You could call it Andy Ferguson’s “Journey to the Center of America,” but, in truth, in his new book, Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America, Andrew Ferguson does much more. He leaves Washington, D.C., goes back home to Illinois, and travels to many places beyond, in between, and back again, covering Lincoln lovers and haters with a light, patriotic, and wise hand. Learn history, laugh, and plan your summer vacation with Land of Lincoln. Until you do, get a taste of Land of Lincoln here — Ferguson recently took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez.
Governor Cuomo, if you’ve come this far, you might not want to continue.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: So…was he gay? Sorry, you hail from the Land of Lincoln, I come from Village Voice country.
Andrew Ferguson: Yes, he could be very spirited and happy sometimes! Oh wait — I forgot. In Illinois we used to use the word “gay” to refer to something different from what you mean up there in Village Voice country.
No, he wasn’t a homosexual. The book from a few years ago trying to prove that he was, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C.A. Tripp, has been pretty thoroughly discredited as an exercise in special pleading from a gay-rights advocate. What I’m interested in, and what the book is partly about, is why there should be such special pleading in the first place. Why is everyone always trying to draft Lincoln into their pet causes? Americans used to say they wanted their kids to be just like Lincoln: kind, principled, resolute. But what we’ve really wanted is for Lincoln to be like us.
Just in the last few years we’ve had books proving Lincoln was a socialist (written by a socialist), a manic depressive (written by a journalist who’s wrestled with depression), an evangelical Christian (written by an evangelical Christian), a religious skeptic (written by a religious skeptic), and so on.
We’ve even had a book trying to prove that Lincoln was exactly like Mario Cuomo. Guess who wrote that one.
Lopez: You’ve traveled the country in search of Lincoln. You must have a very patient family.
Ferguson: Kiddie Valium helps. Part of the book describes my attempt to reconstruct the now-defunct Lincoln Heritage Trail, which wound through Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois back in the early 1960s. My parents had taken my brothers and me on the Trail when I was kid, and I thought — hey! I bet my kids would just love that! I was, um, misinformed.
Lopez: What’s the most common conventional myth about Lincoln?
Ferguson: There are so many of these, and they work at such cross purposes, that it’s hard to isolate just one. And they change as time passes. When I was younger, Lincoln was commonly portrayed as a racial progressive on the contemporary model — again, someone just like us. It’s not a helpful myth, because when you learn that his racial views belonged far more to his time than to ours, it can shake your faith in him. That disillusionment has led to the contrary myth, that he was some sort of white supremacist on the contemporary model — which is equally false and far more destructive.
Lopez: What drives Lincoln hatred?
Ferguson: I think the best answer to what drives the Lincoln haters was found on a poster one of them once showed me: “You think all our problems began in the Sixties? You’re right — the 1860s!”
Lopez: Do Lincoln haters make any good points?