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Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2011
Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason is a comprehensive study of how Lincoln developed his command of logic, reason and argument both as an attorney and political giant. I always thought Lincoln, like many politicians, had an innate ability to communicate ideas. The book contends that such skills can be learned. Portions of the book require deep thought regarding the mathematical concepts needed to understand Lincoln's approach, but the authors effectively break the materials into reasonable portions. As a litigation attorney, I really appreciated the historical detail of practicing law in the mid-1800's and would highly recommend the book to other attorneys, especially younger attorneys who wish to understand the roots of the profession and how to develop the timeless art of persuasion from one of the best. A fascinating read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Saying Abraham Lincoln is a brilliant writer will cause few arguments. Lincoln increased our vocabulary of phrases while defining how we see ourselves. His words are as fresh now as when spoken, the appeal to our better nature has not diminished. Many theories exist on how a self-education person could write such inspiring words. This book presents a compelling argument that Euclidean Geometry is the answer.

The book opens with a look at Lincoln as a student. Lincoln recalled his education as "readin, wrttin, and cipherin' and everything else learned "under the pressure of necessity". The authors maintain in "Unlocking Lincoln" that Lincoln transferred geometry into speech. The balance of the book looks at specific speeches and or incidents from Lincoln's life illustrating the development or application of this theory. The book's Appendix contains a series of Lincoln's speeches where the author's apply their idea illustrating how Lincoln applied Euclidean Geometry in each speech.

This is a serious and complex book. One author is an attorney and co-author of the technology column for the American Bar Association Journal. The other has a MS in mathematics and a PHD in electrical engineering. There is a series of charts and tables summarizing their ideas throughout the book. While not an easy read, it is not an impossible one. I followed the text with little difficulty for this type of book. The book is fully footnoted, indexed and contains a full bibliography.

This book will appeal to Lincoln scholars and mathematicians but is an informative read for our Civil War community. While not for everyone it is an above average book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
As a lawyer I've long been fascinated with how speakers and writers persuade others. I can't imagine anyone else that persuaded others in more difficult circumstances than Abraham Lincoln. This book was terrific in explaining how Lincoln structured his arguments and speeches. Written in a clear and effective manner, I gained enough insight to start using some of Lincoln's techniques in my own writings and arguments. Lincoln was a master of persuasion and I am thankful I had the opportunity to read this book. I highly recommend this book if you wish to improve your skills of persuasion or if you just want to learn more about the mastery of Abraham Lincoln.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2011
In "Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason," authors David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften write that Lincoln used Euclid's principles of geometry to structure many of his speeches, legal arguments, and writings. In Chapter 3, "Honest Abe?," they write that Lincoln misused Euclid in his 1860 speech at Cooper Union by misconstruing the votes cast by three of the Framers of the Constitution on the issue of the power of the federal government to control slavery in the federal territories.

The authors recite a long list of problems with Lincoln's arguments. The question mark after "Honest Abe" in the chapter's title seems to imply that he was less than honest. The authors make this implication explicit, over and over. Lincoln, they write, "confused the issue" and "stretched the math" (p. 48). He "finessed" the votes of three of the Framers (p. 50). He "employed a verbal shell game" by "overstating his conclusion" (p. 50). There was "weakness in Lincoln's argument" (p. 51). The genius of his speech was in "the skillful stretching of the context of the facts" (emphasis in original, p. 51). He "manufactured three votes" by giving them "a significance they did not have" (p. 51). He used "sleight of hand" (p. 53). Lincoln "slyly manipulated the counting" (p. 52). There was "carefully orchestrated equivocation" (p. 53). The facts Lincoln presented at Cooper Union were not in dispute, but the "stretch" he made was in "the legal effect of those undisputed facts" (p. 54). The authors suggest a possible violation of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Lincoln was not dishonest. The authors write that "the issue Lincoln addressed was whether the Constitution forbids the federal government from regulating slavery in the territories." But, in fact, Lincoln never posed the question in those words. The actual question he asked was, "Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to control as to slavery in our Federal Territories?" (emphasis in original).

Lincoln answered his own question: "The sum of the whole is, that of our thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution, twenty-one -- a clear majority of the whole -- certainly understood that no proper division of local from federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories."

What were the votes of the three Framers that Lincoln supposedly "finessed"? The first was in 1784. Lincoln said that "three years before the Constitution -- the United States then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other, the Congress of the Confederation had before them the question of prohibiting slavery in that Territory; and four of the 'thirty-nine' who afterward framed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin, and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition, thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory."

On the second vote, Lincoln said that in 1787, "still before the Constitution, but while the Convention was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was the only territory owned by the United States, the same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before the Congress of the [Articles of] Confederation; and two more of the 'thirty-nine' who afterward signed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on the question. They were William Blount and William Few; and they both voted for the prohibition -- thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal territory. This time the prohibition became a law, being part of what is now well known as the Ordinance of '87."

Lincoln candidly and openly (1) stated that the vote preceded the Constitution, (2) made no assertion that it supported the "constitutionality" of the legislation, and (3) used the vote to show the understanding at the time of the line dividing local from federal authority.

