What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President

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What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President

By Michael Lind
Doubleday, 2005
368 pp. $27.95
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Virtually all Americans agree that Abraham Lincoln was a great man and a great president; there is therefore continuing pressure to create new Lincolns in the image of our changing beliefs. Before the civil rights revolution, Lincoln was widely revered as a Republican "moderate" who was simultaneously opposed to slavery and to racial equality. After the civil rights revolution, we needed a new Lincoln -- a figure on the steps of whose monument Martin Luther King, Jr., could redefine the American dream as a dream of racial equality. Lind obstinately and perversely insists on looking for the Lincoln of history rather than for the Lincoln of faith. What he finds is a very annoying Lincoln more like Mark Hanna than John Brown: a protectionist and a racialist whose antislavery passion was linked to a pro-big-business agenda and a broad political drive to reserve the American West for whites only. Some historians have denounced Lind for failing to recognize an evolution in Lincoln's racial views in the closing months of his life. Perhaps, but Lincoln's plans for a quick and mild Reconstruction and his continuing contacts with Southern white leaders linked to Henry Clay's old Whig Party underline the degree to which Lincoln still seemed to find inspiration in Clay's vision as he struggled with the problem of rebuilding a union tested and divided by a bitter civil war.