Debating DiLorenzo: Lincoln’s Critics Among Scholars

Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo discusses other Lincoln critics in a 2008 interview with Brian Lamb:

LAMB: Are you the only one around?

DILORENZO: No, there are other critics. I know you have interviewed Lerone Bennett Jr., who’s a big critic of Lincoln. You can find articles in academic journals. There’s Professor Clyde Wilson from the University of South Carolina, Donald Livingston at Emory University are also academic Lincoln critics.

I just got a paper from a young man who published a journal in ”The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association” his name is Phillip Magness who wrote a very critical article of Lincoln in his so-called colonization idea. He had this fetish, almost, about colonizing free black people and sending them to Liberia, Africa, anywhere but here. And Lincoln’s idea actually about equality, he said it many times that he didn’t believe that black people could actually be equal in America. Back in their, what he called their native clime, Africa or Haiti or some place like that, Lincoln said, they could be equal but not here.

And so this young man, Phillip Magness who sent me the article essentially showed that almost up to his dying day Lincoln was working on this, he was working on what to do with the freed slaves after the war. And he was wondering, do we have enough ships to send them – to deport them, essentially, to some other place. And during his presidency, he did, actually allocate several million dollars to send some free black people to Liberia in Africa. But the man he put in charge of it turned out to be an embezzler and so nothing came of that, nothing much came of that.

And he held a meeting of some free black men in the White House during his administration urging them to lead by example and leave the country and go to Liberia, again. And these men wisely said, no thanks. And so there’s research of that sort the young – I’m pleased to see young scholars like the man I mentioned are starting to look into the truth. And you don’t have to be an attacker of Lincoln to write about the truth about what he did. I think American adults can take it.

Crossroads Comments: I’m not quite sure what the last two sentences mean, because DiLorenzo tends to equate the truth with being anti-Lincoln, as if the world of Lincoln scholarship is divided into a cultist camp and a truthtellers camp, with only David Donald as a fair-minded scholar.

The Magness article has been discussed here before and on other forums.  If you read it, it doesn’t quite say what DiLorenzo claims it says, because it does not offer the coverage of the question that Magness’ forthcoming book doubtless will.  However, it is useful to note the journal that published the article … a journal one would usually identify with the Lincoln church/cult/whatever.  That Magness’ article appeared in the JALA is in itself a refutation of DiLorenzo’s claims that Lincoln scholars do not tolerate dissent or criticism.

And, finally … (next) …

26 thoughts on “Debating DiLorenzo: Lincoln’s Critics Among Scholars

  1. Chuck Brown March 4, 2011 / 7:00 am

    Clyde Wilson is listed as a neo-Confederate by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In addition being a Professor of history at the University of South Carolina, he is also an adjunct member of the faculty of the Ludwig von Mises Society. It is a sobering experience to peruse the Society’s web page and scan the articles. Wilson is also a researcher for the League of the South.

    David Livingston was key to the founding of the Abbeville Institute. It’s faculty includes “scholars” such as DiLorenzo, Clyde Wilson, and Thomas Woods.

    DiLorenzo, etc., may hide behind the cloak of libertarianism, but when it comes to history, they are neo-Confederates and polemicists. Searching the records for statements supporting a particular view, while ignoring evidence to the contrary, is not the historical method.

    • Stargazer August 14, 2012 / 6:52 pm

      There’s no such thing as a “neo-Confederate.” What you and other institutionalized scholars fail to understand is 1) “neo” Confederates are really not “new” at all. They’ve been around ever since the war. Also, 2) there need not be any animosity between critics of Lincoln and admirers; everyone, after all, realizes that Lincoln had a profound effect on the U.S. body politic. Both critics and admirers should be willing to admit that Lincoln, for better or for worse, is the father of the present United States.The real debate is whether it was for better or for worse. The details are, for the most part, not in dispute. That said, the tone here should change and there should be respect on both sides. Just my two cents.

