The Lincoln Forum: Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg and the Civil War

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The Lincoln Forum: Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg and the Civil War. Edited by John Y. Simon, Harold Holzer, and William Pederson. (Mason City, Iowa: Savas Publishing Company, c. 1999. Pp. x, 121. $19.95, ISBN 1-882810-37-6.)

This is a collection of speeches given at the meeting of the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in November 1996. The Lincoln fans in the public should enjoy the book, but there is little new here for the specialists. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor provides a look at the suspension of civil liberties in the North during the war and presents useful background on the origins of the writ of habeas corpus. Justice O'Connor notes the particular danger to civil liberties of a civil war and suggests that a wartime government "might use its extraordinary powers to stamp out political opposition" (p. 2); but she argues, following Mark Neely, that Lincoln did not go so far as that. In fact, O'Connor paints Lincoln as a hero who "was not out to trample on the First Amendment ... [nor] out to crush his political opposition" (p. 14). She goes a little far in her celebration, but her argument generally rings true.

Richard Current uses debates between and among Lincoln historians to assert that "He's Still the Lincoln Nobody Knows." Noting arguments about his marriage, his ability as a strategist, his so-called "dictatorship," and his views on slave emancipation, Current suggests that, so long as scholars can debate his ideals and accomplishments, no one will ever know Lincoln. What Current fails to do is to indicate which side of each of these debates pushes us closer to a better, if never perfect, understanding. The relativism of this essay unfortunately supersedes the balanced judgments that characterize a lifetime of Current's other work. …