- Lincoln, the Law, and Presidential Leadership ed. by Charles M. Hubbard
In this work, Charles M. Hubbard collects a variety of essays addressing "the influence of the law on Lincoln's presidential leadership" (p. 1). These essays come from scholars in history, political science, law, and journalism, giving the collection an interdisciplinary nature that gives the reader a richer perspective on the impact of Abraham Lincoln's legal career on his experiences, actions, and decisions while in office. Overall, the collection succeeds as an introduction [End Page 424] to its stated subject, providing many thought-provoking examinations of Lincoln's successes, struggles, and beliefs in regard to the law, the presidency, and the Civil War.
Daniel W. Stowell discusses the leadership skills that Lincoln developed while working for several decades as a lawyer in Illinois. Mark E. Steiner deals with Lincoln's evolving views on citizenship, arguing that Lincoln had long rejected the nativist opposition to citizenship for white male immigrants. Lincoln initially supported the natural rights of African Americans but opposed extending the rights of citizenship to them; however, he changed this view in light of his experiences in the Civil War. Hubbard himself assesses Lincoln's opinion that the Constitution was a unifying document and that slavery (and, eventually, secession) represented the greatest threat to the Constitution and the Union. Frank J. Williams evaluates the oft-discussed record of Lincoln in regard to wartime civil liberties, largely defending this record and praising Lincoln's "brand of leadership distinguished by justice, integrity, unshakable moral and political courage, and a commitment to excellence" (p. 73). Edna Greene Medford evaluates the accuracy of Lincoln's claim that events had controlled him during the war (rather than the reverse), portraying a patient but also sufficiently proactive president. Ron Soodalter takes an interesting look at Lincoln's decisions on pardons, emphasizing his commitment to mercy and, even in cases where he decided not to pardon, a commitment to fairness and justice. Burrus M. Carnahan narrates the evolution of Lincoln's thinking on the law of war. As president, Lincoln struggled with his firm belief that secession was illegal (meaning that the Confederacy was not a sovereign nation subject to that law), while confronting the practical difficulties that forced his general conclusion to follow the law of war. Natalie Sweet describes how Lincoln faced off against the Potter congressional committee's investigation of the loyalty of federal employees, particularly the White House staff. Sweet relates how Lincoln refused to summarily dismiss or denounce accused employees without a thorough and fair investigation. Finally, Jason R. Jividen takes the story forward in time, examining how several progressive (and, in one case, Progressive) presidents have attempted to make use of Lincoln's image in an effort to promote their view of equality. Focusing on Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jividen argues that their attempts tore Lincoln's views out of context and that modern progressivism assumes a rejection of the immutability of the Constitution that would be foreign and, perhaps, even anathema to Lincoln himself.
Hubbard has done his work well, knitting together a fine group of thought-provoking essays, providing a model for editors of interdisciplinary works that present material in a way that is intelligible to scholars across fields and giving all something to consider, particularly in regard to Lincoln's legal philosophy and his reverence for the Constitution and the rule of law. All the essays demonstrate a skilled handling of the relevant primary evidence, including government documents, legal treatises, newspaper accounts, and personal papers. This engagement with primary sources requires the reader to take the work seriously even when they may not agree entirely with every conclusion.
I have only three minor concerns with the collection. First, despite Hubbard's fine introduction, this collection might have benefited from a brief [End Page 425] conclusion that, in addition to summing up the articles, speculated on further areas of study. Whether as a means to expand on the contributions...