Date of this Version
Documentary Editing, Volume 23, Number 4, December 2001.
ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)
Great president. Lousy lawyer." In four words, a movie character played by the late actor Walter Matthau thus summed up the career of Abraham Lincoln. For most of the 136 years since Lincoln's death, general readers and scholars alike have accepted this verdict. Occasional Southern partisans have tried to belittle Lincoln's greatness as a president, but no substantial challenges to his overall reputation appeared between Edgar Lee Master's vitriolic Lincoln: The Man in 1931 and Lerone Bennett's Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream in 2000. During that span, hundreds of other authors portrayed Lincoln in every possible light: dynamic leader or passive responder to events, cool religious skeptic or secret Christian believer, Burkean conservative or proto-twentieth-century statist liberal, ideologue or pragmatist; but always an admirable and successful model of a particular way of thinking, which (by remarkable coincidence) generally tended to be that of the author as well.