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Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession (Civil War America) [Hardcover]

by Russell A. McClintock
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 20, 2008 0807831883 978-0807831885 Book Club (BCE/BOMC)
When Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 prompted several Southern states to secede, the North was sharply divided over how to respond. In this groundbreaking book, the first major study in over fifty years of how the North handled the secession crisis, Russell McClintock follows the decision-making process from bitter partisan rancor to consensus.

From small towns to big cities and from state capitals to Washington, D.C., McClintock highlights individuals both powerful and obscure to demonstrate the ways ordinary citizens, party activists, state officials, and national leaders interacted to influence the Northern response to what was essentially a political crisis. He argues that although Northerners' reactions to Southern secession were understood and expressed through partisan newspapers and officials, the decision fell into the hands of an ever-smaller handful of people until finally it was Abraham Lincoln alone who would choose whether the future of the American republic was to be determined through peace or a sword.

Lincoln and the Decision for War illuminates the immediate origins of the Civil War, demonstrating that Northern thought evolved quite significantly as the crisis unfolded. It also provides an intimate understanding of the antebellum political system as well as Lincoln's political acuity in his early presidential career.


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The American Civil War often seems inevitable in retrospect, but to historians who examine the secession crisis of 1860–61, it does not seem quite so obvious. Succeeding works such as And the War Came, by Kenneth M. Stampp (1950), and Days of Defiance, by Maury Klein (1997), McClintock’s contribution assesses the impact in the North of South Carolina’s belligerence following Lincoln’s election. Through the lens of politics, McClintock analyzes how the factions composing the Republican and Democratic parties reacted, and how partisan newspaper editors attempted to influence these factions. From this bottom-up viewpoint, McClintock usefully changes the usual focus from Lincoln to a northern public worried about the possibility of war but uncertain how to avert it. Its fears consolidated into camps of hard-liners and conciliators, argues McClintock, who recounts the failures of compromise formulas that left Republicans opposed to concessions (Lincoln) with the upper hand over would-be deal cutters (William Seward). Intended to redress an oversight in scholarship, McClintock’s study should find favor with general readers interested in the Civil War’s immediate origin. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

"Reader[s] will revel in McClintock's attention to detail and presentation of his interpretation and information in this rich narrative. His ability to immerse the reader within the politics and personalities of the nineteenth century is skillful indeed. . . . Should be the one book that scholars and interested readers consult on the matter of Northern attitudes towards secession at the brink of the Civil War."
-Virginia Libraries

"Those interested in better understanding Lincoln's role in the crucial period between his election and the call for volunteers in mid-April 1861 would do well to consult Russell McClintock's new book. . . . Does a fabulous job of uncovering the sense of contingency that existed throughout the nation in the early months."
-Louisiana History

"[A] splendid study. . . . The success of McClintock's book lies not only in its welcome reconsideration of Republican policy but also in its highlighting the crying need for a modern treatment of the secession winter as a national crisis, a climax of decades of sectional dynamics across the North's and the South's porous political and physical borders."
-Journal of Southern History

"[A] highly readable, thoroughly researched, and welcome narrative. . . . McClintock's book has set a high standard--indeed, a Lincolnian one."
-Civil War History

"McClintock contributes greatly to Civil War scholarship and perhaps even helps Army officers understand the current political climate. . . . McClintock has truly mastered his subject."
-Military Review

"In telling the story so thoughtfully and with such attention to detail, this fine piece of scholarship certainly deserves to take its place alongside the familiar historiographical landmarks."
-American Historical Review

"Tells this story in a straightforward manner with minimum back tracking. . . . Informative and enjoyable."
-James Durney, Independent Book Reviewer

"McClintock understands . . . the complexity of what was happening in the slave states."
-History News Network

"A fine study."
-Sean Wilentz, The New Republic

"It is the rare reader who will not find this an eminently satisfactory book. McClintock has consulted an impressive range of primary sources to construct his narrative, illustrate his points, and support his analysis, and [he] demonstrates a solid grasp of secondary literature."
-Journal of Illinois History

"Answers a question long understood to be central to any larger explanation of the Civil War. . . . A compelling account."
-Maryland Historical Magazine

"A worthy addition to Civil War scholarship."
-H-Net Reviews

"A balanced and erudite examination of the secession crisis from the all too neglected northern political angle. . . . [This] deeply researched study promotes fresh interpretations and insights that are deserving of a wide readership. The literature of the secession winter is appreciably richer for its existence. Highly recommended."
-Civil War Books and Authors

"[McClintock's] analysis is exceptionally clear and well written, easily accessible to the layperson as well as the scholar; it stimulates thought about the nature of leadership and crisis management."
-Choice

"Ably researched and well-written."
-Bowling Green Daily News

"[This] work should . . . be the beginning of a reappraisal."
-The Journal of American History

"McClintock's vision of the period in which events led to a new president's decision to go to war to preserve a union is to comprehend the war, its causes and effects, more deeply, more complexly."
-The Advocate

In Lincoln and the Decision for War, McClintock usefully changes the usual focus from Lincoln to a northern public worried about the possibility of war but uncertain how to avert it. . . . Intended to redress an oversight in scholarship, McClintock's study should find favor with general readers interested in the Civil War's immediate origins."
-Booklist

"Well-written, shows appreciation for the complexity of northern sentiment during the secession crisis, and treats the crisis for the essentially political drama it was."
-Civil War Book Review

In this 'gotcha' culture there are those who blame Abraham Lincoln for the secession of Southern states, but Russell McClintock presents the truth in his nuanced Lincoln and the Decision for War. While Lincoln's election provoked secession, there was nothing Lincoln could do to prevent it. McClintock's most important contribution is to show us how coincidence, accidents, and ignored factors, along with Abraham Lincoln's role, affected events. The book is an excellent reappraisal--sincere, intelligent, and absorbing.
-Frank J. Williams, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and founding chair of The Lincoln Forum

