Last night, I had a chance to watch the PBS program on Lincoln. And, I was pleasantly surprised. Why cannot more documentaries be as even-handed as the one on Lincoln was? No, I did not agree with everything that was said; I seldom do. But it was great to see so many different sides of Lincoln presented. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., did a beautiful job weaving together the varied elements of the presentation, and he did what few documentary makers do: he gave his guests the opportunity to speak for themselves and did not skew his material to give the impression he wanted (like the newscasters who always find the most pathetic and uneducated person to interview, giving the impression that all the people in that community live under rocks…). He is to be commended. I hope I can say as much for the Diane Sawyer program on Appalachia scheduled for tomorrow. I am not holding my breath. My wife, who teaches Appalachian Culture, is already braced for more of the old “poor benighted hillbilly” stereotyping.
I have never liked Lincoln. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in a deep South that was not polluted by modern academia – my dad was the first in his family to go to college, and it was a seminary where perpetuating the Lincoln myth was not high on the minds of the professors. I grew up with the older folks who still remembered their parents, the ones whose homes lay in the path of Sherman and his cohorts. They did not think too highly of Mr. Lincoln, nor his minions. Was Lincoln a tyrant? possibly. Was he guilty of war crimes? probably. Did he overstep his constitutional bounds as president? most certainly. And, it was interesting to hear George W. Bush last night (and I paraphrase) “Lincoln was president during a unpopular war, and I am president during an unpopular war.” True, but the war is not here, in North Carolina, or in New York. Neither did Bush deny American citizens their constitutional rights by throwing people in jail who spoke out against his usurpation of powers.
No, I still don’t like Lincoln. I’ve read several books on him. I went through his letters while working on the Hanover Court House book. I’ve even been to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. I did research there, and later toured the museum. As museums go, it was incredible. But I disliked the way it made visitors feel that Lincoln needs to be worshiped. If you have been, you probably know what I am talking about. There is a place where you come out of one of the exhibits, and there in front of you is a smaller (but still larger than life) copy of the Lincoln Statute from the memorial. Because of the lighting, and the way it is positioned, you feel like you need to drop to your knees and worship the “Great Emancipator.” That is just wrong.
Well, I’ve mused long enough. I’m sure I’ve given plenty of fodder to those who like to toss around labels.
I thought I would end with a few quotes from the Raleigh Weekly Standard, on how they felt about Lincoln:
Jonathan Worth, in a two hour speech, said “a revolution was upon us by the folly of Lincoln; that it was our duty as patriots to meet it firmly, and resist coercion to the last.” (15 May 1861)
Mr. Wilkerson, House of Commons: “we regard the election of Abraham Lincoln, by purely a sectional party, a great calamity…” (5 Dec. 1860)
Moore County – “That whilst we deeply regret to see a once happy country rent by intestine strife, and lighted up from one end to the other by a blaze of civil war; yet to a brave and honorable people such a prospect has not half so many terrors as are presented by the contemplation of outraged honor, rights assailed, justice withheld and trampled under foot, wrongs unredressed, self and sectional pride humiliated and contemned and the consequent tyranny and insolence of the Black Republic domination…”
No Author – “Our soil must not be polluted by the tramp of the invader. At any sacrifice or cost, the tyrant Lincoln must be vanquished. Hold up, ye brave men..” (25 Sept. 1861)
Sen. Clingman – described Lincoln “as an obstinate, ignorant and fanatical man, an apostle of the irrepressible conflict.” (26 Sept. 1860)
Editorial – “But… better that our State should be reduced to abject poverty, and that want, and famine, and pestilence should afflict and destroy our people, than that they should think even of submitting to the tyranny of Lincoln. Our brave troops are breasting that tyranny on the tented field, and are keeping the calamities of battle from our doors…” (28 Sept. 1861)
Editorial – “ Recently, we have tried to impress it upon our readers that there were no signs of peace – no prospect of a speedy termination of the war. We knew too much about the stubborn, uncompromising and fanatical spirit of Lincoln and his party, to expect anything but a blind and dogged persistence in their wicked designs.” (17 July 1861)