The Real Lincoln

I can remember when Congress took the disgraceful step of lumping the birthdays of our Founding Fathers into a generic three-day weekend. Pressure to do so came from federal-employee unions, the travel industry and, of course, Congress itself. Nobody loves a three-day weekend more than Congress.

The point of the original holidays was to honor the men on their birthdays. Certainly today’s Americans need to know more about presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and their thoughts on public-policy matters. They are lost completely, however, when it is all turned into an excuse for a minivacation.

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was also merged into this generic holiday, and his life, too, is important for Americans to study. Washington and Jefferson created the republic; Lincoln destroyed it. Scholars are at last beginning to dig out the real Lincoln from the layers of deification that were created by cynical men who, while he lived, had habitually referred to him as a "baboon" or an "idiot." The real Lincoln is a much more interesting man than the saintly figure created for partisan purposes. He had his flaws as well as his virtues. He was a racist. He was an intensely ambitious man who would say and do anything to win public office. He was belligerently anti-Christian, though once elected he hid his true beliefs from the public. He freed no slaves. And there is some evidence, though circumstantial, that he was homosexual. He was also an inveterate vulgarian. Right after delivering the magnificent Gettysburg Address, he ordered the band to play bawdyhouse songs. Nor, according to his contemporaries, was he tenderhearted. He is described as indifferent to the enormous suffering his war was causing.

All of these facts were widely known during his lifetime, and most were included in the original memoir by his longtime law partner. Unfortunately, each subsequent edition was sanitized, so that today most Americans know nothing of the real man who was far more complex than his accepted image. He was not an intellectual, though one of his cabinet officers said he was "cunning to the point of genius."

As for the Gettysburg Address, H.L. Mencken put it quite truly when he said it was one of the most beautiful prose poems in the English language, but added that the trouble was it was the South, not the North, that was fighting for a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Lincoln practically imposed a dictatorship on the Northern states, closed down nearly 300 newspapers and had thousands of people arrested. Any critic of his administration or the war was dubbed a traitor. Virtually everything he did was unconstitutional. And his administration was corrupt.

All Americans need to know the true history of their country, for the country we live in today is a product of that history, not of the fictional history. You can find out more about Lincoln by reading two books with the same title — The Real Lincoln. The modern book is by Thomas DiLorenzo, a fine scholar; and the older book, a reprint, is by Charles L.C. Minor. It is published by Sprinkle Publications, P.O. Box 1094, Harrisonburg, VA 22801.

In contrast with Lincoln, the more you learn about Washington, the more you realize that he truly was one of the great men of all time. Very few men can be said to be indispensable, but some historians believe that Washington really was indispensable. Without him, we might well not have succeeded against the British and almost certainly would not have had the republic he and his contemporaries created.

It’s no wonder modern politicians don’t talk about him. Everything he warned against, they have embraced; everything he urged us to do, they have neglected to do. And the mess we are in today only proves how right Washington was and how wrong today’s politicians are.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.