BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Allen Guelzo, author of "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President," why did you call your book what you did?
Professor ALLEN C. GUELZO, AUTHOR, "ABRAHAM LINCOLN": I stole the title. I stole it from Walt Whitman, who's a good person to steal titles from. From an editorial that Whitman wrote in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1856, when there was another presidential race on and the presidential contenders looked pretty poor. And Whitman, in his editorial, asked out loud, `When are we, as a nation, going to get the redeemer president, the president who will redeem the honor and the politics of the republic?' And, of course, four years later that is what he got in the form of Abraham Lincoln. So that's where the title comes from.
LAMB: And we talked just briefly before we went on, it's another Lincoln book.
Prof. GUELZO: Yes, another.
LAMB: And--and you won the Lincoln Prize.
Prof. GUELZO: That's right.
LAMB: What is that, and did you expect--when you started expec—when you whe--started out all this that you'd get that prize?
Prof. GUELZO: Well, the story of writing the book itself is full of what I did not expect, because I never set out to write a Lincoln book. I've always been interested in the subject of Abraham Lincoln for years and years and years. I think from the very first time I opened a book, it had something to do with Abraham Lincoln. When I was in high school, I wrote papers about Lincoln. Even my high school orchestra did Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," and I was the narrator for it and, in fact, have done that a few times over the years since with some local orchestras.
But I never saw myself writing a Lincoln biography, because I'm really a historian of American ideas and American thought. You don't usually think of American ideas in the same breath with Abraham Lincoln. You think of American philosophers. You don't think of American politicians. But it was while I was spending a year working at Harvard in 1994 to '95, on a project about the history of the idea of free will and free choice, that I tumbled upon things that Lincoln wrote on the subject.
I was so surprised to find Abraham Lincoln involved in that subject that I began to pull on it some more and found that here was a man who had very broad, free-ranging interests in ideas. He was not just a politician. And from that point on, the book took shape. And here it is, an intellectual biography of Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: Where do you sit on a day-to-day basis?
Prof. GUELZO: Well, I sit in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.
LAMB: Where is that?
Prof. GUELZO: That is just outside Philadelphia, on Philadelphia's main line. And there, I'm the dean of the Templeton Honors College, which is a college within the college for the most academically gifted undergraduates at Eastern College. I'm also a professor of American history there.
LAMB: And The New York Times said you were a Republican. Is that accurate?
Prof. GUELZO: Yes, that is true. That is true.
LAMB: And you dedicated the book to Jack Kemp.
Prof. GUELZO: That's right.
LAMB: Why--give us a little background on both of those.
Prof. GUELZO: Because of all the Republicans who I know, the message of Jack Kemp has resonated with me very powerfully. I've known Jack Kemp for about five years, since I met him first in Philadelphia, talking about Abraham Lincoln. And Kemp's message has been that the party of Lincoln needs to remember, needs to recover the message of Lincoln. That is a message that I admire a great deal. And in getting to know Jack Kemp, in writing with him, talking with him, I thought the most appropriate thing I could do would be to dedicate a book about the ideas of Abraham Lincoln to a figure who wants to recover them in a very important way.
LAMB: And this is a publisher called Eerdmans.
Prof. GUELZO: That's right.
LAMB: Correct? From Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Prof. GUELZO: Yes.
LAMB: Tell us about that.
Prof. GUELZO: I am an editor of a series with William Eerdmans Publishing Company. I'm co-editor, actually, with Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch of what's called the Library of Religious Biography, and there are approximately 10 titles in that series out covering characters that range from Emily Dickinson--wonderful book on Dickinson by Roger Lundin is in the series--to boo--works on Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson by Ed Gaustad.
The idea for writing a book about Lincoln in this series was originally put to me by Mark Noll, one of my co-editors. And at first, Brian, I said no, because if the book was going to be thought of simply as a book about Lincoln and religion, Brian--I've read a lot of books on that subject, and there's been a lot of books on that subject, and many of them are some of the worst examples of the Lincoln literature. I just simply didn't want to write a book that was going to be associated with that.
Mark came back to me again: `Would you think about this?' I said no again. But the third time he came back I said, `Well, I'd consider it if I'd be let write a biography of Lincoln that is not just about his religious ideas, but is about Lincoln as a man of ideas broadly thought, so that I could touch on philosophy, political economy as well as religion,' all the ideas that were important to Lincoln as a man of ideas.
LAMB: What were some of his favorite ideas?
Prof. GUELZO: His favorite ideas and the cluster of ideas he loved the best concerned political economy. William Herndon, his law partner for 14 years, said that there were no books that Lincoln loved more than to read the books--the great 19th century books on political economy: in this case, John Ramsey McCullough, John Stuart Mill, Frances Whalen, Henry Kerry. In other words, the great books that were written in the 19th century that comprised what we call classical laissez-faire liberalism; that's not liberalism in the way we use it politically today. It was describing the kind of Adam Smith, classical, market-oriented economics. That Lincoln loved, loved to read. And, in fact, Herndon said that Lincoln ate up, digested, assimilated Frances Whalen's textbook on the principles of political economy.
LAMB: Now you--as you know, this is the most written-about American in history. Why do you think so many books are published on Abraham Lincoln?
Prof. GUELZO: Well, he clearly is a central figure in the central event of our history, which is the Civil War. The Civil War—and Lincoln articulated this better than anyone else--was the central testing event of the idea of a democratic republic. We take, I think, too much for granted today that in the 20th century, the idea of democracy is the ideal that everyone should aspire to. A hundred and thirty-five years ago that wasn't the case. There were very few republics, very few things that could be described as a democracy. And they were looked upon as chancy, Brian.
