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A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War Hardcover – September 28, 2000

3.5 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson
"The Black Presidency"
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At last Jaffa, professor emeritus of political philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, delivers the long-promised and very worthy sequel to his classic, Crisis of the House Divided (1958), which brilliantly synthesized the content and meaning of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In his new work for the serious student of the 16th president's Jeffersonian interpretation of Constitutional law, Jaffa sees Lincoln's utterances in the debates as summarizing his political thinking from the time of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise (1854) up until his message to Congress on July 4, 1861. Starting with the July 4th address, Lincoln began to wrangle politically and intellectually with the legacy of John C. Calhoun andDmore specificallyDwith Calhoun's arguments for states' rights and secession. Calhoun had built a rhetoric separating states' rights from natural rights; he claimed that his new political science superseded the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist thinking and that of the Founding Fathers in general. In this book's penultimate chapterDa fascinating critique of Calhoun's paradigmDJaffa accomplishes what he set out to do and vindicates, in his own words, "not only Lincoln's rejection of the Southern states' rights dogma but also the intrinsic validity of the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence, encompassing the proposition that all men are created equal." This title, which features a stark and striking photo of Lincoln on its jacket, should sell on Jaffa's reputationDRowman & Littlefield is planning a substantial first printing of 10,000 copies, and the author will do promotion in California, where he lives, and in Washington, D.C. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Jaffa has again delivered a powerful contribution to Lincoln scholarship. Historians will find many riches in Jaffa's latest learned volume. (Michael Vorenberg American Historical Review)

Harry V. Jaffa takes his time. The wait is well worth it. In unpacking Lincoln's great speeches and debate orations, Jaffa shows what an astute, formidable, and brilliant interlocutor Lincoln was. (Jean Bethke Elshtain Civil War Book Review)

On exhibit in this book is a powerful intellect. . . . Among the prominent Americans who are brilliantly illuminated here as they have rarely been are Thomas Jefferson, John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, and, of course, Abraham Lincoln. (George Anastaplo, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography)

A New Birth of Freedom more than meets the critical expectations that Professor Jaffa has invited in the years since his acclaimed study, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, reoriented scholarly investigation of Abraham Lincoln and the coming the Civil War. A work of profound historical erudition and disciplined philosophical criticism, Jaffa's new work offers an original analysis of the crisis of the Union in the perspective of the western political tradition and in the context of the constitutional principles of the American Revolution. More judiciously than any other twentieth-century scholar writing in the nationalist tradition, Jaffa meets the challenge posed by the political philosophy and constitutional constructions of John C. Calhoun and the southern secessionists. Recognizing the openness of the historical situation that existed in 1861, Jaffa provides the most searching and fair-minded analysis of Lincoln's reasons for resisting secession that I have ever read. (Herman Belz, University of Maryland, College Park)

Four decades ago, Harry Jaffa offered powerful insights on the Lincoln-Douglas debates in his Crisis of the House Divided. In this long-awaited sequel, he picks up the threads of that earlier study in this stimulating new interpretation of the showdown conflict between slavery and freedom in the election of 1860 and the secession crisis that followed. Every student of Lincoln needs to read and ponder this book. (James M. McPherson, Princeton University)

With A New Birth of Freedom Harry V. Jaffa reestablishes himself as the greatest living scholar of Lincoln's political thought and Lincoln's greatest defender, period. Jaffa's analysis of the First Inaugural is without parallel as he demonstrates once and for all the incoherence of Calhoun's arguments for the southern secession. For every citizen interested in the preservation of the American union and the principles on which it rests, Jaffa's book is a must-read. (Steven B. Smith, Yale University)

Harry V. Jaffa's A New Birth of Freedom is a brilliant and incisive explication of the political ideas that were at the heart of the coming of the Civil War. Jaffa is at his very best in demolishing the currently fashionable argument that the ideal of equality was not part of the American constitutional system from its beginning. This is a work of deep learning and great relevance, both to Lincoln's time and our own. It is a worthy sequel to the author's classic study, A Crisis of the House Divided. (William E. Gienapp, Harvard University)

