Vital Signs

Father Abraham: Conservative?

The bicentenary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln has seen the publication of a host of new books and magazine articles celebrating the legacy of the 16th president.  Lincoln’s popularity is probably at its highest point thus far, and Honest Abe is defended by writers on both ends of the political spectrum.  Liberals have been happy to offer praise of the first Republican administration, for empowering the federal government at the expense of the states.  In his recent biography of Lincoln, George McGovern declares that the war transformed a “union of states” into a “nation.”  He suggests that the widely shared Southern notion of a republic in which a government of limited powers defended the interests of property owners and a social order based on “family, kinship, and tradition” was replaced by the idea of “a strong centralized government that promoted industrial development, competition, and free-labor capitalism.”

It has become increasingly difficult for Lincoln critics to get a hearing in mainstream conservative media.  Conservative magazines such as National Review have made it political heresy to discuss the failures and shortcomings of the first Republican president.  After all, such criticism could invite the charge of racism and thus undermine the latest GOP presidential candidate’s ability to win the minority vote.  Instead we find, for instance,...

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