If you wanted stability, what you were supposed to have was a monarchy, an aristocracy and a king who could guarantee stability dayin and day out. To be part of a democracy was to take a tremendous risk and especially in the United States, with a republic that was dedicated to a proposition that all men are created equal. That was really to put yourself at big political risk. And the Civil War was the great testing event. It was the litmus test as to whether democracies could hold together or whether they were doomed just to fly apart into various kinds of special interests.
LAMB: Where did you get the cover?
Prof. GUELZO: The cover is E.D. Merchant's portrait of Lincoln painted from life in 1863. Merchant was actually hired by John Forney, a Philadelphia newspaperman, to paint this portrait. And if you can see closely, it's really Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator. He's holding a pen in one hand, and behind him, the broken shackles of the feet of a slave are pictured. It is the only portrait we have of Lincoln in formal wear. You see him there in white tie. Well, that's the only image we have of Lincoln dressed that formally. And the painting itself now hangs in Lincoln Hall in the Union League of Philadelphia.
LAMB: By the way, I noticed a little accent. Is that Canadian?
Prof. GUELZO: Well, actually, I am what they call an Army brat. I was born in Japan. My father was regular US Army officer. And I wound up growing up at various places here and there. My father was stationed for a while at Ft. Hustus. He was in the Pentagon. We lived in Maryland. And I think I picked up a little bit, not of Canadian, but of what's sometimes called the Eastern Shore. And that--as I understand it, that is the way that out and about sometimes get pronounced over there.
LAMB: Abraham Lincoln, go through the basics. Born, you know, the children--I mean, his brothers and sisters, mother, fath--go through that so...
Prof. GUELZO: Abraham Lincoln, born February 12th, 1809. He was the only surviving son of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. There was at least one brother that we know was born, Thomas, but he died in infancy. I have had it suggested to me that there might, in fact, have been another Lincoln sibling, but we're still waiting for some documents on that. He had one older sister, Sarah, who was born several years before he was. She died shortly after marriage; died in childbirth.
He grew up first in Kentucky. Then his family moved to Indiana, where they could find cheaper and more secure land titles. Indiana was in the old Northwest Territory, so the federal government guaranteed land titles. Thomas Lincoln moved there to get secure title for a farm. Lincoln grew up there in southwestern Indiana, until his family moved for the last time to Illinois. When they moved to Illinois, he turned 21 and moved out on his own, moved to New Salem, Illinois, which was then an up-and-coming town. People thought it was going to be the most important commercial center in central Illinois.
He was a clerk in a store; established a store of his own, which failed. And then he took up law and moved to Springfield, which then became the capital of Illinois. Its becoming the capital had a lot to owe to Abraham Lincoln himself, because Lincoln was elected then to the state Legislature. And one of his earliest achievements as a state legislator was to get the capital of Illinois moved to Springfield.
He becomes a representative--United States House of Representatives. He was elected there in the 1840s. Runs unsuccessfully for the United States Senate in 1855; again, in 1858 and then is elected 16th president in 1860, just in time for the American Civil War to break out.
LAMB: How many years in Kentucky?
Prof. GUELZO: He was approximately eight years in Kentucky.
Prof. GUELZO: Indiana, he was another 13 and then lived in Illinois up until the time of his election in 1860.
LAMB: How much schooling did he have?
Prof. GUELZO: Probably not more than a year all told. He himself said that he went perhaps four winters to what was at least a passing resemblance to an elementary school. People often say that this shows that Lincoln was not a man of great education. Well, yes, it does and, no, it doesn't. Lincoln liked sometimes to poke fun at his own lack of education. When he had to fill out an entry for the Biographical Dictionary of Congress, when it came to the space for education, he wrote only `defective.' Now, mind you, all these other people in the House are writing Yale, Harvard, Princeton. He's writing `defective.'
But in truth, Lincoln actually got probably as good an elementary education as one was likely to get on the Western frontier and, in fact, anyplace in America in the 1820s outside the major cities. The thing he actually regretted the most not having was a college education, because that he did not get; that he was not fitted for. And he felt very keenly that lack of a college education all throughout his life. Felt it at met--made him sit a couple of steps below these younger lawyers, who were coming out to the West, and especially the people that he had to work with in Washington.
LAMB: What year did his mother die, and what impact did that have on him?
Prof. GUELZO: His mother died in 1818, and it's hard to know exactly what that impact was. Certainly, one of the difficulties it presented was Thomas Lincoln being a single parent, but Thomas Lincoln quickly remarried. He went back to Kentucky. There was a lady there who he had had acquaintance with over the years. She was a widow. He went directly to her and said, `I'm a widower, you're a widow. I have needs, you have needs. Let's marry and do it straight off.' And so they did.
And so Sarah Bush Johnston became Sarah Lincoln. And she came up to Indiana with her own two children, and she really became a mother to Abraham Lincoln. You know what the story about stepmothers always is--from the Brothers Grimm is the wicked stepmother and the father who gets taken advantage of. For Abraham Lincoln, it was almost the exact opposite. He loved Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, and she loved him. It was his father that he had real distance from, real trouble getting along with.
LAMB: When did his father die?
Prof. GUELZO: His father died in 1851. And the difficulties he had with his father were so long-standing that, in fact, Lincoln declined a request to come to the dying man's bedside. He stayed in—in Springfield and did not attend the funeral.
LAMB: He was how tall?
Prof. GUELZO: 6'4".
LAMB: What year did he marry?
Prof. GUELZO: He married in 1842 and th...
LAMB: You--you ta...
Prof. GUELZO: ...and there was a story.
LAMB: You--you talk a lot about Mary Owens and Matilda Edwards and Anne Rutledge and then Mary Todd Lincoln. Why don't you discuss all that?
