Ignoring the Obvious (Again)

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I am often asked how a monstrous tyrant who suffered from several mental illnesses went from being America’s most reviled president in all of history to our “most beloved president.”  I speak of course of Abe Lincoln, who was indeed the most hated and reviled of all presidents during his own lifetime, as documented by historian Larry Tagg in The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: America’s Most Reviled President. (As for Lincoln’s mental illness and instability, see Joshua Shenk, Lincoln’s Melancholy).

Part of the answer to this question is that the template for Lincoln biographies was written many decades ago by Lincoln’s two White House secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, with the close supervision and censorship of Lincoln’s son Robert.  Presidential “biographies” written by White House press secretaries (a.k.a. Official Executive Branch Propagandists) and the presidents’ children are never taken very seriously by serious people, but with Lincoln it is an exception.

So now comes a book celebrating how the Lincoln myth was invented by Nicolay and Hay in an equally gushing and hagiographic book by one Joshua Zietz entitled Lincoln’s Boys.  The essence of the book is that it is an attempt to lionize Nicolay and Hay for a job well done in pulling the wool over the American public’s eyes about the most hated president in their history.  He was hated by people who actually knew him or knew of him during his time.  It is only future generations of Boobus Americanus, as H.L. Mencken called them, who came to revere Dishonest Abe.  Indeed, this is the purpose of the entire Lincoln cult — to always keep The Big Lie fresh in the minds of rationally-ignorant Americans.  For the Lincoln myth is the ideological cornerstone of the American state which supposedly sanctifies anything and everything the state does, just as Robert Penn Warren described in his 1961 book, The Legacy of the Civil War.

1:01 pm on April 9, 2014