Archive for Monday, February 14, 1994


February 14, 1994


Abraham Lincoln's life inspired more books than any historical figure except Jesus and Shakespeare. In May, a KU professor adds to the list with "The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln."

Historian Phillip Paludan set out to write a book that would debunk myths of Abraham Lincoln's presidency, but years of research revealed a profound leader driven to preserve the nation's good qualities.

"A lovely thing about Lincoln is this appeal to the better angels of our nature, as he says ... to draw out of us the best that we have rather than scare us with the worst that's in us," Paludan said.

Paludan, a Kansas University professor of history, will have his latest book, "The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln," published in May by University Press of Kansas.

He said the United States longs for the brand of political temperament Lincoln exhibited in the 1860s. Too many of today's politicians try to advance their causes by playing on the fears of people, he said.

"Lincoln almost never in his political life tried to scare anybody into doing anything," Paludan said. "He felt we need to talk in terms that raise us rather than lower us.

"I don't know if you'd want to marry him, but you really wish he was around longer than he was."

The 16th president was assassinated in April 1865.

Paludan said history books about Lincoln offer a contradictory analysis of the man. The portrait painted by historians verges on the schizophrenic, he said.

"People have been writing about him in terms of his conservatism or his liberalism," he said. "Is he a defender of law and order? Or is he a revolutionary? What is he?"

The answer, Paludan said, is that the Civil War president was a firm constitutionalist and liberal egalitarian. Lincoln was guided by the Founding Fathers' vision of government as well as the belief that all men should have equal political, social and economic rights, he said.

"Lincoln comes onto the scene in the mid-1850s in a world where ... the dream that the founders had was in danger," Paludan said. "He realized you had to save the system to achieve the ideals."

Paludan said he was pleased with the product of years of research and writing. The book was written for readers interested in Lincoln, the presidency and the Civil War, he said.

The scholar is already at work on more history. His next book will be a 1,500-page textbook on the history of the United States, he said.

"What historians keep doing is turning up new ideas. So you have to write a textbook that keeps up with that."

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