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Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
07-10-2012, 06:00 AM (This post was last modified: 07-10-2012 07:44 AM by RJNorton.)
Post: #1
Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
This is an experiment. There are folks with varying opinions of Lincoln on the forum which is exactly what I was hoping for. The purpose of the board is not to glorify Lincoln; rather it is to analyze both the man and his policies in a manner where people differ but respect each other at the same time. If a discussion does develop on this topic, but erodes into personal attacks on members, then I will end it prematurely.

I am asking this question because, in my heart, I really do not know the answer, and I am very curious what others have to say.

Several years ago USA TODAY had the results of an Abraham Lincoln poll on the front page at the bottom left corner. If memory serves me correctly, the results were:

97% Approval

3% Disapproval

I found it almost incredible that one man would have such a high rating among Americans. I do not know how the poll was conducted, whether it was nationwide, or the size of the number polled.

Nevertheless, I am wondering if folks have opinions on this. Just for the purpose of discussion, let's accept the results as being essentially accurate.

So why is this? Is it because he was the first president to be assassinated? Is it because people have a favorable view of his major actions/speeches/decisions, etc. as president? Is it because students are indoctrinated that Lincoln could no wrong? Are Lincoln's extraconstitutional actions not taught in schools? Or do educators teach that the extraconstitutional actions were justified in wartime? Is it because the vast majority of Lincoln biographies are favorable to him? Is it because many Americans really don't read Lincoln books, but they know about Lincoln's Birthday and Presidents' Day (exactly whom Presidents' Day is meant to honor is somewhat of a mystery to me) and just figure he must have been a good president? Why are there 15,000 books dealing with (or at least in part) one human being? What is it about the man?

I could go on and on. I grew up in Illinois, and it was not until I was in college that I ever had a teacher even question any of Lincoln's policies.

Any opinions?
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07-10-2012, 06:36 AM (This post was last modified: 07-10-2012 06:38 AM by BettyO.)
Post: #2
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Same here, Roger. It was in college that I first experienced (outside of my own reading) conflicting discussions of Lincoln's policies and politics and the late 19th and 20th Century development of the so-called "Lincoln Myth". As a matter of fact, I wrote a paper on it. Likewise, the South also spouted the old "Moonlight and Magnolia" mythology regarding the Confederacy and Antebellum society during the same time period.

Lincoln was a man of many facets. He was NOT Saint Abraham, nor was he an "evil tyrant." He fell somewhere in between in actuality, and both North and South had reason to question his motives. That he was a kind and generous man is beyond doubt. The old myth that he was a kindly hayseed homespun lawyer is a hoax. He was also a shrewd politician and like all politicians, he knew how to work both people and government and bend it to his will. This was illustrated yesterday when we discussed the 1862 executions of 38 Native Americans with Lincoln's sanction. Yes, he did suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus, but as someone pointed out yesterday as well, had Andrew Johnson been assassinated instead of Lincoln, Lincoln would probably have listened to Annie Surratt instead of brushing her off as Johnson did. Lincoln did show compassion. Yes, he did "free the slaves" - but he also thought that they should be given their "own country" and began a project to send them to Liberia. This didn't work.

I really think that Lincoln's canonization began with his assassination. The assassination played a large part in how he was perceived and is still viewed by the general public. As a Southerner, I know that for years, Lincoln was not held in as high regard here in the South as he was in the North and it has only been within the last 40-50 years that this perception has radically changed, if at all.

"The Past is a foreign country...they do things differently there" - L. P. Hartley
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07-10-2012, 07:27 AM
Post: #3
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Lincoln had a task before him no other President had faced before or has since. States were seceding before he took his oath. The country was deeply divided and coming apart rapidly. We were at war with ourselves.
His intellect, compassion and strong ethics made him the right man at the right time, in my opinion. Derided in his own time as trampling the Constitution, I feel in tough times, tough measures were necessary. We have enemies now that want to kill us all. I personally think in times like this, the Writ of Habeas Corpus can be put to the side.
I'm sure his assassination vaulted him to matyrdom, but his accomplishments before that can not be overlooked. His wisdom in choosing his cabinet, the men who assisted him in this monumental task, shows what an astute judge of character he was. As I pointed out earlier - the right man at the right time.

"There are few subjects that ignite more casual, uninformed bigotry and condescension from elites in this nation more than Dixie - Jonah Goldberg"
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07-10-2012, 07:28 AM
Post: #4
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Roger and Betty,I was fortunate enough to have Albert Castel as my mentor at WMU and he told it like it was!But,as a kid in Rochester,NY we were told that Lincoln was God because he freed the slaves.Now,I am finding out there were many copperheads in Western New York.However,his immage is that of a Saint.The most common response I get from people is,"How come we didn't that in High School"?
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07-10-2012, 09:03 AM
Post: #5
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
I have often questioned whether Abraham Lincoln would have been any more "famous" in the history books than Millard Fillmore if it had not been for the crucial decades in which he rose to prominence in politics -- and, of course, his fortune (or misfortune?) to decide to run for the Presidency in 1860 when the country was a tinderbox waiting for the match to light.

