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Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 Paperback – October 20, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Even the most committed of Lincoln's fans have sometimes questioned his actions in the four months between his 1860 election and his inauguration: a period when seven states seceded from the Union. In an engrossing narrative, Holzer (Lincoln at Cooper Union), chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, painstakingly retraces Lincoln's few public statements and numerous private initiatives during this key period, revealing an astute political operator assessing the situation, organizing his government, reaching out to the South and most of all, [drawing] a line in the sand to prevent the spread of human slavery. Holzer shows Lincoln shrewdly and methodically manipulating friend and foe alike, while also taking the first cautious steps toward preparing both himself and his country for a grim trial by fire. 16 pages of b&w photos. BOMC and History Book Club main selection, first serial to Civil War Times and Smithsonian magazines. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Even some of Lincoln’s most ardent admirers find fault with his behavior between his election in November 1860 and his inauguration the following March. Lincoln is criticized by some for his reticence as secession conventions convened in Southern states, while others find some of his few public utterances too provocative to Southern sensibilities. Holzer, one of our greatest Lincoln scholars, strongly and convincingly rejects those assertions. Holzer begins with a description of the unprecedented litany of problems facing the president-elect. Lincoln, elected with less than 40 percent of the popular vote, had no electoral mandate and was feared and despised in the South. His rivals within the Republican Party constantly schemed against him and viewed him as a bumbler. Holzer maintains that Lincoln faced these obstacles with skill and strong political instincts. What some have termed as reticence, Holzer sees as the wisdom of keeping one’s mouth shut. His “provocative” statements were simply a firm assertion of his deeply held beliefs. Holzer deals effectively with a lingering controversy in a work that will be an excellent addition to Lincoln collections. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Also, the stories related as he travelled to DC from Springfield were quite interesting as well - the political "sides" reporting their own take on the various speeches along the way... Interesting to see how he grew as a speaker when he realized the amount of weight reporters were giving the speeches he gave during the journey.
By no means can I pass myself off as a Lincoln scholar, but I am greatly interested in his life and career, on a hobbyist level.
If you enjoy stories about Lincoln's life, I think you'll enjoy this viewpoint and these perspectives.
I cannot think of any audience that wouldn't enjoy this read (assuming even passing interest in Lincoln, that is). It's long, but well worth it! Bravo, Dr. Holzler!
To move the reader through the maze of background information, the author developed the political and societal chain of events showing Lincoln's political development from Flatboat man [essentially rafts], to militia man [during the Blackhawk Indian war], local postmaster, small town lawyer, Illinois state legislative representative, U.S. Congressman, and then back to small town lawyer - representing businessmen and railroad clients.
In the early political life, Lincoln was viewed as an unsophisticated, country circuit lawyer who built political relationships with his dry humor and story telling. While working as a lawyer he was neither well known nor on anyone's list of potential political candidates. Even when he was "bit by the political bug," his one term in the U.S. Congress (1847 to 1849) was unremarkable - if not unnoticed. Lincoln's thirst for something more important in federal politics is explained during the Cooper Union (N.Y.) oration tour. This is where the country became aware of his name. His political life was a transformation from the old Whig party to the (newly created) Republican Party. Lincoln would go on and win the nomination at the convention in Chicago in May, 1860. He would endure a grueling number of speeches and appearances.
Of interest was Lincoln's friendship with Democrat Stephen Douglas - "The Little Giant." Douglas was a skillful lawyer and his Illinois nemesis. However, their historic debates and competitiveness foreshadowed (at the micro and macro levels) the economic and political divisiveness of the antebellum period. Slavery was a major point of contention. Douglas as a Democrat supported the southern cause. Lincoln was against many of the southern tenets, but he was not totally against the issue of slavery. The Douglas - Lincoln rivalry would go on for many years. Lincoln won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. Douglas trumped Lincoln and won the Senate seat (in 1858). Finally, Lincoln bested Douglas by winning the presidency - even with a minority of the popular vote! Douglas would die shortly after Lincoln's term began.
