Teaching Great Students IV: Carson’s Lincoln Thesis

Assignment: Students were asked to read the chapter on Abraham Lincoln from Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition. Then formulate a thesis on the perception of him as real or myth in history. I took a second to construct my own thesis to add to our class meeting. What are your thoughts of Lincoln? Do you agree with my thesis of Lincoln?

According to Carson: Abraham Lincoln was a transformative actor shaped by his destiny to will Rousseaus’ notion of the human soul and to eradicate the concept of the noble savage. Set from the mark of statesman, Lincoln was perceived as a paradoxical figure; however, the dichotomy that defined his soul and shaped his politics were clearly antiquated by his fixed keen sense of conclusion: A boy who grew to be a man only to be characterized as a historical figure: A man who saved the union…. Thanks to popular myths designed by romantic historicist who used his achievements to create a national identity, the complex arguments of capitalism are often absent. Note that this identity was shaped more by nationalism and capitalism, and less by moral ism: This particular contention is often noted by some who contend that Lincoln would have left slavery intact if it meant national preservation; however, Richard Hofstadter shaped Lincoln as a man who was destined to complete what Thomas Jefferson did not finish: A nation of enlightened actors who would eradicate the evils of slavery now, not later. Much of my “now argument” was derived from Lincoln’s understanding of the changing economy and America’s world status.

Still, it was clear that Lincoln and many white northerners did not see the Negro as being on equal footing with whites. They feared more than anything the expansion of free Negros to the north, which created a surplus of workers thus bringing about a diminishing number of jobs: This basic conclusion enveloped Lincoln as a systematic capitalists – one who recognized the changing economy but feared the plight of the union under its feudal state. Moreover, understanding the complex relationship between the North and the West, Lincoln saw the constant division of unity – thus he sought to transform the economic plight of a growing industrial age while eradicating the structure of the South’s Third-Estate economy. In doing this, Lincoln’s calculus was one that Thomas Jefferson had yet to understand: Tell the masses what they need to know in order to bring about change socially and morally, but do not permit this.


10 thoughts on “Teaching Great Students IV: Carson’s Lincoln Thesis

  1. The last person who would hold Lincoln up as a mythic figure would be Lincoln himself.

    Setting aside historical commentary, a brief perusal of Lincoln’s own words reveals an exceptional mind. He meets many qualifications of a great leader in the way he was able to navigate and win a civil war, and classroom history books will find many positive things to recount about the man. While his speeches and appearances are rightly given attention, I think many people do not realize what a shrewd politician Lincoln was.

    Lincoln’s stance on slavery was clear and unclear… just as you’d expect from a politician. It was clear in that he opposed the idea of slavery and expected it to either phase out or become legal in all states at some point in the future. What is unclear is how or when he expected that to happen. It appears he (and many others) may have hoped that if no new slave states were allowed, the practice would eventually wither and pass away. This passive-aggressive attack on slavery did not slip by unnoticed by the South, obviously.

    Lincoln’s stance on the Union was quite clear: it was to hold. The preservation of the Union came before the abolitionist cause, even if it meant the continuation of slavery for a time. Fix the issue as a unit, not fix it by parting ways. I don’t think he was as concerned with the economics of a no-slave nation as he was with keeping the nation in one piece. Accomplish the one, then deal with the other. Sadly, he was killed before we could see his goals for the latter—which certainly didn’t hurt him in the mythology department.

  2. I agree with Matt. Nice point. Carson, you are taking a great story in history and making it too academic. I cannot help but notice your class issue.

  3. Carson, honestly this article sickens me. Lincoln was possibly one of our best presidents, not just some “dead white man”. If your theory on his motives is true then Republicans are just as horrible as you think. Unfortunately we are not. We are not ultranationalist, we are not the evil capitalist pigs the Dems want everyone to believe we are, and we are definately not just a bunch of “white northerners”. (which sounds very racist whether you meant it or not) And neither was Abraham Lincoln.

