In an interview with C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo offered his observations on fellow historian Doris Kearns Goodwin:
LAMB: Let me read something that you wrote just a couple of years ago “A Plagiarist’s Contribution to the Lincoln Idolatry.”
LAMB: You say, ”Doris Kearns Goodwin is a museum quality specimen of a court historian. An intellectual or pseudo-intellectual who is devoted to pulling the wool over the public’s eyes by portraying even the most immoral, corrupt and sleazy politicians as great, wise, and altruistic men.” What’s behind that statement?
DILORENZO: Well, well as you know, if read my article, you know, I went through all of the research from the Internet on how Doris Kearns Goodwin essentially admitted plagiarism. And she was taken off the air. You know, she was the usual commentator on the presidency on network television for years. And she was taken off the Pulitzer Prize Committee because of the plagiarism. And she laid low for a couple of months and then she’s back on television telling us who we should vote for president and pontificating about all of these sorts of issues.
And so, that’s one of the reasons why I thought this was sort of odd. And she had just written this big book on Lincoln called ”Team of Rivals” I think it’s a 960 page book. You probably have interviewed her. But I’ll give you one example of what I mean there.
When Lincoln was inaugurated, in his first inaugural address, he pledged to support for a constitutional amendment that it all ready passed the House and the Senate that would have forbidden the federal government from ever interfering in southern slavery. And not only did he support that, it’s right there in his first inaugural address. But he orchestrated the whole thing. After he was elected he got William Seward who would become his Secretary of State to get this through the Senate. And Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about this as I do.
I look at these facts that Lincoln was willing to see slavery exist, enshrine it in the Constitution and it had never been explicitly in the Constitution, long after his own lifetime as far as he knew and I thought that was an immoral act. I think that’s – not only is it an amoral act, but it’s one of the things where it’s been kept from Americans. I still get e-mails from people challenging me to show them where this amendment is. It’s called the Corwin Amendment named after a member of Congress.
Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about the same thing and praises Lincoln for it because he – she claims it helped him keep the republican party together by doing this. And the theme of her whole book is what a clever, political manipulator Lincoln was and it kept the party together.
My view of that is that a clever political manipulator can be a horribly dangerous thing. How do you get to be a clever political manipulator? Well, you’re an expert liar and conniver, that’s my view of it. And so people who write books about liars and connivers and politics and praises them I’m a little dubious of their reputations. I don’t think they deserve the respect that they sometimes get in their profession or in the public.
LAMB: Were there other people that wrote about you felt that he has …
DILORENZO: Well, she’s written about Lyndon Johnson who she worked and you can say a lot of good things about Lyndon Johnson and of course he’s had his share of criticism too. But, I thought she kind of pulled her punches. And all of the things she wrote about Lyndon Johnson and the Kennedys seemed to me to be idol worship as opposed to analysis. And she claims that part of her expertise is in a field that I discovered when I started becoming more interdisciplinary in writing on Lincoln, it’s called psychohistory and not psycho in a crazy psycho but sort of a – it seems to be people who study history and gain enough knowledge maybe in their graduate training like Doris Kearns Goodwin did at Harvard about psychology to claim to be sort of amateur psychologists in analyzing the motives of man like Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt or the Kennedys.
And I’ve read a good bit of this psychohistory. And it seems to me that they take actions by a lot of these politicians and just dream up excuses. There’s sort of armchair psychology that they use, and they dream up excuses or rationales for things that they did. And the whole enterprise sounds very dubious to me in psychohistory and that’s what Doris Kearns Goodwin claims her Ph.D. was in at Harvard and is the basis of her books on the Kennedys and Roosevelt and – or Lyndon Johnson, rather and other people.
Croossroads Comments: This is a rather severe indictment of Doris Kearns Goodwin. It also seems to be an uneven one. Yes, Goodwin was pilloried (and justifiably so) for plagiarism, including what seemed to be a slow response by her publisher to remedy the passages in question. That said, she admitted to the act, paid a substantial price for it, and then continued with her work, this time painstakingly footnoting everything in her next book, Team of Rivals. DiLorenzo has very little to say about the substance of that work, although he has a problem with how she treated the Corwin Amendment. They clearly disagree over Lincoln’s actions in that instance.
I have trouble with DiLorenzo’s analysis of the Lincoln and the Corwin Amendment. Let’s set aside for the moment the question of Lincoln’s role in the drafting of the amendment. It’s already known that he offered no opposition to it in his inauguration. What strikes me as odd is that DiLorenzo launches a moral indictment of Goodwin for approving an act of which he does not approve … even though the act in question was designed to avoid what DiLorenzo deems an unnecessary war and that it would have limited the power of a man DiLorenzo deems a tyrant. Ratification of the Corwin Amendment would not have stopped efforts at ending slavery … it would have ended efforts to force abolition in the states where it existed by congressional fiat. Read the amendment:
No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
That doesn’t enshrine slavery in the Constitution. It denies Congress the power to abolish it where it already exists.
As for the rest of DiLorenzo’s commentary on Goodwin, it’s clear that he doesn’t like her or her politics, but it really doesn’t bear upon her work on Lincoln. Indeed, very little of his commentary actually bears on the subject of her treatment of Lincoln. Moreover, a check of Goodwin’s brief treatment of the amendment (pages 296-97) does not correspond with his description of what she said.