Abraham Lincoln on the More Realistic, Experienced Candidate…

At an Iowa town hall event tonight, Hillary Clinton was asked which president most inspired her. She answered Lincoln:

“And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancor, a little more forgiving and tolerant than might possibly have brought people back together more quickly,” Clinton continued. “But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the reigns of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.”

That comment is straight-up Dunning School, and it naturally set off a lot of alarm bells among liberal journalists. As well it should.

Speaking of Lincoln, political theorist Roy Tsao sent me this quote from a letter Lincoln sent to Charles Wilson in 1858.

The context: Lincoln was running for Senate in Illinois against Stephen Douglas. That campaign was the setting of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lincoln won the debates, but lost the race. Horace Greeley backed Douglas, much to Lincoln’s chagrin. But in his letter to Wilson, Lincoln tried to damp down speculation that Greeley was corrupt or on the take. No, said Lincoln, what led Greeley to back someone like Douglas over Lincoln, whose opposition to the expansion of slavery was much closer to Greeley’s own position (Greeley wound up supporting Lincoln in 1860), was, well, let’s let Lincoln speak for himself.

It is because he thinks Douglas’ superior position, reputation, experience, and ability, if you please, would more than compensate for his lack of a pure republican position, and therefore, his re-election do the general cause of republicanism, more good, than would the election of any one of our better undistinguished pure republicans.

Sound familiar?


  1. Jeff Rice January 26, 2016 at 7:32 am | #

    Not to excuse Clinton but I am two years younger than she and i was educated in high school of the Dunning Thesis. I would hope she would have learned something in the interim but it does not entirely surprise me that people of her age might hold those ideas. Stampp had not made it to the textbooks i grew up on, perhaps not her’s as well. Still no excuse but an explanation.

    • I'm with stupid January 26, 2016 at 9:27 am | #

      I am exactly Clinton’s age and never got that in school.

    • Jason Curtis Fossella January 26, 2016 at 9:43 am | #

      I’m 33, and that’s what I got in school.

  2. David Lewis January 26, 2016 at 10:10 am | #

    In high school in 1963 Michigan, the Radical Republicans were the bad guys and Lincoln would have pursued a more forgiving policy toward the South had he lived. Now, given recent debates over the Confederate flag and so on, any person following the news should have caught on that this was not true. But Clinton’s adoption of that view is exactly the sort of thing that, to someone like me who has doubts about Sanders’ abilities as a President (a revolution? is he kidding?) not to mention a candidate, makes me worry equally about Clinton. She seems too much to be a prisoner of the conventional wisdom — even when it’s neither wisdom nor even conventional any more.

  3. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant January 26, 2016 at 11:04 am | #

    Back in the mid 1990’s, I attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts as graduate student in the Cinema Studies department. I studied the movie “The Birth of A Nation” and cited Foner’s book for the purpose of introducing the reader of my essay to the Burgess-Dunning School. At the risk of asserting an erroneous and self-serving claim, I think I was the first to do that. Anyway, defenders of the film’s director, one D.W. Griffith, point out that Burgess-Dunning was mainstream at the time, and that Woodrow Wilson also wrote using that thesis in his own history writings — and that Griffith referenced Wilson for his movie, quoting it in the film’s inter-titles.

    For those who may be unfamiliar, this is a great post (at a great blog) to get a quick overview: https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/the-persistence-of-the-dunning-school/

    The author there notes the strange career of Burgess-Dunning Reconstruction historiography and its ability to stay in the spotlight as a respectable thesis, Foner (and W.E.B. DuBois) notwithstanding.

    It would be interesting to get a peek at Hillary Clinton’s high school and college reading syllabi on American History. And to see what she has read since.

    For a fun and enlightening (to this I can attest) detox, check this out: http://www.amazon.com/Lies-My-Teacher-Told-Everything/dp/0743296281

  4. jonnybutter January 26, 2016 at 12:28 pm | #

    This is a loser line for HRC. I know there are people who think the world directly conforms to their sentiments if they just make those sentiments known; who liked Obama for running on the politics of ‘can’t we all get along?’, and will like it again when HRC does it. ‘Working together’ polls well no doubt, esp. among low info voters. But I think we just had 8 years’ illustration of its shortcomings – 8 years of vetting. Plenty of people won’t fall for it again.

    And just read what she said once again and savor how ahistorical it is, whether you knew it was Dunning School or not:

    I bet that it might have been a little less rancor, a little more forgiving and tolerant than might possibly have brought people back together more quickly,” Clinton continued. “But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction…

    “Together, we can build that bridge; the bridge to the late 19th century!”

  5. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant January 26, 2016 at 1:19 pm | #
  6. George Schankler January 26, 2016 at 1:41 pm | #

    Why is this relevant, i.e. that HRC has an allegedly wrong view of reconstruction? Or that Lincoln thought that Greeley supported Douglass because he was more experienced? We live in a world 1000 times more complicated than 1865. Is experience and policy wonkishness THE deciding factor? No, but it is a factor to be considered. It bothers me that people who say that a given Bernie proposal is incomplete, politically impossible, doesn’t add up fiscally or hasn’t been vetted, those are considered unfair attacks.

  7. jillwklausen January 26, 2016 at 2:00 pm | #

    But wait, there’s more!

    Even Lincoln Warned Us Not To Surrender Our Political Power To Corporations


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