the ambivalence and even the hatred with which Lincoln has been regarded by some in recent decades.

Especially among conservatives, it seems, Lincoln is decried as a big government man, a warmonger and a dictator. Libertarians and Southern traditionalists alike have treated Lincoln’s presidency with criticism since the beginning of the conservative movement. But Professor Krannawitter challenges these and other critics of Lincoln.

In nine chapters corresponding to each of the Lincoln critics’ usual indictments, Krannawitter dispels the chief libels of Lincoln. These myths and libels have sought with some success to revise the traditional understanding of Lincoln. Professor Guelzo writes:

For a century and more after his death, Abraham Lincoln was extolled as the greatest example of what American democracy offered in a statesman. But just as a vast skepticism about the value of democracy has darkened the American mind over the past generation, so has a skepticism about the value of Abraham Lincoln, and it has become fashionable for democracy’s despisers to cast Lincoln as a racist, a wrecker of the Constitution, a military despot, a capitalist tool, and a great fixer rather than a Great Emancipator. Nothing, however, surpasses Vindicating Lincoln in exploding the addled libels of the Lincoln-haters. One by one, in his nine chapters, Krannawitter patiently-and sometimes hilariously-disassembles the myths of Lincoln-the-tyrant, Lincoln-the-racist, and Lincoln-the-betrayer, and once more restores the epic gleam of Lincoln the defender of natural right, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Union. It is a good thing, too, for he is right to warn that “if Americans come to believe that the President reputed to be the greatest was in truth a scoundrel unworthy of respect,” then they will ineluctably surrender to “the mistaken idea that there is nothing noble or beautiful about politics.”

Lincoln was once universally acclaimed as our finest statesman and his allure as the martyr of what he called America’s “ancient faith” continues. Krannawitter’s book encourages conservatives once again to recognize the unconventional conservatism of our greatest president and second founder. Professor Guelzo’s review is “Washing mud from marble.”

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