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“One closes this biography wondering how postbellum politics might have been different were it not for that fateful gunshot on April 14, 1865. Carwardine’s Lincoln Prize-winning study is not only analytical and smart, it’s also delightfully readable — and it will surely emerge as one of the most important Lincoln books to be published this decade.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power stands up to any comparison. Carwardine’s confident writing and exemplary scholarship come together well in this faceted, evenhanded treatment of the 16th president. . . Carwardine wisely reinterprets many sources to present his nuanced overview of the moral man who was Abraham Lincoln.”
—Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, The Oregonian
“Among the most thoughtful of the many [books] that have been pouring out in anticipation of the Lincoln bicentennial now three years away.”
—T.C. Johnsen, The Christian Science Monitor
“This is the biography of a prudent, decisive, activist Lincoln the world has been waiting for. Richard Carwardine has drawn a true portrait of the strengths of Lincoln’s personal character, the development and tenacity of Lincoln’s ethical convictions, his subtle and deliberate political acumen, his respect and embrace of moral principles for the conduct of personal relations and public statecraft; and, finally, Carwardine demonstrates Lincoln’s mastery of men and of public opinion.”
—Lewis E. Lehrman, Co-Chairman of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
“The book offers an insightful, judicious, and, in some ways, original study of Lincoln’s public career.”
—Eric Foner, London Review of Books
“Rarely does a biography of a popular historical figure offer all the qualities that make for a good read: lively writing, a fresh perspective, significant insight, and a compelling narrative. Carwardine does all this and more. How Lincoln obtained, used, and often withheld power to achieve base political objectives as well as enlightened national ones are brilliantly detailed. There is simply no other Lincoln biography like it.”
—Tom Schwartz, Lincoln Presidential Library
“Richard Carwardine has given us a thoughtful examination of Lincoln’s profoundly moral relationship to power and of the Great Emancipator’s role as a representative American of his age. The publication of this beautifully written book, which makes use of the earliest evidence and the latest insights, marks a high point in a decade that has been particularly rich in Lincoln scholarship. No one seriously interested in Lincoln can afford to ignore Carwardine’s judicious work.”
—Daniel Walker Howe
“As commander in chief in a war for the very survival of the United States, Abraham Lincoln wielded enormous power, which he infused with unequaled moral purpose and religious clarity. Richard Carwardine explains the wellsprings of these extraordinary qualities of Lincoln's leadership better than any other biographer.”
—James M. McPherson
“Carwardine succeeds brilliantly in comprehending both the pragmatic and moral dimensions of Lincoln the political leader. No other historian has penetrated so incisively and handled so deftly Lincoln as practical politician and Lincoln as moralist.”
—William J. Cooper
“Carwardine's astute blending of information and interpretation affords a rare result — the sense of an accurate perspective. It is like having the best seat in the house.”
—Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln Studies Center
“Richard Carwardine’s long suit is his skill in situating Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln's various political, social and religious contexts during the Civil War. Carwardine's Lincoln is the most perceptive and powerfully-written biography of Lincoln by an English historian since Lord Charnwood.”
—Allen C. Guelzo, Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era & Director, Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College
“In the very crowded shelves containing books about Abraham Lincoln, Professor Carwardine has added a superbly conceived and crafted study, filled with fresh perspectives that add a great deal to our understanding of the sixteenth president. It is a great achievement.”
—Joel H. Silbey, Cornell University
“The Atlantic can serve as a wonderful clarifying prism. Oxford don Richard Carwardine looks across it and paints a remarkable picture of the greatest of the Americans who fused the secular and the sacred.”
—Gabor S. Boritt, Director, Civil War Institute, Gettysburg College
“Richard Carwardine’s study of the political leadership of Abraham Lincoln represents an extraordinary achievement.”
—Mark A. Noll, Professor of History, Wheaton College, IL
“The best book on Lincoln to appear in many years . . . by a true expert in the politics and history of the antebellum and Civil War eras.”