Prof. GUELZO: Well, Mal--Matilda Edwards is one of the curious parts of this story, and let me come to her in just a moment because you have to begin, when you talk about Abraham Lincoln's love life, with Anne Rutledge. Anne Rutledge was the daughter of what was the principal family of New Salem. James Rutledge was one of the co-founders of the New Salem town. Anne Rutledge, his daughter, was originally betrothed to another settler there in New Salem. He went back East; she lost contact with him. And all the evidence that we have, that most of which was gathered by William Herndon within a few years of Lincoln's death, suggests that Abraham Lincoln and Anne Lut--Rutledge really did have an understanding, if not an outright engagement, to be married. But she died before anything further could take place.
LAMB: How old was she?
Prof. GUELZO: We don't know exactly, but she was doubtless in her 20s, about the same age as Lincoln at that point. And Lincoln said in years l--afterward that he often thought of her, was convinced she would have made a wonderful wife, and he often thought much about the Rutledge family and what had become of them. In fact, a number of the Rutledges served in the Union Army during the war. So, in a sense, the Rutledges were connected to Abraham Lincoln and were Union supporters and fought in the Union Army.
LAMB: What happened after the death of Anne Rutledge?
Prof. GUELZO: He went, so to speak, on the rebound. The sister of a friend of his came to town, and the sister put Abraham Lincoln and her sister together. Her name was Mary Owens. She was from Kentucky. She was well-read, she was articulate, and it was rumored she had some means. And Lincoln, for a while, was seriously interested in her, evidently proposed to her, but one thing led to another and she turned him down.
One reason she turned him down was because, by that point, he had moved to Springfield, had entered into law, and it was clear that his interests were much wider afield than she was content with. So she declined what the fi--the final offer of marriage that he made.
LAMB: But you say there was a letter involved in all this.
Prof. GUELZO: There are, in fact, two letters that survived concerning Mary Owens, and they make very torturous reading because it was evident that here--in Lincoln's case, here was a young man who, on the rebound, had made a proposal or something that sounded like a proposal, and then afterwards had second thoughts and wrote a very curious letter to Mary Owens in which he said, `If you'd like to back out of this mar--oh, well, I wouldn't object. I'm not going to force you, but if--if you've decided that I'm really not the man for you, then it's OK with me.' Well, Brian, what do you do with a letter like that? She read it for what it was, and she basically said, `No, I don't think we're going to get married. I will let you go because I see that that's what you really want to do.'
LAMB: When did Mary Todd come into this?
Prof. GUELZO: She came onto the scene of Lincoln's life fairly soon after he came to Springfield. She had already a sister married and living in Springfield, and she came from a home environment where a lot of encouragement was given to her to leave. Her mother had died fairly early on. Her father, Robert Todd, had remarried, and Mary and her stepmother did not get along. By the time Mary was 17, there were fairly strong hints being put out that she should be looking to live someplace else, should be looking to get married, should be looking to move on. She went to live in Springfield with her sister, Elizabeth, who was married to Ninian Edwards, one of the most influential political families in all of central Illinois. And it was there, probably in 1839, that she and Abraham Lincoln were first introduced.
Now--now at that point--here's where the story gets complicated. At that point he seems to have been entranced with her, entranced with her because she was talented, she was witty, she was good looking and she was also related to this very important political family. And he, at that point, had political ambitions. And he, apparently, made some kind of proposal to her. They had some kind of understanding and then, once again, second thoughts. The second thoughts being caused by the person you mentioned earlier, Matilda Edwards, who was a relative of Mary Todd's. From the evidence that we have, it seems that Lincoln felt--fell head over heels in love with Matilda Edwards, but Matilda Edwards had no interest whatsoever in Abraham Lincoln.
So there he was, apparently in--having this crush on this other girl, having made this promise to Mary Todd. Something happened. We don't know exactly what. But the arrangement he had with Mary Todd fell through, and it was a catastrophe, because if he had second thoughts about having married Mary Todd, he now had third thoughts about the wisdom of having broken off any kind of engagement because, at that point, two things came into play. One is he saw that he'd cooked his goose politically with the Edwards family.
The other thing was here is a young man, no great financial prospects of his own--he'd come up the hard way. He had only one thing that the could advertise for himself, and that was his honesty, his sense of honor. But, Brian, here, this man who thought that honor was the only card he had to play, had done probably the most dishonorable thing he could do and broken that engagement.
And as a result, within two years, mutual friends get them back together and, in fact, Mary Lin--Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln are married in November of 1842.
LAMB: How many children did they have?
Prof. GUELZO: They had four children, and, sadly, only one of them
survived to adulthood; the oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, who lived,
in fact, until 1926 and had quite a remarkable career of his own in
politics, in law and in railroading. But the other three sons,
Edward, William and Thomas--was sometimes known by his nickname,
Tad--they all died before reaching adulthood. Edward probably died of
tuberculosis or a heart-related illness. William Wallace Lincoln died
of typhoid fever, contracted it while they were living in the White
House from the corruption of the Washington water system. And Thomas
"Tad" Lincoln died probably again of tuberculosis when he was in his teen-age years in 1871.
LAMB: What did Abraham Lincoln look like, you think, up close?
Prof. GUELZO: Nothing handsome, Brian. Here is the truth. Abraham Lincoln was probably the homeliest president we've ever had, and he might have entered well into a competition to be one of the homeliest men of his day. And he knew it. He knew it so well that he liked to make pre-emptive jokes about the fact that he really was not going to win any beauty contests. And--and he wasn't, it has to be said. He was not a handsome-looking man. At the time of his nomination for the presidency, his party backers had to bring in artists who would, so to speak, make him look good in illustrations that would appear in the popular newspapers and magazines of the day. But he knew that he wasn't--that he wasn't anything that was going to be called handsome.
LAMB: What did Christians think of this book?
