In this compelling narrative, renowned historian Roy Morris, Jr., expertly offers a new angle on two of America's most towering politicians and the intense personal rivalry that transformed both them and the nation they sought to lead in the dark days leading up to the Civil War.
For the better part of two decades, Stephen Douglas was the most famous and controversial politician in the United States, a veritable "steam engine in britches." Abraham Lincoln was merely Douglas's most persistent rival within their adopted home state of Illinois, known mainly for his droll sense of humor, bad jokes, and slightly nutty wife.
But from the time they first set foot in the Prairie State in the early 1830s, Lincoln and Douglas were fated to be political competitors. The Long Pursuit tells the dramatic story of how these two radically different individuals rose to the top rung of American politics, and how their personal rivalry shaped and altered the future of the nation during its most convulsive era. Indeed, had it not been for Douglas, who served as Lincoln's personal goad, pace horse, and measuring stick, there would have been no Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, no Lincoln presidency in 1860, and perhaps no Civil War six months later. For both men—and for the nation itself—the stakes were that high.
Not merely a detailed political study, The Long Pursuit is also a compelling look at the personal side of politics on the rough-and-tumble western frontier. It shows us a more human Lincoln, a bare-knuckles politician who was not above trading on his wildly inaccurate image as a humble "rail-splitter," when he was, in fact, one of the nation's most successful railroad attorneys. And as the first extensive biographical study of Stephen Douglas in more than three decades, the book presents a long-overdue reassessment of one of the nineteenth century's more compelling and ultimately tragic figures, the one-time "Little Giant" of American politics.
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About the Author
Roy Morris Jr., is the editor of Military Heritage magazine and the author of four books on the Civil War and post-Civil War eras, including Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876, which the Wall Street Journal hailed as "bravely nonconformist and greatly entertaining"; The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War, which the New York Times praised as "a thrilling narrative told with empathy and vast learning"; and Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company, which the Washington Post called "a rousingly good life." Roy Morris lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
The Long Pursuit
Abraham Lincoln’s Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America
The Paradise of the World
Some time during the winter of 1855-56, as he struggled with the galling disappointment of having lost a surefire seat in the United States Senate to his late-coming colleague Lyman Trumbull, Abraham Lincoln sat in his law office in Springfield, Illinois, and jotted down a few lines of rueful reminiscence. He was thinking not of Trumbull, as might be expected, but of an altogether longer-lived opponent, Democratic senator Stephen Douglas. Looking back on their often tumultuous rivalry, Lincoln tried his best to be objective. "Twenty-two years ago Judge Douglas and I first became acquainted," he recalled. "We were both young then; he a trifle younger than I. Even then we were both ambitious; I, perhaps, quite as much as he. With me, the race of ambition has been a failure—a flat failure; with him it has been one splendid success. His name fills the nation; and is not unknown, even, in foreign lands."1
About Stephen Douglas, Lincoln could speak with some authority. Indeed, few if any political opponents have ever known each other as well or as long as he and Douglas. Almost from the time they arrived, sixteen months apart, in their adopted home state of Illinois, they were fated to be rivals—first on the local, then the state, and finally the national scene. Lincoln, who was four years older, got there first, literally washing up on the shores of the tiny village of New Salem in the spring of 1831. Douglas, originally from Vermont, took aless direct route, going first to Cleveland, Ohio, then heading west to St. Louis, and finally settling down in the same west-central corner of Illinois that Lincoln had staked out a few years before him. The two men, so different from each other physically and temperamentally—Lincoln unusually tall, Douglas unusually short; Lincoln calm and rational, Douglas combative and excitable; Lincoln abstemious, Douglas a lover of whiskey, women, and fat cigars—would carry on a thirty-year struggle for political dominance. Between them they would debate and define the preeminent issues of their time. Unlike so many politicians, then and later, no one ever had to guess where they stood. They would say so, and by their actions they would give voice to millions of their fellow citizens who had not trained themselves, as Lincoln and Douglas had done, to mount the public stage and speak the truth, as they understood it, to both the powerful and the powerless.
In heading west to seek their fortunes, the two young men were following an already well-worn path. For decades, Americans by the thousands had been flocking westward, drawn by the lure of cheap land and wide-open opportunities. The chance to re-create or reinvent oneself in new surroundings—a peculiarly American concept—was particularly appealing to Lincoln and Douglas, each of whom was leaving behind a less-than-idyllic home life. Lincoln and his taciturn father, Thomas, had always had a distant relationship. The elder Lincoln could neither read nor write, and had little patience for his only son's inherent inwardness, which served perhaps as a painful reminder of Abraham's late mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, a tall, melancholy woman who died of "milk sickness" when her son was nine. Like countless other hardscrabble frontiersmen, Thomas Lincoln was a subsistence farmer and an inveterate wanderer. His own father, also named Abraham, had been shot down before his eyes by Shawnee Indians when he was eight, and that shocking death, his son later observed, placed Thomas in "very narrow circumstances" and set him on the path of "a wandering laboring boy." In the twenty-one years that Abraham Lincoln lived at home, his father uprooted the family four times—twice the national average, even for that itinerant era—moving successively from Kentucky to Indiana to Illinois in a more or less vain search for economic stability.2
Along the way, Lincoln acquired a lifelong aversion to physical labor that was ironically at odds with his later image as a hardy rail-splitter. "Lincoln was lazy—a very lazy man," recalled his cousin Dennis Hanks, who lived with the family while they were growing up. "He was always reading—scribbling—writing—ciphering—writing poetry." Neighbors, too, remembered the young Lincoln as being "awful lazy . . . he was no hand to pitch in at work like killing snakes." It was not so much that Lincoln was lazy—few men ever worked harder at improving themselves—but that, gifted with a genius-level mind, he cared more about intellectual than physical pursuits. That dislike of the grindingly hard labor of the frontier did not stop Lincoln's father from placing an ax in his son's hands when he was seven, or from hiring him out to other farmers, for twenty-five cents a day, whenever he had a debt to pay. By the time he was seventeen, Lincoln had plowed, mowed, planted, and shucked hundreds of acres of his father's and other people's corn, cleared land, split fence rails, and hauled wool eighty miles back and forth to the nearest mill. That year, he began working on flatboats, an experience that opened up a "wider and fairer" world to the land-bound youth and eventually transported him far beyond his father's hemmed-in world.3
Lincoln's new life began one late-April morning in 1831, when the residents of New Salem, Illinois, awoke to a diverting spectacle. A makeshift flatboat bound for New Orleans and loaded down with wildly thrashing hogs and heavy barrels of bacon, wheat, and corn had become lodged athwart a dam on the Sangamon River. In the middle of the river, hatless and sweating, a tall, homely young man with a wild shank of black hair was striving mightily to dislodge the boat, which was taking on water at an alarming rate. It was Lincoln. With his tattered blue jeans rolled up to his knees and his blue-and-white striped shirt clinging wetly to his chest, Lincoln helped his three companions offload several barrels of cargo to shore. Then he borrowed an augur and . . .The Long Pursuit
Abraham Lincoln’s Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America. Copyright © by Roy Morris Jr.. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found this book interesting mostly for the information about Douglas. I had hoped to read more about interactions between the two in the 'early years' at Springfield, but I'm sure that this history was never recorded. (Hey, who'd have known what was going to happen?) This is a brief book (about 200 pages of text), but I'm glad that it wasn't padded with more about Lincoln than was necessary to link the two men. Most of the Lincoln information was familiar, but it flowed well (I thought), and relevant to the topic at hand. I would recommend this book to people who want to know a bit more about Douglas than they read in the typical Lincoln book, but who don't want to read a Douglas biography.