Lincoln and FDR

In response to a recent question regarding why Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt seem to be politically sacrosanct, I offer the following suggestions.

Rhetoric. Each man was a master of rhetoric. Lincoln was America’s consummate master of the written political word, in an era when the newspaper had become the key mass media technology. FDR was a master of the spoken political word, beginning in the first full decade in which radio was universal. FDR was matched by Churchill and Hitler, two other early rhetorical masters of radio.

Victorious wars. Both Presidents oversaw huge wars that were successfully prosecuted on the battlefield. Churchill had the same post-war battlefield advantage, and he therefore looms large in the textbooks. Victors write the history textbooks. The magnitude of the loss of life and the gigantic economic cost made post-war revisionism difficult to sell to the American public. The public was not psychologically prepared to consider any suggestion that these deaths and costs had been avoidable and therefore in vain. The American public was not told that both men had lured the respective enemy nations into firing the first shot: Lincoln by dispatching a warship to Charleston harbor, and FDR by imposing a peacetime economic embargo — theft from American exporters — on Japan.

Well-timed deaths. Lincoln became a martyr, thereby escaping responsibility for the victor’s justice imposed by the Radical Republicans and the military in the South: Reconstruction. FDR died shortly before Hitler committed suicide, and he thereby escaped responsibility for dropping the two atomic bombs. Woodrow Wilson did not die soon enough after World War I, and his reputation suffered, as did his party at the polls in the next election. The same was true of Churchill.

Politics. Lincoln was the first President elected by his political party. FDR was the first President to be elected for four terms, solidifying his party’s control to such an extent that the Republicans have simultaneously captured both houses of Congress and the Presidency only twice: 1953-55 and today (which will be lost when Strom Thurmond dies). Their political heirs do whatever is necessary to preserve the reputations of these crucial Presidents.

Statism. These two were the greatest centralizers of political power in the history of the Presidency. The reigning academic class is generally statist, having been funded by the State. (State-funded propaganda is one of the few products that often seems to stand the test of time. The money actually produces the unofficially intended results.) These people write American history for the masses.

February 22, 2001

Gary North is the author of an eleven-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible. The latest volume is Cooperation and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Romans. The series can be downloaded free of charge at