Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review---What Was Lincoln Thinking?: A Very Short Introduction

Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, Allen C. Guelzo, Oxford University Press, 145 pp., 2 maps, ten photographs, index, bibliography, 2009, $11.95.

Abraham Lincoln is one of five Americans who are known on every continent of the planet earth. Allen Guelzo considers Lincoln's beliefs regarding seven essential issues being contested during the mid-19th century. The limits of  equality, the possibility of advancement, the nature of law, the hazards of liberty, the importance of debate in a democratic republic, the emancipation of slaves, and the terms of reunion in order to end of the war.

Experiments in establishing democratic republics during this era had failed with the exception of the United States of America.  During the 1850s it became apparent that this government was on the brink of collapse. The possibility of all men being equal was put at risk by the presence of slavery. The opportunity of all men to rise, economically and socially, was in conflict with the right to hold property in the form of slaves. Lincoln tailored and tempered his ambitions to rise in the frontier environment of a capitalistic, democratic republic. His advancement came though agriculture, transportation, retail work, military life, the practice of law and participation in local, state and national politics. Rejecting farm work, he embraced Mississippi River and Indiana commerce, militia leadership during the Black Hawk War, the bar and legislative election campaigns.

In his law practice he represented both masters and runaway slaves. The natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among others, were for Lincoln in direct conflict and contradicted by slavery. Hammered out in political debate, Lincoln's understanding of these natural rights were honed by his service in the courtrooms, the federal House of Representatives and the Presidency. The necessity of emancipation and the possibility of reuniting the states perplexed Lincoln.

Guelzo, Gettysburg College professor and preeminent Lincoln scholar, carefully describes Lincoln's beliefs and their context within post-revolutionary America and Europe. In clear and concise language, the author clarifies what Lincoln believed, thought and practiced. The Old Testament declares that out of the heart flows the issues of life. Guelzo's very short introduction to Lincoln's beliefs and his struggle to conform his life's work to them is a thought provoking revelation for 21st century readers.

Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, is one of over 200 Very Short Introductions offered by Oxford University Press. CWL recommends this series; it well rewards the brief amount of time it takes to read one of the series.  Curious about Freud, Jung, Islam, History, Dreaming, or the American Presidency?  There is a Very Short Introduction for you.


todormj said...

Did you read this, what do you think? MT

Rea Andrew Redd said...

Best slim volume on Lincoln. Author is well esteemed Lincoln scholar and knows Lincoln's mind.