“Abraham Lincoln is an icon of ambiguity because iconicity is itself tragic. The political, religious, and aesthetic history of the icon shows this: at once disparaged and chastised for its moral turpitude it is all the while embraced and exalted for its political powers of glory. Steven Johnston’s brilliant and discomforting engagement with the iconicity of Lincoln affronts all of us with this tragic element of our aesthetics and politics; witness Thomas Ball’s Freedmen’s Memorial to Lincoln, the Gettysburg address, the Second Inaugural. Johnston collects and connects all these objects of iconicity to create an ethos of ambiguity for democratic life that holds no promise of redemption or overcoming. More than this, Johnston recollects these and other historical traces of American iconophilia forcing his readers to confront the accursed parts of America’s tragic forgetfulness. As much a book about the slippages of our historical memories as it is a book about Abraham Lincoln, Johnston has given us a genealogy of American moralism from which we cannot turn away.”
"Lincoln is a tour de force. Johnston offers a complex portrait of Lincoln and the nation that resonates eerily into the present. At once a work of political theory and democratic criticism, Johnston’s claim that Lincoln’s constitutive ambiguity as both a defender of the Constitution and its chief violator, a defender of emancipation and a leader who stifled dissent, one who upheld white privilege and justified colonization, is well-written and lively. Weaving together Lincoln’s writings, scholars from across disciplines, popular films, and monuments, Johnston examines the representations of Lincoln through attention to the democratic potential and tragic aspects of slavery, race, the treatment of American Indians, colonization, dissent, and political sovereignty. This book reframes the American promise of equal liberty in how we remember Lincoln."