As a Southern Marylander, I learned early-on that Lincoln did some very questionable things Constitution-wise; but as I grew older and had more history classes under my belt, I came to semi-understand why he did them. In so doing, I also learned the terrible truth of what it takes to be a politician. You don't always play by the rules!

To me, Lincoln was the ultimate politician who knew how to manipulate people, how to speak in a manner that made people listen, how to surround himself with advisers who were good in the political field, and how to play the system. To stand in the spotlight during the most critical period in American history didn't hurt his image in the future either.

And then came John Wilkes Booth and the first presidential assassination. To me, that ensured Lincoln's positive legacy for all time.
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07-10-2012, 10:20 AM (This post was last modified: 07-10-2012 10:21 AM by Rob Wick.)
Post: #6
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Barry Schwartz and Merrill Peterson both have written on Lincoln's legacy. Peterson's book is a bit more readable than Schwartz, although Schwartz has written two books to Peterson's one.

I think much it has to do with the assassination and the martyrdom of "Father Abraham." However, had Lincoln not been assassinated, I still think he would have ranked higher simply because of 1) Freeing the slaves through the EP and later the 13th amendment and 2) Maintaining the country through an internal attempt by the south to break it apart.

Of course, Lincoln was a politician and did things based on maximum effect, but he also believed that what he was doing was best for the country. And as for Lincoln and colonization, he pretty well gave that up by 1863 as policy. Whether he personally still believed in it is more troublesome, as the main source for that allegation came from Benjamin Butler. I think as a rule, most people who don't study history see Lincoln the myth rather than Lincoln the man. Much of that came from Carl Sandburg, who from 1926 until his death in 1967 was the most popular writer on Lincoln.

Best
Rob

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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07-10-2012, 11:30 AM
Post: #7
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Rob,

I know that you specialize in Sandburg and Randall. What is your personal opinion on the two writers and the correctness of their views on Lincoln and their influence on Lincoln researchers?

Please bear in mind that I know virtually nothing about either author because I am a novice where general Lincoln studies are concerned - which means I can't argue back!
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07-10-2012, 11:50 AM (This post was last modified: 07-10-2012 12:03 PM by Rob Wick.)
Post: #8
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Laurie,

It's really hard to judge how much influence both men have today, because I doubt that both are read very much. While it's true that Sandburg's single-volume distillation of his books is still in print, I think many people approach it with caution simply because of Sandburg's reputation (some deserved, some not) as a careless writer. Plus, there is so much more out there now, that Sandburg remains a "name" but more as a relic than as a real source.

As for Randall, his name is pretty much non-existent. Even though he was known during his lifetime as the most pre-eminent academic historian studying Lincoln, none of his books are in print and others in academia have done much to question many of his conclusions. His "Blundering Generation" thesis is looked upon as outdated, although there are still some adherents even at this late point.

What I find most fascinating about the two men is how well they got along personally and how each influenced the other. Randall was the consummate historian and Sandburg the myth-making poet, but both saw in the other something which brought them together. I've attached my article which appeared in the Journal of Illinois History to give you a better idea of what I mean.

Personally, I would have loved to know both men. Reading through their letters and papers, both were committed to telling Lincoln's story in their own way, but they also knew that they weren't operating in a vacuum. They were just as interesting outside of their intellectual pursuits.

Thanks for asking.

Best
Rob

P.S. I tried to add the article as it actually appeared in the journal, but it seems it is too big. What I've attached is a PDF of the typescript.


Attached File(s)
.pdf  Randall-Sandburg JILH Article.pdf (Size: 274.25 KB / Downloads: 3)

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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07-10-2012, 12:24 PM
Post: #9
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
(07-10-2012 10:20 AM)Rob Wick Wrote:  Barry Schwartz and Merrill Peterson both have written on Lincoln's legacy. Peterson's book is a bit more readable than Schwartz, although Schwartz has written two books to Peterson's one.

I think much it has to do with the assassination and the martyrdom of "Father Abraham." However, had Lincoln not been assassinated, I still think he would have ranked higher simply because of 1) Freeing the slaves through the EP and later the 13th amendment and 2) Maintaining the country through an internal attempt by the south to break it apart.