  2. Frank March 4, 2011 / 7:59 am

    “Searching the records for statements supporting a particular view, while ignoring evidence to the contrary, is not the historical method.”

    Neither is refusing to engage an author’s arguments because some far left (and financially suspect, according to multiple third party reviews of its “charitable” activities) political group like the Southern Poverty Law Center puts them on a McCarthyite list for scholarly excommunication.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 8:45 am

      Excommunication from what? I guess DiLorenzo supporters are fond of church and cult verbiage.

      • Frank March 4, 2011 / 9:08 am

        Do you honestly not see the strong blacklist element to tactics such as the SPLC reports?

        Their standard tactic is not at all far removed from: “Ignore what this professor says because we include him on our ‘Intelligence Report’ list of hate groups because he spoke to X, which is affiliated with group Y, which once had a connection to person Z, who was spotted in an IHOP once in 1997 talking to someone who donates money to the Klan!”

        The purpose of this line of attack is to brush aside the target person’s arguments on account of a claimed, and often very specious, guilt-by-association linkage to something deemed taboo or beyond the realm of reasonable discussion or engagement. Therefore “McCarthyite excommunication” is an entirely appropriate descriptor.

        If you are truly interested in engaging DiLorenzo’s arguments about Lincoln you should steer the discussion away from this line of attack for self-evident reasons.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 9:17 am

          Frank, I’ve already engaged the fellow’s arguments for a week. I’m not going to silence a poster because he highlights the background of several people DiLorenzo highlights. I don’t see the SPLC posting here, and I won’t blacklist posters who engage in civil discussion. Thank you.

          • Frank March 4, 2011 / 9:40 am

            Where did I ever suggest you blacklist a poster? Oh wait. I didn’t.

            What I did do, however, was criticize the intellectually vacuous and bullyish nature of the SPLC line of attack when another enlisted it as his primary argument.

            My only other note on that subject is the simple observation that the SPLC ad hominem approach strikes me as rather inconsistent with your stated purpose of engaging DiLorenzo’s Lincoln arguments directly.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 9:48 am

            Again, Frank, the SPLC isn’t posting here. So your point is moot. There have been plenty of posts engaging arguments made by Dr. DiLorenzo. Engage those arguments.

            As I’ve noted, one of the characteristics of the 2008 interview was that Dr. DiLorenzo spent more time on his critics than on his arguments. I don’t see anything wrong with Chuck’s post. Turnabout is fair play, given that DiLorenzo employs the same tactics (and you did not criticize them). Perhaps we should look at the institutions that embrace DiLorenzo, now that you’ve opened that door.

          • Frank March 4, 2011 / 10:07 am

            The SPLC posting/somebody posting stuff from the SPLC. Either way, the message is the same thing and therefore hardly moot.

            I also find this response very ironic, after having devoted several posts to making the case that DiLorenzo is tilting at windmills when he complains of “Lincoln cultists” and the sort. While I’ll readily grant that DiLorenzo overextends his claim and tends to paint with a broad brush, do you not even notice that your comments threads are now home to many of the very same things he is complaining about?

            For every thoughtful person to comment in response, you’ve drawn out another who posts (and re-posts and re-re-posts) some haughty, typo-ridden, and extremely cultish attack of the “how dare you criticize the great Lincoln!” variety. Or somebody who’s only answer to anything DiLorenzo says is to point fingers and wave political attack propaganda from the SPLC.

            DiLorenzo may be wrong to lump Harold Holzer and Doris Kearns Goodwin in the “Lincoln cult,” and I generally think he’s misidentified some of the main culprits, but I’d say the evidence of people engaging in Lincoln cultism is very strong. In fact, it’s littered all over the comments section!

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 10:12 am

            You seem to have a problem with the comments section. I note you have engaged that issue far more than you have engaged discussions of DiLorenzo’s arguments.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 10:19 am

            BTW… it is funny to see you mention “typo-ridden” one sentence before you misuse “whose” by typing “who’s.”

            I see nothing wrong with a poster delineating the background of people DiLorenzo highlights. Is there some reason you object to having that information shared in the light of day?

