Abraham Lincoln: Champ or Chump? Directions: read each of the following excerpts about President Lincoln. The first set defends him, the second set is critical of his actions



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Abraham Lincoln: Champ or Chump?

Directions: read each of the following excerpts about President Lincoln. The first set defends him, the second set is critical of his actions. As you read highlight the portions that you find the most compelling and form an opinion, was he a good president (champ), or a bad president (chump)?

The Case For Lincoln

His occupying the chair of state was a triumph of the good sense of mankind, and of the public conscience. This middle-class country had got a middle-class president, at last. Yes, in manners and sympathies, but not in powers, for his powers were superior. This man grew according to the need. His mind mastered the problem of the day; and as the problem grew, so did his comprehension of it. Rarely was man so fitted to the event…

In four years- four years of battle-days- his endurance, his fertility of resources, his magnanimity, were sorely tried and never found wanting. There by his courage, his justice, his even temper, his fertile counsel, his humanity, he stood a heroic figure in the centre of a heroic epoch. He is the true history of the American people in his time. Step by step he walked before them; slow with their slowness, quickening his march by theirs, the true representative of this continent; an entirely public man; father of his country, the pulse of twenty millions throbbing in his heart, the thought of their minds articulated by his tongue.








Lincoln the Westerner, arriving at the capital by a secret route, meeting- and being condescended to by the mighty, seizes a part of the answer. Here (so few years before his martyrdom) was an upstart, his appearance was rough, his pronunciation provincial, his worth largely untested. Faced with the threat of war, he lacked an equipped army; confronted with disunion, he had no sure following; pressed with the need to establish the power of his office, he had no reputation among the men he was supposed to command. Only the most optimistic democrat could expect him to rise to the occasion- as he rapidly did. Lincoln seemed without preparation, one moment part of the folk life of the people, the next their transcendent leader, and last their martyr.






Though a man of status and influence, Lincoln was as honest in real life as in the legend. Even his enemies conceded that he was incorruptible. Moreover, he possessed broad humanitarian views, some of them in advance of his time. Even though he was teetotaler, he was extremely tolerant of alcoholics, regarding them not as criminals- the way most temperance people did- but as unfortunates who deserved understanding, not vilification. He noted that some of the world’s most gifted artists had succumbed to alcoholism, because they were too sensitive to cope with their insights into the human condition. He believed that women, like men, should vote so long as they all paid taxes. And he had not ethnic prejudices. His law partner William Herndon, who cursed the Irish with a flourish, reported that Lincoln was not at all prejudiced against “the foreign element, tolerating- as I never could- even the Irish.”

  • Lincoln’s Journal to Emancipation by Stephen B. Oates, 1978






Because he was not a saint, there is no obligation to see him as a tyrant or hypocrite. He allowed the fiercest freedom of criticism in Congress, in the press, and in public protest meetings. He handed out appointments irrespective of party or military status. He learned very quickly about war, spotted the character flaw in a likeable general and fired him, and in the end picked the best. And he was so lacking in egomania that he could tell his generals that “when you are in the field, you are the Union.” He had an extraordinary feel for the humanity of quite inhuman people and tolerated them long enough to get what he wanted- contractors, war profiteers, wheelers-dealers, the scum of the Republic. He dignified the trade of politician like few men before or since.

  • America by Alstair Cooke, 1974






Lincoln admitted that internal security in the midst of civil war was a complex problem and that errors and excesses had occurred. It pained him that government agents often confused antiwar rhetoric with disloyal designs and that innocent people suffered. That was why he tempered military arrests with generous pardons and refused to suppress popular assemblies and antiwar newspapers. Yet throughout the conflict he maintained a severe line disloyalty; and most Republicans supported him. Without military law, they all feared the rebellion would rage into the North and consume the government from within…

Still, Lincoln was no dictator- the very idea appalled him for it violated everything he held sacred in government. In fact, one of the major reasons he remains our best President is that he shunned a dictatorship, even when some Americans thought it the only way to save the country. But what kind of country would remain if popular government itself were sacrificed? Was it not for this that the war was being fought? Consider Lincoln’s stand on the presidential election of 1864. With Union fortunes still uncertain, some men urged Lincoln to cancel the contest lest it result in the victory of antiwar Democrats who would sell out the Union cause. Lincoln refused. “The election,” he said later, “was a necessity. We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered us.”








