Inventing the Gettysburg Address

Intercollegiate Review 28:1 (Fall 1992). Reprinted in American Conservatism and the American Founding (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1984).


Thirty years ago, Garry Wills was a rising star of the Right, a celebrity in the constel­lation of William F. Buckley, Jr. and Na­tional Review. His essay on “The Conve­nient State,” originally published in 1964 in What Is Conservatism?, a volume edited by the late Frank Meyer, was reprinted in 1970 in the first (but not in the second) edition of Buckley’s American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century. Taking its inspi­ration from John C. Calhoun, that essay is still looked upon as being nearly canonical by a number of conservatives. But some years ago, Wills switched sides, from Right to Left.

It has long been a wisecrack of the pub­lishing industry that the ideal title for a best seller—combining the three themes that attracted the book buying public most—was “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.” Wills’s lat­est book is clearly designed to exploit one of these themes, and since most Lincoln book buyers are Lincoln admirers, Wills has taken some pains not to lose them as customers. To anyone not invincibly gullible, how­ever, his real opinions are visible enough, all of them testifying to his long love affair with Calhoun, the antebellum sage of South Carolina, the leading proponent of the posi­tive good theory of slavery, the spiritual Father of the Confederacy, and the arch­enemy of the principle of equality in the Declaration of Independence. His essential loyalty to the cause of Calhoun and the Confederacy was fortified when, as a gradu­ate student at Yale, he fell under the influence of the late Willmoore Kendall, whose clamorous presence broods like a poltergeist over the pages of this book.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute