From Publishers Weekly
During Lincoln's one term as a Whig in the House of Representatives (1847-49), he alienated colleagues by opposing the popular president James Polk and the equally popular Mexican War. Lincoln's law partner ,William Herndon, said that when he returned to Illinois, Lincoln was "a politically dead and buried man." Not long after, joining the new Republican Party, Lincoln twice lost bids for a Senate seat and failed an 1856 reach for the Republican vice presidential nomination. Independent scholar Ecelbarger (Three Days in the Shenandoah) artfully shows how, from a career in cinders, Lincoln rose in a mere two years to seize the presidential nomination in May 1860. Ecelbarger describes diligent work and ground-laying by Lincoln and various allies. Ecelbarger also reveals a ravenously ambitious Lincoln whistle-stopping across America, railing against the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and making a national reputation. More to the point, we see Lincoln as smooth backroom political operator, wooing reluctant eastern Republicans wary of the man they'd considered a political loser and ill-kempt backwoods attorney. Ecelbarger's scholarship is sound, his prose enthralling and his topic one that has not previously received due diligence in the Lincoln literature.
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By the close of 1858, it seemed Lincoln’s political career was over. Defeated in his second attempt to win a U.S. Senate seat, Lincoln was prepared to return to his successful Springfield law practice. However, his strong performance in his debates with Stephen Douglas had garnered national attention. Encouraged by friends and Illinois politicians, and driven by his relentless ambition, Lincoln returned to the fray, launching a vigorous lecturing campaign culminating with his famous Cooper Union speech, which upstaged his chief Republican rival, William Seward. Ecelbarger, a Civil War historian and Lincoln scholar, presents a side of Lincoln not frequently seen: a politician on the make, carefully tailoring his message to various audiences. Lincoln never retreated from his antislavery beliefs, but he strove to stake out a middle ground; he was determined to avoid being painted as an abolitionist, and some of his statements strongly endorsed white supremacy. --Jay Freeman