Six Encounters With Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy And Its Demons, by Elizabeth Brown Pryor
If you want a book that demonstrates in its clearest form the sort of chronological snobbery that tends to infect Progressives, especially of the kind who write frequently execrable histories, this book is one of the more tolerable examples of that genre . This book is the work of someone who takes fault with Abraham Lincoln for being a practical politician and for not meeting the enlightened standards of the present age when it comes to women, a post-racial society, and the treatment of indigenous Americans. And while some of the complaints are just, most of them come off as sour grapes on the part of the author. After all, a great deal of Lincoln’s problems with women came about as a result of being socially awkward with women even more than he was socially awkward in general, and I’m not the kind of person who is going to stand for people being subjected to ridicule simply for their awkwardness. In addition to this, the author neglects that concerns about a just multiracial society of the kind dreamed by idealists are still present, and given the virulent anti-white racism of antifa and others like them, it may not be a reasonable goal if the black community or leftist academics cannot police their own radicals better. If such matters can be an issue in our time, Lincoln deserves to be cut a lot of slack for being unable to see a way for racial justice and equity to work in the face of the feelings of his time.
As the book’s subtitle suggests, this book looks at six encounters between Lincoln and others, along with a lot of other filler material to push the book past the 300 page mark and to show the author has researched a lot about Lincoln. The first chapter looks at the wary relationship that Lincoln had with the military hierarchy. After that the author looks at Lincoln’s love of racy and sometimes inappropriate comic writing which served to make his points for him. After this the author explores Lincoln’s relationship with abolitionists, who he found rather irksome because of their impractical idealism–about the same way I feel about the late author and others of her ilk. After that, the author examines Lincoln’s relationship with the first peoples of the country and the tragic results of that, a case of the power of demography. A chapter about Lincoln’s testy relationship with feminists–something I happen to share–comes before a discussion of Lincoln’s struggle for legitimacy with regards to his failure to be the president over the whole country. A short but thoughtful epilogue follows that examines Lincoln’s fondness for Shakespeare’s political tragedies as offering insight into his own experience.
There is a great deal about this book to appreciate, as long as you can ignore the author’s consistently progressive tone. This book is worthwhile evidence to demonstrate that one can read a lot about Lincoln without getting the point. The author seems to want to have it both ways by criticizing Lincoln both for being too hard on those poor misguided Southerners while not seeming to take the seriousness of their position seriously by undercutting some illusory middle ground while also simultaneously showing all of the strident idealism of the abolitionists that provided a lot of the pressure that Lincoln had to deal with as president. It might be a good thing that a freak car accident prevented the author from having anything more to say about Abraham Lincoln or anything else, as this book is evidence of the sort of tired progressive thought that makes our own contemporary political scene such an unpleasant one. About the best thing that can be said is that the author’s interest in plumbing the depths of the “real Lincoln” allows her to uncover some worthwhile sources, even if she does not always seem to know what to do with them given her defective political worldview.
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