Prof. GUELZO: Christians think of this book, as I've been going around and talking to groups of people--they're thinking two things. One is they're thinking that they have found, through this book, aspects of Abraham Lincoln that they didn't often realize were there. Here is a man who took religious ideas very, very seriously. He took them seriously sometimes in opposing, but he also took them seriously sometimes in adopting. And, in the end, they make Lincoln into a president who has more in the way to say about religion and combining religion and policy than almost any other American president and does it more eloquently almost than any other American theologian.
At the same time, many religious people, many Christian believers who read this book experience a sense of disappointment, because they may have read in a number of other places or heard from a number of other quarters that Abraham Lincoln was a Christian. Well, the truth of the matter is that, no, he was not. He was exposed to Christian influences all through his life. He knew Christian people. He worked with Christian people, worked with Christian ideas. But Lincoln never joined a church, never was actively involved in any kind of Christian organization; in fact, really had only the most minimal religious profile in his own day.
What has happened, though, is that after Lincoln's death, there was no shortage of people who wanted to claim Lincoln as being one of their own. They could do this because Lincoln was a very private person. He was often described as being shut-mouthed and reticent, and he really was. He did not like to talk about himself or his inner life.
His law partner, Herndon, who knew him probably as well as anybody could know someone not being part of the immediate family—Herndon said of Lincoln that Lincoln kept half of himself secret, away from the general public, and then he kept half of what was left even from his closest friends. People have rushed into that vacuum and tried to suggest, well, Lincoln was really heading in this direction or Lincoln made some kind of secret statement about this direction.
There was a very famous story that suggests that Lincoln was about to join the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on Easter Sunday 1865.
LAMB: In Washington.
Prof. GUELZO: In--right here in Washington. And, of course, he's assassinated on Good Friday. And the line of reasoning is that had not Lincoln been shot, he would have joined. He would have made a public Christian association of himself with the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church the following Sunday. It's a very famous story. I've bumped into it any number of times, and there is not a single shred of evidence that it's true.
LAMB: You say he was a deist?
Prof. GUELZO: He was something close to a deist.
LAMB: What is that?
Prof. GUELZO: He believed in a very general sense that there was a God, or at least there was a force that gave order and shape and predictability to the world and to the universe. But he would not move beyond anything more than that, anything more explicit than that. He believed there was some kind of God. But whether this God was a personal God, whether this God gave active direction and intervention to human affairs, that was a subject which, over years, he tended to shift his position on a good deal.
LAMB: I'm going to mention different things that you write about and--and just tell us what impact they had on his life. The Baptists.
Prof. GUELZO: Well, he was born into a Baptist family--in fact, a Baptist group who were very sectarian, very come-outerish. They were radical predestinarians. In other words, they believed that God ordained every event, whatever comes to pass. For that reason, this particular Baptist group, sometimes known as the Separate Baptists, would not sponsor missionaries. If the heathen were going to be converted, God would do it. You did not put yourself into a place where you were going to accomplish it. They did not have a professional paid clergy. They did not have Sunday schools. Theyeven s--they even frowned on involvement in reform movements.
Lincoln grows up in that environment, and, in fact, he is so good at understanding that environment that, in his youth, he would get on top of tree stumps and deliver sermons that he had heard from the Sunday previous almost word for word, because his memory was so good. But this was acting; this was not being part of something. He never joined a Baptist church, never committed himself to a religious organization that way.
But he does carry with him--and this is the interesting thing--he does carry with him the stamp of that belief in predestination. He secularizes it into a belief in necessity or determinism. But like those folks that he grew up with, he does not believe that human beings have free will. He does not believe that--that human choices come from within ourselves. And he often described himself all through his life as a fatalist and would speak to people, `I do not believe that human beings make their own choices.'
LAMB: The Methodists.
Prof. GUELZO: The Methodists he knew because so many of the Methodists were so aggressive on the frontier in building churches, and sometimes not only building churches, but building public profile. One of his most famous political opponents in Illinois was a Methodist circuit-riding preacher, Peter Cartwright, and it was Cartwright, first of all, who was his opponent for the congressional seat that he ran for in the 1840s. Cartwright was running as a Democrat; Lincoln as a Whig. But Cartwright also started what Lincoln called a whispering campaign through the Seventh Electoral District, which suggested that people should not vote for this man, Lincoln, because he was an unbeliever and an infidel and, therefore, could not be trusted.
That accusation provoked the single-most important statement Lincoln ever made about his own personal religious beliefs, and that came in the form of a handbill, which was printed and circulated throughout the district prior to the election, in which Lincoln said, `It's true that I do not belong to a Christian church, and it's true that I have never made any profession of Christian belief, but I've never scorned Christians. I've never criticized Christian churches. I've never been an open scoffer at Christianity. And what's more, I believe in this doctrine of necessity. But isn't it true that there are some religious denominations that also believe in a doctrine of necessity?'
And he's, of course, thinking about the Separate Baptists and a number of other denominations, like the old-school Presbyterians. And he defends himself by saying, `It's true I believe in this doctrine of necessity, but, look, there are other religious people who believe in it, too. Therefore, the accusations that Cartwright is making against me really--really fall to the ground because you could just as easily make them about religious people.'
Prof. GUELZO: He came to Springfield in 1837, and for many years did not associate himself with a church. In fact, he wrote back to New Salem at one point saying that he'd been in Springfield now this period of time and hadn't gone to church because he was afraid he wouldn't know how to behave there. I think that there's some truth to his statement about his anxiety about behavior, but I think lying behind that is the fact that he really did not have anything in the way of religious beliefs. In fact, people who knew him in those early years in Springfield said that he would gather around him a number of his friends and he would take up the Bible and he would read parts of it aloud and criticize it, scoff at it, say that this couldn't possibly be true, sometimes to the point where a number of his friends thought he was an atheist.
