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Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction

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Overview


Beneath the surface of the apparently untutored and deceptively frank Abraham Lincoln ran private tunnels of self-taught study, a restless philosophical curiosity, and a profound grasp of the fundamentals of democracy. Now, in Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, the award-winning Lincoln authority Allen C. Guelzo offers a penetrating look into the mind of one of our greatest presidents.

If Lincoln was famous for reading aloud from joke books, Guelzo shows that he also plunged deeply into the mainstream of nineteenth-century liberal democratic thought. Guelzo takes us on a wide-ranging exploration of problems that confronted Lincoln and liberal democracy--equality, opportunity, the rule of law, slavery, freedom, peace, and his legacy. The book sets these problems and Lincoln's responses against the larger world of American and trans-Atlantic liberal democracy in the 19th century, comparing Lincoln not just to Andrew Jackson or John Calhoun, but to British thinkers such as Richard Cobden, Jeremy Bentham, and John Bright, and to French observers Alexis de Tocqueville and Fran├žois Guizot. The Lincoln we meet here is an Enlightenment figure who struggled to create a common ground between a people focused on individual rights and a society eager to establish a certain moral, philosophical, and intellectual bedrock. Lincoln insisted that liberal democracy had a higher purpose, which was the realization of a morally right political order. But how to interject that sense of moral order into a system that values personal self-satisfaction--"the pursuit of happiness"--remains a fundamental dilemma even today.

Abraham Lincoln was a man who, according to his friend and biographer William Henry Herndon, "lived in the mind." Guelzo paints a marvelous portrait of this Lincoln--Lincoln the man of ideas--providing new insights into one of the giants of American history.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Written with grace and flair, this brief biography of Lincoln draws on the author's unexcelled knowledge of the subject to offer incisive interpretations of Lincoln's early life, his antebellum career, his ideology of free labor, his rise to the presidency, and his leadership in a war that preserved the United States as one nation and freed it from the blight of slavery."--James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"The small volume provides an impressive amount of historical and intellectual context, and offers an expert summary of Lincoln's thought." --Indiana Magazine of History

"Successfully distills an epic life into the essence of [the] man in [a] pocket-size volume." - Washington Times

"Guelzo's book will fill a notable void in the always expanding field of Lincoln studies. This new volume from Oxford should enjoy pride of place as the best short biography of Lincoln available."--Rick Beard, Executive Director, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195367805
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/5/2009
  • Series: Very Short Introductions Series
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 680,449
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Allen C. Guelzo is Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America and Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, both winners of the highly prestigious Lincoln Prize.

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  • Posted January 16, 2013

    What Was Lincoln Thinking?

    What Was Lincoln Thinking?: A Very Short Introduction
    Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, Allen C. Guelzo, Oxford University Press, 145 pp., 2 maps, ten photographs, index, bibliography, 2009, $11.95.

    Abraham Lincoln is one of five Americans who are known on every continent of the planet earth. Allen Guelzo considers Lincoln's beliefs regarding seven essential issues being contested during the mid-19th century. The limits of equality, the possibility of advancement, the nature of law, the hazards of liberty, the importance of debate in a democratic republic, the emancipation of slaves, and the terms of reunion in order to end of the war.

    Experiments in establishing democratic republics during this era had failed with the exception of the United States of America. During the 1850s it became apparent that this government was on the brink of collapse. The possibility of all men being equal was put at risk by the presence of slavery. The opportunity of all men to rise, economically and socially, was in conflict with the right to hold property in the form of slaves. Lincoln tailored and tempered his ambitions to rise in the frontier environment of a capitalistic, democratic republic. His advancement came though agriculture, transportation, retail work, military life, the practice of law and participation in local, state and national politics. Rejecting farm work, he embraced Mississippi River and Indiana commerce, militia leadership during the Black Hawk War, the bar and legislative election campaigns.

    In his law practice he represented both masters and runaway slaves. The natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among others, were for Lincoln in direct conflict and contradicted by slavery. Hammered out in political debate, Lincoln's understanding of these natural rights were honed by his service in the courtrooms, the federal House of Representatives and the Presidency. The necessity of emancipation and the possibility of reuniting the states perplexed Lincoln.

    Guelzo, Gettysburg College professor and preeminent Lincoln scholar, carefully describes Lincoln's beliefs and their context within post-revolutionary America and Europe. In clear and concise language, the author clarifies what Lincoln believed, thought and practiced. The Old Testament declares that out of the heart flows the issues of life. Guelzo's very short introduction to Lincoln's beliefs and his struggle to conform his life's work to them is a thought provoking revelation for 21st century readers.

    Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, is one of over 200 Very Short Introductions offered by Oxford University Press. CWL recommends this series; it well rewards the brief amount of time it takes to read one of the series. Curious about Freud, Jung, Islam, History, Dreaming, or the American Presidency? There is a Very Short Introduction for you.

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