From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Subtle and nuanced, this study is something of a sequel to Miller's Lincoln's Virtues
. Here he examines Honest Abe's moral and intellectual life while in the White House, prosecuting a bloody war. Miller finds that early in his presidency, Lincoln balanced two strong ethical imperatives—his duty to preserve the union and his determination not to fire the first shots. Of course, Miller also addresses that other great moral challenge: slavery. In short, says Miller, Lincoln believed slavery was not only profoundly wrong but profoundly wrong specifically as measured by this nation's moral essence, and he used a terrific amount of political savvy to push through emancipation. But more original is Miller's discussion of what Lincoln thought was at stake in the war. Through a close reading of the president's papers, Miller persuasively argues that Lincoln believed secession would not merely diminish or damage the United States but would destroy it. That, in turn, was an issue of global import, for if the American experiment failed, free government would not be secure anywhere. Miller has given us one of the most insightful accounts of Lincoln published in recent years. (Feb. 5)
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Miller’s Lincoln’s Virtues (2002) extolled the qualities of the future president; this companion volume considers Lincoln’s character in exercising the powers of the presidency. Largely laudatory, Miller treats illustrative Lincoln decisions in the context of Lincoln’s frequent reference to his duties under the oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” One set of decisions pertains to the pardon power, Lincoln’s application of which was usually lenient (sparing army deserters) but on occasion stern (hanging a slave trader). But the presidency can be more powerful than its enumerated powers, and in areas where Lincoln dipped into constitutionally murky waters, such as the suspension of habeas corpus or his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Miller shows Lincoln’s dedication to his oath, that is, to preserve the Union against the Confederacy. Historically, this lodestar for Lincoln stokes criticism for his slow pace toward abolishing slavery, but Miller stints no plaudits in defending Lincoln for politically practical rectitude. Also praiseworthy of Lincoln as diplomat and commander-in-chief, Miller’s examination will hearten Lincoln admirers everywhere. --Gilbert Taylor