Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President

Article excerpt

Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. By Allen C. Guelzo. (Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, c. 1999. Pp. xii, 516. $29.00, ISBN 0-8028-3872-3.)

Is there really a place for yet another work on Abraham Lincoln? Allen C. Guelzo has superbly demonstrated that there is. The uniqueness of this Lincoln work is its emphasis upon Lincoln as a man of developing intellect. In the book's introduction Guelzo notes that he sought to "do something with Lincoln which virtually no modern Lincoln biographer has managed to do, which is to read Lincoln as a man of ideas" (p. 19).

Those ideas were based upon classical liberalism and the Enlightenment as exemplified in John Locke, ideas that found their American expression in the political philosophy of the Whigs. Again and again, Guelzo declares it was a philosophy based upon reason rather than passions. "Lincoln glorified progress, middle-class individualism, and the opportunities for economic self improvement" (p. 6). Such concepts deplored Jeffersonian and Jacksonian idealizations of the yeoman farmer that Lincoln perceived as a stifling of individual growth, whether manifested in the slavery of the South or the wretched poverty of his own father. This Whig philosophy drove his presidency, not just in the matters of preserving the Union and the emancipation of the slaves, but in the development of internal improvements such as the transcontinental railroad, a system of canals, protective tariffs, the distribution of public lands, and a revised banking system.

Guelzo devotes much attention to Lincoln's religious ideas, declaring that the sixteenth president never departed too far from the religious skepticism of his Springfield days. …