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‘Ape’ Lincoln Provoked Jokes, Sneers Until 1861: Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham of Lapham's Quarterly in New York. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

May 7 (Bloomberg) -- When Lincoln was nominated for president, he was a former one-term congressman and a failed Senate candidate from Illinois. A self-made man, he came to represent the promise of democracy.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

By the time the Rail-Splitter was elected, seven states had seceded and the country was on the brink of war. Remaining in Springfield, Illinois, before assuming office, Lincoln was often lampooned in the press. One cartoon in Harper’s Weekly showed him drinking and laughing as a funeral cortege passed by -- the coffin was labeled “Constitution” and “Union.”

On his way to Washington, it didn’t help when in Indianapolis he made a bawdy reference to the “free-love arrangement” envisioned by the secessionists. After an optimistic speech in Columbus, Ohio, he was denounced as a “clown.”

It was not until his brilliant July 4, 1861, address to Congress showing the profound threat to democracy secession represented that President Lincoln came into his own. Though he was reviled for political reasons, after that hardly anyone called him an “ape” or a “rube.”

I spoke with Adam Goodheart, author of “1861: The Civil War Awakening,” on the following topics:

1. Fort Sumter

2. Strategic Blunder

3. Will to Compromise

4. Threat to Democracy

5. Emancipation

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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