51 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 29 (March, 2003). Book Review: Judging Lincoln by Frank J. Williams.


Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 51.

51 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 29 (March, 2003).

Book Review: Judging Lincoln by Frank J. Williams

Book Review: Judging Lincoln by Frank J. WilliamsJAY S. GOODMAN, ESQ.Jay S. Goodman is a Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College, Norton Massachusetts, and maintains a lobbying and law practice in Rhode Island.

To begin: two confessions. First, I have been a casual and friendly acquaintance of Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams for at least twenty years and over the whole course of that time have been aware of his deep involvement in the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Justice Williams' small law office on South Main Street in Providence in the 1980s was floor to-ceiling and wall-to-wall Lincoln memorabilia, now apparently called Lincolnania. Second, I am a political scientist, not a historian and my professional knowledge of the Lincoln story is slim. But I am interested in why Americans are still so fascinated by Lincoln.

Why do we remain curious about the original framers? Last year saw a best-selling biography of the dour federalist, John Adams, made modern by the emphasis on his wife and the de-emphasis on the Alien and Sedition Act, by David McCullough. But the framers are too remote and too different. However much Washington was our greatest patriot, he was still a slave owner. Jefferson not only was a slave owner, but fathered children by his house slave, Sally Hennings, a distant cousin of his deceased spouse. Modern Americans are not ready for a relationship where one party is literally the chattel property of the other.

Lincoln, in contrast, resonates both because of his history and his modernism. Americans are more fascinated by the Civil War than any other event in our history. It is around us every day. In the pop culture we have the movie Gangs of New York, where New York immigrants defile Lincoln posters because of the 1863 draft. In the political culture, we have Trent Lott opining that Jefferson Davis is his hero. And out there in the country, we have the vast attendance at Civil War battlefields to view the battles anew as staged by re-enactors, often in original garb. And just last month litigation by the Mudd family to clear the name of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth, came to what may be the last unsuccessful step.

As to his modernism, because...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT