For a Vast Future Also: Essays from the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

By Thomas F. Schwartz | Go to book overview

11
Lincoln and Congress: Why
Not Congress and Lincoln?

Harold M. Hyman

SINCE HERODOTUS, History’s house has developed many rooms. Among diverse practitioners, even devotees of “retrospective futurology” have, recently, found shelter there.

I am not sure what “retrospective futurology” is.1 But I believe strongly that the eminent political scientist Wilfred E. Binkley was not employing the technique adequately enough to forecast the Watergate tensions between President Richard Nixon and his party apparatus in Congress. In 1962, Binkley had noted that from the midnineteenth-century decades of the origins and rise of the Republican Party, “the genius of the party seems somehow to express itself most happily through Congress even to the present day.” Binkley’s statement appears in the 1962 revision of his significant 1937 book, President and Congress, in the important chapter on Lincoln and Congress. By the time Binkley’s revised edition hit the stands, he had spent almost fifty years in research, teaching, thinking, and writing concerning presidential-legislative developments and relationships. Yet, after five decades of productive effort, he had to use the imprecise phrase “seems somehow” when estimating interactions between Lincoln and the Civil War Congresses, especially with respect to the apparent Capitol Hill focus of Republican Party affections in the 1860s.2

For a soberingly long time, reliable perceptions and insights into many aspects of Lincoln’s Congresses have remained little improved from the murky quality of the writings of the 1930s. As an example of this continuing dimness, consider that Joseph Cooper, my historyminded Rice University political science colleague, in his 1968 monograph, insisted properly on “The Importance of Congress.” But

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