He had none of the racial prejudices that infected so many of whites of the that time… Frederick Douglass, who interviewed Lincoln in 1863, said he was “the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, or of the difference of color.”

  • The Man Behind the Myths by Stephen B. Oates, 1984






Nowhere is the struggle more evident than in the nagging problem of slavery. How Lincoln approached that problem- and what he did about it- is one of the most written about and least understood facets of his presidency… what guided Lincoln in the matter of emancipation was his commitment, not just to the Union, but to what it represented and symbolized. Here, as in all war-related isuses, Lincoln’s devotion to the war’s central idea- to preserving a system that guaranteed to all the right of self-government- dictated his course of action…

At first, Lincoln rejected a presidential move against slavery. “I think Sumner and the rest of you would upset our applecart altogether if you had your way,” he told some advanced Republicans one day. “We didn’t go into the war to put down slavery, but to put the flag back; and to act differently at this moment would, I have no doubt, not only weaken our cause, but smack of bad faith… This thunderbolt will keep.”

In short, as President he was accountable to the entire country, or what remained of it in the North and West, and the vast majority of whites there remained adamantly opposed to emancipation.


  • The Man Behind the Myths by Stephen B. Oates, 1984






It cannot be stressed enough that Lincoln, then deeply involved in matters of Reconstruction, fully endorsed Sherman’s scorched-earth policy. If Sherman was “a total warrior,” so was his Commander-in-Chief. Putting aside his own aversion to bloodshed and violence, Lincoln ended up pounding all his southern foes into submission- civilians and soldiers alike. And he did so because that was the surest way he knew to shorten the conflict, end the killing, and salvage his American dream.

  • The Man Behind the Myths by Stephen B. Oates, 1984

Abraham Lincoln: Champ or Chump?

The Case Against Lincoln

Excerpts from Remembering Who We Are: Observations of a Southern Conservative by M.E. Bradford, 1985.



Lincoln was… the first to make his moral position on slavery in the South into part of his national politics… Lincoln, in insisting that he Negro was included in the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration bound his countrymen to fulfill a pledge hidden in that document, seemed clearly to point toward a radical transformation of American society…. By promise that the peculiar institution would be made to disappear if candidates for national office adopted the proper “moral attitude” on that subject, Lincoln recited as a litany in the general terms of his regard for universal human rights. But at the same time he added certain modifications to this high doctrine… The most important of these reservations was that none of his doctrines should apply significantly to the Negro in the North. Or, after freedom, to what he could expect in the South. For the Negro it provided nothing more than a technical freedom, best to be enjoyed from far away…




It is true that many of the corruptions of the Republican Era came to a head after Lincoln lay at rest in Springfield. But it is a matter of fact that they began either under his direction with his sponsorship. Military necessity, the “War for the Union” provided an excuse, an umbrella of sanction, under which the essential nature of the changes being made in the relation of government to commerce could be concealed… Now Lincoln could try again the internal improvements of the early days in Illinois. The difference was that this time the funding would not be restrained by political reversal or failure of credit… The great increase in the tariff and the formation of a national banking network were, of course, the cornerstones of this great alteration in the posture of the federal government toward the sponsorship of business… he made it clear that the hidden agenda of the Republican Party would have its turn, once the stick was in their hand… Between 1861 and 1865, the tariff rose from 18.84% to 47.56%. And it stayed above 40% in all but two years of the period that concluded with the election of Woodrow Wilson.




