Monday, December 3, 2012

Thoughts after reading my first Lincoln biography

     So I just finished reading a 678 page biography of Lincoln by White.  I'm starting a book by Foner on Lincoln and Slavery.  When I started the book I had the usual questions about Lincoln and Slavery and the causes of the Civil War etc...  I still have some of those questions because I don't like to take one writer's word for things.  I know these are still sensitive issues, but I think I should air my thoughts as I go along.

1.  White is a huge Abraham Lincoln admirer.  Before reading this biography I started, but didn't finish, a huge biography of Hitler.  The author of the Hitler biography went out of his way to attribute mental illnesses and serious character flaws to Hitler.  Well, one can understand this.  I got to the point in the Hitler biography where he had basically taken over the Nazi party and then I gave up reading.  Frankly, reading a biography of Hitler is not a positive experience.  It was educational, but trying.  Lincoln's biographer, on the other hand, couldn't say enough good things about the man.  So good is Lincoln I began to question the objectivity of the account.  Really, he was THAT good?

2. Here are some things I've gleaned from my reading so far.  Lincoln, very much unlike Hitler, by the way, seemed to possess natural empathy for other people and animals.  This much I think is clear.  He was not a naturally agressive man.  He also seemed uninfluenced by romanticism consciously when it came to decision making.  He seemed more an offspring of the Enlightenment.  The God he refers to would have been familiar to Thomas Jefferson, with the possible exception that Lincoln emphasized God's working out his will in history more than your usual Deist does.  This is particularly evident in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

3. Lincoln also had the ability to learn from experience.  That is, he was not so attached to some abstract ideology that he denied the reality before him.  He was decidedly not an ends justify the means type.  He was affected by suffering, including that of his enemies.

4. Now, before you go around saying I worship Lincoln, let's get down to where the rubber hits the road.  I find it difficult to believe that there wasn't a racist bone in his body.  On a number of occasions he recommended that African Americans colonize another country rather than remain in the USA.  He even proposed this to a black delegation at the white house -- they rejected the idea. 

5.  On the other hand, I suspect his views matured all the way up to the time of his death.  His interaction with Frederick Douglass after the Second Inaugural Address suggests this.

But, hopefully I will gain more insight into him through some of these other books.


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