—David Hein, Professor and Chair of Religion and Philosophy, Hood College
The fourth chapter examines Lincoln’s response to the challenge of exercising influence and power during the year or so between his election and early 1862. During the three phases of this period–as president-elect, as president during the uneasy peace before Sumter, and as a war leader– Lincoln showed those signs of anxiety and uncertainty only to be expected in someone lacking executive experience and facing a uniquely daunting challenge. Still, what gave coherence and continuity to his political course throughout this momentous year were three elements essential to the Union’s victory and his own political survival. First, he kept an undeviating focus on the permanence of the Union. Second, he instinctively understood the strategic essentials: limiting secession and maximizing support in the border region; blockading the South; and preventing the internationalizing of the conflict. Third, he engaged with and nourished a cross-party, broad-based popular patriotism.
Chapter 5 concerns Lincoln’s political purposes and their evolution from restoring the prewar Union to embracing emancipation. Lincoln’s assault on slavery was born of pragmatism and sustained by his evolving ideas of divine as well as human purposes. He defended emancipation as an essential means of preserving the Union and mortally wounding the Confederacy. But it became an end in itself, something without which the Union was scarcely worth saving and toward which God’s own plan appeared to be driving him. Emancipation raised unavoidable questions about the place of the ex-slave and African-American in the nation’s life, issues on which Lincoln and the more radical Republicans found themselves at odds as they fashioned their policies on the reconstruction of the Union. By the end of his life Lincoln was contemplating votes for educated freedmen; he had traveled a long way from the defense of the racial status quo that he had mounted as an antebellum aspirant for political office.
The instruments of Lincoln’s presidential power provide the focus of chapter 6.Much of that authority derived from a strong-arm use of the law and the military: charges of coercion and dictatorship were not without some foundation in fact. But Lincoln’s achievement in holding the Union together and in enjoying the unique experience of being reelected president during a bloody civil war derived less from coercion than from his ability to harness the surges of Union patriotism that flowed through three essentially “voluntary” organizations: his party, the Union army, and the religious-philanthropic bodies of the North. Republican/Union party leaders, most notably the state governors and the editorial corps, mobilized massive and sustained support for the war; the army, whatever loyalty it had once felt for General-in-Chief George McClellan, evinced even more for “Father Abraham”; organized Protestantism provided the president with a ready-made and devoted network of speakers and fund-raisers. The outcome of the 1864 presidential election plainly revealed Lincoln’s success in nurturing and sustaining Unionism in each of these domains.
Active in life, Lincoln passively exerted further power in death, as his transformation into a Christ-like martyr, slain on Good Friday, gave a new layer of sanctification to American nationalism. As they mourned his assassination, Americans read into their bereavement a millennial promise that fused the sacred all the more powerfully with the secular. The book’s conclusion notes how the nationhood preserved by Unionists through the Civil War now yielded an enhanced and ambitious patriotism quite unlike any that the country had known before.
Many elements of the inner Lincoln, including his personal faith and key questions about his motivation and evolving political ambitions, necessarily remain a puzzle. Lincoln wrote with arresting precision and clarity, but he kept no diary or private journal. Only reluctantly did he proffer a few, spare autobiographical sketches. Though he was an indefatigable conversationalist, could be excellent company, and dominated gatherings through his storytelling, even his near friends encountered reticence and secrecy, and most judged that he “never told all he felt.” Discretion in politically sensitive matters, including racial issues, marked his handling of men and measures. Norman Judd, one of his closest associates, stated bluntly, “Lincoln never told mortal man his purposes– Never.” We are left reflecting that the Great Emancipator’s enduring hold over the historical imagination may owe almost as much to his enigmatic features as to the reality of his achievements and to his tragic end.
Even so, questions about Lincoln’s private political reflections, moral convictions, and religious understanding must be addressed, particularly if it is true–as some scholars have convincingly argued–that he took ideas seriously: Lincoln had a pragmatic streak but he by no means lacked philosophical moorings. Some answers to hard questions can be gleaned from the galaxy of firsthand recollections left by family, friends, professional associates, and acquaintances. In recent years reprinted memoirs–variable in reliability and usefulness, and including at least one grotesque fabrication– have cascaded from the presses. A cluster of works marked by superb editorial scholarship deserve particular note: Douglas L.Wilson and Rodney O. Davis’s fine edition of the reminiscences accumulated by Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon; Michael Burlingame’s several volumes of materials written or prompted by the president’s personal secretaries; and Don and Virginia Fehrenbacher’s comprehensive collection of Lincoln’s attributed remarks. These works, together with the magnificent electronic edition of the Lincoln Papers in progress at the Library of Congress and the equally impressive documentary collection of the Lincoln Legal Papers, show that however much historical writing remains an individual effort it inevitably depends on the assembled efforts of man others.