When he married Mary Todd, she was kind of religiously chilly herself, and for a number of years, neither of them went to church. But then in 1850, Lincoln's second oldest son, Edward, dies and this provokes a crisis in the Lincoln household. It's a crisis that is met by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, a Scotsman named James Smith. He ministers to Mary Todd and has a very effective ministry to her, counseling her in her bereavement, and Lincoln goes to him--to Smith--with his perplexity, his questions. `Why did God take my son? I'm perplexed about predestination and providence.' And from that point on, the Lincoln family affiliates with the First Presbyterian Church and Lincoln rents a pew there. He doesn't join the church. In fact, sometimes he doesn't even come, but he does take this step of associating his family, if not himself personally, with the First Presbyterian Church.
And he comes to like First Presbyterian because among the Presbyterian Churches, First Presbyterian is an old school church. It's an old school church meaning that it was very loyal to the old traditional standard teachings about predestination. It was a very Calvinist church. And not only will Lincoln feel comfortable with that, because he is a fatalist, but when he comes to Washington as president, the church that he will affiliate his family with here, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, is also an old school Presbyterian Church. If he is going to feel comfortable with any kind of formal religion, it will be the old school Presbyterians.
LAMB: Now when you went about--in the back, you have a long discussion about other books that you've read. Do you--do you have any idea how many?
Prof. GUELZO: It is hard to estimate how many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. He is probably the most written about political figure in our history, and it's often been said that he ranks up there with great figures of the world for the amount of books who have been written about him. It's sometimes said that the only figures who've had more things written about them than Lincoln are--are Jesus, Shakespeare and Napoleon. I don't know how those numbers have been arrived at, but certainly a l--a great deal has been written about Lincoln, and an off-hand estimate would probably suggest that anywhere between 8,000 and 9,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln since his death in 1865.
LAMB: You say that Harry Jaffe's book is--I--I--I--I'm not sure of the exact word you use--is the most important Lincoln book written in this last century.
Prof. GUELZO: I think so. Harry Jaffe's the "Crisis of the House Divided" still comes back to me as the most penetrating study of Lincoln's political ideas that's been written in the past century. Jaffe's book, of course, is actually about the Lincoln-Douglas debates. So its focus, at first, seems to be very narrow. But it's really a great book about Lincoln as a political thinker, and if there's any book which resembles "Redeemer President," in terms ofbeing an exploration of Lincoln as a man of ideas, Jaffe's book certainly is that. But Jaffe's book is also great for the skill with which Harry Jaffe analyzed the ideas, the debates themselves. It's a remarkable book, Brian, and--and it's the kind of book that I would direct serious Lincoln readers to without any hesitation at all.
LAMB: And you say that the best single volume on his life is Benjamin Thomas.
Prof. GUELZO: Benjamin Thomas, who for many years was affiliated with the Abraham Lincoln Association in Springfield, lived in Springfield, was involved in the assembling of the collected works of Abraham Lincoln, the eight-volume series which is the definitive series of Lincoln's writings, edited by Roy Basler. Benjamin Thomas wrote in 1953 an Abraham Lincoln biography that is still the best one-volume survey of Lincoln's life. It's a wonderful book written by a man for whom it was really a labor of love. His close identification with Lincoln, his access to the sources that many other scholars did not have, made Benjamin Thomas' book a superb piece of biography and still stands very well today.
LAMB: In your introduction, you find a quote from 1844: "The character of Jefferson was repulsive."
Prof. GUELZO: That brings the whole subject of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson right to the fore. And I began the book because it was a way of illustrating one of the great intellectual divides in American history. And on one side of that divide, Thomas Jefferson.On the other side, Abraham Lincoln. There was a story during Lincoln's bid for the presidency in 1860 that was printed in one of the hostile Democratic newspapers that 20 years before when Lincoln was acting as a stump speaker and elector for one of the Whig candidates, that he'd made a speech in downstate Illinois attacking Thomas Jefferson saying that Jefferson's character was repulsive, bringing up the Sally Hemings story, and it's amazing in that regard that the story about Sally Hemings, in fact, had that degree of public visibility even then. We think of it as something which just surfaced a few years ago. Not true. That story was in very high circulation even in Lincoln's day. Lincoln is supposed to have made this the centerpiece of a speech condemning Jefferson and, through Jefferson, all Democratic candidates.
Lincoln was very uncomfortable when this was dredged up years later because Lincoln had also said other things about Jefferson. In 1859, he wrote a letter to a Bostonian in which he said, `All honor to Jefferson for what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence.' What that illustrated was something of the same problem we have today. We really deal with two Thomas Jeffersons. There's the Thomas Jefferson up on Mt. Rushmore. That's the Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and to which all Americans pay homage. But we also know that there was another Jefferson, the Jefferson who took shameless advantage of Sally Hemings, the Jefferson who held slaves and sometimes sold slaves to finance his wine cellar.
Lincoln was quite well aware of those two Jeffersons. He applauded the Jefferson of the Declaration, but he condemned the Jefferson of the Sally Hemings incident. He condemned the Jefferson who stood at the head of the Democratic Party, whose political principles he had opposed from his earliest entry into politics. So it's not surprisingto find Lincoln saying two different things about Jefferson because Lincoln was even then dealing with two different images of Thomas Jefferson in American life.
LAMB: In your book, how much of the life of Abraham Lincoln did you want to get in this?
Prof. GUELZO: Oh, I suppose as much as I could. And if I had succeeded in doing that, we'd be looking at a multivolume biography of Abraham Lincoln. In fact, my good friend Michael Burlingame, who is involved in writing exactly that kind of comprehensive biography of
Lincoln, is looking at the production of a three-volume biography which we hope will be seeing the light of day sometime by 2003. This I had to concentrate on Lincoln and Lincoln's ideas. So there are, in fact, some parts of Lincoln's life that I don't even touch on at all. For instance, Lincoln as a diplomatic president, the handling of diplomacy, the famous Trent incident. I would have loved to have talked about it, but if I'd done that, I would not have been writing an intellectual biography, so some things had to be set aside. And I concentrate in this book, as much as possible, specifically on Lincoln's ideas and the areas of Lincoln's life that those ideas impacted.
