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Lincoln Biographies

Wonder how Jefferson Davis
Feels, down there in Montgomery, about Sumter.
He must be thinking pretty hard and fast,
For he’s an able man, no doubt of that.
We were born less than forty miles apart,
Less than a year apart–he got the start
Of me in age, and raising too, I guess,
In fact, from all you hear about the man,
If you set out to pick one of us two
For President, by birth and folks and schooling,
General raising, training up in office,
I guess you’d pick him, nine times out of ten
And yet, somehow, I’ve got to last him out.

These thoughts passed through the mind in a moment’s flash,
Then that mind turned to business.
It was the calling
Of seventy-five thousand volunteers.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Commenter Greg Mockeridge asked my recommendation for a Lincoln biography.  The above video shows the Lincoln tower of books, a 34 foot tower of books about Lincoln located at the Ford’s Theater Center for Education and Lincoln.  The tower includes books about Lincoln as of 2011.  The number of books written about Lincoln are estimated to be approximately 16,000.  No one of course has read all of these books, nor should they.  Life is too short for such monomania, and in any case most of the books would be greatly repetitious and many of them mere hack work of little intrinsic value.  Here are the books I recommended:

1. Carl Sandburg-Poor scholarship even when it was written back in the forties, it is a magnificent oil painting of a biography that gets to the essence of Lincoln, while lacking the accurate detail of a photograph.
2. Michael Burlingame’s recent massive two volume bio is great for looking at the more recent Lincoln scholarship.
3. T. Harry Williams’ Lincoln and His Generals still remains, after more than six decades, the best look at Lincoln as commander in chief.
4. James G. Randall’s Lincoln the President is an exhaustive look at Lincoln as President, from an interesting standpoint: an admirer of Lincoln who also thought the Civil War was unnecessary. Scholarship was superb, albeit dated after six decades.
5. Allen Guelzo’s Redeemer President views Lincoln as a thinker, a surprisingly overlooked aspect of Lincoln as he first and foremost was a man of ideas. Lincoln had the ability of taking abstract and complicated concepts, stripping them down, and presenting them in his writing and speaking in a straightforward manner. He makes it all look easy, which perhaps detracts from what a powerful mind he possessed.
6. Stephen Mansfield’s Lincoln’s Battle With God is the best book on Lincoln in years. First rate scholarship directed at Lincoln’s religious views, a perennial subject of vitriolic debate in Lincoln Studies. Mansfield details the difficulties of making iron clad assertions about Lincoln on many topics because Lincoln often kept his cards tucked against his vest, and contemporary accounts by people who knew Lincoln often disagree about the most basic items.
7. Stephen B. Oates’ With Malice Towards None, stands out as perhaps the best one volume bio of Lincoln.

I have been reading about Mr. Lincoln for the past half century.  Not a month goes by that I do not learn something I did not know before about the man who led such a consequential life that only Christ and Napoleon have had more books written about them.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

25 Comments

  1. “A devastating critique of America’s most famous president.”
    — Joseph Sobran, commentator and nationally syndicated columnist

    “Today’s federal government is considerably at odds with that envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. Thomas J. DiLorenzo gives an account of How this come about in The Real Lincoln.”
    — Walter E. Williams, from the foreword

    “A peacefully negotiated secession was the best way to handle all the problems facing Americans in 1860. A war of coercion was Lincoln’s creation. It sometimes takes a century or more to bring an important historical event into perspective. This study does just that and leaves the reader asking, ‘Why didn’t we know this before?'”
    — Donald Livingston, professor of philosophy, Emory University

    “Professor DiLorenzo has penetrated to the very heart and core of American history with a laser beam of fact and analysis.”
    — Clyde Wilson, professor of history, University of South Carolina, and editor, The John C. Calhoun Papers

  2. “ Lincoln Unmasked is a masterpiece response to the crowd that DiLorenzo calls the Lincoln cult. He names names, and names places, in what is a fascinating read and correction to one of the most important episodes in U.S. history.” —Walter E. Williams, nationally syndicated columnist and John M. Olin Professor of Economics at George Mason University

    “Abe, climb down from Mt. Rushmore, and vacate the penny. Your days in the pantheon are over, thanks to the scholarship and courage of Thomas J. DiLorenzo.” —Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute

    “In The Real Lincoln, Professor DiLorenzo convincingly exposed Lincoln idolatry as a fraud that has poisoned America’s understanding of itself. Following up in Lincoln Unmasked, he shows who maintains and profits from the toxin in the body politic and the damage that they are doing to us to this very day. DiLorenzo’s masterful diagnosis, we may hope, will go a long way toward a cure.” —Clyde Wilson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, University of South Carolina

    “ Lincoln Unmasked is a masterful book. Finally, Lincoln has been held to account and the lies and machinations of the Lincoln cult exposed.” —Paul Craig Roberts, syndicated columnist and former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury

    “Brilliant and withering, Lincoln Unmasked answers the kind of forbidden questions that our country now more than ever needs to hear. Thomas DiLorenzo deals in the kind of information that is consistently withheld from students in what we laughingly call our educational system.” —Thomas E. Woods, Jr., bestselling author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History

  3. All your citations Eric are from non-historians, except for Clyde Wilson and Thomas Woods. Woods is noted for his mangling of history to support his political beliefs:

    http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/10460

    Clyde Wilson is a serious historian and a bitter partisan for the Confederacy, as one could expect from the editor of the papers of John C. Calhoun.

