Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"The War Worth Fighting: Abraham Lincoln's Presidency and Civil War America"

President Lincoln's lofty reputation seems to have survived the Civil War Sesquicentennial without any serious bruising from professional historians and, indeed, few faults emerge in the nine scholarly essays collected in The War Worth Fighting: Abraham Lincoln's Presidency and Civil War America edited by Stephen D. Engle (University Press of Florida, 2015). The volume begins with Orville Vernon Burton's earnestly admiring essay extolling Lincoln's progressive virtues and their guiding influence on a rapidly evolving American republic. Matthew Gallman then delves into Lincoln's wartime correspondence with ordinary citizens (as opposed to military and political leaders) to see if he can tease out exactly what the president expected of them in a time of civil war. Mark Grimsley critically examines the president's series of impulsive interventions into the conduct of military operations in Virginia during early 1862, finding them "well-intentioned but misguided." Jennifer Weber again looks at Copperheads, emphasizing the threat the movement posed to Lincoln's presidency and the war effort at large while offering a secondary nod toward their minority status within the Democratic party and their almost unfathomable political ineptitude. Mark Neely attempts to expose the writ of habeas corpus as a largely mythical construct when it came to its actual use in the defense of civil liberties, his small sample selection finding it most often invoked during child custody proceedings and underage army enlistment cases rather than in protecting individuals from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Emancipation in the District of Columbia is the subject of Kate Masur's chapter, with proximity to the seat of national power and cooperation between a large activist free black population and Republican politicians a fruitful combination. Richard Carwardine looks at the "visible hand" of leadership in terms of Lincoln's strategic goal setting and policy development as well as his management and communication abilities, with added emphasis on Lincoln as a source of international inspiration. Howard Jones sees Lincoln as a natural diplomat who effectively used the bellicose Secretary Seward to run interference for his own aggressive foreign policy outlook, one that managed to keep the great powers from intervening in the American civil conflict. Finally, Brooks Simpson traces the evolution of wartime military Reconstruction in those areas of Confederate territory occupied by Union forces, a process that also offers hints at imagining what postwar Reconstruction might have been like had Lincoln lived.

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