Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861

By HAROLD HOLZER

Historian Holzer describes in amazing detail the four-month period between Abraham Lincoln’s November election victory and his March inauguration, describing it as “the most dangerous transition period in history” as Lincoln was “forced to confront the collapse of the country itself, with no power to prevent its disintegration.” Holzer makes it clear that Lincoln, compelled to wait until an overwhelmed President Buchanan left office, chose a policy of silence, especially regarding slavery and southern secession: “hatever he might say would unavoidably alarm at least part of the country,” writes Holzer, “Saying nothing was preferable to saying too much.” Yet Lincoln never wavered from his principles, especially his strong opposition to the extension of slavery. As southern states began leaving the Union and a compromise plan wended its way through Congress, “Lincoln continued to hold his ground,” writes Holzer, and even lobbied Congress against any compromise that would permit the extension of slavery. He wrote to one vacillating Pennsylvania Republican, typically declaring that “if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government.” As Holzer skillfully shows, Lincoln faced a slew of other problems, including constant assassination threats, the nonstop demands of pushy office seekers, the challenges of selecting a Cabinet, and the difficulties of composing an inaugural address that would be both conciliatory and firm. Holzer has exhaustively researched extant accounts of Lincoln during this period, from journalists, friends, and Lincoln’s own staff. Lincoln’s good nature and his inexhaustible commitment to the country come across on every page of Holzer’s finely crafted, impressively researched historical account.