Zak Kraehling wrote “Lionized Lincoln” for his third and final essay for the WR 100 seminar “Lincoln and His Legacy.” In this course, students study Abraham Lincoln both before and during his presidency; then the final unit of the course examines Lincoln’s legacy from the time of his death until today. Zak’s extraordinary final paper synthesizes readings of Lincoln’s words and actions both in the presidential and pre-presidential eras in order to develop an assessment of the legacy that this leader has for us, today.

Zak’s essay makes a provocative claim: that Lincoln’s beloved reputation is built not only on what most people know about him (his humble origins, his rise to political prominence, and his moral leadership during the Civil War), but also on his dictatorial actions and grand ambition. This last charge demonstrates Zak’s willingness to confront the facts on the ground, so to speak. In a style distinctive for its voice, Zak’s writing effectively “plants nay-sayers” (as Graff and Birkenstein put it in They Say/I Say) throughout the essay in order to acknowledge and respond to counterclaims. In making his case, Zak also incorporates a diverse range of sources (historians, a legal scholar, an activist, and a politician), but he does not lean on these for their authority; instead, his command of the material enables him to treat his sources respectfully, but not deferentially. Zak’s essay offers the kind of intellectual criticism that we are most in need of: he admires the subject of his essay, but he is unwilling to ignore the flaws that he observes. Ultimately, his work suggests that we—as critical readers, listeners, viewers, and consumers of culture—can be active participants in discovering and creating the icons we admire.


WR 100: Lincoln and His Legacy