I recall another candidate for the Republican nomination who once wrote, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man.” These came from notes on a lecture he gave years before the presidency. Something he thought, and wrote, deeply about if one sees quite clearly by reading his correspondence.
I had the honor of studying with a great Lincoln scholar, William Lee Miller, at the University of Virginia, from whom I learned much about our perhaps greatest president, and so think I may have some remote credibility to say that our first Republican chief executive would have wanted nothing to do with this man. We can’t go back in time and ask, but we can compare notes. Historians know this; it’s the best we can do at offering advice from our perspective. While working with Miller at the U.VA.’s Miller Center, I had colleagues including Tim Naftali, who were working on deciphering tapes of President Kennedy during moments of crisis.
Rereading Lincoln’s notes from 1850, or other years in which Dr. Miller and I studied his speeches, is no more or less a historical task than trying to figure out exactly what Richard Nixon was saying in 1973 on his taping system, as Dr. Naftali, or John Dean — who was often there in the room — can attest. We can’t hear voices from 1850, but we can hear messages.
A question I, and many of my friends in the conservative movement have is: Let us agree that Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with the current GOP nominee for president.