Claiming Lincoln: Progressivism, Equality, and the Battle for Lincoln's Legacy in Presidential Rhetoric

Article excerpt

Claiming Lincoln: Progressivism, Equality, and the Battle for Lincoln's Legacy in Presidential Rhetoric. By Jason R. Jividen. (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011. Pp. 233. $38.00.)

What do presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama, and key advisors to these presidents, such as Herbert Croley and John Dewey, have in common? First, they all either participated in the so-called "progressive" movement in politics and society of the early twentieth century or participated in the building and expansion of the modern, bureaucratic, administrative, and liberal national state. Second, each president claimed to continue the work and vision of President Abraham Lincoln. Scholars of United States history and political science have long noted this use of Lincoln in presidential rhetoric to justify everything from the plebiscitary presidency of Wilson to Johnson's "war on poverty" to Obama's socialized health care. Yet rejecting Lincoln's historical values in favor of a historicized, historicist understanding of Lincoln and his values constitutes a third quality that each of these progressive presidents have in common. This careful, precise, persuasive, and engaging book lays bare the intellectual gymnastics that later presidents had to perform to enlist Lincoln on behalf of progressive causes of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Succinctly stated, Jason R. Jividen argues that "Lincoln's political thought and the basic tenets of American progressivism are incompatible" (97). In order to tie themselves to Lincoln, later presidents and their advisors rejected Lincoln's constitutional values as they advanced their own political agendas. …