    Now, I want you to actually read the articles I linked to and attempt to mount a factual defense of the “scholarship” of DiLorenzo. If you can’t do that, stop wasting the time of my readers.

    More factual errors for you to defend:

    http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=79

    DiLorenzo is as much an historian as Bill Clinton is a virgin.

  4. Because Walter Williams is an economist not a historian. The citations are all from people who view Lincoln through the same ideological prism as does DiLorenzo. Their comments say nothing about DiLorenzo’s scholarship which is nil.

  5. Just because Williams is not an historian but rather an economist does not make his statement any less true.

    The simple facts are that Lincoln wanted the money generated from the severe taxes imposed on the South to pay for the industrialization of the North, he did not care about freeing the slaves, he only wanted to preserve the Union. He unlawfully imprisoned the Maryland legislature before they could vote on secession as well as dozens of newspaper publishers and editors who spoke out against his policies.

    One of his quotes that gets little if any coverage in schools or the media is:
    “If I could preserve the Union by freeing all of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing some but not all of the slaves I would do it.”

  6. The simple facts are that Lincoln wanted the money generated from the severe taxes imposed on the South to pay for the industrialization of the North

    No, these are not simple facts – these are distorted views presented by “historians” such as DiLorenzo. I must assume, therefore, that you did not actually bother reading the links Donald provided, which goes into much more detail about why DiLorenzo is so thoroughly wrong.

    One of his quotes that gets little if any coverage in schools or the media is:
    “If I could preserve the Union by freeing all of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing some but not all of the slaves I would do it.”


    This is a well-known quote to anyone who has any familiarity with Lincoln scholarship. This quote does nothing more than show that Lincoln’s primary concern was restoration of the union, not abolishing slavery. Again, most people are quite aware that Lincoln did not begin to push for abolition at the outset of the war. This actually hurts, not helps, the anti-Lincoln arguments, as it demonstrates that the confederate states voted to secede unnecessarily and unlawfully. There was no “long train of abuses” justifying rebellion or secession.

    Seriously, if you’re going to push forward scholarship that dents Lincoln’s character, you’ll have to do a lot better than DiLorenzo.

  7. “Just because Williams is not an historian but rather an economist does not make his statement any less true.”

    His statement is worthless as to whether DiLorenzo is a terrible historian.

    “The simple facts are that Lincoln wanted the money generated from the severe taxes imposed on the South to pay for the industrialization of the North”

    Absolutely false. At the beginning of the War tariffs were at a near historic low for the century and the War cost many times more than could ever have been realized from tariffs during the same period.

    “he did not care about freeing the slaves, he only wanted to preserve the Union.’

    Lincoln always thought that slavery was an evil and should be abolished. However, except as a war measure, he lacked the power to abolish slavery. His duty as President was to preserve the Union, and he was determined not to fail in that duty.

    “He unlawfully imprisoned the Maryland legislature before they could vote on secession”

    He did not, and the Maryland legislature voted to reject secession.

    “If I could preserve the Union by freeing all of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing some but not all of the slaves I would do it.”

    That was a letter Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley. At the time that he wrote it, he had already drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, under which he abolished slavery in the Confederacy as a war measure. The letter ends as follows, somehow neo-Confederates always forgetting this portion of this letter: “I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.

    Yours,
    A. Lincoln.”

    http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/greeley.htm

  8. “If I could preserve the Union by freeing all of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing some but not all of the slaves I would do it.”

    Stunning, that quote from the open letter to Greeley which has been known to anyone who’s read a biography of Lincoln not written by DiLorenzo. Errors aside, that’s the essential problem with DiLorenzo–he’s scandalized by quotes and anecdotes known to anyone who’s honestly cracked a book about the Sixteenth President, and he desperately wants you to be scandalized, too.

    Hey, Eric–Lincoln took the side of a slave owner in a fugitive slave case, too. Ergo, his entire life was a total fraud from that point on. That’s the basic argument of DiL’s laughable prosecutor’s brief with respect to each such anecdote, right there.

    His level of academic expertise is best directed at disabusing those who think Abe Lincoln chopped down the cherry tree.

  9. “1. Carl Sandburg-Poor scholarship even when it was written back in the forties, it is a magnificent oil painting of a biography that gets to the essence of Lincoln, while lacking the accurate detail of a photograph.”

