Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era
David Herbert Donald
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A groundbreaking reassessment of the life and times of America’s most revered president from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Lincoln
First published in 1956 and revised and updated for the twenty-first century, Lincoln Reconsidered is a masterpiece of Civil War scholarship. In a dozen eloquent, witty, and incisive essays, the author of the definitive biography of Abraham Lincoln offers a fresh perspective on topics previously shrouded in myth and hagiography and brings the president’s tough-mindedness, strategic acumen, and political flexibility into sharp focus.
From Lincoln’s patchwork education to his contradictory interpretations of the Constitution and the legacy of the Founding Fathers, David Herbert Donald reveals the legal mind behind the legend of the Great Emancipator. “Toward a Reconsideration of the Abolitionists” sheds new light on the radicalism of the antislavery movement, while “Herndon and Mary Lincoln” brilliantly characterizes the complicated relationship between two of the president’s closest companions. “Getting Right with Lincoln” and “The Folklore Lincoln” draw on the methods of cultural anthropology to produce a provocative analysis of Lincoln as symbol.
No historian has done more to enhance our understanding of Lincoln’s presidency and the causes and effects of the Civil War than Donald. Lincoln Reconsidered is an entertaining and accessible introduction to his work and a must-read for every student of American history.
the Welds were convinced. The question remains: Whether they received the idea through the revivalism of Finney or through the publication of British antislavery spokesmen, why were some Americans in the 1830’s for the first time moved to advocate immediate abolition? Why was this particular seed bed ready at this precise time? II I believe that the best way to answer this difficult question is to analyze the leadership of the abolitionist movement. There is, unfortunately, no complete list of
Lincoln Day oratory and verse. This extraordinary interest in the details of Lincoln’s life seems the more astonishing in light of his low contemporary standing. His associates were sure there were greater figures in their era; usually they had at least one such person in mind—and close at home at that. Lincoln they thought a simple Susan, a baboon, an aimless punster, a smutty joker. He left the highway of principle to pursue the devious paths of expediency. A “huckster in politics,” sneered
for example, of Henry Adams, Edward Channing, James Ford Rhodes, John Bach McMaster, James Schouler, Hermann E. von Holst, Albert J. Beveridge, and James G. Randall. Though united in concern to explain the appalling catastrophe that befell America in the 1860’s, historians of the United States have agreed upon very little else about that conflict. Many have continued to support James Ford Rhodes’s flat contention that the American Civil War had “a single cause, slavery”; others have accepted
shelter of fortifications as unworthy of gentlemen in arms,… were not disposed to construct them,” and Northern commanders, too, opposed such defenses as cowardly. “We did not fortify our camps against an attack,” Sherman wrote of the battle of Shiloh, “because we had no orders to do so, and because such a course would have made our raw men timid.” For the actual conduct of battle, Jomini diagrammed twelve possible plans of combat—“the simple parallel order,” “the parallel order with a defensive
in return for future loyalty. Preserving the Union and painlessly readmitting the reconstructed states, he would have bound up the nation’s wounds, so that Americans could live in peace. But these plans were frustrated, not so much by the Southerners, not even by the Democrats, but by a small yet articulate and potent group within the President’s own party. These were the antislavery extremists, the “Jacobins,” the Radicals. The true villains of the piece, they looked the part. There was