LAMB: This is way out of context but I wanted to get you to talk a little bit about this. In the middle of the book: `By dismissing McClellan, Lincoln was taking the greatest political risk of his life and perhaps in the history of the republic.' Who was McClellan and why was it such a risk?
Prof. GUELZO: George Brinton McClellan, major general, United States volunteers. McClellan had been recruited at the very beginning of the war after the terrible Union defeat at First Bull Run to take command of the Union armies. He was put in overall command of all the Union forces but he was also given specific responsibility for creating the Army of the Potomac, the Union Army that would defend Richmond and that would carry the war into the Confederacy and hopefully defeat the Confederate army and capture the Confederate capital at Richmond.
McClellan took up his task in the summer of 1861. He built a wonderful army. He was a great organizer, a tremendously talented engineer. He was the kind of person that, Brian, if management consultants had existed in 1860, his was the resume that every management consultant in the country would take as an example. There was only one problem. He didn't like to fight, which is a strange thing in a general.
LAMB: And you say he was 34 years old when he--when he was first into all this?
Prof. GUELZO: That's right. He was a comparatively young man, but, Brian, he had talent coming out of every pore. And what's more, the army that he organized loved him. When he would ride down the ranks of men on review parade, they would cheer. One of his staff officers said that McClellan had this peculiar little way of taking off his cap and spinning it on his finger, that the men would just beset to cheering about. On campaign, he would carry around a small printing press so that he could regularly print up and distribute bulletins and exhortations to the men in the ranks. And when he took them on the great campaign in the spring of 1862, down to the James River peninsula, down to attack Richmond, the men were convinced that George McClellan was the greatest military genius of the age. There was only one problem: He might have been a genius but he was not an ingen--not a genius for achieving victory. And what's more, he had serious political disagreements with Lincoln. McClellan was a Democrat; Lincoln was a Republican. McClellan was vehemently opposed to any movement, any twitch of a movement in the direction of emancipating the slaves as part of the war. And then when that great peninsula campaign failed, when he won a half victory at Antietam in the fall of 1862 but let the Confederate army get away back into Virginia, that was when the rift became critical.
Lincoln realized he was going to have to remove McClellan. McClellan was not going to win victories and what's more, McClellan was not going to cooperate with him politically. But Lincoln knew that if he made any move to remove McClellan from command, there was that whole Army of the Potomac, 120,000 men, when you counted up all the noses, and there was a real chance that that army might have rallied behind McClellan, marched behind McClellan down to Washington, been part of a coup d'etat that would have made McClellan the temporary dictator of the United States for the view of achieving a truce and a negotiated peace.
People warned Lincoln about that. In fact, there was at least one staff officer on McClellan's staff who was cashiered for talking a little too freely about the plans they had for a coup d'etat. But Lincoln finally did remove him and the army cheered McClellan and said, `Lead us to Washington, General. We'll follow you.' But two things happened. McClellan, whatever else he was, was not about to overturn his own government. He rode away from the army and made no attempt to lead a coup d'etat. And the other thing was that the army got a new commander and went back on campaign and had something to occupy itself with.
But you know, Brian, in those weeks--those two, three weeks after Lincoln removed McClellan, there was nothing--nothing that could have kept McClellan from saying to the army and saying to his officers, most of whom he'd handpicked, `We're going down to Washington and we're going to sweep that baboon out of office and we are going to settle this Civil War peacefully.' That's why I say, it perhaps was the most critical moment, not only in the war, but maybe in American history. Think what might have happened, first of all, if McClellan had done that and the Civil War had ended as a negotiated peace between two independent countries. And then think, too, what kind of political precedent would have been set for armies and generals to start interfering in the political process. We've seen enough of that in other places in the Western Hemisphere over the last 150 years to know what the United States might have been in for if that had happened.
LAMB: How badly did Abraham Lincoln beat George McClellan?
Prof. GUELZO: Two years later when McClellan is put up as the Democratic candidate for president, he's beaten badly. Lincoln wins 55 percent of the popular vote in the election of 1864, and maybe even more telling, Lincoln wins 78 percent of the vote of the soldiers in the 1864 election. T--a--a lot had happened in two years, from the time when the army was cheering McClellan until 1964 when the army was cheering the man that they came to call, with reverence, Father Abraham.
LAMB: Did you change your opinion of Abraham Lincoln in your research and when you wrote the book?
Prof. GUELZO: I think I changed a number of opinions about a number of specific issues. I came into this book with deep respect for Lincoln as a central figure in our history. But there were ways in which Lincoln continued to surprise me. The more I read about his interests, the more I found this man surprising people around him. Let me give you an example. John Hay, who was one of his secretaries in the White House, Brown University grad, young man, sharp as a tack, would later go on to be a Cabinet secretary and a--had a wonderful career in--in American politics. Hay came to know Lincoln about as closely as anyone else did during the Civil War. And instead of familiarity breeding contempt, it bred awe on the part of young John Milton Hay, and on one occasion, Hay wrote in his diary, `Had an interesting talk with the T,' and in his diary, the T stands for Lincoln. His nickname for Lincoln was `The Tycoon.' `Had an interesting talk with the T about philology, a subject for which the T has a sometimes neglected interest.'