Forty years ago, Harry Jaffa wrote the greatest book on Abraham Lincoln's politics for a generation; now, Jaffa has written the greatest book on Lincoln's politics for another generation. A New Birth of Freedom is a relentless, powerful analysis of how Abraham Lincoln claimed the high intellectual ground of right, of universality, and of prudence from the romantic and racist ideology of John Calhoun—and claims it still from the shadow of Calhoun's postmodern imitators. (Allen C. Guelzo, author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President)

Harry Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided could rank as the 'first book' of American political science, for it showed how the whole tradition of political philosophy was brought to bear, by a gifted political man, on the gravest crisis of the American regime. For the same reason, that book stands, even today, as the best book ever written on Lincoln: it gave an account of Lincoln at the highest level, by actually taking seriously the substance of Lincoln's political thought. In A New Birth of Freedom, Jaffa provides the sequel, long-awaited. It is a sublime work, advancing and deepening the first. Lincoln comes out even more clearly in this new book as a model of 'classic statesmanship,' set off against all of the moral premises that would come with modernity, as Right and Left, would back into nihilism and reject the moral tradition. In Jaffa's hand, the account of Lincoln reaches the poetic, as indeed it must, for as the author allows, 'the place of the necessity in great poetry imposed by the artist may be occupied by a providential order in history, revealed in the speeches of the tragic hero.' (Hadley Arkes, Amherst College)

Forty years after his Crisis of the House Divided, widely recognized as a classic analysis of the ideas articulated in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Harry Jaffa has brought the same combination of impressive learning, breadth of knowledge and bold argument to his study of Lincoln's ideas at the outbreak of war. He places Lincoln's thought in a rich and broad context that ranges from Plato and Aristotle, and Dante and Shakespeare to Jefferson and Calhoun. This is a distinctive and provocative contribution to the current debate about the ideology and the ideals of America's greatest president. (Peter Parish, University of London)

A masterful synthesis and analysis of the contending political philosophies on the eve of the Civil War. A magisterial work that arrives after a lifetime of scholarship and reflection—and earns our gratitude as well as our respect. (Kirkus Reviews)

The appearance of Jaffa's A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War is an intellectual event of some significance. . . . The new volume will not prove a disappointment. It is a product of rigorous reasoning, reflects a profound knowledge of Lincoln and his era, and is cast in vigorous prose. And like the earlier volume, it expresses a deep moral seriousness. (Glenn Tinder The Weekly Standard)

At last Jaffa, professor emeritus of political philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, delivers the long-promised and very worthy sequel to his classic, Crisis of the House Divided (1958), which brilliantly synthesized the content and meaning of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. (Publishers Weekly)

This dense, demanding book on political philosophy will repay many readings and is a powerful rebuttal of those who insist that passion alone drives history and that great men did not mean what they said. (Randall M. Miller Library Journal)

In this deeply thought-out and eloquently argued book, the sequel to his acclaimed Crisis of the House Divided, Harry Jaffa brilliantly distills the political thinking of Abraham Lincoln and its potent legacy. (Charles Sermon The State)

Jaffa shows the inner unity of Lincoln's words and deeds with an intelligence and loving care never before equaled. (Charles R. Kesler The Claremont Review Of Books)

The essence of Jaffa's case—meticulously laid out over nearly 500 pages—is that the Constitution is not, as Lincoln put it, a 'free love arrangement' held together by passing fancy. It is an indissoluble compact in which all men consent to be governed by majority, provided their inalienable rights are preserved. (Bret Stephens The Wall Street Journal)

A New Birth of Freedom was worth the wait. Jaffa has produced a tour de force: an unabashed but scholarly celebration of Lincoln, liberty, and equality; a book that achieves Jaffa's goal of understanding 'the true measure of Lincoln's greatness.' (James L. Swanson Chicago Tribune)

