Between Legalism and the Higher Law
The tendency among Lincoln's opponents to plant themselves wholly upon law or wholly upon natural justice has persisted among writers on the Civil War period. Two modern commentators bring out the difficulties in these approaches with peculiar clarity. M. E. Bradford gives us a view of Lincoln “from the South,” a region he regards as filling the historical role of guardian of the American constitutional order. Howard Zinn identifies himself with the tradition of moral-political reformation in American life of which the abolitionists are the outstanding representatives.1 Both concede that Lincoln was a skillful politician, but they are doubtful about whether that is a good thing to be.
Their Lincolns could hardly be more different. Bradford's was “the American Caesar of his age” whose ultimate objective was “a neoPuritan war on the powers of darkness,” not because Lincoln himself was a moral zealot but because he “burned with ambition to have a 'name' and found in vilification his modus vivendi.”To Zinn, Lincoln was “the prototype of the political man in power, with views so moderate as to require the pressure of radicals to stimulate action.” His stand on slavery “through most of the war” was “so ambiguous and cautious as to make the British abolitionist George Thompson tell Garrison: 'You know how impossible it is at this moment to vindicate, as one would wish, the