Interview: Rich Lowry on Lincoln Unbound


MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ, and we're talking with Rich Lowry, the editor of the weekly magazine version of National Review, and the author of the new book, Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream--and How We Can Do It Again. It’s published by HarperCollins, and available from and your local bookstore. And Rich, thanks for stopping by today.

MR. LOWRY:  Hi, Ed.  Thanks so much for having me.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Rich, in addition to the Steven Spielberg movie, there have been a lot of authors recently issuing books on our sixteenth President.  What made you decide to join the ranks?

MR. LOWRY:  Well, I've always enjoyed and admired Lincoln, and I wanted to write this book, because I really think it gets to the why of Lincoln.  It's -- we know so much of the story, especially during the Civil War and about the assassination.  So we kind of know the what and the how.  But this goes to his why, his fundamental animating purposes.  And I think you don't really understand Abraham Lincoln unless you understand this stuff.

And in a nutshell, it's Lincoln as the foremost apostle of opportunity in American history.  How that played out in his own life, personally; how it influenced his politics and his policies, was absolutely fundamental to those things, and what we can learn from it in our circumstances today.

MR. DRISCOLL:  What did you learn about Lincoln while you were researching the book?

MR. LOWRY:  Well, you're always surprised by a couple things, I think, if you just have the popular image of him in your mind.  One he hated the name Abe, he just hated that nickname.  And this just went to what he really sought his entire life was to be respectable and to be respected.  And he climbed up from literally nothing.

And there was always from almost the very beginning, this ferocious ambition and determination to him.  And he was able to make so much of himself, also, because he was exceptionally intellectually talented.  So anyone who has a view of him as a common man, so called, or as an accidental president or an accidental anything in politics, is absolutely wrong.

And another thing about him -- you know, we -- this is in the subtitle of my book -- you know, we associate him with rail splitting, call him the rail splitting president.  He hated splitting rails.  The last thing he wanted to do in his life was split any more rails.  He'd been forced to do it, in large part, in his younger years, and he never wanted to do it again.  And he wanted to create an America that wasn't based just on muscle and rote labor anymore.  He wanted to create a new country that was open to people's diverse talents, who would be able to make the most of themselves, and not just live as subsistence farmers for evermore, which was the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian vision of America.