CWPT's Larry Tagg interview

CWPT's Hallowed Ground is a newsstand-worthy glossy mag that you won't find on newsstands. You get it the in the mail if you are a member. (In my case, I recently got two back issues instead of the current issue. Perhaps those are the just desserts for all who join at a discounted member rate.)

The magazine is online and there you will be able to access quite an interesting interview with Larry Tagg. Or not - the link is broken. [Update 10/26: fixed here.] Let me reprise the key Q and A here:
Q: There are hundreds of Lincoln books out there. What makes yours [The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln] different?

A: I continue to be amazed that nobody has written this book before. Every book about Lincoln makes occasional mention of opposition to this or that policy, but there has never been a full treatment of the length and breadth of that opposition, which was so vehement, so relentless and so ubiquitous - coming from all sides, Republican as well as Democrat. My book goes against the grain of mainstream Lincoln literature, which almost invariably takes a reverential tone, and leaves out the rabid ravings of the opinion-makers of the time. This conventional treatment has left the false impression that Lincoln governed from strength, when the more interesting truth is that he accomplished so much in the teeth of violent dissent. To me, this adversity is what makes Lincoln great.
I might have phrased this differently, with a Tolstoyan filter: It is what makes Lincoln (to me) so interesting as an historical figure, this lurching and stumbling through innumerable blunders, this squandering of goodwill in every personal relation, this functioning out of a matrix of systemic personal, physical, and political weakness with monumental results to show for it.

Lincoln offers - in my view - an inescapable historical lesson in counterintuitive results (style, capability, efficiency vs. outcome). I personally credit a lot of the Lincoln criticism, Democratic and Republican, and wish to stress that in a news-driven culture, it is quite natural for a public to seize on every error, compile a bill of particulars, and update this list with each headline, rumor or editorial. The impression of incapacity will be "logical" and justified but the trees obscure the forest for great and transcendent results can emerge from the smoke of daily accidents and bad choices.

Can Lincoln's incapacity coexists with a greatness of legacy? To me, obviously. It did and does. The record is indisputable, but subjected to interpretive rationalizing by simplifiers. His critics were not fools, nor were they delerious. But in the current mainstream Linconology, the record must be rewritten, errors righted, wisdom discovered, and Lincoln's critics silenced or demonized. Modern Linconology cannot extract greatness from weakness.

I am often amazed by deep Civil War readers/authors who cannot articulate the War Democrats' hawkish indictment of the Lincoln Administration circa 1862-1864. The Peace Democrats have constantly been brought in to distract and confuse. Not knowing the War Democrat position, not suspecting hawks savagely critical of Lincoln's softness-on-war, McClellan's candidacy is a mystery to readers because in a grotesque projection of Centennial "history," they subscribe to associations of the McClellan candidacy with peace and (anti)emancipation issues. Tagg's book can start to correct this.

Lincoln was McClellan's employee before the war, McClellan was Lincoln's employee during the war. This reminds one of the sides of a coin; each operated under amazing handicaps, each producing dramatic counterintuitive results. Lincoln and McClellan, historically, were aspects of the same paradox, one beyond any who have not drunk deeply of Lincoln criticism.

We know the McClellan criticism by heart. Learn the Lincoln criticism. Take the Tagg book as a starting point for your own investigation into contemporary views of this very interesting politician. You don't have to give up your warm and fuzzies - but you have to get away from the ahistorical mainstream of Linconology.

p.s. It may be helpful to read Hans Trefousse in conjunction with The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln. Trefousse is at one with Lincoln's critics on the left but he crafts his narratives such that Lincoln is able to escape censure on most Republican controversies, leaving the "traditional" reader with an icon intact and a deepened appreciation of and sympathy for progressive animosity towards this secular saint. On the other hand, to get a full grasp of the War Democracy's frustration with Lincoln, you'll eventually have to read the papers of that era after time spent with The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln.

p.p.s Jim Campi wrote a nice note to say CWPT uses different mailing services which can affect when and how the magazine is received.