Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Review of Rich Lowry's "Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream - and How We Can Do It Again" (Broadside Books, 2013)

The premise of this book should be quite obvious, but I hadn't given it much thought before. Abraham Lincoln did not start his political career wanting to win a bloody war, preserve the union or even free the slaves.

Because none of those things are not exactly in the purview of an Illinois legislator. Rich Lowry (editor of National Review) explores in this book Lincoln's fundamental political values through biography, primarily of his early career.

We also have images of young Lincoln reading by fire light, splitting wood and wrestling. The frontier boy and man in ill fitting buckskin. There is truth in all of that imagery. But what Lowry makes clear in his book is that it was Lincoln's motivating desire in life to leave the wilderness behind and remold himself into a modern, prosperous, even urban individual.

The American Dream of pursuing happiness, and yes, wealth, was not just a pretty picture in Lincoln's mind, but rather one of his deepest ambitions.

Lincoln often spoke of the importance of hard work and how it was key in one's life for advancement. He often quoted from Genesis about man earning bread from the sweat of one's brow. (It is interesting as he always seems to quote this Scripture positively, though it is part of Adam's curse.)

In his late teens, Lincoln was forced to work to pay off his father's debts. This led to his hatred of seeing others prosper due to other men's labor. Apparently, this drew him to a desire for fair laws of property, so no one could be swindled out of land; suspicion of confiscatory taxes; support of the right of unions to strike; and, yes, opposition to slavery.

Lowry points to the tendency of politicians to claim Lincoln as their own. Most recently, President Obama has encouraged the image of himself as a second 16th president, pointing to Lincoln's support of education and public works projects.

But Lowry ably argues that the first great Republican would remain a great Republican, and that the GOP needs to remember and embrace Lincoln's embrace and proclamation of values that go back to the nation's founding.

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