"This fine analytic book anatomizes the currents of need at the time, the efforts of the many varied cultures to cope with them, and the results."
-Journal of American Cultures

"With deft strokes, McClintock describes the various competing concepts of union among Republicans, Democrats and others and discovers that in the end they agreed that representative democracy must oppose disunion or else self-government itself would be lost. . . . More than any other scholar, McClintock incisively shows that in the end the North and Lincoln simply could not let the South go. Highly recommended."
-Library Journal

. . . [W]ell-written and brilliantly analyzed. . . .
-William C. Harris, author of Lincoln's Rise to the Presidency

"[A] most exhaustively researched, highly original, and persuasively argued interpretation by Russell McClintock, who views the secession crisis and the run-up to civil war through an entirely political lens. . . . This profoundly conceived and gracefully written book will rightfully be at the center of the [secession crisis] discussion for many years to come."
-Harold Holzer, Virginia Magazine

"McClintock transports the reader into the realm of antebellum American brinksmanship. . . . [A] satisfying account."
-Civil War Times

"McClintock's well-written and brilliantly analyzed account is a most important contribution to the study of the Civil War. . . . Illuminates the immediate origins. . . . Provides an intimate understanding of the antebellum political system."
-The McCormick Messenger

"A substantial contribution. . . . A fine study that deserves to be read along with the work of Daniel Crofts, Kenneth Stampp, and David Potter."
-Journal of Illinois History

"Indispensable for students of political history."
-Georgia Historical Quarterly

Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; Book Club (BCE/BOMC) edition (January 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807831883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807831885
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different point of view May 21, 2008
Format:Hardcover
The normal historical point of view for November 1860 to April 1861 is Southern. Lincoln and the efforts to find a comprise are noted but the main story is what the South is doing. This book changes that by concentrating on Northern politics and reactions. Secession and all the maneuvering for and against it, take place off stage. Except for South Carolina, leaving the Union was a wrenching process. Many Southern states resisted secession until the very end. Kentucky was not able to make a choice and Maryland may not have been able to choose. Their stories are the subject of most histories about this period.
What about the North? How did the political, personal and public opinion shape a response to the crisis? This book tells that story and what a story it is. The Democrats, badly damaged by the events 1860, try to blame everything on the Republicans. While they work to construct a comprise to save the Union one more time. The Republicans are not united nor are they sure how to proceed. A substantial part of the party sides with the Democrats in trying to find a comprise. Another large faction is ready to allow the South to leave the Union. Large numbers feel that secession is wrong but that the Federal government lacks the authority to force states back into the Union. Many question if it is desirable to use force to maintain the Union and if doing so would not destroy the Union. Added is the plea of Southern Unionists for something to stop secession.
Lincoln, Douglas, Seward stride across these pages. Each man with multiple agendas that create and destroy alliances. Each man trying to lead his political party, maintain the Union and do what he feels is best for the nation.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shall it be peace, or a sword? March 4, 2008
Format:Hardcover
McClintock's first historical non-fiction fully engages the reader in the politics and personalities that defined the most important four months in the history of the United States, the months between Lincoln's election and the firing on Fort Sumter. Although clear that the ultimate decision for the war lied with Lincoln, McClintock provides insight into the significance of other key players, from Democratic leader Stephen Douglas to Republican party leader William Seward. However, more than just a politcal history, letters and quotes from common townspeople provide a complete view of the perceptions of the time. As an avid reader of history, I can safely say that this work combines the detail of Shelby Foote with the adventure of David McCullough. Bravo McClintock!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Contribution to Civil War Literature November 16, 2011
By Charles
Format:Hardcover
Russell McClintock describes in great detail the political response to secession in the North. Most of his focus is on the action in Congress and the Republican party.

Oddly, President Lincoln seems to almost float above the contrevoursy between the time he is elected and the final decision to resupply Ft. Sumter. He evidently was greatly distracted by doling out patronage positions to Republican conies while the nation slid towards civil war. That's the impression one gets up until the final chapter or two, when McClintock seems to let Lincoln off the hook by inferring a higher purpose and reasoning behind his actions (or lack thereof).

Basically, McClintock makes the case that the immediate reason/cause of the war (not to be confused with the causes of secession) was that Lincoln and the Republican party felt that to surrender Ft. Sumter was to implicitly acknowledge secession and cede Federal authority in the South, and that in turn would lead to anarchy and the end of the government as other states went their own way. In other words, secession did not necessarily have to lead to war - the North (or more specifically the Republican Party) chose war rather than cede authority in the South. Ironically, Ft. Sumter, like most of the other coastal fortications built in the wake of the War of 1812, was functionally obsolete by 1861 and of little military value. Sumter's significance was mainly as a symbol of Federal authority.

Although McClintock acknowledges that the upper South did not secede until Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion (in fact, the upper South had explicitly and overwhelmingly rejected secession), he seems to let Lincoln off the hook here.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating history of 6 months in the North August 30, 2008
Format:Hardcover
I have read quite a lot on the Civil War and the events leading up to it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with any interest in the period. It is a a history of the Northern polical crisis from the time of the election in 1860 to the firing on Sumter. It is completely from the Northern perspective, the South perspective is completely ignored (it was about 4/5 through the book before the election of J. Davis is mentioned). With that in mind, the story that comes to life in this book is fascinating. This is a period that tends to be glossed over by most histories. The author does a phenominal job at putting the reader in the mindset of the times as the crisis evolved. I learned quite a few new things and enjoyed it.
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