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Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln Paperback – April 26, 2016
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"The narrative always smoothly returns, though, to the Founders and Lincoln's unceasing attempt to divine their intentions and to examine the institutions they built and the opportunity they created for someone like him to thrive." ---Kirkus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In Lincoln's time, America was drifting toward the massive trauma of secession and civil war. The moral crisis of slavery was getting worse. Viewed from pre-civil war America, it was not clear how the great founding documents were to be understood and applied--after the Founding generation had died. In his Dredd Scott opinion, Chief Justice Taney had rendered the Constitution into a tool to expand slavery throughout the United States. The threat that States might seceed over tariffs or slavery was regarded as credible and the Republic, created in unity by the Founding Fathers, could have collapsed. Finally, western territories, Kansas and Nebraska saw brutal mini-wars and vendettas. Civil order dissolved on the frontier. According to Brookhiser's account, Abraham Lincoln spent his life in the physical and intellectual struggle of preserving and refining the Founder's work. Our view of these things reflects the smugness of people who know how it turned out. But these were times of confusion and danger.
Brookhiser quotes often from his subject and Lincoln's poetic and intellectual gifts enrich the book. Without forcing the facts, the author makes a case that Linclon's depression, his distant relationship with his father, the family deaths that filled his childhood, all shaped his entire life.
One novel treatment of an old story involves Parson Weems biography of George Washington. Because few facts remain from Lincoln's childhood, Weems always appears in Lincoln books, almost as a clownish figure. Brookhiser argues that Weems was a serious writer of moral books for children and that his stories about George Washington affected Lincoln's moral and emotional life from childhood until his death. Lincoln's ideals of leadership and virtue were formed early and while those ideals deepened and grew more subtle, but were never erased.
Brookhiser's writing style is clear and apt. The book is not laden with footnotes. I recommend reading Stephen Oates, perhaps, for a more detailed look at Lincoln's life.
Told in a beautifully lucid prose, Brookhiser's book focuses on a few moments in Lincoln's well-known life, and shows painstakingly, suggestively, how this great man slowly and unexpectedly became great.
A surprise for me: Brookhiser - not himself a man of great piety, as far as I know, and not a participant in the God-wars - discovers Lincoln moving in the opposite direction from what we are told is the usual development from childish belief to adult, mature atheism or agnosticism. The more he became involved in great events, and the more that terrible tragedies beset his own private life and the national struggle against slavery he led, the more convinced Lincoln becomes that his early Paine-ite atheism is laughably inadequate, and the more he sees God's judgment operating in the world.
A quietly great book, that should be read every five years.
Very well written, and very thought provoking. Writing the when and what about history is so different than the why, What was Lincoln thinking?