Archive for Saturday, August 15, 1992


August 15, 1992


Sometime during the last 20 years, Abraham Lincoln fell off his pedestal as the venerable abolitionist and broke in two.

In a book he hopes to finish this spring, Kansas University history professor Phil Paludan plans to stitch Lincoln back together again.

"This world has made a schizophrenic Lincoln," Paludan said. "This is a book that's going to give us a whole Lincoln."

In the last two decades, revisionist historians have portrayed Lincoln as either a liberal or conservative.

The truth lies somewhere in between, Paludan said.

"This (book) will portray Lincoln not as a guy who is conservative, not as a guy who is liberal, but as a conservative liberal," he said.

"He was . . . a guy who believes in the constitutional system and the political system," he said. "And you can see from what he says, he's trying to create that frame of mind in the republic."

A HISTORY professor at KU since 1968, Paludan was asked several years ago to write a book on Lincoln's presidency by editors at the University Press of Kansas. The book is part of a series on U.S. presidents.

Paludan was intrigued by the chance to climb into Lincoln's head for a few years.

"If I'm going to spend a lot of time with somebody else, it should be be with someone deep, complicated, and difficult; Abraham Lincoln fits the bill," Paludan said.

"It's a reverence for the quality of his mind,'' Paludan said. ``Sometimes I find myself saying, `What are you up to, you crafty SOB?'"

Paludan has finished off one book and written another since being asked to work on Lincoln. Three previous works "which have done did pretty well, for academic works" focused on the Civil War.

PALUDAN plans to take a sabbatical in the spring to finish the last two chapters and take care of any revisions suggested by his editor.

Despite the amount of scholarship already produced on Lincoln a regular candidate in many minds as the "No. 1" U.S. president, the professor says Paludan believes he can bring something fresh to the worn "honest Abe" portrait.

"What Lincoln has to say is relevant to us today," he said. "He speaks vaguely and deeply enough that he has some relevancy to the modern situation.

"This is not, `I've got a snappy Lincoln comeback to this or that situation' book. This is a long-term vision of what the republic should be," Paludan said.

AND AS MUCH as Lincoln defined his times, the era in which he lived also defined him, Paludan said.

"If you show up at the right time with certain skills, you're destined for greatness," Paludan said. "He really didn't have a lot of choices."

Paludan says he has one more book left in him and will quit after his next project. "Then it will be time for me to step down and let some other people talk for a while," he said.

His next and last work? "A history of the United States," he said, grinning.

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