The Bare Bodkin

Shattering Lincoln's Dream

I just got a copy of a thoughtful new book, Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President, by Thomas L. Krannawitter.  The book mentions me a couple of times, in polite disagreement.  Krannawitter, now of Hillsdale College, is a disciple of Claremont McKenna College’s Harry V. Jaffa, as I once was.

The Jaffa school has an unfortunate tendency to talk as if Lincoln agreed with men who didn’t always agree with each other: Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton.  Unanimity among such strong-minded men of genius would be almost miraculous.

I know of no evidence that Lincoln ever read or mentioned, let alone studied, The Federalist (though Krannawitter opines that he “echoes” Federalist 49).  In fact Lincoln hardly seems aware of the whole ratification debate, the most crucial controversy in American history.

Though Lincoln was largely right about slavery, he was wrong about secession—a separate question, as most Northerners once understood.  During his war, millions of Northerners who opposed slavery also recognized the right of a sovereign state to secede from the Union.  This led Lincoln to crack down on dissent, closing down hundreds of newspapers (many permanently) and having a few thousand war critics arrested.  His excellent biographer David Herbert Donald calls his presidency the worst period for individual liberties...

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