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Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue ronadienne d'etu.desamenromes Volume 25, Number 2, Spring 1995, pp. 103-112 Abraham Lincoln and American Values David L. Lightner 103 J.David Greenstone. The Lincoln Persuasion: Remaking American Liberalism. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Pp. xxxiii + 312. Mark E. Neely, Jr. The Last Best Hope ol Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Prornise of America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993. Pp. ix+ 214. Merrill D. Peterson. Lincoln in Arnerican Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp. viii + 482. Established scholars have produced these three major new works concerning Abraham Lincoln: an encyclopedic survey of Lincoln's place in American culture over the thirteen decades that have elapsed since his death, a brief but informative biography aimed at a general audience, and an ambitious attempt to situate Lincoln within an overarching reinterpretation of the American liberal tradition. Once in a while a book comes along that fulfils so obvious a need that one wonders it has not been done before. Such a work is Merrill D. Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory. Peterson's earlier study of American perceptions of Thomas Jefferson (1960) is well-regarded, and his new book seems certain to acquire comparable status. Beginning with the martyr image of Lincoln that emerged just after his assassination, Peterson traces the 104 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d etudes americaines shifting perspectives that have emerged among scholars, popular biographers, novelists, poets, painters, sculptors, film-makers, playwrights, politicians, business executives, clergy, social reformers, advertising people, and even television comedians. In his research, Peterson ranged far beyond the enormous existing secondary literature to ferret out even the most obscure sources of information on the evolution of the various Lincoln images, such as saviour of the Union, emancipator of the slaves, noble frontiersman, and rags-to-riches self-made man. Peterson's chapters cover successive time periods, but within each chapter the arrangement of material is topical and somewhat arbitrary. The net effect is kaleidoscopic, leaving the reader fascinated but unsure what to make of it all. Some patterns do emerge. The once pervasive animosity of white southerners towards Lincoln gradually waned (although when Harry Truman 's mother visited the White House and was invited to sleep in Lincoln's bed, she still responded that she would sooner sleep on the floor). Conversely , black Americans initially worshipped Father Abraham, the white Moses who had given them freedom, but in the 1930s their adulation waned along with their allegiance to the Republican party, and after the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, in 1968, they transferred their affections to the new black Moses who had led his people through the modern civil rights revolution. Peterson finds that in society at large, Lincoln's fame reached tts zenith between the 1930s and the 1950s and thereafter declined, for reasons that Peterson does not try to explain: Sadly, even Lincoln Memorial University , which from its founding in 1897 through at least the 1950s had tried to inspire undergraduates with the virtues of the sixteenth president, seems to have lost its way; in 1990, when Peterson asked a professor there if Lincoln's example was still upheld as an ideal, the faculty member replied, 11 No, Lincoln doesn't cut it with these kids any more" (388). Still, all is not lost: in 1991, when Disneyland announced its intention to replace a mechanical effigy of Lincoln reciting excerpts from his great speeches with a new attraction featuring Kermit the Frog, there was such an outcry that the decision was reversed. As there now exist more than sixteen thousand books relating to Lincoln, including substantial volumes devoted to such topics as Lincoln relics, David L. Lightner I 105 Lincoln statues, Lincoln stamps, Lincoln photographs, Lincoln prints, and Lincoln poems, it is obvious that Peterson had to make difficult judgments about what to put in and what to leave out. While he need not have included quite so much bad verse (Steven Vincent Benet apparently having written the only good poetry about Lincoln), it is wonderful that he was able to squeeze in so many amusing tidbits, such as the battle over whether or not to have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 103-112
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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