Getting Right with Lincoln – Part I

31 08 2008

The phrase “Getting Right with Lincoln”  was coined by David Donald in this article from 1956, and it has over the years been used to describe attempts to manipulate the record of Abraham Lincoln to justify the correctness of one’s actions or beliefs.  But I’m using it here to describe my ever-evolving image of the man who many, including myself, consider our greatest president.  But like that big mole on his face, the man had warts that were equally apparent but often ignored.  For instance, it’s been asserted by some who praise AL’s management style that he never let how an individual treated him affect his decision making process.  While I’ve got many and bigger problems with anyone extolling the virtues of Lincoln’s management style (I’ve worked for people who managed like him – CHAOS!), I think people like Winfield Scott would take issue with this particular assertion.  So from time to time here I’ll use this heading to discuss my developing understanding of POTUS16.

I recently finished reading Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession by Russell McClintock, which I found a much more useful analysis of the period than Nelson Lankford’s look at 1861,  Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 (reviewed here).  McClintock’s book reveals a Lincoln who was, first and foremost, a party politician.  He was keenly aware of his dependence on his fellow Republicans, and his moves were governed with this dependence in mind.  As a party new to power, it took awhile for things to develop, during which time Lincoln’s administration, both before and after the inauguration, adopted a policy not dissimilar to that of its predecessor, described as “masterly inactivity”.  While I’ve always thought of Lincoln as a product of the machine – and at the same time as one who helped design and build it – I haven’t always considered how Party considerations influenced his decision making.  It’s something I’m going to try to keep in the front part of my brain from now on, or at least until I’m shown the error of my ways.



4 responses

25 09 2008
Brian Dirck on Goodwin’s Lincoln « Bull Runnings

[…] plug for Russell McClintock’s Lincoln and the Decision for War (I wrote a little about it here).  It’s the best examination of the days between AL’s election and the firing on Ft. […]


9 03 2009
The Abraham Lincoln Observer

Actually, if you read all the way to the end of Donald’s article, he quotes then-Congressman Everett Dirksen as saying that the first task of a politician is “to get right with … Lincoln.” Dirksen, a central Illinoisan who later became Senate Republican leader, worked closely with President Lyndon Johnson on some of the groundbreaking civil rights legislation of the 1960s, so perhaps it’s fair to say Ev got right with Abe on a philosophical, as well as political, level. But at any rate, it does seem clear that Dirksen, not Donald, deserves credit for coining the phrase “getting right with Lincoln.”

My apologies for the belated quibble. You’re absolutely right, of course, on your main point.


9 03 2009
Harry Smeltzer

I stand corrected, Mike, though I wonder how many folks would know of the term had not Donald written the article. I have another entry in the Getting Right with Lincoln “series” coming up. Soon. I hope.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back often!


9 03 2009
Lincoln Stuff « Bull Runnings

[…] 9 03 2009 I left a comment on this post on Civil War Memory, which prompted a comment on this post here, and as a result I’ve found another Lincoln blog called The Abraham Lincoln Observer.  […]


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