He was derided as a despot, a dictator, an incompetent, and worse. At the same time, he was blamed for the many failures on the battlefield and for the horrendous casualties, posted day after day in town after town across the land. He changed generals when they lost big battles or when they didn’t follow up on their limited successes, but for the early years the conflict seemed hopeless.Even as the perspective informed by Lincoln’s success at preserving the Union imposes itself on recent conflicts in Chechnya, Kosovo, and South Ossetia, American hagiography stands unmitigated:
In the end, Lincoln’s profound legacy was created and propelled by two elections—the one in 1860, which triggered the war, and the election of 1864, which enabled Lincoln to win it. Historian Henry Adams once wrote that a president “resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek.” Lincoln understood this to his core. Added historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: “The Constitution offers every president a helm, but the course and the port constitute the first requirement for presidential greatness. Great presidents possess, or are possessed by, a vision of an ideal America. Their passion is to make sure the ship of state sails on the right course.” Defining that vision and setting that course are what Lincoln’s presidency was all about.
All that remains to ensure W.’s third term is for Oliver Stone to chime in.