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Loathing Lincoln

An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present

John McKee Barr

Publication Year: 2014

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.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

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pp. ix-xiii

In a sense this book began long ago with my parents, Charlotte Van Deren Barr and Dixon A. Barr. My mother and father were both educators and devoted readers of history and literature, a love of which I am sure in one...

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pp. 1-16

The founder of the modern conservative movement, William F. Buckley Jr., once said that Americans “shall not remember why Lincoln was loved until we come to understand why he was...

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1. Marked for Bitterness: The Civil War Era, 1858–1865

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pp. 17-57

The enduring contest over the memory of Abraham Lincoln in American culture began on April 15, 1865, the morning Lincoln died from a bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth the previous Good Friday evening. After a...

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2. Expressions of the Lips versus Those of the Heart: Postbellum Disgust, 1865–1889

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pp. 58-102

In November 1866 the Englishman Lord Acton sent Robert E. Lee a letter soliciting the former Confederate general’s views about American politics and shared with Lee his opinions on the American Civil War. Acton..

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3. A New National Type: The Great Imperialist, 1890–1918

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pp. 103-147

In the midst of Venezuela’s 1895 border dispute with England, Confederate veteran William Roane Aylett addressed former soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac in Washington...

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4. The Self-Pity of the Defeated: Contesting “Lincolnolatry,” 1918–1945

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pp. 148-200

In 1917, the same year the United States entered the Great War in Europe at the behest of President Woodrow Wilson, H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) published an essay excoriating the South in...

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5. An Infinitely Complicated Figure: Is Freedom Enough? 1945–1989

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pp. 201-258

On June 2, 1947, the same summer in which African American Jackie Robinson broke the color line in professional baseball, foreshadowing the Freedom Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, historian Charles Callan Tansill...

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6. A Litmus Test for American Conservatism: The Great Centralizer, 1989–2012

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pp. 259-330

In April 2003, 138 years after he had first visited the capital of the Confederacy, Abraham Lincoln still haunted Richmond, Virginia. The occasion was the dedication of a sculpture depicting Lincoln and his son Tad seated...

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pp. 331-342

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Alexander Stephens strenuously denied that the military conflict had been fought over slavery. Instead, he claimed it was a war “between the opposing principles of Federation, on the one...


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pp. 343-396


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pp. 397-452


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pp. 453-471

E-ISBN-13: 9780807153840
E-ISBN-10: 0807153842
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807153833

Page Count: 488
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War