Lincoln & the Civil War/Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley

By McColley, Robert | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Lincoln & the Civil War/Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley


McColley, Robert, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Lincoln & the Civil War. By Michael Burlingame. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011. Pp.165, notes, index. Cloth, $19.95.)

Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley. By Gregory A. Borchard. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011. Pp.140, notes, index. Cloth, $19.95.)

Michael Burlingame has here reduced the 1034 pages of his Abraham Lincoln, a Life, Volume 2 (2008) to the modest length noted above. The result is a more sharply focused study of those circumstances which both compelled Lincoln to act while also limiting his means of acting. By superior judgment and political skill Lincoln managed one crisis after another, somehow holding together the precarious balance which constituted the Union during his presidency. As in his larger study, Burlingame concludes that Lincoln was himself the advantage that allowed the Union to survive- more important indeed than superiority of numbers or economic capacity.

Burlingame sees Lincoln in 1861 as sincere in wishing there should be neither disunion nor war, but even more sincere in insisting that the election of 1860 having been fairly won, he would not go back on the promises of the Republican platform of 1860. Confronted with Confederate sympathizers on all sides of Washington, D.C., he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and called up troops; the troops had a difficult time reaching the Capital, but congressmen would have more trouble still, until both city and highways were secure. Far from being the tyrant who crushed civil liberties, Lincoln acted without due process only in extreme emergencies; indeed, far from playing the tyrant, he was most often restraining zealots of his own party from depriving citizens of their liberties. Lincoln's ideas of military strategy were sound from the beginning and became sounder still as the war progressed. Perhaps he tolerated George McClellan too long but could hardly be blamed for failing to notice at first the junior officers who would eventually win the war for him. In advancing his own programs for freeing African American slaves, he had to hold on to the dicey loyalty of the four border slave states that remained in the Union and especially the support of the northern unionists who were, on the slavery question indifferent or worse. Most of all Lincoln had to use the talents and fend off the mischief of fellow unionists and keep public opinion mostly on his side. There is far more worth knowing about Lincoln and the Civil War, but this is an excellent study for beginners and a fine refresher for old buffs like this one.

Most of us know far more about Lincoln than about Horace Greeley, however famous the latter was in his time. …

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