Friday, July 18, 2008

New Arrival---Getting Right With the Declaration of Independence: Lincoln's Peoria Speech

Lincoln At Peoria: The Turning Point, Lewis E. Lehrman, Stackpole Books, 412 pp., index, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, chronology, 2008, $29.95.

CWL: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Second Inaugural, and Cooper Union Address have received new attention in the past several years. Harold Holzer recovered a close approximation of the actual words of the Lincoln-Douglas debates from the October 1858 newspapers in 1993. In 2008 two Lincoln/Douglas books have recently appeared: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America by Allen C. Guelzo and The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln's Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas For The Heart And Soul Of America by Roy Morris Jr. The battle between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, as the current books remind us, was not limited to the seven famous debates. Lincoln's Peoria speech was delivered four years before, almost to the day of the last of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in October 1858. On first look, Lehrman's book has a crisp, sharp narrative style and is closely referenced. The author places the speech in the context of Lincoln's career and references it to other historians' considerations of Lincoln's life and work. Organized into nine chapters, each with four to seven sections, Lincoln At Peoria: The Turning Point encourages the reader to dip into the book then reflect on the argument. Lehrmans' book is accessible to readers ranging from Lincoln buffs to the those with advanced degrees; Stackpole Publishing has issued a nice edition in an enjoyable font style and size with a binding that is supple and easy to hold.

From the Publisher: Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point explains how Lincoln's speech at Peoria on October 16, 1854 was the turning point in the development of his antislavery campaign and his political career and thought. Here, Lincoln detailed his opposition to slavery's extension and his determination to defend America s Founding document from those who denied that the Declaration of Independence applied to black Americans.

Students of Abraham Lincoln know the canon of his major speeches from his Lyceum Speech of 1838 to his final remarks delivered from a White House window, days before he was murdered in 1865. Less well-known are the two extraordinary speeches given at Springfield and Peoria two weeks apart in 1854. They marked Mr. Lincolns reentry into the politics of Illinois and, as he could not know, his preparation for the Presidency in 1861. These Lincoln addresses catapulted him into the debates over slavery which dominated Illinois and national politics for the rest of the decade. Lincoln delivered the substance of these arguments several times certainly in Springfield on October 4, 1854, for which there are only press reports. A longer version came twelve days later in Peoria. To understand President Abraham Lincoln, one must understand the Peoria speech of October 16, 1854. It forms the foundation of his politics and principles, in the 1850s and in his Presidency.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, one of the most explosive congressional statutes of American history, repealed the prohibition on slavery in that section of the Louisiana Territory, 36 degree and 30 minute parallel, a restriction on the spread of slavery agreed upon by North and South in the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, sponsored by the famous Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, inaugurated an incendiary chapter in the slavery debates of the early American Republic. In response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln launched his antislavery campaign. All of his moral and historical arguments opposed any further extension of slavery in the American republic, founded, as he argued, upon the Declaration of Independence. That all men are created equal, with the inalienable right to liberty, was, for Lincoln, a universal principle that Americans must not ignore.

The Endorsements: Doris Kearns Goodwin, James M. McPherson, David Brion Davis, Douglas L. White, James Oliver Horton, Samuel Freedman and Michael Burlingame.

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