          • Frank March 4, 2011 / 10:32 am

            Your attempt to personalize the argument aside, it doesn’t bother me the least if Wilson or Donald Livingston (the David of your poster’s misdirection being the 19th century African explorer) wants to associate with the Abbeville Institute or the Ludwig von Mises Institute. You may disagree with them politically, but they seek to advance scholarly discussion in their respective areas of interest and free association is a hallmark of our free society.

            What I do object to though is groups like the SPLC, or in the present case posters who borrow directly from them, attempting to string together chains of associations to foster guilt through them and other increasingly far flung degrees of separation, particularly where those strings are in turn employed as a tool to bludgeon away an unfriendly argument without having to actually engage that argument itself.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 10:43 am

            And you’ve expressed your objection. Thank you.

  3. Frank March 4, 2011 / 10:23 am

    Is it not a discussion of DiLorenzo’s argument to point out that the comments here display some of the very same tendencies you accuse him of tilting at windmills over?

      • Frank March 4, 2011 / 11:26 am

        Thanks for admitting that you are not interested in an honest discussion of his “Lincoln cult” grievance then.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 1:48 pm

          It is a sorry trait of Dr. DiLorenzo’s approach to argument that he questions the integrity of anyone who disagrees with him. Apparently you have chosen to emulate that trait. Interesting.

          • Frank March 4, 2011 / 1:53 pm

            Questioning your integrity and questioning a single instance of how you approach a particular discussion are two very different things. If you are going to pass judgment on DiLorenzo’s claims about the “Lincoln cult” while also excluding immediately available counter-evidence that conflicts with your conclusion, then yes, I do question your forthrightness in formulating your approach to that particular.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 2:42 pm

            Thank you for offering your perspective. It has been very interesting to watch how one of Dr. DiLorenzo’s advocates argues his case.

  4. Chuck Brown March 4, 2011 / 12:55 pm

    Thanks, Brooks. Frank seems very angry. You were very restrained in dealing with him.

  5. Chuck Brown March 4, 2011 / 12:57 pm

    Of course, Frank, I did not mean DAVID Livingston.

    • Frank March 4, 2011 / 1:25 pm

      Of course you didn’t. I only point it out as a small illustration of the curious dialogue that happens here, and an indicator of what receives a pass. As to perceived anger, I cannot say that I view anything from this discussion outside the lens of thorough amusement.

      • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 1:46 pm

        Well, Frank, you are part of that dialogue, and you are evidently angry. You are exhibiting the very traits you claim to see in others. Meanwhile, you seem unable to address the issues I’ve raised about DiLorenzo’s scholarship. I’m sure that if you were able to do so, you would.

        • Frank March 4, 2011 / 2:02 pm

          Though I was hoping for something more, I actually see very little in your discussion that addresses DiLorenzo’s scholarship. You didn’t even take up the subject of either of his books, but rather chose to zero in on an interview he conducted with C-Span where the interviewer focused his questions almost entirely upon the “inside baseball” game of DiLorenzo’s complaints about his critics. That’s not to say his books are without fault – only that you did not even scratch that surface.

          In fact, by choosing to focus on this interview one could make the reasonable observation that you set up the subject in a way that invited this very line of debate – one that focuses on DiLorenzo the person and his various charged and hyperbolic, though not all together inaccurate, complaints about an aversion to criticism within the broader Lincoln community, while largely sidestepping the issue of what DiLorenzo has to say on Lincoln. Nor can you place the entire fault for that on him by characterizing it as an act of his obsession with other personalities – you chose the interview as your focus instead of his two books, also knowing that the interviewer chose questions to take it in a personal direction.

          No anger here – just an observation.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 4, 2011 / 2:38 pm

            I’m sure you believe what you say. Thanks for expressing your opinion. Other readers may have a different perspective.

  6. Chuck Brown March 5, 2011 / 11:13 am

    Please refer to for a lesson in “scholarship.”

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