It is an old debating technique to state one's own version of an opponent's argument, and then to argue against the resulting straw man.

In paraphrasing, but not quoting, Lincoln's question, the authors never include his phrase "proper division of local from federal authority." Lincoln was responding to a famous article by Stephen A. Douglas in the September 1859 issue of Harper's entitled "The Dividing Line Between Federal and Local Authority: Popular Sovereignty in the Territories." Douglas wrote that the dividing line between federal and local authority was familiar to the "framers of the Constitution." He wrote that the colonial era, imperial England had no authority over "local" matters, including laws affecting slavery. Under the Articles of Confederation, he argued, the people of the territories had an inalienable right to govern themselves with respect to "internal polity," including slavery, while Congress was limited to federal affairs. This was the "dividing line." At Cooper Union, Lincoln countered with the principle that "no proper division of local from federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories."

The authors assert a need to prove an absolute majority, but if 18 of 39 signers had voted for legislation restricting slavery in the territories after ratification, and only two voted against, then there would have been a clear plurality in favor. A plurality is still enough to elect a President, to elect Members of Congress in most states, and to enact legislation. The authors' chart lists "18 unique yes" votes. An 18-to-2 vote, with 19 silences, is very persuasive. So if Lincoln had addressed the question of constitutionality, he still would have had a strong argument.

The authors also note that neither a legislator's oath nor the Constitution itself can influence a vote prior to the Constitution's existence (p. 50). But if the three voters had in fact favored the policy of federal control of slavery in the territories under the Articles, then it would be reasonable to conclude that they favored the same policy as drafters of the Constitution, in the absence of any evidence that they intended a change in policy.

In short, the authors argue that three pre-Constitution votes on slavery were not relevant to the constitutionality of federal regulation of slavery in the territories, but they are wrong to claim that Lincoln said otherwise. Lincoln said that the pre-Constitution votes showed that the Framers believed that the "proper division of local from federal authority" did not preclude federal regulation of slavery in the territories.

Thus, the authors do not address the question Lincoln actually asked -- whether either the proper division of local from federal authority OR anything in the Constitution, forbids the federal government from controlling slavery in the territories. The reason that Lincoln asked that question is that that was the question that Douglas had raised in Harper's, and Lincoln disagreed with Douglas's answer to it. If the question had actually concerned solely the federal government's power under the Constitution, then the authors' point about Lincoln's use of pre-Constitution votes might be valid. But, because the question also concerned the proper division of local from federal authority, their point is not valid. They do not even mention Douglas's article.

[The preceding discussion expands upon points made in a book review by Henry Cohen of "Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason" in The Federal Lawyer (Feb. 2011, pp. 61-64). In the review, the author of the review acknowledged my assistance to him in preparing it. Available online at the website of The Federal Lawyer.]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2012
Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason provides a meaningful insight into the process used by Lincoln to analyze issues, and develop an effective way of expounding his analysis to others. The pieces reviewed also give a better understanding of the details of the issues in that important time of history. I have long enjoyed reading about the military history of the Civil War era. After reading this book, I came away with what I consider a much better understanding of Abraham Lincoln as a person. It will stimulate additional reading.
The appendices of the book contain a number of Lincoln's speeches, and letters. After reading the text of the book, I found these to be very interesting and informative. I don't usually spend much time in the appendix.
As a layman, the format of the book also helps provide a much better appreciation of the legal process. Time reading this book is well spent.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2011
I am just finishing law school and how I could have used this book the summer before law school started. I am about 2/3 of the way through it and am already planning on reading it a 2nd and even 3rd time. A strong must read for any pre-law student. I would urge attorneys who are mentoring students or working with people who might go to law school to suggest it as a good primer on the practice of law.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2011
After all these years, is there anything new to learn about Abraham Lincoln? The answer, surprisingly, is, yes! In Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, Hirsch and Van Haften develop a provocative thesis -- that Lincoln's extraordinary persuasive skills were due in part to his self-conscious mastery of Euclidean logic. With painstaking care, they parse his speeches, unveiling the Euclidean scaffolding that lies beneath them. Along the way, they also recount many delightful Lincoln stories and offer insights into the practice of law, then and now. This book is a revelation, a real tour de force! Thanks to Hirsch and Van Haften, we now know that Lincoln's "magic" was a heady combination of noble sentiments, winged words, AND iron logic. The book, by two first-time authors, should be of interest to students of politics and rhetoric and of course to Lincoln buffs as well. Enlightening, absorbing, and original.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 25, 2013
Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason by David Hirsch, Dan Van Haften

"Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason" makes the compelling argument that it was Lincoln's application of Euclid's first six books on geometry that provided the structure for his reason. The authors show how Lincoln embedded this knowledge of the structure of geometry into some of his most important narratives. Despite the authors' strong arguments in favor of their thesis, I sense this book will be of interest to mostly Lincoln scholars and enthusiasts of the law. The book has flashes of brilliance but it is also a tedious and repetitive read. This long 249-page book is composed of the following sixteen chapters: 1. Lincoln the Law Student, 2. Unlocking Lincoln, 3. Honest Abe?, 4. Lawyering Like Lincoln, 5. Attorney and Client: Matchmaking, 6. Credibility, Credibility, Credibility, 7. Fact Check: Confirming Truth, 8. Legal Check: Confirming Law, 9. Pleadings and Discovery: Specifying Issues and Facts, 10. Moving Targets: Judges and Motions, 11. Demonstration: The Elements of Trial, 12. Appeal, 13. Jefferson and Lincoln, 14. Euclid, the Apple of Newton's Eye, 15. How Does a Speech Mean?, and 16. Abraham Lincoln: The Great Demarcator.

