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Abraham Lincoln

No president makes it to more "greatest presidents" lists than Abraham Lincoln. Maybe it was his role as war-time president during the United States' only internal conflict; maybe it was his abilities as an orator; maybe it was his fashion sense. Whatever caused Lincoln to be so revered, it's only gotten stronger in the century and a half following his death, so that he's remembered more as a folk hero and demi-god than a mere man who happened to be president.

Born into a frontier family in Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln personified the American ideal by transcending his humble circumstances through sheer hard work and determination. Self-taught, he's remembered as a brilliant politician and speechwriter, a capable public debater, and a champion of freedom and democracy. He's also been subjected to extensive historical revision, both by demonizers and by hero-worshippers. The real man is often lost in rhetoric.

The facts are well known: lazy as a boy, hardworking as a teen and adult; a brief stint in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War; elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1846, where he served one term; he established and maintained a successful and respected law practice; and finally, he entered Republican politics, which culminated in his 1860 election as sixteenth president of the United States of America.

What most people remember is simply that Mr. Lincoln was against slavery and the South. What they seldom realize is that he was also opposed to abolition, and even initiated a project to deport as many blacks as possible from U. S. shores to the invented African country of Liberia. And it wasn't so much that he was against the South as that he felt their move for secession was illegal and that as president it was his duty to preserve the federal union of the states.

Some of the tools he used to accomplish this last task were suspicious in their own right, such as suspending the writ of habeas corpus, meaning that the unlawfully jailed could legally petition for release. While the U. S. Constitution does protect the right to this action in time of rebellion or invasion, Lincoln's willingness to make use of this provision evidenced a proclivity for a somewhat tyrannical implementation of his presidential rights and abilities.

That's not to say he did nothing good. Far from it, for it was largely under his auspices that the Transcontinental Railroad was planned and built, and while his methods were unfortunate and his motives hazy, his preservation of the Union did ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery. He seems to have acted according to conscience and to have chosen a course that he believed was most conducive to the nation's welfare and longevity.

So why point out his flaws? Why cast doubt on a man posterity has deemed almost superhuman? Because there's always two sides to any story, and we never want to assume someone is great just because popular opinion says so. It's also important to avoid the ipso facto logical fallacy: just because good things came about at the time of, or resulted from the efforts of an important figure, does not mean those good things are directly attributable to that person.

For instance, while the abolition of slavery is undoubtedly one of the most sublime achievements of the American people, it isn't quite right to equate Abraham Lincoln with that event. He wasn't an abolitionist, and he wasn't pro-slavery; in his mind he had bigger fish to fry, and they were the preservation of the federal Union. References to "Father Abraham" are a bit misguided, and don't pay tribute either to his genuine accomplishments, or to the role of true freedom fighters.

We're not here to demonize Lincoln, but neither are we here to uncritically sing his praises. He was a human like everyone else, prone to the same flaws and weaknesses, capable of moments of brilliance and greatness. His unnatural death at the hands of a demented Southerner has only served to further cement him in his role of national patriarch, but our hope is that people can see through the rhetoric to the gifted but ordinary man who was often dependent on others for his victories and accomplishments.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

 

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31 Items found Print
Abe Lincoln
Landmark Series
by Sterling North
from Random House
Biography for 5th-8th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Abe Lincoln
by Keith Brandt
from Troll Publishing
Picture Book Biography for 4th-6th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance
by Frances Cavanah
from Rand McNally
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in Clearance: Biographies (Location: A12-05)
Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington
by Cheryl Harness
from National Geographic
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in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Abe Lincoln Grows Up
by Carl Sandburg
1st edition from Graphia
Biography for 5th-8th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to White House
Landmark #61
by Sterling North
from Random House
for 5th-8th grade
in American Landmark Books (Location: A10-04D)
Abraham Lincoln
Heroes of History
by Geoff & Janet Benge
from Emerald Books
Biography for 4th-7th grade
in Heroes of History (Location: A12-06D)
Abraham Lincoln
by Clara Ingram Judson
from Sterling Publishing Co.
Biography for 3rd-7th grade
1951 Newbery Honor Book
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Abraham Lincoln
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by David Collins
from Mott Media
Biography for 5th-7th grade
in Sowers Biographies (Location: A12-07F)
Abraham Lincoln
by James Daugherty
from Beautiful Feet Books
Biography for 5th-9th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Abraham Lincoln
by Tanya Lee Stone
from DK Children
for 4th-8th grade
in Clearance: Biographies (Location: A12-05)
Abraham Lincoln
History's All-Stars
by Augusta Stevenson
from Aladdin Paperbacks
Biography for 3rd-6th grade
in Childhood of Famous Americans (Location: A12-07D)
Abraham Lincoln
by Edgar & Ingri D'Aulaire
75th Anniversary Edition from Beautiful Feet Books
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1940 Caldecott Medal winner
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Abraham Lincoln & His Family - Paper Dolls
by Tom Tierney
from Dover Publications
for Preschool-3rd grade
in Dover Paper Dolls (Location: A01-01B)
Abraham Lincoln - Coloring Book
Dover Coloring Books
by A. G. Smith
from Dover Publications
for 2nd-6th grade
in Dover Coloring Books (Location: A01-DOV)
Abraham Lincoln's World
by Genevieve Foster, expanded by Joanna Foster
from Beautiful Feet Books
Historical Non-fiction for 7th-10th grade
1945 Newbery Honor Book
in American Civil War (1860-1865) (Location: B01-18A)
Abraham Lincoln: Great Speeches
Dover Thrift Editions
by Abraham Lincoln & John Grafton, editor
from Dover Publications
Political Philosophy for 10th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years - 4 Volumes
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from Harcourt
for 10th-Adult
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Death of Lincoln
by Leroy Hayman
from Scholastic Inc.
for 4th-6th grade
in Clearance: Biographies (Location: A12-05)
Gettysburg Address in Translation
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from Capstone Press
for 3rd-6th grade
in American Civil War (1860-1865) (Location: B01-18A)
If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln
If You Were There
by Ann McGovern
from Scholastic Inc.
Historical Non-fiction for 2nd-5th grade
in Pioneer & Frontier Life (Location: B01-15C)
Lincoln and Douglas
Landmark #44
by Regina Z. Kelly
from Random House
for 5th-8th grade
in American Landmark Books (Location: A10-04D)
Lincoln Assassination, April 14, 1865
by Theodore Roscoe
from Franklin Watts
for 4th-6th grade
in Clearance: Biographies (Location: A12-05)
Lincoln: A Photobiography
by Russell Freedman
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Biography for 5th-9th grade
1988 Newbery Medal winner
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
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by Barbara Cary
from Random House
Biography for 1st-4th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln
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by David A. Adler
from Holiday House
Picture Book Biography for Preschool-1st grade
in Clearance: Biographies (Location: A12-05)
Story of the Lincoln Memorial
Cornerstones of Freedom
by Natalie Miller
from Unknown Publisher
for 4th-6th Grade
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by Doris Kearns Goodwin
from Simon and Schuster
for 9th-Adult
in Clearance: Biographies (Location: A12-05)
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We Were There #36
by Earl Schenck Miers
from Grosset & Dunlap
for 5th-9th grade
in We Were There Series (Location: A10-04G)
Who Was Abraham Lincoln?
Who Was?...Series
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from Grosset & Dunlap
for 3rd-6th grade
in Who Was? biographies (Location: A12-06B)
Young Abe Lincoln
by Cheryl Harness
from National Geographic
Picture Book Biography for
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)