Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lincoln's War to Prevent Self-Government


Conservative historian M.E. Bradford was deeply concerned by the ongoing deification and cult status of Lincoln, and how Yankee idolatry of him had so blurred the history, nature and consequences of the war "as to render Lincoln impervious to serious criticism."

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

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Lincoln's War to Prevent Self-Government

"As [historian] Frank Owlsey complained in 1946, there was afoot in this land, "what seems to me a Lincoln cult bordering on pagan deification which is taking place in the popular mind of the North"; and it has been seriously inspired by serious scholars, who have allowed their emotions and bias to overemphasize certain elements and minimize others."

In his essay on "A Southerner's View of Abraham Lincoln," Owsley's principal complaint was not that Lincoln lacked moral scruples, but that he frequently exercised poor judgment – as seen, for example, in his refusal to accept the Crittenden Compromise and in his na├»ve, persistent belief that the people of the South would never support their leaders in a war of secession.

Lincoln, argued Owsley, never fully grasped the depth of Southern patriotism or the magnitude of the war, until it was too late to compromise. By denying the South the right to self-government, Lincoln also subverted the democratic principles of the document he so often cited as authority for his constitutional views – the Declaration of Independence. "It seems ironic to Southerners that the United States," observed Owsley, "a nation based upon the right of the people to live under a government of their choice, should make war to prevent a people – the South – from living under a government of their choice."

No less charitable with respect to Lincoln's motives and moral reasoning, Donald Davidson also questioned Lincoln's political acumen . . . asserting that the emancipator foolishly made war on his own ideas and objectives, ruining both the South and the North while creating an America he did not want.

[M.E.] Bradford persuasively demonstrated [that Lincoln] was more than simply wrong-headed; he was "dishonest" and "duplicitous" "pseudo-Puritan," a disingenuous "opportunist" guilty of "calculated posturing," "historical distortions," and "high crime"; he was indeed "the American Caesar of his age."  "It is at our peril," Bradford cautioned, "that we continue to reverence his name."

(Walking the Levee with Mel Bradford, James McClellan; A Defender of Southern Conservatism, M.E. Bradford and His Achievements, Clyde N. Wilson, editor, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 45-46)