Mencken on Lincoln and Slavery

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
From H.L. Mencken's famous essay on Lincoln, published in 1920:

"Lincoln, in point of fact, was a practical politician of long experience and high talents, and by no means cursed with idealistic superstitions. Until he emerged from Illinois they always put the women, children and clergy to bed when he got a few gourds of corn aboard, and it is a matter of unescapable record that his career in the State Legislature was indistinguishable from that of a Tammany Nietzsche. Even his handling of the slavery question was that of a politician, not that of a messiah. Nothing alarmed him more than the suspicion that he was an Abolitionist, and Barton tells of an occasion when he actually fled town to avoid meeting the issue squarely. An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run. But Lincoln waited until the time was more favorable—until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, and more important still, until the political currents were safely funning his way. Even so, he freed the slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest continued to clank their chains until he himself was an angel in Heaven."
 

Drew

Major
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Oct 22, 2012
I knew someone would call it out! But really, the larger perspective is worth a look.
 

TerryB

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Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
I knew someone would call it out! But really, the larger perspective is worth a look.
It's an interesting perspective. Mencken once wrote two reviews of plays that opened on the same night and he couldn't have been at both. So he fudged one of the reviews. Unfortunately, he was found out because that play was cancelled due to a storm or something like that. So he had to fess up. I mention this only because he says in the passage above that Lee was hurled out of Pennsylvania before Lincoln wrote the EP. Of course it was Maryland, so it makes you wonder what else Mencken got wrong.
 

Drew

Major
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Oct 22, 2012
Of course it was Maryland, so it makes you wonder what else Mencken got wrong.

This is true, of course, but his critique of Lincoln is still interesting, and valid. Mencken was the original curmudgeon who pulled no punches. He did have some sympathy for the South, he was a Marylander, after all, but licked them pretty hard with his essay, "The Sahara of the Bozart," at about the same time he poked Lincoln in the eye.

I'm pretty sure he was chased by a mob during the Scopes trial in Tennessee, too. They were going to get him!
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Well considering he was acting using war powers , he could only free the slaves in states that were in rebellion..

So you've missed Mencken's point, haven't you? :unsure:
 

Drew

Major
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Oct 22, 2012
Reading Lincolns letters and correspndence shows how he felt about slavery..

This confirms you've missed Mencken's point. Thanks for clarification.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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los angeles ca
Lincoln had no legal authority to ban slaves other then those areas in rebellion. Lincoln did free the slaves via the 13th amendment . Lincoln did not want to make the Union seem desperate so he waited for at least a partial union victory at Antitam. So what is Mencken's point?
Leftyhunter
 

curtis payne

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Mar 22, 2012
I guess there was actually more than one major gaff. You missed where he asserts Lincoln is an angle in heaven. Dead people don't become Angles. And I am not at all sure he ended up in Heaven, I know many southerners would doubt it.
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
Lincoln didn't drink either, so the "few gourds of corn aboard" wasn't true.

If the "larger point" is that Lincoln didn't move as fast on slavery as the notorious racist Mencken thought he should, its because Lincoln had to live, work and achieve things in the real world, not sit at his desk 70 years after the fact, giggling over his own wit.
 

Mdiesel

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Location
Maryland
Mencken's style was to use a considerable amount of hyperbole. He criticizes everything his contemporaries idealize with biting sarcasm. Historical accuracy was beside the point & errors even intentional. The point of Mencken is always to slap the reader in the face, make em' sit up and say, "Why you S.O.B!" Now Mencken had their attention.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Mencken's style was to use a considerable amount of hyperbole. He criticizes everything his contemporaries idealize with biting sarcasm. Historical accuracy was beside the point & errors even intentional. The point of Mencken is always to slap the reader in the face, make em' sit up and say, "Why you S.O.B!" Now Mencken had their attention.

That sums it up nicely. He wasn't always right, of course, but he was almost always entertaining. He was writing of Lincoln at a time when the latter was beginning to be deified and the article is Mencken's protest, I think.

There's always room, in my book, for someone who's willing to stand up and challenge group consensus, let alone mob thinking. They're seldom popular, but I'm glad they're there.
 

Rob9641

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Jun 7, 2010
Location
Maryland
That sums it up nicely. He wasn't always right, of course, but he was almost always entertaining. He was writing of Lincoln at a time when the latter was beginning to be deified and the article is Mencken's protest, I think.

There's always room, in my book, for someone who's willing to stand up and challenge group consensus, let alone mob thinking. They're seldom popular, but I'm glad they're there.

Even when they lie?
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Well, in the first place Lincoln was not elected 'Messiah' he was elected President. A position of political power, i.e., of course! he was a politican. Thus, not having God as his father, Lincoln had to do it by the political process. That does not change the fact that he did emancipate the slaves.
Mencken's job was selling his wares(writings) not the truth. If the truth did not sell enough of his writings, well, he did not let the truth keep him from selling his wares.
 
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