    If he did not see Negros on the same level, then I don’t think he would have been willing to go to such a bloody war, if he didn’t believe Negros were equal then he still would have been ahead of most people by opposing slavery, if he didn’t believe that Negros were equal he wouldn’t have signed the emancipation proclamation.

    I don’t understand why you liberals insist on attacking every successful Republican you can find. Let’s look at what the Democrats have accomplished……..Jim Crow? Sure you have your hero Clinton, who taxed us into a surplus and had a nice little scandal, in which he blatantly lied to America. Oh, and lets not forget the whole “I did not inhale” which is possibly the worst excuse I’ve ever heard.

    Us Republicans have people like Lincoln, Washington, Reagan, Adams, do I have to go on.

  4. anonymous II:

    Pick up a freaking book. I hope you are not one of Carson’s students. If so, then Carson you are doing a bad job educating your students. Not to be mean, but your think is really bad. You do realize that the Democrats and Republicans went through party realignment. If anything, I thought the post was too optimistic. But then again, I read my history book. As for your comment on white northerners, it is true that they feared the migration of blacks. There was racism in the north.

    I do not like your use of “sicken.” It makes you sound untrained and misinformed. Not to be so angry or to take up for Mr. carson, but you have stated nothing to clarify why this great post sickens you.

    Oh, sign your name. That sickens me.

  5. Jaylon, I assure you it is a non-Carson student. My US History students know better. I have taught them to think better than that. That person is driven by emotion. Think, he/she placed GW and Reagan in the same sentence. Not to be mean, but Jim Crow is far too complex to address with modern day political organization. Yes, today’s Republicans were the Democrats of old. Yes, the ones that protected Jim Crowism. Again, my students know this.

    Nice comment Jaylon.

  6. You know what sickens me? When people post as “anonymous.” Grow up.

    Jaylon – Unfortunately, this is most likely a Houston Christian student, but probably not one of Carson’s. At least, I would hope not. It’s rather unfortunate that a “college preparatory” school would encourage such thought, but oh well.

    Anonymous (the second one) – You do realize that Lincoln’s motives, and the Civil War itself, extended far beyond the matter of slavery, correct? And you do realize that the Republican party is very different from what it once was?

    Carson – Excellent thesis. I could not agree with you more – Lincoln, along with many other Presidents, have been given far too much glory by historians. As I mentioned above, many of the decisions he made during the Civil War were less about slavery and equality and more about nationalism and economic benefit.

  7. Fantastic, Carson. Lincoln is such an interesting American figure. Lincoln the myth holds a powerful sway over the collective unconscious of the public, and it is, at times, rather divorced from Lincoln the man. David Brooks, today on Stephanopoulos’s show, mentioned that Lincoln gave more speeches on economics than he did on slavery (if true, this is telling).

    Of course, a presidents emphasis on economics as a driving concern for a nation is not inherently bad. But, in his time, non-whites were “less than human”. And regardless of ones econ policy, if we don’t deal with the underlying human rights issues at hand, the economy isn’t going to do much to change them. No economic policy will work if we don’t safeguard the sanctity of human rights.

    If Lincoln has articulated THAT as the foundation of his economic policy, then the myth would ring truer. All humans are created equal. Period. Now lets create an economy that allows for the fulfillment of that truth.

    The mythic Lincoln is the emancipator. And to some degree the myth is true. But, he was not destined by God to be this. And any number of circumstances could have convened to alter the course of history.

    Great post, and good timing (considering the upcoming inauguration).

    And Anonymous II: Uh … right. Carson isn’t a fanatic weirdo out to reconstruct history in order to fit it into his notions of the good. He’s a historian discussing what he believes to be true. You can disagree with him, that is your right. But, you need the appropriate facts in order to change his or anyone elses mind. And you don’t need to berate him.

    The internet acts as a place of contention far too often. It’s up to us to make it a place for civil discussion. Play your part.

  8. Pingback: President Obama and Abraham Lincoln: The Past and Future of America « Good Tithings

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