Philology? Abraham Lincoln? I think most people would have to scratch their heads for a moment to remember what the world `philology' is. It's about the study of language. But Hay would have been surprised if he had known that in the years before the war, Lincoln had actually gone on the lyceum circuit with a pair of lectures on discoveries and inventions that talked about the origins of human language. Lincoln, in fact, was interested in the origin of language. He was interested in geology, read books on geology. He was interested in metaphysics, in philosophy. Herndon recalled how in the law office, Lincoln--he and Lincoln had long discussions about philosophical questions such as free will. And friends of his, like Joshua Speed and his first law partner, John Todd Stuart, spoke of him as having a mind of a metaphysical, philosophical bent with a mathematical exactness about things. Discovering that kind of mind in Abraham Lincoln was over and over again a surprise because of our conventional image of him.
LAMB: Let me ask you about some odds and ends--just all over the place. Joshua Speed, his friend--at one point, you quote somebody as saying he hid the razors because he thought he was going to commit suicide over one of these women?
Prof. GUELZO: That's true. Lincoln had within him a terrible bent towards what he called the hypo, what we might today call manic depression. When Lincoln went down psychologically, so to speak, he went far down. And when he broke the engagement, if--if, in fact, it was actually an engagement, we don't know if it was formal, on those terms, but whenever the understanding of Mary Todd unraveled, that was the same moment at which his best friend Speed, whom he'd roomed with for years, was leaving Ke--Illinois to move back to Kentucky. It was also the moment when his political career in the Illinois state Legislature had hit the skids. All the great bills, all the great initiatives, all the great public works projects Lincoln had sponsored as a state legislator had--had come to smash by 1840. All of those events come together right at the end of the year 1840, the beginning of 1841, and it spins Lincoln into this deep depression, so deep that people said that Lincoln's depressions scared them, that they were afraid if they left sharp objects around, Lincoln might harm himself. So he could go into those deep tailspins, and that event that Speed describes was one of those deep depressive tailspins.
LAMB: You say that right in the middle of the Civil War, people could literally go into the White House up to the second floor as late as 9:00 at night, just walk in?
Prof. GUELZO: That's right. Over and over again, you have the testimony of--of witnesses, observers, staff members of the White House. The White House was not what you would call a secure area. Lincoln was partially responsible for that. Lincoln had a strong sense of his need as president to be as accessible as possible to people. There was also a general sense that people had that assassination was something that, well, just didn't happen in American politics. Assassinations were something that happened to kings and dictators. But in America, the people chose their president. Why would one of the people then want to do violence to the president?
LAMB: You say that he--of course, you talk a lot about Shakespeare and he liked Shakespeare and he could quote Shakespeare and he went to a lot of plays and--correct these numbers: 31 times to the National Theatre and 10 times to Ford's Theater when he was president?
Prof. GUELZO: Oh, at least. He was--he was very fond of attending Grover's Theater, Ford's Theater. So much so that both Grover and Ford would send notice over to the White House if one of Lincoln's favorite plays was coming or going to be produced. And there were special arrangements made for a presidential box and a special convertible chair for the president. These canny operators knew that if they could get Lincoln to the theater, that would always draw a crowd at the box office. They might not come for the play, but they might come if they knew the president was going to be in the audience.
LAMB: Was he a friend of the Booth family?
Prof. GUELZO: Not a friend. He knew the Booths, as almost everybody who had any interest in the theater knew them, as the first family of American acting. And there is evidence that Lincoln actually saw John Wilkes Booth perform on stage in a Washington theater, called Booth up to the box, had a message sent down to the stage asking Booth to come up to the presidential box after the performance because Lincoln loved to talk theatrical shop with actors. Booth is said to have refused that opportunity. There also is an interesting story concerning Tad Lincoln meeting John Wilkes Booth at one occasion, theatrically connected.
And the irony of the situation is that that conviviality that he liked to cultivate with actors had a large part in triggering his death. Because John Wilkes Booth, as something of the--well, how can we compare him? One of the Robert Redfords of his day. Booth had easy access to Ford's Theater the night of the assassination. No one questioned him being there. No one thought it was odd that this man, Booth, was coming up to the second floor, sidling his way down to the president's box. And then when he gets there, he's stopped by Lincoln's footman, Charles Forbes. And what does Booth do? He flashes his card. And we don't know what the exact exchange of words was, but it must have been something to the effect that, `I'm John Wilkes Booth. The president has asked to see me.' And you can see it happen. Forbes thinking, `Oh, well, of course, here's another actor the president has asked to see.' And so Booth is able, without any opposition, to get into the presidential box and shoots Lincoln.
LAMB: More odds and ends. Andrew Johnson is vice president, second term. Was he really drunk when he gave his speech...
Prof. GUELZO: He was...
LAMB: ...in--in the Senate?
Prof. GUELZO: ...really drunk.
LAMB: How do you know?
Prof. GUELZO: Johnson had come to Washington suffering from a fever, and one of the cures that some people like to enjoy for illnesses of that sort is a wee bit of the creature. He had gotten a bit too muchof it under his belt so he was unsteady and wobbly when he came to the Capitol that morning for the inaugural ceremonies. When he was sworn in and gave his speech, it rambled from pillar to post. He was clearly under the influence. It was so bad, it was so obvious, that sitting behind him, outgoing Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, had to grab him by the tot--coattails and basically say, `Sit down. Sit down.'
And Lincoln was heard as they exited the Senate chamber to go out on the portico where Lincoln would be sworn in--Lincoln says to the master of ceremonies, `Don't let Johnson speak outside.' It was—it was a disgrace.
LAMB: Now when Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, did he--had he never met Hannibal Hamlin, his vice president?
Prof. GUELZO: He--he had never met Hannibal Hamlin. Of course, the--the tradition always was that serious candidates for the presidency did not come to their own nominating convention.
LAMB: Had he ever seen Hannibal Hamlin?
Prof. GUELZO: He had never met Hannibal Hamlin before. In fact, doesn't write to Hannibal Hamlin until several weeks after the nominating convention. Writes to him and says, `You know, I suppose it's about time we got acquainted.' And--and sure enough it was. Poor Hamlin. Even during Lincoln's presidency, Lincoln does not cultivate a very close relationship with Hannibal Hamlin. There's very little back and forthing between the two.
