From Publishers Weekly
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s The Age of Jackson appeared in 1945 and has been an enduringly popular work with general readers. Burton, [University Distinguished Teacher/Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] (In My Father's House Are Many Mansions), has written an ambitious sequel, or perhaps homage, on the age of Lincoln. Burton's intriguing thesis is that Lincoln's most profound achievement was not the abolition of slavery but the enshrinement of the principle of personal liberty protected by a body of law. Thus he elevated the founding fathers' (and Jackson's) more restricted vision to a universal one. The outbreak and course of the Civil War should be seen in the light of competing notions of what freedom meant, rather than (as has usually been the case) as a bloody conflict over black emancipation or states' rights. Lincoln, as Burton convincingly argues, both created his age and was a product of it: he matured in an America struggling with a rising free market and millennial impulses that sought Christian perfection. The ultimate result was the triumph of democratic capitalism. For readers seeking to comprehend the sweeping social, religious and cultural backdrop to the Civil War, Burton's book is a worthy heir to Schlesinger's. 8 pages of b&w illus.
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Burton focuses on the five decades related to the presidency of Lincoln, beginning with the 1840s, chronicling in compelling detail the process of secession, the conduct of events in the course of the Civil War itself, and acts of reconstruction. The author examines all topics relevant to political, social, and economic life during that time, including slavery, racism, religion, the rapid growth of cities, and the expansion of secular cultures and the railroads. Adding another element to his thorough picture of the times, Burton profiles several leading figures, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, John C. Calhoun, Frederick Douglass, General Winfield Scott, Booker T. Washington, and Mathew Brady. Augmented by eight pages of black-and-white illustrations, the book captures in excellent prose the early decades of modern American history. Cohen, George
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