I am grateful to the University of Illinois Press and the editor of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association for granting permission to reprint material from “Lincoln, Evangelical Religion, and American Political Culture in the Era of the Civil War” (vol. 18: Winter 1997). I am pleased to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of grants from the University of Sheffield Research Fund and of a research leave award from the Humanities Research Board of the British Academy. I also extend my sincere thanks to those whose personal kindness and scholarly assistance have helped bring this book to completion. Thomas F. Schwartz, as secretary of the Abraham Lincoln Association and as state historian of Illinois, did much at a critical stage to boost the confidence of a fledgling Lincolnian. I am grateful to him and Cathy Schwartz for their generosity. William E. Gienapp’s superlative work on the early Republican party and long years offriendship have been an inspiration. Kim Bauer, Cheryl Pence, and Cheryl Schnirring at the Illinois State Historical Library archives, David Himrod at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Library in Evanston, and the staff of the Chicago Historical Society could not have been more helpful. Mark A.Noll,Constance Rajala, Hope and Bill Rajala, and William R. Sutton in various important respects eased my visits to Illinois. Nigel Williamson assisted in all sorts of ways with information technology. Sally Wiseman was an impeccable research assistant. I owe special thanks to Robert Cook, Patrick Renshaw, Adam Smith, and Linda Kirk for giving the text a close reading and for their thoughtful suggestions and criticisms. Peter Parish, friend and guide, would have read it, too, had not his untimely death removed him from the cluster of British nineteenth- century American historians which he led with such distinction. The book is dedicated to his memory, and to that of two historians from whom I first learned that there could be life in the past. Finally, I must thank Keith Robbins, not only for asking me to write this book, but for waiting so longand so uncomplainingly for me to complete it.
From the Hardcover edition.
1. Inner Power: Lincoln’s Ambition and Political Vision, 1809–54
2. The Power of Opinion: Lincoln, the Illinois Public, and the New Political Order, 1854–58
3. The Power of Party:Winning the Presidency, 1858–60
4. The Limits of Power: From President-Elect to War President, 1860–61
5. The Purposes of Power: Evolving Objectives, 1861–65
6. The Instruments of Power: Coercion and Voluntary Mobilization, 1861–65
7. The Potency of Death
Chronology of Lincoln’s Life
Select Glossary of Terms
Posted October 14, 2006
In my opinion, this book is poorly written and the narration has such changes in volume that it is hard to follow. Overall, I would rate this very Poor.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 11, 2006
I found this book to be very boring and unreadable. After forcing myself through 160 pages, I had to put it away. For a biography, there seemed to be more information about everything else during the time period than Lincoln himself.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Though there is a powerful glance at Lincoln¿s Illinois legislative days, this is an incredible insightful look at Lincoln during the election of 1860 and his subsequent years in the White House. The deep discerning background into the various splinter groups competing in 1860 is fully laid out so that the reader understands how divided the nation truly was not just a simple north-south split over slavery. The relatively new Republican Party for instance became the host of an open tent philosophy with many varying opinions. Interestingly, Lincoln was a strong advocate of moralistic (much of that religious in nature) constitutional conservatism, which cut across the vast spectrum of key groups that made up his political party. Also intriguing is the evolution of Lincoln on the slavery issue. Richard Carwardine provides an excellent biography of the White House years of a man considered by most historians as the best or second best president of the United States while leaving a lingering feeling today that we are all Americans who get ahead through merit and are not specific state citizens. This is biography at its best. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 31, 2012
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Posted March 27, 2013
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Posted January 26, 2009
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Posted November 28, 2008
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