Lincoln, Machiavelli, and American Political Thought



    1. Doctoral candidate in political science at Rutgers University. His research interests include modern political thought and American political leadership.
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  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association in Providence, Rhode Island on April 30, 1999. I am grateful to Wilson Carey Mc Williams and Daniel Tichenor for their encouragement and advice. I also thank Benjamin Barber, Marc Landy, Joe Romance, Ron Schmidt Jr., Torrey Shanks, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments and criticisms.


The author argues that Machiavelli's political theory provides us with a framework that can be used to illuminate the words and deeds of Abraham Lincoln. He draws primarily on the competing interpretations of Machiavelli offered by J.G.A. Pocock, on one hand, and Harvey Mansfield on the other. According to the author, Pocock's and Mansfield's very different readings of Machiavelli can both be employed to shed light on Lincoln's multifaceted statesmanship. This conclusion is at odds with the interpretation of Lincoln offered by John Patrick Diggins in The Lost Soul of American Politics. According to Diggins, there may be some similarities between Lincoln and Machiavelli, but “such similarities… are far less telling than the contrasts.” The author hopes to convince the reader that a Machiavellian interpretation of Lincoln is, in fact, far more compelling than Diggins would have us believe.