Monday, May 6, 2024

Booknotes: Chorus of the Union

New Arrival:

Chorus of the Union: How Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas Set Aside Their Rivalry to Save the Nation by Edward Robert McClelland (Pegasus Bks, 2024).

Over a number of consecutive weeks straddling March and April it started to look like old times again with new releases pouring in, then the spigot turned off again. This book is actually a June 4 title. I don't know if you'll have to wait until then for its general release.

Numerous biographies and political histories examine at length the long record of political differences between Whig (then upstart Republican) Abraham Lincoln and the Democracy's "Little Giant" Stephen Douglas. Over time, their relationship evolved into one of the great rivalries of eighteenth-century American political discourse. From the description: "Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas are a misunderstood duo. History remembers them as antagonists, and for most of the years the two men knew each other, they were. In the 1830s, they debated politics around the stove in the back of Joshua Speed’s store in Springfield, Illinois. In the 1850s, they disagreed over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and debated slavery as opponents for a Senate seat. In 1860, they both ran for president."

Rather than return to the pair's classic antebellum political clashes, Edward Robert McClelland's new book Chorus of the Union instead stresses the key period when the two men came together to serve a single cause. More from the description: "When Douglas realized he was going to lose the 1860 election, he stopped campaigning for himself and went South to persuade the slave states to accept Lincoln as president. After that effort failed, and the newly formed Confederate States of America bombed Fort Sumter, Douglas met with Lincoln to discuss raising an army." With Douglas dying soon after on June 3, 1861, less than three weeks before First Bull Run, we'll never know how their relationship might have developed as the war progressed.

McClelland also discusses the role of environment and timing in Lincoln's rise. "(B)y focusing on the importance of Illinois to Lincoln’s political development, Chorus of the Union will challenge the notion that he was an indispensable “great man.” Lincoln was the right person to lead the country through the Civil War, but he became president because he was from the right place. Living in Illinois provided Lincoln the opportunity to confront Douglas over the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The debates with Douglas during the 1858 Senate campaign brought him the fame and prestige to contend for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860. Lincoln's moderate views on slavery, which he developed in the swing region of a swing state, made him the ideal candidate for an election that had sweeping historical consequences."

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