Jaffa's prose is elegant and learned but complex, and, like his arguments, intellectually demanding. This absorbing book requires much effort on the part of the reader, but that effort is well rewarded. (CHOICE)

No other scholar has scrutinized the main documents of early American political thought as thoroughly as Jaffa. Prof. Jaffa's valuable book is as comprehensive as an encyclopedia and as exegetical as a scholastic thesis. Whether one agrees with him entirely or not, his argument that the ideas of Jefferson and Lincoln represent an organic continuity is original and daring and deserves to be debated for years to come. (John Patrick Diggins National Review)

This book is a scholarly effort. It is not an easy read, yet the logic Professor Jaffa offers flows clearly, orderly, and in abundance. (The Anniston Star)

Jaffa's new book has the same solid core that his earlier book possessed. (First Things)

A mighty achievement that will likely (and justly) dominate the landscape of American political thought for some time to come. (Religion & Liberty)

Harry Jaffa has crafted a captivating study of Abraham Lincoln's decision to save the Union by force in the secession crisis following his 1860 election to the presidency. The author broadly examines the intellectual, moral, and legal bases of the American founding to show how Lincoln's positions were logically derived. (Benjamine P. Tyree Book World)

Erudition, brilliance, probing analysis of texts, and the relation of ideas to others. His [Jaffa's] writing is insightful, imaginative, argumentative, and usually persuasive. This book makes an important contribution to the study of Lincoln's thought. (James A. Rawley History)

Scholars should add A New Birth of Freedom to their must-read list. (Daniel J. McInerney Reviews In American History)

Jaffa presents an impressive analysis of Lincoln in the context of Jefferson, Madison, Calhoun, and even William Shakespeare. A New Birth of Freedom is an outstanding book. (Liberty Press)

A New Birth of Freedom is a master work by a true and learned master of history and philosophy. It is a must for every serious student of the founding of our nation, of Abraham Lincoln, and of the Civil War. A New Birth of Freedom should be required reading for all lawyers, judges, members of political bodies, and of the body politic, and especially those still in school. (Civil War News)

The principal virtue of Jaffa's book is the seriousness with which it treats its main topic. (Journal of American History)

Jaffa's analysis of Lincoln and his rhetoric offers great insight. . . . One hopes that . . . Jaffa may enjoy a lifespan of Mosaic proportions and continue for many years to enrich our understanding of Lincoln. (Rhetoric & Public Affairs)

No mere review can do justice to this new book; suffice to say that it is a stunning work of scholarship and erudition that vindicates Lincoln against both his contemporary adversaries and those who in our own time would diminish him and the principles of the American Founding he sought to perpetuate. (The Washington Times)

