Meeting of May 26, 2009

Larry Tagg on “The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln”

Larry Tagg's book cover

Larry Tagg’s book cover

Larry’s presentation focused on the central and most meaningful aspects of his recently released book, entitled The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: The Story of America’s Most Reviled President. It revealed a number of interesting and informative insights relative to the immense unpopularity of Lincoln as he assumed the Presidency following the election of 1860. Among the highlights of Larry’s presentation were the following:

  • Lincoln was inaugurated at a time when the Presidency was tarnished by a string of poor presidents who preceded him (Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan) and at a time when all authority was little regarded.
  • The future of democratic government was itself in doubt as “the torsions of the slavery debate and attacks by the rabid press routinely destroyed the reputations of public men.”
  • Lincoln, in the North, was virtually unknown except as a caricature, the Railsplitter. In the South he was seen as an anonymous Illinoisan, a usurper and the illigitimate product of an electoral system that had betrayed the vision of the Founding Fathers.
  • Lincoln was elected by an absurdly low 40% of the electorate—lower than almost every loser of a presidential election in every two-party race in American history. In fact by the time he took office his approval rating had dropped to 25% (this is in contrast to George W. Bush whose approval rating was 28% as he left office).
  • When Lincoln arrived in Washington in late February of 1861, he did so on a secret night train to avoid assassination.
  • During the first eighteen months of the Civil War his hesitant pertformance seemed to confirm the opinion of many who saw him as a untutored rustic, hopelessly unequal to to the task of leading the country.
  • By l864, Lincoln was so little regarded that the strongest elements in his own party tried to deny him another term.

Larry concluded his presentation his presentation by stating, “If one considers politics as the art of the possible, Lincoln was the consummate politician. What he accomplished, in view of his initial unpopularity, is all the more remarkable. The depth of Lincoln’s travail is much of what ennobles him to us today.”

Newsletter May 2009