Reflecting on the precipitous decline in Lincoln’s reputation in the last third of the twentieth century, Barry Schwartz (Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America, pp. 258-9) notes in passing:
“Before the 1960s, textbook writers literally ignored African Americans; since the 1980s, they have distorted by overstatement. Crispus Attucks, a totally unknown dark-skinned man shot during a demonstration against British troops in Boston is now defined as a black man, America’s first martyr, and occupies more space in the average textbook than Paul Revere, whose role in the making of the Revolution vastly exceeded his horse ride. Harriet Tubman, organizer of the Underground Railroad, now occupies as much space as Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin altered the opinion of millions of Northerners about slaver and had a far greater effect on the course of events.”
Though he says that this imbalance in response to imbalance has a “certain moral logic,” he warns that ultimately “it disables our intellect by preventing us from attributing influence to Lincoln accurately, and, above all, from discerning the meaning of his conduct for ordinary men and women of his own time.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, June 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm
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