    I think the poor scholarship charge sticks better to the Prairie Years than the War Years. He’s a poet who takes poetic license, to be sure, but the last four volumes read more like a conventional biography than the meandering, sometimes maddening and sometimes sublime, first two.

  10. I would agree with that Dale. Sandberg did little original research himself, relying on already published books on Lincoln. Lincoln’s White House years, so well documented, left little scope for a poet, while the Prairie Years, with the gaping holes in Lincoln’s life, allowed Sandburg to play mythmaker to his heart’s content.

  11. The right of the states to secede is in the US Constitution.

    Really? Show me where.

    Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.

    So immediately after bringing up a constitutional right that doesn’t exist, you deny a constitutional power plainly stated.

    From Article 1, Section 9 (note text in bold):

    The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

  12. The Morrill Tariff? Let me guess–as a spark to civil war?

    Too funny. Virginia secessionists actually proposed their own tariff, and only two secession conventions even mentioned the tariff.

    I’d say “try again,” but I’ve tired of arguing with a cut-and-paste program.

  13. While Walter Williams’s modern day economic analysis may be stellar, his economic history is weak. Tariffs were paid on imports, not exports, and southern ports were mostly export ports. The port of New York accounted for 2/3 of all U.S. imports for most years leading up to 1860, and thus 2/3 of Federal revenue. Other northern ports like Boston and Philadelphia accounted for most of the rest.
    Great discussion, including historical records, etc here:
    http://deadconfederates.com/2013/02/24/walter-e-williams-polishes-the-turd-on-tariffs/#comments

  14. The history of the US in the first half of the nineteenth century shows that the Federal government consistently employed tariffs to foster and protect nascent industrial concerns. The South (“King Cotton” economy) and West (small-scale agricultural economy) did not develop manufacturing economies and paid higher prices on manufactured goods. BY 1860, the various sections were very different in culture and economics.
    .
    Regarding NY, its financial sector was heavily involved in financing the South’s cotton trade.

    .
    My purpose is not to judge. People need to eat, wear clothes, etc. Often, that translates into politics especially when the government is given (consent of the governed) power to affect outcomes.

  15. Protective tariffs tended to cut across sectional lines:

    Historian James McPherson on who paid tariffs prior to the Civil War:

    “DILORENZO IS ESSENTIALLY CORRECT that the tariff supplied ninety percent of federal revenue before the Civil War. For the thirty years from 1831 to 1860 it was eighty-four percent, but for the 1850s as a decade it was indeed ninety percent.

    But the idea that the South paid about seventy-five percent of tariff revenues is totally absurd. DiLorenzo bases this on pages 26-27 of Charles Adams, When in the Course of Human Events, but Adams comes up with these figures out of thin air, and worse, appears to be measuring the South’s share of exports, and then transposing that percentage to their share of dutiable imports. Exports, of course, are not subject to taxation and never have been, because such taxes are prohibited by Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution — which Adams appears not to know. In any case, Adams claims that about eighty-two percent of exports from the U.S. were furnished by the South — he cites no source for this, and it is in fact wrong — the true figure was about sixty percent on the average, most of that cotton — and then by a slight of hand claims that this proves the South paid a similarly disproportionate share of tariffs. But of course the tariffs were only on imports.

    The idea that the South would pay a disproportionate share of import duties defies common sense as well as facts. The majority of imports from abroad entered ports in the Northeastern US, principally New York City. The importers paid duties at the customs houses in those cities. The free states had sixty-two percent of the US population in the 1850s and seventy-two percent of the free population. The standard of living was higher in the free states and the people of those states consumed more than their proportionate share of dutiable products, so a high proportion of tariff revenue (on both consumer and capital goods) was paid ultimately by the people of those states — a fair guess would be that the North paid about seventy percent of tariff duties. There is no way to measure this precisely, for once the duties were paid no statistics were kept on the final destination of dutiable products. But consider a few examples. There was a tariff on sugar, which benefited only sugar planters in Louisiana, but seventy percent of the sugar was consumed in the free states. There was a tariff on hemp, which benefited only the growers in Kentucky and Missouri, but the shipbuilding industry was almost entirely in the North, so Northern users of hemp paid a disproportionate amount of that tariff. There were duties on both raw wool and finished wool cloth, which of course benefited sheep farmers who were mostly in the North and woolen textile manufacturers who were almost entirely in the North, but it was Northern consumers who ultimately paid probably eighty percent of that tariff (woolen clothes were worn more in the North than the South, for obvious rea sons). Or take the tariff on iron — it benefited mainly Northern manufacturers (though there was an iron indus try in the South as well), but sixty-five percent of the railroad mileage and seventy-five percent of the railroad rolling stock were in the North, which meant that Northern railroads (and their customers, indirectly) paid those proportions of the duties on iron for their rails, locomotives, and wheels. One can come up with many more examples. “

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