LAMB: Hamlin's from Maine, though.
Prof. GUELZO: That's right. He was a former Democrat who had come into the Republicans because of his disaffection with the Democratic Party's weak stand on slavery and so he becomes a Republican, and he's really picked as vice president to help balance the ticket. Lincoln is an Old Whig so Lincoln will appeal to former Whigs. Hamlin's a former Democrat. He will appeal to Northern Democrats.
LAMB: Quickly, the Whigs stands for, you know, the tariff, the bank, things like that. What else?
Prof. GUELZO: The Whig Party was the party of nationalism. It was the party of one nation. It was the party, if you can simplify it this way, that rejoiced to see the United States become one nation culturally and a diverse nation economically. They're opposite number. The Democrats could put it a different way. They were happy to see America become diverse culturally. But they wanted America to be one nation economically. They wanted it to be a nation founded upon agriculture because they were suspicious of banking, investments, the railroads.
LAMB: I'm sorry to keep jumping around, but I wanted you to talk some about these little things, and maybe this isn't so little. Near the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln gets on a boat, goes all the way down--down the coast down here at Virginia and ends up at the desk of Jefferson Davis in Richmond.
Prof. GUELZO: Yes.
LAMB: How did he do that and at what point in--was it--the war still going on?
Prof. GUELZO: The war was still going on. In fact, Lincoln had come down to the James River some time before that, having something of a sense that the war was coming close to its conclusion. In the spring of 1865, the Confederates were clamped into a close siege by General Grant and the Union Army around Petersburg and Richmond. Lee realizes his army has hemorrhaged strength so terribly that they're going to have to abandon Petersburg and Richmond, which they do. Grant's army moves in and Lincoln is right there and he can't resist the opportunity to commandeer a gunboat and go up the James River, get off the gunboat at one of the ruined wharves of Richmond. They're ruined because as the Confederates left Richmond, this large parsh--parts of the city burned.
He steps off on to the wharf in Richmond and with nothing more than a guard of sailors, he proceeds up the street. He--you see, he had taken the military governor of Richmond by surprise. They were supposed to send a military escort down to meet him and they—they were late. So Lincoln sets off into the city with just this—this corporals guard of sailors, and he walks through the ruined streets of Richmond, meets the guard that is sent to meet him and up they go for lunch at what was Jefferson Davis' version of the White House. He sits at the desk, he sits in the chair that Jefferson Davis sat in. What a moment for Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: You sa--you say one of his greatest achievements--maybe he did not indulge in the high diction speech of people like Chase and Seward and Jefferson Davis and s--Charles Sumner. Why was that an achievement?
Prof. GUELZO: Well, it's an achievement because as soon as you put Lincoln's writings and Lincoln's speeches alongside those of Chase or Sumner or Davis, the differences become stark. Davis' speeches are high flown, the rhetoric is bombastic. It's the literary equivalent of a three-decker novel. Lincoln's prose is spare, direct, eloquent. It's the prose of a lawyer speaking to a jury of 12 plain prairie settlers. He never wasted a moment. And he was so intent upon that. Herndon once said that her--that Lincoln was so intent upon getting his ideas made crystal clear that he would ball up within himself for an hour on end trying to get just the right words for just the right expression.
LAMB: Now how did the Lincoln Prize from Gettysburg colony--I know you shared it with John Hope Franklin, but how did that affect you and--and how is this book, do you think, going to change your life?
Prof. GUELZO: Brian, when I got the call from the Lincoln Prize, I was obviously pleased. It's a great accomplishment. It's a great prize. It's one of the greatest, if not the greatest, prizes that an American historian can win. It's certainly the greatest prize that anyone who aspires to be a Lincoln scholar can win. And yet at the same time, it's a very humbling experience because it's a prize given in the name of this man Lincoln. And when I got the call in my office--I have a portrait o--of Lincoln--that doesn't surprise you--over the mantel in my office--couldn't help for craning around and looking at it and thinking, `This is a terrible shadow to the end. I am humbled to be the winner of a prize named for Abraham Lincoln.'
LAMB: What's next?
Prof. GUELZO: I think we need, among all the other things I could put on my Abraham Lincoln wish list--I think we need under the Christmas tree a book on what Abraham Lincoln thought was the most important document wro--he ever wrote; not the Gettysburg Address, not the first inaugural, not the second inaugural: the Emancipation Proclamation. We have had the Emancipation Proclamation over 140, 135--140 years be the kind of book--be the kind of document which has received terrible press. It's the document of Lincoln's that is usually criticized the most severely. And yet the funny thing is that the Emancipation Proclamation accomplished more than any other document Lincoln signed. The Gettysburg Address is a great speech, but it didn't do anything. It's not a policy document. The first inaugural and the second inaugural--likewise, great speeches, but they
didn't actually do anything.
The Emancipation Proclamation, at one stroke, was the single greatest social revolutionary document in American history. And yet of all of Lincoln's great documents, it's the one which has been held up, I think, to the greatest criticism and sometimes contempt. And that contempt surfaced just recently in Lerone Bennett's new book about Abraham Lincoln and the Proclamation and the excerpt from it that appeared in the February issue of Ebony magazine in which Bennett asks the question: `Did Lincoln really free the slaves?' And Bennett's answer is, `No, he didn't and the Emancipation Proclamation is tantamount to a fraud.' That's why I think we need a book on the Emancipation Proclamation.
LAMB: Our guest has been Allen Guelzo, a professor at Eastern College. Here's what it looks like, "Abraham Lincoln." It's called, "Redeemer President."
Thanks for joining us.
Prof. GUELZO: Thank you, Brian.
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