Mr. Holzer discussed in detail Lincoln's country savvy and coalition building when forming his original cabinet. Many people flocked to Illinois (and wrote crazy letters) to beg for government appointments. Back then, the incoming President would personally interview and recommend key positions. Ultimately, his cabinet developed after hard-nosed discussions, delays, and personality clashes with the party bosses. In the end, William Seward (who was a former N.Y. governor and ran unsuccessfully for the nomination) would become the Secretary of State. Lincoln trusted his diplomatic skills. Lincoln developed different relationship styles with Gideon Welles (Navy Secretary), William Stanton (the second War Secretary), Samuel Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), and Edward Bates (Attorney General). Lincoln relationships were not without conflict and anger. He often overlooked petty and personality differences between his cabinet members - but skillfully played his hand when he needed to make an example out of one of them. Ultimately, Lincoln was a shrewd politician who could outmaneuver his opponents - yet do it gracefully. It was Lincoln's humble leadership style (within this coalition building) that defeated his presidential opponents in the 1860 election - even the popular southerner and the Vice-President (under Buchanan) John Breckinridge of Kentucky.
The author also worked hard to dig into Lincoln as an ordinary, entrepreneurial man. Lincoln had a strained family life while on the court circuit. He was gone from home for months. Also, as President-elect, he endured swarms of people invading his personal and family (home) life. Often, Lincoln camped out in the state legislative building in Springfield, Illinois for most of the four months prior to his February, 1861 departure. He never returned to his hometown alive.
Mr. Holzer was clever to explain the use of photography and sculpturing (by local artisans) to capture Lincoln's physical and aesthetic transformation from prairie lawyer "Honest Abe" and "The Rail Splitter" to the new "Father Abe." Lincoln's marketing gimmick was simply to grow a beard and longer hair. This idea came from a little girl in New York whom Lincoln would briefly visit during his (arduous twelve day) pre-inauguration train trip (from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Penn., NY, NJ, back to Penn. His quick thinking mind allowed him to listen to reason (by his trusted advisers and body guard), and change his inaugural travel plans. Lincoln left Pennsylvania surreptitiously on an overnight train to Washington, D.C. (bypassing Baltimore, MD) due to a probable southern mob attack. Baltimore at the time was leaning towards the Confederacy.
Another interesting discussion came when Mr. Holzer explained the dilemma that Lincoln faced. While President Buchanan (a democrat) was a "lame duck," President-elect Lincoln chose not to interfere with his decision-making (and lack of action) when it came to critiquing the Confederacy and the economic crisis brewing. Lincoln went to great lengths to avoid fanning southern emotions. It is debatable if Lincoln could have prevented hostilities.
There are many detailed stories of Lincoln's family, personal, and political relationships in this book. In my opinion, the most intimate topic pertained to Lincoln as a gifted (and convincing) speech writer. Fortunately, many speeches where written with multiple copies (by his personal secretaries) so they could be submitted for printing or private comments (even as editorials). His most cherished speech (the inaugural address) was a closely guarded secret. To many southerners, Lincoln's election meant war. No presidential speech would change many decades of economic and political hostilities.
Overall, Mr. Holzer provided the reader with a "must read" book that casts Lincoln as an ambitious and motivated lawyer who was destined to transform party politics. Lincoln's early life was chronicled to show his human side (good and bad). The book documented Lincoln's family strains, financial hardships, and political exhaustion. All of this helped to magnify Lincoln's obscure life and his rise to political greatness.
Harold Holzer knows his subject both wide and deep. Here he delivers a fresh and accurate account of such matters as the lack of much comment by the newly-elected president on the pending political issues of the day; the long train ride to Washington, D.C. from Springfield (this area of coverage is detailed to a fault); the incessant but necessary handling of patronage; the deft formation of the first cabinet; and the inspired drafting of the First Inaugural Address.
This is not a general biography or history but a very focused look at the period when Mr. Lincoln changed from being a mere candidate for office to one who would lead the United States through its greatest trial.