(Almost) Everyone loves Lincoln

Inaugurated on this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, is as popular as ever.

Movies: America’s 16th president features in two movies to be released this year. The first is a serious bio-pic by Steven Spielberg while the second is based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Lincoln reincarnated: In 2003 Bob Carr told a radio interviewer that he was "Lincoln reincarnated". According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Kelly Burke:

So aghast was his communications chief, Amanda Lampe, at the remark, she demanded the premier call the station and beg it be edited out of the interview. The station obliged.

Quotes: In the Weekend Australian Judith Sloan endorsed Lincoln’s view that the legitimate purpose of government is: "to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves".

The quote comes from a note titled On Government where Lincoln writes:

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere. The desirable things which the individuals of a people cannot do, or cannot well do, for themselves, fall into two classes : those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions.

The first — that in relation to wrongs — embraces all crimes, misdemeanors ; and non-performance of contracts. The other embraces all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.

(Complete works : comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings p 180 – see also p 178)

President Obama paraphrased Lincoln in his State of the Union Address in January. Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott did the same in a speech in February this year.

More socialist than Obama? Last year the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne quoted Lincoln’s remarks on labor and capital: "Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." The folks at Fox News would be shocked (or maybe not).

Libertarians vs Lincoln: At the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute Lincoln isn’t too popular. In 2002 Adam Young condemned Lincoln as an enemy of liberalism: "Abraham Lincoln overthrew his own people and began reversing the gains of classical liberalism–a reversal that still continues to this day throughout the world."

In 2008 libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul said that Lincoln should never have gone to war against the south: "He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the–that iron, iron fist."

The Father of Big Government? At the Heritage Foundation Allen Guelzo challenges the idea that Lincoln is responsible for the relentless expansion of government: "It is the misfortune of much conservative and libertarian thinking to have seen the Progressive appropriation of Lincoln and to have assumed, at once and without serious reflection, that it was legitimate—rather like mistaking a hostage taken by terrorists for one of the terrorists himself."

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter stars Benjamin Walker as Lincoln. Apparently Eric Bana was also considered for the role.

5 thoughts on “(Almost) Everyone loves Lincoln

  1. I can imagine few better new crazes than an outbreak of enthusiasm for Lincoln.

    And I chuckle at the thought that Lincoln-loving Bob Carr, about to become the oldest Cabinet member, is at this moment right in tune with popular culture.

    That said, I cannot imagine what Carr will make of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”.

  2. Interesting how he bears a passing resemblance to Bob Carr.
    I am relieved that Don Arthur has again stepped in to clean up
    Judith Sloan’s latest mess; its as well that this penchant for leaving out relevant context with citations and quotes is accidental rather than deliberate…

  3. In 2003 Bob Carr told a radio interviewer that he was “Lincoln reincarnated”.

    Until now, I’d not seen the resemblance. Presumably, I must have missed the bit where Carr leads the troops in an invasion of West Australia.

  4. Ha ha, yes, I remember reading some nut at Mises or Cato complaining that Honest Abe started the civil war as an attack on free trade!

  5. I wrote a really long response here that disappeared into the ether, unfortunately.

    In short I think dumbos like EJ Dionne have no idea what they are doing when they invoke Lincoln just because they can find a convenient quote (seriously, read the whole thing, he is really really really not waxing lyrical on the welfare state there).

    I’d be very interested to see what a much cleverer liberal like Don Arthur, who has now cited that particular Lincoln quote twice in these missing link pieces, really thinks Lincoln was on about.

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