Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present

Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present

by John McKee Barr


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While most Americans count Abraham Lincoln among the most beloved and admired former presidents, a dedicated minority has long viewed him not only as the worst president in the country's history, but also as a criminal who defied the Constitution and advanced federal power and the idea of racial equality. In Loathing Lincoln, historian John McKee Barr surveys the broad array of criticisms about Abraham Lincoln that emerged when he stepped onto the national stage, expanded during the Civil War, and continued to evolve after his death and into the present.
The first panoramic study of Lincoln's critics, Barr's work offers an analysis of Lincoln in historical memory and an examination of how his critics — on both the right and left — have frequently reflected the anxiety and discontent Americans felt about their lives. From northern abolitionists troubled by the slow pace of emancipation, to Confederates who condemned him as a "black Republican" and despot, to Americans who blamed him for the civil rights movement, to, more recently, libertarians who accuse him of trampling the Constitution and creating the modern welfare state, Lincoln's detractors have always been a vocal minority, but not one without influence.
By meticulously exploring the most significant arguments against Lincoln, Barr traces the rise of the president's most strident critics and links most of them to a distinct right-wing or neo-Confederate political agenda. According to Barr, their hostility to a more egalitarian America and opposition to any use of federal power to bring about such goals led them to portray Lincoln as an imperialistic president who grossly overstepped the bounds of his office. In contrast, liberals criticized him for not doing enough to bring about emancipation or ensure lasting racial equality. Lincoln's conservative and libertarian foes, however, constituted the vast majority of his detractors. More recently, Lincoln's most vociferous critics have adamantly opposed Barack Obama and his policies, many of them referencing Lincoln in their attacks on the current president. In examining these individuals and groups, Barr's study provides a deeper understanding of American political life and the nation itself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807153833
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publication date: 04/07/2014
Series: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War
Pages: 488
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

JOHN McKEE BARR is professor of history at Lone Star College—Kingwood.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Marked for Bitterness: The Civil War Era, 1858-1865 17

2 Expressions of the Lips versus Those of the Heart Postbellum Disgust, 1865-1889 58

3 A New National Type: The Great Imperialist, 1890-1918 103

4 The Self-Pity of the Defeated: Contesting "Lincolnolatry," 1918-1945 148

5 An Infinitely Complicated Figure: Is Freedom Enough? 1945-1989 201

6 A Litmus Test for American Conservatism: The Great Centralizer, 1989-2012 259

Conclusion 331

Notes 343

Bibliography 397

Index 453

What People are Saying About This

Michael Burlingame

"Paradoxically, America's most revered president has also been its most reviled. As John McKee Barr shows in this meticulous, comprehensive survey of the anti-Lincoln tradition, detractors of the Rail-splitter have been a variegated crowd of strange bedfellows: white supremacists, Black Panthers, libertarians, neo-Confederates, agrarian romantics, Southern chauvinists, states' rights advocates, and anti-imperialists, among others. Barr describes and analyzes their arguments, demonstrating that many of Lincoln's critics have overlooked (or denied) the Confederacy's central aim: to preserve (as Barr puts it) 'the right to own, exploit, and rape African Americans and their descendants — forever.'" — Michael Burlingame, Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies, University of Illinois—Springfield

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