Lincoln's reputation, it should be said, is pretty solid, both among academic historians and the popular imagination. That said, we can look at a few aspects of Lincoln's career that might be deemed controversial:
- Lincoln held views on race that were fairly conventional for his day. To insulate himself against charges of radicalism in the 1858 Senate race against Stephen Douglas, he promised that he was not, and never had been, for the "social and political equality of the white and black races."
- Moreover, Lincoln did not advocate abolition before the war. This would have been politically disastrous for him. He instead argued that slavery should not be allowed to expand into the western territories. The Emancipation Proclamation itself was undertaken as a political and military necessity, though Lincoln had come by that point to believe that slavery had to be destroyed.
- During the war, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, imprisoning many who were deemed Confederate sympathizers, especially in the border state of Maryland. He even briefly contemplated imprisoning the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney, and ignored a ruling that Taney handed down on the matter.
It should be noted that each of these points is essentially criticizing Lincoln for being a product of his very difficult times, and for making decisions that he knew at the time to be controversial. So a good essay that engaged with Lincoln's legacy would not shy away from pointing out controversial aspects of his life while not asking too much of the man.