Separating Abraham Lincoln Fact From Fiction

This is a rush transcript from "Glenn Beck," February 12, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GLENN BECK, HOST: It's President Lincoln's 200th birthday. Do you remember what Presidents' Day was really about? George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — now, kids are like, "Oh, it's Barack Obama's birthday."

In Seattle, we have presidential historian Rick Shenkman. He is with us.

Rick, I wanted to bring you on and talk to you a little bit about Abraham Lincoln and maybe — I want to focus on three things that I think most Americans don't know about Abraham Lincoln.

And the first one was he had an awful childhood. I hate to ask you this of a historian because maybe this is like, you know, chopping down the cherry tree. Maybe these aren't right. But didn't his mother pass away? He lived out in the middle of the woods. And didn't his dad just leave Abraham Lincoln?

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RICK SHENKMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, no, he didn't leave him. What happened was, when Lincoln was nine years old, his mother Nancy Hanks — she died. And then his father wound up marrying a new woman, and the stepmother and Lincoln — they got along OK.

But Abraham Lincoln disliked his father. He didn't like the fact that his father was illiterate. He made fun of his father for not being able to write anything except bunglingly his name. He didn't attend his funeral. He didn't invite — Lincoln didn't invite his dad to go to his own wedding. He never had his family go visit Lincoln's father so even though his father was not living that far away —

BECK: I have read in — I've read in a couple of books about Abraham Lincoln that dad — he did leave. He left and he and his — I think — didn't he have a sister or another sibling? And dad left after the death and then came back a little later. But he didn't — he just kind of disappeared. And Abraham Lincoln was actually afraid of his father growing up, because father was a brute. True or false?

SHENKMAN: Well, I don't know how — I don't know what you've been reading. I'm not sure how brutal his father was. You know, they were living on a frontier, on a farm. Life was hard.

Lincoln wasn't much of a hard worker when it came to manual labor. He didn't like it. He preferred reading. There are contradictory stories about whether or not Lincoln's dad was willing to allow his son to read. Some people say yes.

BECK: Right.

SHENKMAN: Some people say no. So it is a little bit of a mixed story.

BECK: Right. OK. Then maybe this isn't true. Antietam, when — bring up the — Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address. I just read all the inaugural addresses from Thomas Jefferson up to FDR before this inauguration. And I learned all kinds of things.

SHENKMAN: I pity you.

BECK: It's actually —

SHENKMAN: I pity you.

BECK: It was fascinating. In his first address, he said "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."

I read that and thought, "Oh, my gosh. It really was about states' rights and not about slavery at the beginning." But I understand at Antietam, he made a promise to God, "If you drive the South back, if you get back out of this area, I promise you, Lord, I will free the slaves," and he stuck by that. Is that true?

SHENKMAN: Well, let me try and put this into some context. When Lincoln, who was fundamentally — and we should remember this — he was a politician. When he gets elected president, his goal is to avoid a civil war.

BECK: Right.

SHENKMAN: He doesn't want a civil war. That's going to be a nightmare for a president. So he's trying to offer olive branches to the south. One of the olive branches that he offers in his inaugural address is he agrees to sign on to a compromise amendment to the Constitution that had already been passed by the Congress which said that, "We will allow slavery to remain where it already exists, and permanently. This will be an un-amendable amendment to the Constitution."

Lincoln signs off on it. Four months later, of course, we get Fort Sumter and there is war. And there is really nothing he can do about it.

Now let's talk about Lincoln and slavery. Lincoln said repeatedly, "If slavery isn't a sin, nothing is a sin." He believed absolutely slavery was a sin. But he also believed, as the war unfolded, that he would wind up having to embrace abolitionism as a war measure.


SHENKMAN: So that's what he does. He winds up changing his opinion.

BECK: Thank you very much for spending time. I could have spent a lot more time with you. Thank you very much. We've got to go.

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