Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lincoln And The Election of 1860, Michael S. Green,152, pp., Southern Illinois University Press, 2011, bibliographic notes, index, $19.95.

One of the new titles in Southern Illinois University's Concise Lincoln Library series, Lincoln And The Election of 1860 is a fine work. Michael S. Green's narrative is clear and direct; every sentence is lean and concise; the pace never falters. Events, decisions, and personalities are described by to-the-point anecdotes and on-the-money-quotations. Green offers the best of recent Lincoln and American political party scholarship.  Elbow by elbow conversations reveal the principles and political savvy, the borders and brinksmanship of Lincoln, his allies and his opponents.

Green's first two chapters offer a cogent description of the American political party system to 1850. He captures the essence of the era's politics with two quotations from Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's 1801 inaugural address 'We are all republicans; we are all federalists' statement is contrasted by his later statement in a letter that 'I shall . . . sink federalism into an abyss from which there shall be no resurrection for it.'  The first and second party systems, the founding of the Whig Party, and the great debates of the 1850s are fully sketched.

The Republican field of candidates, Lincoln's perception of himself and his perception of how others view him is the cornerstone of the book. Greene relies upon Lincoln's remarks and those of others to clarify the issues. The Constitution, the federal union, the election of 1860 are offered as understood by those at that time. Eager to give no offense to others, Lincoln creates a meandering path to the White House; others paint themselves into a corner and Lincoln keeps his feet out of their paint. Green wonderfully describes the Illinois Republican Party's presidential nominating convention at which 'The Rail Splitter' is lifted up by the attendees and literally passed forward to the stage.  Greene's story climaxes during the Republican national nominating convention and the elections of  October and November balloting process. 

Michael S. Greene has succeeded in crafting a clear and concise narrative. It is one that offers a fine summary of Lincoln's efforts, the endeavors of his friends and the political climate of the presidential campaign of 1860.  Blessedly Greene does not set forth observations on the political environment of 2010s, which has become a habit of other scholars sesquicentennial books. Lincoln and the Election of 1860 is accessible to advanced placement high school students, undergraduate and graduate readers. 

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