In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

284CIVIL WAR HISTORY Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths. By Stephen B. Oates. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. Pp. xi, 214. $12.95.) "Will the real Abraham Lincoln stand up?" The search continues. The Lincoln theme, it appears, is inexhaustible. A continuing flow of psychohistories and specialized works on our sixteenth president's life attests to the continued interest in and search for the historic Lincoln— a veritable renaissance of Lincoln scholarship. The latest addition to this search for an ever-growing and changing Lincoln is the exploration into special moments and meanings in Lincoln's life by Stephen B. Oates. Almost every facet of Lincoln's life and career has been reexamined in the last two decades. But much of this scholarship has been placed in technical monographs and journal articles by scholars for scholars. Oates's desire is for "lay readers to rediscover Lincoln as the scholars have, to take a renewed interest in his life and works, to understand what they still mean for us. And there is no better time for that than Lincoln's 175th [birthday]" (xiv). Building on his excellent one-volume biography of Lincoln , With Malice Toward None, Oates attempts to clarify or correct some of his earlier interpretations and has produced, at the same time, an engaging, informative work for general readers. In this series of essays, the author explores aspects of Lincoln's life— his early upbringing, his views of American slavery and racial relations, his role as a war leader, and his assassination. Oates gives special attention to Lincoln's attitudes about slavery because he believes slavery was the source of the conflict and because what Lincoln did about slavery in his own view was the most important measure of his presidency. One of Oates's best essays in the book is his first in which he traces the "traditions of Lincoln mythology." It includes Lincoln's apotheosis after his death. This Lincoln carries the torch of the American dream, a dream of noble idealism, of self-sacrifice, and of liberty and equality for all. This is the Sandburg Lincoln who captured the hearts of an entire generation of Americans. Still Oates has no quarrel with this Lincoln, so long as a careful distinction is made between myth and history. He believes the Lincoln of mythology still has profound spiritual meaning for the American people, although we too often confuse myth with history and mistake our mythologized heroes for their real-life counterparts. The historical Lincoln, as Oates approximates him in the remaining essays, is remarkably different from the simple, joke-cracking commoner transformed by the Civil War into an all-forgiving Father Abraham. Oates rightly believes the historical Lincoln to be even more heroic than the mythical man. Oates still finds Lincoln to be a flawed, extraordinary, many-sided man. The Lincoln of 1861 and 1862 developed into the tougher, more decisive and more innovative president of 1863, 1864, and 1865. Oates illustrates this by focusing on the question of slavery, racial relations, and emancipation. Here he follows current scholarship. Lincoln is a tough wartime president, "flexing powers wherever necessity demanded" (120). BOOK REVIEWS285 But it clearly was not Lincoln's intention to establish any precedent for an "imperial presidency," one which would allow subsequent presidents to meddle in the internal affairs of other nations, under the pretext of saving the world. If Lincoln went beyond the law to save the national government, Oates posits, the Congress went with him, sanctioning his actions (121). This portrait of the tough Lincoln also extends to Reconstruction. Oates argues that Lincoln was prepared to reform and even to reshape the South's shattered society with the help of military force by 1865 (137). In his concluding essay, Oates presents a detailed reconstruction of Lincoln 's assassination and its aftermath. This is followed by a review of the theory that Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war, was a ringleader in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. With justification , Oates crushes this with relish (176). In all fairness to the recent exoneration of Stanton among scholars, however, it must be said that the secretary of war was still responsible for the...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 284-285
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.