From the Family of the Lionrnby M.E. Bradfordrn”There is a kind of revolution of so general a characterrnthat it changes the tastes as well as the fortunes of the world.”rn—La RochefoucauldrnThere is a popular myth of AbrahamrnLincohi, our 16th President, that isrnknown to most Americans. According tornthe orthodox version of this highly sympathehcrnconstruct, Lincoln was a plainrnand honest fellow, called by other plain,rnuncalculating men to preserve the handiworkrnof the Fathers, the Old Republic,rnperfecting that inheritance in the processrnof keeping it together. This Lincoln is nornillustration of frenzied ambition, butrnrather a simple soul who had stumbledrnfirst into the practice of law and then intornIllinois polihcs. He hated war but was determinedrnto honor a trust put into hisrnhands, even if that commitment meantrnmore killing than iir all other Americanrnwars put together. A reluctant and gentlernconqueror, he stood ready, once secessionrnhad ended, to welcome the Southrnback into the national family: like the fatherrnin the parable, rejoicing at the returnrnof foolish children. Such is the Lincolnrnwho grew melancholy in thinking ofrnwhat blacks endured and who “died tornmake them free.” This Father Abraham,rnthe sad man of Illinois, the prairie republican/rnRepublican, in his spirit still hoversrnover this nation, giving direction and encouragementrnto successive generations ofrnhis countrymen. Of his early life wernknow that he identified with the poor,rnthat he read by firelight, lost his sweetheart,rndeplored the Mexican War, andrnserved a frontier communit}’ as a memberrnof the state legislature and the U.S.rnCongress. As a spokesman for wholesome,rnlocal ways, he debated StephenrnDouglas. And he truly suffered in presid-rnThe late M.E. Bradford was a professor ofrnEnglish at the University of Dallas. Thisrnarticle first appeared in the DecemberrnJ 99 J issue.rning over his country at war, spendingrnblood only with agonized reluctance —rncertainly with no idea of reshaping its socialrnand political order so as to make of itrna vehicle for his private dreams of whatrnpower in the state might accomplish. Sorngoes the myth.rnIn making, over a period of two decades,rna series of scholarly objections tornthe distorfion and oversimplificafion embodiedrnin this nryth, I had the pleasure ofrnbeing treated briefly as the object of nationalrnpuzzlement and irritation. Forrnabout five weeks I was cast as the leadingrnvillain in a polifical melodrama of what arnpublic servant is allowed to believe:rnanathema because of what I said aboutrnthe American past. Obviously, what Irnthought of Lincoln was not the real issuernbehind this affected and rhetorical outragernat my political heresy. But to my surprise,rnit is now evident that in most fashionablernacademic neighborhoods myrnunderstanding of Lincoln as transformingrnagent (which is, in essence, WillmoorernKendall’s view of the evidence)rnhas come all the way around to seem notrnat all farfetched. Or at least that is true ofrnthe descriptive component of my analy-rnJames M. McPherson’s Abraham Lincolnrnand the Second American Revolutionrnsummarizes the current trend in interpretivernhistoriography on this subject.rnHis Lincoln is a radical refounder of thern”Old Republic of the Fathers,” like thern”lion” and “eagle” of which Lincoln hadrnfirst spoken in his 1838 “SpringfieldrnLyceum Speech”; an American Caesarrnwho, in McPherson’s phrase, throughrn”his own superb leadership, strateg)’, andrnsense of timing . . . determined the pacernof the revolution [of 1860] and ensuredrnits success.” Arguing more or less to thernsame effect, Carl N. Degler in the NewrnYork ‘limes last Februar’ 12 maintainedrnthat Lincoln was the American Bismarckrnand that “What the [Civil] War represented,rnin the end, was the forceful incorporationrnof the South into a newly createdrnnation.” Wliich, in both eases, is whatrnI have argued all the time.rnHowever, there is one big differencernbetween McPherson’s Lincoln and whatrnthe record should lead us to conclude.rnFor McPhcrson believes that all of thisrnrefounding by policy, construction, demagogy,rnand force of arms was wonderfulrnto behold, pointing toward a “more perfectrnUnion” than even James Madisonrncoidd have imagined. In other words, hernlikes what the United States, as a politicalrnconstruct, has become better than hernlikes what it was. Those who do not, onrnbalance, share in his enthusiasm for thernpresent configuration of our political systemrnin omnicompetent government obviouslyrnwill not agree with McPherson’srnevaluation of Lincoln’s handiwork; flioscrnwho differ with him about a “new birth ofrnfreedom” brought about by violation ofrncontract will see a rejection of the termsrnof that contract in the accomplishmentsrnat Gettysburg, at Atianta, and at AppolULYrn2001/29rnrnrn