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Publishers WeeklyStarred Review.
In this careful, balanced look at Abraham Lincoln's stirring 1854 Peoria, Ill., speech, writer and historian Lehrman finds a "prelude to greatness" that put the little-known lawyer and politician on the path to national prominence while laying the intellectual groundwork for his presidency. The subject was slavery, already the great question of 19th century America, recently reignited with the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act that repealed earlier anti-slavery laws for certain new territories. Arguing that the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Independence extended to African-Americans, Lincoln took an abolitionist position daring for any politician with national ambitions (though he did not go so far as to advocate for full social or political equality). Lehrman also considers Lincoln's Illinois nemesis, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, sponsor of the new Kansas-Nebraska Act who spoke at Peoria before Lincoln as a stalwart booster of "the rights of whites to enslave blacks." Ably building on the drama of Lincoln's anti-slavery efforts through subsequent years, culminating in his ascent to the presidency, Lehrman's detailed chronicle, rich in first-person accounts, lays out the case that from his earliest public forays, Lincoln was no ordinary leader.
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