Positives:
1. A unique book that provides an interesting take of what was behind Lincoln's sound reasoning.
2. Generally well written with a consistent format. Does a good job of consistently comparing the legal practice to Lincoln's day to how it compares today with a recurring section titled, "From Lincoln to Now".
3. Those interested in Lincoln's practice of law and how it compares today will thoroughly enjoy this book. "Litigation is persuasion; it is communication with combative purpose. Parties face skeptical judges and juries who want to do "the right thing." Frequently the matter to be decided is intractable, or the parties would not be there. We discuss constitutionally protected confidential speech between attorney and client and the relationship between communication and ethics."
4. The authors do a great job of providing compelling arguments for their main thesis, "A comparison of the geometric proof of Euclid's initial proposition to the first part of Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech shows that in each the structural elements of a proposition are identical. This was the bone upon which Lincoln laid his muscle of reason."
5. The authors' literally show readers how to put together arguments and compose speeches. " Great speeches and great writings are less a function of words and phrases than of structure."
6. Great deference to President Lincoln backed by supporting narratives. "Finally, in order to frame the facts properly, it is essential to understand the other side's position. Lincoln was a master at that."
7. This book captures wonderfully Lincoln's progression as a thinker and speaker.
8. Euclid's Elements in Geometry applied to the law. "Lincoln made the leap of applying geometry to philosophy and politics." Clearly show almost painstakingly so how it is applied to some of Lincoln's famous speeches.
9. The mindset and philosophy of Lincoln. "There is a difference between logic and rhetoric, and Lincoln preferred logic." "Lincoln was a sound and analytical thinker; and he applied that thinking to nearly every topic that came to hand."
10. A better understanding of the legal process. "The legal system cannot solve society's problems, nor can it fully rectify society's injustices; it can only attempt to keep society civil and safe, without doing violence to fundamental principles and a sense of justice."
11. The progression of technology and how it applies to the law.
12. Everything you wanted to know about a lawyer's job...from Lincoln to now. "Once a lawyer is engaged, a client's main role concerns the facts: to keep educating his or her lawyer on them, to assist with the development of the factual case, and to make informed decisions about goals, settlement, appeal and related matters. Beyond that, it is up to the attorney to conduct further research into both the facts and the law."
13. The elements of a trial. "A trial itself is a Euclidean proposition. It begins with an opening statement, a listing of facts that are given or will be shown. Each side uses its opening statement to present its version of the enunciation..."
14. Interesting chapter on Jefferson and Lincoln.
15. Newton and Euclid. "In addition to reading Descartes and Kepler and studying Copernican astronomy, he studied Euclid."
16. The connection between the geometry Lincolns studied and his debating skills. "The authors contend that Lincoln's desire for improvement created a new reality built on transferring the logical structure of the elements of a proposition from geometry to speech."
17. Well-cited book. Links worked great.
18. Excellent bibliography.

Negatives:
1. The book is at times quite dry and repetitive.
2. I did not derive much enjoyment from this book.
3. A hundred pages too long.
4. A timetable of technological milestones and how it applies to the law would have been welcomed.
5. No glossary of legal terms.

In summary, I found the authors' arguments to be compelling and sound. On the other hand, I didn't enjoy this book. It was overall tedious to read and repetitive. Lawyers and Lincoln scholars will enjoy this book but I fear the lay person will not share the same enthusiasm. In short, if you fall within the aforementioned targeted groups you will enjoy this otherwise it may be touch and go for the rest of us.

Further recommendations, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, "Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America: A Companion Book for Young Readers to the Steven Spielberg Film" by Harold Holzer, "A. Lincoln: A Biography" by Ronald C. White Jr., "Abraham Lincoln" by James McPherson, and "With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln" by Stephen B. Oates.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2013
It's been a few years since I first read this book and I want to re-read so I can let it soak and take more advantage of its clear and powerful methods for persuasive writing. I'm jumping the gun and rating it now. I'll edit my post with a more comprehensive review after re-reading. It deserves all five stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2014
This wonderful book is a superbly researched and developed insight into the brilliant and self educated mind of one of our greatest presidents. This book explores his use of Euclidian geometry to structure his deceptively plain and simple arguments in his debates and presentations. The author also lays out the development of the legal profession's educational methods and practice. I have given this book to several friends in that profession.
I am not a lawyer, though I confess to a love of the structure and ideals of the law. I highly recommend this book to anyone who values Abraham Lincoln or the place of law in our republic of liberty.
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