04/30/2014 10:08 AM
BATON ROUGE – While most Americans count Abraham Lincoln among the most beloved and
admired former presidents, a dedicated minority has long viewed him as not only 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. From historian John McKee
Barr comes the first panoramic study of Lincoln’s critics. “Loathing Lincoln,” published
by LSU Press, is an eminently readable history that ranges from Lincoln’s entry on
the national stage all the way to the present day.
Barr’s work offers both 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 upset
about 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.
In examining the full range of these individuals and groups, Barr’s study provides
a deeper understanding of American political life and the nation itself.
Barr is professor of history at Lone Star College-Kingwood.
Posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2014