The literature on Abraham Lincoln is vast, but it isn’t very good.”  You have to love a book with a first sentence like that!  The book is Kevin Orlin Johnson’s The Lincolns in the White House. While he has some interesting history of the Executive Mansion (the White House) the author is not limited to that one place and  short time period, as indicated by the subtitle: Slanders, Scandals, and Lincoln’s Slave Trading Revealed. He presents a fresh and highly original social and political portrayal of the whole Lincoln era.

Probably people will find most interesting Lincoln’s direct order in 1850 to SELL the slaves of his father-in-law’s estate.  It is plainly there in the documents, which somehow the host of Lincoln scholars have previously failed to notice. Not surprising, since other Northern heroes, Steven Douglas and U.S. Grant, also got slaves from the wife’s families and like Lincoln considered it a routine matter.

Johnson is eloquent, precise, and definitive in his exposure of the large and well rewarded class of “historians” he calls the Lincolnolators.  In chapter and verse he shows how they have misinterpreted documents and suppressed others and counted undocumented third person gossip long after the fact as if were conclusive evidence. Johnson contributes a needed revelation about the state of American historianship these days.

Lincoln was not personally corrupt in the White House but he apparently enjoyed considerable “honest graft” from gifts and insider information.  When he died there were found in his office uncashed cheques and bonds worth more the $1.5 million in today’s money.  He was certainly the first President to leave the White House richer than he entered it.

But that was routine in administration built on corruption. Most of Lincoln’ major appointments became millionaires—an interesting sidelight on the holy cause of Union. To Johnson this meant the permanent establishment of what he calls “the Party,” the exploitation of the taxpayers by the combination of capitalists and party politicians that has been the American regime from Lincoln to this day.

I am happy to see the evidence that corrects two erroneous assumptions that I had gathered from the literature:

1)Lincoln was not really a highly successful lawyer. He certainly was not nobly defending the humble. He was best-known for diverting juries by tricks and irrelevant story telling. During the Springfield years the house was bought and living expenses were paid out of Mary Todd Lincoln’s inheritance. What he earned (nothing in the last two years before his election) he spent on himself and politicking.

2) Mary Todd Lincoln was not a bad woman. She is pervasively portrayed in the literature as a shrewish spendthrift who embezzled government funds and became insane.  Just another burden that St. Abraham patiently bore.  In fact, as a Southern lady she was a first-rate hands-on housekeeper even with the extreme demands on a President’s lady dealing with irregular and inadequate support. Unlike most of those around her, she never did anything illegal.  She was committed to an asylum, it is true. Her son Robert, truly an evil man, through greed had two thugs physically rob her of the bonds that were her main property and thrust her into an institution where she was heavily drugged, causing suffering for the rest of her life.

Dr. Johnson adds to his merit by a sprightly style and touches of satire.  This is a stellar contribution to  the growing body of sound scholarship about the real Lincoln, something America badly needs.

Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books.


  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    “This is a stellar contribution to the growing body of sound scholarship about the real Lincoln, something America badly needs.”
    Much is needed to battle the faux-scholarship of the ilk of D’Souza, Levin ad nauseam.

  • John Luker says:

    Is this book available for purchase? I’ve tried to locate it with no success.

  • Anastasia Koshakji says:

    I thoroughly read Dr Kevin’s Johnson book on The Lincoln’s in the White House.
    Interesting and full of great facts.
    I am ready to reread it. An amazing book and enjoyable.
    Glad I bought it.

  • scott Thompson says:

    and they take down r.e. lees statue…sheesh

  • Karen Stokes says:

    Does this book deal with the seances in the White House? Just curious.

    • No, but it’s a fascinating subject — in fact, hilarious. I do have a book in the works at present on just that topic. It should be ready by about late 2025, which means that it’ll probably materialize in 2027 —

      Stay tuned at Abbeville Institute for updates! Thanks for your interest!

  • Joyce says:

    More evidence that The Great Emancipator wasn’t.

    • Gordon says:

      Joyce, you may be interested to know I visited Stratford late last week. It’s different. The ladies at the toll house and at the visitor center both acknowledged deemphasizing of the Lee’s, one saying the stories of “all peoples who lived at Stratford are told”. Both said they couldn’t say much else, both seemed dutiful. At the moment there is still a placard before the House featuring RE Lee. No docents, a self guided tour of the Great House. I was the only visitor for the two hours and only walked the grounds with my Jack Russell.

      The few other people seen, employees or contractors, were very young and casually dressed, not the distinguished grownups in times past. One appeared suddenly as I rounded a building corner, immediately pivoting away. Seemed weird but probably nothing.

      The exhibits in the visitor center feature archeology, not Lee’s. The gift shop has one small round table near the counter with books for sale, half Lee’s, half slavery. Very few other Lee identified items. I purchased a small bust of the General, the last one. The young woman attending said they acquired them when “W&L got rid go them” and there would be no more when they “get rid of them”. The rest was coffee, tea, jellies, etc, much Stratford identified clothing. The far end of the room used to be Lee and Southern themed books, now it’s three bistro tables and chairs for coffee.

      I would NOT tell someone NOT to go there, at this time, but it’s different. If a guest asked me to go, I would. Probably not, otherwise.

      I’m going to the Lee Chapel in Lexington soon.

  • sachaplin says:

    Thank you, Dr. Wilson, for recommending this book. I just placed my order. I am grateful there is a cite like this to learn that such books are out there.

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