I should place my cards, face-up, on the table: I believe that the South had the better constitutional arguments in the antebellum period, not to mention a sounder architecture for political philosophy generally (which is to say that those with a better inheritance defended the worst, always a recipe for disaster); I question certain of Lincoln's wartime policies, both constitutionally and otherwise; I question the conduct of certain phases of the war; I abominate the centralized national state that emerged in the wake of the War and Reconstruction; I regard the conflict of industrial and agrarian conceptions of order as equally, perhaps more, decisive than slavery in the run-up to the War; and I've no love or reverence for the economic centralizers who desired that state, and availed themselves of it when they received it. I admit without hesitation that the South was often belligerent and injudicious in pressing its claims (so also was the North; it was a national tragedy), that a defense of slavery was an aspect of the Southern cause (though assuredly not the whole of it, and assuredly not to the average fighting man), and that those who dissented from the Southern understanding could not but respond as they did (it was a tragedy, after all). What else could Lincoln have done, given his convictions, after the unpleasantness at Fort Sumter?
Nevertheless, despite all of that, there is a case to be made that, just as Harry Jaffa and certain neoconservatives are mistaken in regarding America as an ideological and messianic nation, destined to spread freedom abroad, so also are they wrong in regarding Lincoln as a prophet of that nation. Lincoln, logically speaking, could have been entirely wrong in his interpretation of America, yet not by virtue of that error a prophet of democratic interventionism; likewise, he could have been correct in his interpretation of American institutions, yet not also such a prophet. The two are not necessarily associated.* Grant Havers makes that case over at Taki's. It is well worth reading.
*This is not to deny a resonance between the unitary national state and adventures abroad; the connection between the two is evidenced quite abundantly in modern history. Nor is it to deny that the tensions and contradictions of such a state often express themselves in foreign policy. It is to say only that this should be understood historically as well as conceptually, and not as a logical entailment. History is inconsistent because men are inconsistent; that Lincoln prosecuted the Civil War does not necessarily make him a herald of neoconservative empire. We can criticise or laud with respect to his own time and aims, and leave anachronisms to the neoconservatives. That is the argument.
Wilson is a better precedent for the errors of our age, anyway, at least on the plane of public rhetoric.