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Book Reviews EDITED BY CHARLES T. MILLER B-Il University Hall Iowa City, Iowa Lincoln Reconsidered. By David Donald. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1956. Pp. xüi, 200, xiv. $3.00.) the author's first sentences in his Introduction are: "About no other American have so many words been written as about Abraham Lincoln. Jay Monaghan's Lincoln Bibliography requires 1,019 pages merely to list the books and pamphlets published before 1939, when even the experts lost count. On library shelves the multi-volumed biographies by Nicolay and Hay, Sandburg , and Randall and Current stand cover to cover with Lincoln Never Smoked a Cigarette and Abraham Lincoln on the Coming of the Caterpillar' Tractor." A reviewer's first sentence might well ask this question of the author: "If what yeu say is true, then how can you defend adding one more stone to that tremendous verbal mountain?" Now that scholarship has worked over the astonishingly vast amount of facts about the American past which have been preserved, there remains to do just what Mr. Donald has so brilliantìy, and amusingly, done. He has interpreted the Lincoln record in his own original way. "There must be more historians of the Civil War than there were generals fighting in it," he remarks , "and of the two groups, the historians are the more belligerent." But he is not simply one more historian angrily ordering his divisions of facts into action. He is the meditative man, for whom the facts have little value until their sense and meaning have been revealed. This book is a fine revealer. Mr. Donald's first concern is to see behind the legend, both behind the monster that some people saw (what Senator Saulsbury of Delaware called the "hideous form of Abraham Lincoln"), and behind the sainted figure created after his death. Lincoln once commented, "For such an awkward fellow, 153 154CIVIL WAR HISTORY I am pretty sure-footed. It used to take a pretty dextrous man to throw me." This is the line Mr. Donald takes, that behind the legend there was a sturdy fellow, sure on his feet, practical in his grasp of the war's means as well as idealistic in his hope for its ends. At the end of his chapter on Lincoln as politician, the author writes one of his fine insights: "By dominating his party, securing a renomination, and winning re-election, a superb politician had gained the opportunity of becoming a superb statesman." Lincoln is shown here not to have been above party, but wholly involved in the workings of caucus, convention, and the crucial vote. He was not an angel flying into the White House on immaculate wings, but a Midwest lawyer riding in on a horse. He knew the turns in the political road and the persuasions of the delegate-filled room. He must have read the New York HeralSs» editorial shouting that "President Lincoln is a joke incarnated. His election was a very sorry joke." An offer of invitations to the White House and an appointment to France changed the whole attitude of the Herald abruptiy. Mr. Donald's discussion of Lincoln's remark that "My policy is to have no policy" is one of the shrewdest passages of the book. He shows how Lincoln's secrecy, his passivity, his essential pragmatism were indispensable to deal with the bitter and violent oppositions in his own government. Any rigidity of policy would have been utterly unworkable. The author's discussion of northern abolitionists is superb. He accounts for them in this way. These young men and women who reached maturity in the 1830's faced a strange and hostile world. Social and economic leadership was being transferred from the country to the city, from the farmer to the manufacturer , from the preacher to the corporation attorney. Too distinguished a family, too gentle an education, too nice a morality were handicaps in the bustling world of business. Expecting to lead, these young people found no followers. They were an elite without function, a displaced class in American society. However heavily social a view this may be, it is certainly one to set alongside the traditional one of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 153-154
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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