With the time and manner of his death Abraham Lincoln, as leader of a Puritan people who had just won a great victory over “the forces of evil,” was placed beyond the reach of ordinary historical inquiry and assessment. Through Booth’s bullet he became the one who had “died to make men free,” who had perished that his country’s “new birth” might occur: a “second founder” who, in Ford’s theater, had been transformed into an American version of the “dying god.” Our common life, according to this construction, owes its continuation to the shedding of the sacred blood. Now after over a century of devotion to the myth of the “political messiah,” it is still impossible for most Americans to see through and beyond the magical events of April 1865. However, Lincoln’s daily purchase upon the ongoing business of the nation requires that we devise a way of setting aside the martyrdom to look behind it at Lincoln’s place in the total context of American history and discover in him a major source of our present confusion, our distance from the republicanism of the Fathers, the models of political conduct which we profess most to admire. The examination of Lincoln’s career as divided into Whig, artificial Puritan, and serious Cromwellian phases should facilitate that recovery. And provide a proper word to break the silence that will not let us know and judge.
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