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.
at times fallen into errors of fact or interpretation, and, like most innovators, I may have stated ideas too baldly. I regret these weaknesses, but I do not apologize for my belief that the Civil War era is the most fascinating period in American history. It ought to attract our best minds and our most imaginative writers. David Herbert Donald *I have omitted from this edition “Toward a Western Literature” (written in collaboration with Frederick A. Palmer). ONE Getting Right with Lincoln I
self-improvement was a more potent weapon than strikes, and he urged that they take advantage of the leisure afforded by unemployment for mental and spiritual self-cultivation. A Massachusetts attempt to limit the hours of factory operatives to ten a day was denounced by Samuel Gridley Howe, veteran of a score of humanitarian wars, as “emasculating the people” because it took from them their free right to choose their conditions of employment. The suffering of laborers during periodic
for the coming of the Civil War, perhaps the problem should be approached afresh. The Civil War, I believe, can best be understood neither as the result of accident nor as the product of conflicting sectional interests, but as the outgrowth of social processes that affected the entire United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. It is remarkable how few historians have attempted to deal with American society as a whole during this critical period. Accustomed to looking upon it
irritable reaching after fact and reason. …” Lincoln knew that there were limits to rational human activity, and that there was no virtue in irritably seeking to perform the impossible. As President, he could only do his best to handle problems as they arose and have a patient trust that popular support for his solutions would be forthcoming. But the ultimate decision was beyond his, or any man’s, control. “Now, at the end of three years struggle,” he said, “the nation’s condition is not what
emancipation is notably exceptional. He exerted little influence in securing the adoption of bills that were introduced. In some of the most significant legislation enacted during his administration Lincoln showed little interest. The laws providing for the construction of a Pacific railroad, for the creation of the Department of Agriculture, for the importation of “contract laborers” from Europe, for the tariff protection of American manufacturers, and for the establishment of land-grant