“I always thought Lincoln was wrong. I always thought the South had every right to go. If Lincoln had a high moral purpose — which has now been invented for him, posthumously, the abolition of slavery — I’d say, well it’s illegal but it’s morally worthy.
He was not interested in freeing the slaves. He was interested in the preservation of the union and power and centralization. He turned to the Constitution and said I have no right to free the slaves, no constitutional right.
When he finally did get around to a degree of emancipation, he did it entirely under military necessity. I think he made a great mistake.
If I had been around at the time, I think I would have been for [Secretary of State William H.] Seward, who said let the South go. He called them the ‘Mosquito Republics,’ and asked ‘What are they going to do?’. They have two crops: cotton and tobacco. They’ve got no place to go. We’re getting all this immigration. We’re going to seize Canada one day. Let’s take over Mexico and Central America — he was extremely ambitious — and the South will come back. They’ll be knocking on the door. Why kill 600,000 young men for a notion of the union, which nobody had thought much of before then?”
Gore Vidal, responding to a question about whether his favorite theory of government — that of devolution, where power is drawn outward to states and localities — contradicted the principles fought for by our 16th president.
Unsurprisingly, one of Vidal’s most acclaimed books, Lincoln: A Novel, shatters the saintly Lincoln death mask to reveal a man unrelentingly political, beset by personal and marital hang ups, and often unsure of even minor decisions in office. It’s a compelling portraiture, one you won’t find in the National Gallery.