Recently I wrote Slamdunk that I had been to the Lincoln Memorial and as always, had an emotional reaction there. He wrote me back to say that Lincoln's reputation was nearing zero in many milieus of political thought. I think I have identified two. They are expansions of things I learned on Lincoln in high school.
The first one is that Abraham Lincoln was not sufficiently distressed about the plight of slaves. That he belonged to a political party that took a political or expedient view in regard to ending slavery. This diminishes his reputation among students of civil rights and African-American history. It makes him seem hypocritical.
Curiously, this argument is also used by those on another end of the political spectrum, those who believe Lincoln headed a government that intervened too much in daily life, especially in individual liberty as expressed by free enterprise. Lincoln instituted income tax. He suspended the writ of habeus corpus by Presidential Order. And there are a few other items against the libertarian point of view.
In this sense, the argument about Lincoln's sincerity is used as an ad hominem argument, that is, that his dilatory attitude on slavery showed him as a hypocrite in all other areas. Therefore, his thievery of civilian powers was just what you'd expect.
There are life-long students of Lincoln who surely could answer these questions in more detail and with more references than I will. However, that will not stop Ann T. from putting her two cents in. I plan three posts: first to deal with hypocrisy and slavery. Second, on income tax and Lincoln's ideas on free enterprise--his philosophy of political economy. Third, on the suspension of habeus corpus with some side information on him as Commander-in-Chief and how it all fits together.
Mostly I will be using Lincoln's own words, from letters, speeches, and memoranda, as provided by the Library of America volume of his writings. But I will also use Web references, Shelby Foote's history of the Civil War, and a few other texts I happen to have hanging around the house.
I'm grateful to Slamdunk for bringing this to the front of my mind. And doesn't it fit right in with the kinds of things I like to think about?