Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Lincoln On War" by Harold Holzer

This may be the best book yet written concerning Abraham Lincoln. Actually, it is the closest thing to having Lincoln pen his own memoirs of the years between the War with Mexico and our own Civil War. In some ways it even eclipses the great 2 volume masterpiece by Carl Sandburg, which is considered by many, me included, to be the "Holy Grail" of books about our most mercurial President.

The War with Mexico is of great interest, as the annexation of the state of Texas, aside from having been accomplished illegally, added fuel to the fire that would eventually grow into the conflagration of full blown Civil War. Lincoln saw the annexation of Texas as a way for the Southern States to hold a majority in the Senate and Congress. This was at the time of the great debates concerning the Missouri Compromise, and the Fugitive Slave Act, both of which were mere band aids or attempts in vain, to stave off the bloodshed which was sure to come from the slavery question.

The author has let Lincoln speak for himself by using the President's letters and speeches to make his point. The book is laid out in a way which parallels the career and thoughts of our 16th President on all of the issues leading up to the Civil War. And once that war has begun, this correspondence gives us a new and keener insight into the thoughts behind the actions taken by Lincoln during the prosecution of the War Between the States.

Lincoln, at the outset, wanted only to ban slavery in the new territories being acquired out west. He had no intention of outlawing the institution itself. As late as in his first Inauguration speech, Lincoln was still not calling for the Abolition of Slavery in the Southern States, but only in the newly acquired territories. In his first Inaugural Address he spoke these words; "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the Institution of Slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." He had made this same declaration in earlier speeches and was re-quoting himself in an effort to allay the fears of the Southern States, which had already seceded from the Union in January of 1861.

By the time that Lincoln issued his duplicitous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in enemy territory only, the outlawing of slavery in the Southern States became the objective of the war. Previously the chief concern had been one of finances. Lincoln queried, on more than one occasion, whether it was right for the Southern States to leave the Union while keeping the forts and roadways which had been paid for by federal loans. These loans would have to be repaid to the banks, and Lincoln considered it to be an unfair burden upon the remaining states to bear the full brunt of their repayment.

This is an exciting book which lays bare many of the myths that have been pumped into us over the years; Mr. Holzer has presented a new side of one of our most well-known, but often misunderstood Presidents.

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