The heritage of Lincoln.

Author:Seaton, James
Position:Response to article by Richard M. Gamble in this issue, p. 69

In "The Problem of Lincoln in Babbitt's Thought," (1) his scholarly rejoinder to my "Irving Babbitt on Lincoln and Unionism," (2) Richard Gamble argues that Babbitt was wrong to uphold Lincoln "as an exemplary figure in the best American tradition." In my view, on the contrary, Babbitt was justified in taking Lincoln as an upholder of "our great unionist tradition," and followers of Babbitt today are right to claim Lincoln as an invaluable ally in their efforts to reconstitute American culture and society. Gamble, on the other hand, advises participants in "any Babbitt-inspired effort to rebuild American culture" to reject the heritage of Lincoln.

Despite these fundamental differences, there are several points on which Richard Gamble and I can agree. Both of us find that Babbitt's conception of Lincoln is not always accurate. We both note that Lincoln's admiration for Jefferson and the Declaration of independence seems at odds with Babbitt's own conception of the "unionist" tradition--which Babbitt defined in large part by contrast to the "Jeffersonian" impulse. Gamble suggests that the Progressive cult of Lincoln led to a "Lincoln myth" presenting the sixteenth president as the "ideal of the humanitarian crusader." Like Gamble and Babbitt himself, I think that the Progressives distorted the historical Lincoln to serve their own political purposes. in my view, however, a careful study of the words and deeds of Lincoln reconfirms Lincoln's moral and intellectual stature and validates Babbitt's view of Lincoln as an exemplar of the unionist tradition of "sane moral realism." Gamble, on the other hand, believes that the historical record reveals an unprin cipled seeker of power, a "Lincoln advocating all sorts of innovations and irregularities if it suited his purposes." Whether Lincoln was the former or the latter will continue to be debated by "conservatives, neo-conservatives, libertarians, and liberals ... as long as they have life and breath," as Gamble says about a related matter. There is no space here to debate the historical record; I will note only that James G. Randall, the historian whom Gamble cites for evidence of Lincoln's transgressions, drew a different conclusion from the same evidence--as Gamble himself acknowledges with true scholarly integrity. The following observations are not intended to settle the issues between us but to provide some perspective on their significance.

Richard Gamble demonstrates persuasively that...

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