Lincoln’s participation in huge subsidies or bounties for railroads is not so readily linked to “saving the Union.” All of his life he was a friend of the big corporations. He had not moral problem in signing a bill which gifted the Union Pacific Railway a huge strip of land running across the West and an almost unsecured loan of $16,000 to $48,000 per mile of track. The final result of this bill was the Credit Moblier scandal.




With other laws favoring land speculation it helped to negate the seemingly noble Homestead Act of 1862- under which less than 19 percent of the open land settled between 1860 and 1900 went to legitimate homesteaders. The Northern policy of importing immigrants to the promised land, only to force them into the ranks of General Grant’s meatgrinder or into near slavery in the cities of the East requires little comment… More significant is Lincoln’s policy of allowing special cronies and favorites of his friends to trade in Southern cotton- even with the “enemy” across the line- and his calculated use of patronage and the pork barrel. Between 1860 and 1880, the Republicans spent almost $10 million breathing life into state and local Republican organizations. Lincoln pointed them down that road.




As Clinton Rossiter has stated, Lincoln believed that there were “no limits” to his powers if he exercised them in that “Holy Cause.”… War is of course for the concentration of power and the limitation of liberties within any nation. But an internal war, a war between states in a union of states, is not like the war to repel invasion or acquire territory. For it is an extension into violence of domestic political difference. And it is thus subject to extraordinary abuses of authority.




Lincoln began his tenure as a dictator when between April 12 and July 4 of 1861, without interference from Congress, he summoned militia, spent millions, suspended law, authorized recruiting, decreed a blockade, defied the Supreme Court, and pledged the nation’s credit. In the following months and years he created units of government not know to the Constitution and officers to rule over them in “conquered” sections of the South, seized property throughout both sections, arrested upwards of twenty thousand of his political enemies and confined them without trial in a Northern “Gulag,” and closed over three hundred newspapers critical of his policy…




The worst that we might say of Lincoln is that he led the North in a war so as to put the domestic political priorities of his political machine ahead of the lives and the well-being of his soldiers in the field… Thousands of Northern boys lost their lives in order that the Republican Party might experience a rejuvenation, to serve its partisan goals.




We might dwell for some time on what injury Lincoln did to the dignity of his office through the methods he employed in prosecuting the war. It was no small thing to disavow the ancient Christian code of “limited war” as did his missions, acting in his name. However, it is enough in this connection to remember his policy of denying medicines to the South, even for the sake of Northern prisoners held behind the lines… For practical politics, the necessities of the Election of 1864, had led Lincoln to a decision far more serious than the unethical practices against prisoners and civilians in the South… the rejection by the Lincoln administration of peace feelers authorized by the Confederate government in Richmond: feelers that met Lincoln’s announced terms for an end to the Federal invasion of the South… He wanted a total victory. And he needed a still-resisting, impenitent Confederacy to justify his election.




“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right- a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.”

  • Abraham Lincoln, 12 January 1848

This quote above shows Lincoln as a statesman 12 years before he plunged the United States into its most disastrous war. The death toll was so great that it dwarfs the American deaths in all of our many declared and undeclared wars before and since this American holocaust of death and destruction.

  • Abraham Lincoln: America’s Greatest War Criminal by Ron Holland






Why the complete change in rhetoric and actions? Simple, to preserve high tariffs and corporate profits for the Northeastern business establishment. Lincoln who earlier in his career had obviously favored the right of peaceful secession, provoked a war that killed 600,000 Americans, as a payback to the eastern manufacturing establishment that bankrolled his presidential campaign. These special interests would have suffered serious financial loss if a low tariff Confederate States of America were allowed to peacefully, democratically and constitutionally secede from the United States in lawful state constitutional conventions of secession which were identical to the ratification conventions when they had joined the Union. Thus the real reasons for the death and destruction of Lincoln’s war were covered up and hidden by historians who continue, even today, to deny the truth and hide the ultimate costs of Lincoln’s American holocaust.

  • Abraham Lincoln: America’s Greatest War Criminal by Ron Holland





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