“The violence of the criticism aimed at Lincoln by the great men of his time on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line is startling. The breadth and depth of the spectacular prejudice against him is often shocking for its cruelty, intensity, and unrelenting vigor. The plain truth is that Mr. Lincoln was deeply reviled by many who knew him personally, and by hundreds of thousands who only knew of him.”
In his book, The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln, historian Larry Tagg, a native of Lincoln, Illinois, constructs a powerful case that Abraham Lincoln was by far the most hated and reviled of all American presidents, North and South, during his lifetime. For example, in May of 1864 the New York Times labeled Lincoln “a perjurer, a usurper, a tyrant, a subverter of the Constitution, a destroyer of the liberties of this country, a reckless desperado, a heartless trifler . . . there is no circle in Dante’s Inferno full enough of torment to expiate his iniquities.”
The Lacrosse, Wisconsin Democrat newspaper warned in November of 1864 that should Lincoln be reelected, “we hope that a bold hand will be found to plunge the dagger into the tyrant’s heart . . .” Such views were commonplace in the North.
This all changed after Lincoln’s death, as the Republican Party recruited (and probably paid quite handsomely) the New England clergy to capitalize on the assassination for political propaganda purposes. Professor Tagg explains this in a chapter entitled “The Sudden Saint.” After viciously vilifying him for four years as an infidel, and worse, “pastors across America rewrote their Easter sermons” after Lincoln’s death on Good Friday, “to include a new, exalted view of Lincoln as an American Moses, a leader out of slavery, a national savior who was not allowed to cross over into the Promised Land.” The Republican Party, with the help of a highly-politicized clergy, saw that “all their political enemies would fall before the sword that Lincoln’s death had put into their hands” in the post-war world.
Such were the origins of the Lincoln Myth, a much bigger rewriting of history than anything the Soviets or any other totalitarian regime ever attempted, for it has been going on now for more than 150 years.