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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Lincoln Conversion Story

My good friend John Armstrong has started what promises to be an enlightening series of reflections on Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln. There has been so much good stuff written about this movie already, but John brings a unique angle to his commentary on the film because he was raised in the Deep South.

Growing up in the Deep South I often heard the Confederate version of why honest Abe was anything but an honest and good man. I heard about a bad president who sent troops to invade our homeland. I heard about the president who suspended the writ of habeus corpus in order to attain his own political interests. (People who hated Lincoln hated him more than any moderns have ever hated either George W. Bush or Barack Obama.)

Armstrong’s thoughts about Lincoln changed as he studied him and the broader contours of American history. He now loves Lincoln “for his plainness, for his ability to think logically and consistently, for his clarity of political and moral purpose, for his willingness to change and, most of all, for his amazing courage.” I feel much the same way about Lincoln. When I used to teach I would tell my students that Lincoln was one of the few figures in history who the more you study, the more you respect. Usually, particularly with political figures, it is quite the opposite.

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