Of course, Lincoln was a politician and did things based on maximum effect, but he also believed that what he was doing was best for the country. And as for Lincoln and colonization, he pretty well gave that up by 1863 as policy. Whether he personally still believed in it is more troublesome, as the main source for that allegation came from Benjamin Butler. I think as a rule, most people who don't study history see Lincoln the myth rather than Lincoln the man. Much of that came from Carl Sandburg, who from 1926 until his death in 1967 was the most popular writer on Lincoln.

Best
Rob

A few other books are also worth mentioning re Lincoln's greatness. Two are by William Lee Miller: LINCOLN'S VIRTUES: AN ETHICAL BIOGRAPHY and PRESIDENT LINCOLN: THE DUTY OF A STATESMAN. The other is Douglas L. Wilson's HONOR'S VOICE: THE TRANSFORMATION OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. This latter volume discusses the forces that shaped Lincoln in the early years, particularly his esperiences at New Salem. One of the reasons I am most interested in Lincoln's pre-presidential years is because I am fascinated with the people, events, and forces that shaped him. These are what made him (inarguably, for me) our greatest President.
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07-10-2012, 05:31 PM
Post: #10
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Looks like I need to read Doug Wilson. I have heard him speak several times, but always at conferences and symposiums where I hear so many different viewpoints on Lincoln that I lose track of what was said and by whom.

As I have said before, I enjoy social and cultural history the most. The things that shaped Lincoln would fit more into this mould. I am not a political animal -- although I'm getting more so in my elder years as dissatisfaction sets in (end of commentary).
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07-17-2012, 01:46 PM
Post: #11
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
And speaking of Lincoln's legacy-Dearborn Michigan's Henry Ford Museum hosted a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation for 48 hours. I stood in line for hours to see it. Some stood in line for up to 8 hours to see it. I saw people of all races-all ages-male and female standing in line. An African-American lady standing in line with me said she didn't care how long she had to stand in line to se it considering what Lincoln and that document had done for her ancestors-and herself. That particular copy would be publicly viewed again for fifty years!

Bill Nash
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01-08-2013, 04:34 PM (This post was last modified: 01-08-2013 05:08 PM by My Name Is Kate.)
Post: #12
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Until very recently, it never occurred to me that Lincoln could possibly be anywhere but in the top five best presidents, if not the very best president, and that is not because I know alot about him, or about any of the other presidents. It's just because...well...you know, he kept the Union together, and he abolished slavery (not single-handedly, of course), and he looks like such a kind, sad person, and I had never actually heard anything derogatory about him, (nothing that I found believable, anyway). Foolishly unthinking and trusting reasons, I suppose, but politics isn't something I've given much thought to, also until very recently.

And now that I am beginning to put two and two together regarding how past events relate to events leading up to, and including the present, I almost wish that I could regress to my previous ignorant state (and I think maybe I better stop right there...)
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01-08-2013, 05:19 PM
Post: #13
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Although I'm not totally sure what you're talking about, I think we all at some point lost our "innocence" when it comes to history, and perhaps, Lincoln specifically. Yet, for myself anyway, I still love Lincoln-he is "big enough to be inconsistent." And although the history of the USA is filled with terrible chapters, the "story" remains a true ideal-equality for all. America is still the "last best hope of earth."

Bill Nash
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01-08-2013, 06:43 PM (This post was last modified: 01-09-2013 02:20 AM by My Name Is Kate.)
Post: #14
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
Lincoln's ideal of ending slavery was noble. It's how he obtained that ideal and what it cost the country, and the precedent it set for future presidents to disregard the Constitution to obtain whatever ends they saw fit, by whatever means necessary, and the resulting centralizing of power into one gigantic and overreaching government...that is what is so disturbing.
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01-09-2013, 04:42 AM
Post: #15
RE: Lincoln Poll in USA TODAY
(07-10-2012 06:00 AM)RJNorton Wrote:  Are Lincoln's extraconstitutional actions not taught in schools? Or do educators teach that the extraconstitutional actions were justified in wartime?
The only action of Lincoln's that I had ever heard of (until yesterday) that even came close to being extra-Constitutional, was his suspension of habeas corpus. But I only took one political course in college, and it wasn't about Lincoln (can't even remember what it was about). In high school, and even in college, I don't remember much of anything at all that I was taught on any subject (almost might as well not have attended).

Had I not been doing considerable research online in the past few weeks, about recent and current political and social, etc., events, I probably would not have been able to see the significance of the extra-Constitutional actions of Lincoln's, and the precedent he set in taking those actions, or any connection between his actions and the political and social mess that the country is in today. I would have passed it all off as being necessary and justified in the noble fight to end slavery and preserve the Union. Lincoln is the very last president/person I would have suspected of doing any harm to the country, whether intentional or not.
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