Continues the biography of Abraham Lincoln begun in Crisis of the House Divided. (Chicago Tribune)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.; First edition (September 28, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847699528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847699520
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,208,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
In 1958, Professor Jaffa published "Crisis of the House Divided" which remains the definitive study of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. "A New Birth of Freedom", published more that 40 years later, is the promised sequel to the book, and in it Professor Jaffa explores with depth the philosophical and governmental ideas that he believes underlie Lincoln's Presidency, his approach to the issue of slavery, and the Civil War and preservation of the Union.
This book is much broader in scope than Professor Jaffa's earlier book and is more engaged in the philosophical analysis of ideas than with the presentation simply of historical fact. Professor Jaffa asks at the outset what, if anything, differentiates the Southern Secession following the election of Lincoln to the Presidency from the actions of the Colonists in declaring independence from Britain in 1776. In answering this question, Professor Jaffa offers a discussion of the Jefferson-Adams election of 1800, showing how for the first time in history how a democratic society could resolve severe disagreement through the use of ballots in an election rather than through the use of bullets.
Jaffa's history has, I think, these two themes: 1.The Declaration of Independence's statement that "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal" did, indeed, apply for Jefferson and his contemporaries to all people, including the then African-American slaves. 2. The Declaration of Independence itself created a perpetual union of what had been 13 separate colonies of Britian and made the United States one country rather than a confederation of separate states.
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Format: Hardcover
A New Birth of Freedom is a book about Lincoln's political philosophy, which Lincoln himself said (in so many words) eminated completely from the Declaration of Independence. The book is the sequel to Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided, written over 40 years earlier. In Crisis, Jaffa takes up Douglas' arguments in the famous 1858 debates for the first half of the book and then Lincoln's in the second half. In New Birth, Jaffa backs up from the 1850's to take in a sweep of history and thought from Classic Greece to the present.
If the material in New Birth is far more wide-ranging than in Crisis, the theme in New Birth is much more precise. The south lost the war, but the philosophy behind the justifications advanced by southern leaders such as Calhoun, Taney and Stephens is winning the battle of the minds.
Crisis of the House Divided is like being in philosophy class, but New Birth is like being over at the professor's house later for drinks. Jaffa seems to lazily go over mountains of quotes, philosophers, and arguments, and he returns again and again to make the same points. But it's never tedious. One finds Jaffa's repetitions well-worded and essential in understanding how far we've fallen philosophically. And eventually, toward the end, one gets a sense of the book's structure.
Here's the book's thesis. Most of us admire Lincoln, but most of us wouldn't agree with his political pholosophy. Lincoln really did believe that our nation was dedicated to a proposition -- a proposition that also brought forth natural rights. Mr. Jaffa demonstrates how 19th Century historicism has won out over the Founders' concept of natural rights.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a challenging book, but an outstanding and necessary book. The book states the argument that Lincoln was right intellectually as well as morally in regard to the questions of his day slavery and Union. Further that Lincoln was consistent with the political views of Jefferson and Madison. The Southern argument of Calhoun and Jefferson Davis perverted the Constituion. The key in their failure is set forth by Mr. Jaffa's statement " The right to alter or abolish government is unalienable, according to Jefferson's Declaration only because rights with which all men have been equally endowed by their Creator are unalienable. Davis, like South Carolina demand respect for the conclusion while ignoring the premises. (p.236) The author clearly states Lincoln's goals of preserve free elections, preserve the Union and set slavery on the ultimate course of extinction. Lincoln was a political genius and he was right. Lincoln admired the Declaration of Independence, the Constituion, the Union and the rule of law. He maintained the principles of the Founding Fathers while recognizing the compromises they had to make for the greater good. Slavery must die and he preferrred to see it die incrementally and under the Constituion, but if there was a rebellion then Lincoln at great cost would preserve the Union.
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Format: Hardcover
This book enthralled me. It is rich in ideas and examples, as befitting a book on a subject of this magnitude. It is an extended reply that Lincoln would have given if asked "What are your principles, Mr Lincoln?"
I critised David Donald's biography for presenting Lincoln as too much the slick/ sly lawyer and politican - all fox and no hedgehog (to use Isaiah Berlin's metaphor). This is Lincoln the man of principle, and is an essential complement to any synoptic biography, of which Donald's is probably the best.
Jaffa argues convincingly that Lincoln was 'at one' with Jefferson and the Founders. Lincoln always argued that the
Founders were ashamed of slavery and hid it away as 'a wen, or cancer' in the constitution. They looked to elimination of slavery over time, but slavery became economically essential to the Old South. Jefferson's foreboding was correct and slavery contributed to the break-up of the Union. Jafa effectively re-iterates Lincoln's criticism's of Calhoun and Stephen Douglas, and the defence of the Confederacy made by Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis.
For me, what struck most was the emphasis on the principles of Moderation and Prudence, the 'better angels' of Lincoln's inaugaural. Or to quote Churchill "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war".
It is clear that if you accept the Declaration of Independence (as Lincoln did) then the only people with the Right of Rebellion in 1861 were the slaves. Why did Lincoln not then support John Brown? Because he knew that slavery could only be ended with the whole-hearted support of the white population under a united government, not by rebellion.
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