By George McGovern.
I read three books on Lincoln, this was the shortest. Still pretty good, though.
“No man worked harder to make himself a success.” He was very ambitious and did the work for it.
“Lincoln believed that cold reason and logic could overcome any deficiency and would see him through any problem. He believed that his self-discipline could set an example for the country and that his devotion to the task would ultimately provide for victory. He grew into his job as president steadily, day by day, overcoming countless frustrations and obstacles and becoming a great leader.”
He realized he was intellectually gifted at an early age, and was rarely intimidated by others in that realm. He was not a public boaster, but knew he knew more than some people. He hardly read the news because he figured the writers knew less than he did. “It would be ridiculous, said some who knew him, to call him a modest man. He was supremely confident in his ability to analyze and solve any dilemma.”
“He understood the issues of the day so well that he found deeper meanings in the war that eluded others. Recognizing that the war was fought initially to preserve the Union, and later to free the slaves, he seamlessly combined the two causes into one.”
Lincoln quote from an early political election: “My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am favor of a national bank. I am in favor of the internal improvement system and a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles. If elected I shall be thankful; if not it will be all the same.” Isn’t that adorable? (He lost.)
Here’s the kind of thing that a lot of people who knew Lincoln said about him--it’s from some anonymous colleague. He was "raw-boned, angular, features deeply furrowed, ungraceful, almost uncouth...and yet there was a magnetism and dash about the man that made him a universal favorite."
"Abraham Lincoln was a political man. Today we picture him as a sober, serious-minded statesman of the highest order, but he was also a shrewd, masterful politician who knew and appreciated the tactical and strategic demands of down-to-earth politics."
Lincoln was always against slavery, but didn’t specifically consider himself an abolitionist (he was a big believer in slavery being constitutionally protected where it already existed), even though he said he probably hated it as much as they did. He wasn’t originally all that affected by it personally and originally figured God would sort it all out and all they had to do was wait. Hahahahahah. But after Kansas-Nebraska happened, he started studying up on it. He did become the leader of Illinois’ antislavery faction.
"Lincoln did not support full equality for blacks; in fact, he went to great lengths to convince his audiences (particularly those in southern Illinois) that he did not support voting rights for blacks, and did not believe they should sit on juries or hold office. Neither was he in favor of amalgamation; just because he did not want a black woman for a slave, he said, did not necessarily mean that he wanted one for a wife. But he firmly believed, as did the founding fathers, that all Americans, regardless of color, were free to enjoy the fruits of their own labors." This pretty much makes him less of a bigot than everyone else at the time, I suspect.
However, much like Obama on gay marriage, Lincoln’s position evolved over time. He originally was balancing his dislike of slavery versus his interpretation of the Constitution saying that the federal government could not get rid of slavery in slave states. He was also originally into the idea of colonization, figuring that blacks and whites could never peacefully live together and black people would be happiest away from white people. However, between not being able to financially pull that off (even Andrew Jackson didn’t have the money to ship Indians off in style and he wouldn’t have had to get boats) and actually speaking with black people who said they didn’t want to leave home, he got over it.
He even became friends with Frederick Douglass, and if that guy could forgive him.... Douglass’s assessment of him was this: "Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow countrymen against the Negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery." He based his hatred of slavery on the perception of a slave as a person, not as a Negro. He also snarked, "Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself."
The original Republicans were a motley crew of former Whigs (where else were they going to go), Free-Soilers*, abolitionists, and whatever Democrats were antislavery.
* which sounds like people going to the bathroom outdoors wherever, doesn’t it?
Lincoln said that the only substantial dispute between the North and South was slavery. "We cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them...." He said all the authority of the president came from the people and they hadn't given him any (note: this was Buchanan’s POV at the time, but this changes during Lincoln’s term) to fix terms for the separation of the states. The people can do it if they want, but the executive has nothing to do with it, his duty is to administer the present government and transmit it to his successor. He also said no administrator could very seriously injure the government in the short space of four years, which sounds sweetly optimistic at this point in time to me.
But speaking of the president having enough powers, Lincoln took advantage of being a war president with expanded powers to do a lot of things. He set aside habeas corpus (judicial mandate ordering prison officials to bring an inmate before the court so the legality of the arrest can be determined) during the war, leading to 13,000+ citizens (mostly Southerners who were committing crimes) being arrested without it and tried in military courts. He also ordered a blockade of Southern ports and practiced various methods of censorship on the media to make sure that editors and publishers weren’t causing injury to the military. He also was the first president to authorize conscription.
"Lincoln never wavered in his devotion to save the Union. Every action he took was calculated to achieve that end. He did not act to gain personal renown; he did not stretch the limits of presidential power because he was interested in power per se. If he favored a liberal interpretation of the Constitution it was because he wanted to save the Constitution, and the country, from the chaos of secession. The sacred document so carefully crafted by the framers bestowed upon the executive great powers, to be used judiciously, in times of great crisis. This Lincoln understood better than anyone else."
The Emancipation proclamation was "the great event of the nineteenth century" for Lincoln (his words). It came about because the war gave him authority he never would have had in times of peace. "Lincoln came to believe that in cases of armed rebellion against the government, his powers as commander in chief had to be commensurate with those of any ruler whose country had been invaded." Also, "In this situation, the constitutional war powers of the president worked to override the constitutional protection for slavery." It was also a good strategy. Under the law of war, property of friends or enemies may be taken when needed. Emancipating the enemy's slaves had been an acceptable means of warfare for nearly 2 centuries in Europe. Slave labor was an essential component of the Confederate army, which forced slaves into service in support roles and then freed others up for combat duty. "Lincoln understood that any maneuver, including emancipation, that might hurt the enemy's chances of success was a legitimate military action." It also gave slaves incentive to fight for the union.
Lincoln’s famous quote on his aims: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help save the Union.”
He first announced this to his cabinet (which was notably a mix of independently minded former political rivals of his, we’ll get to that) in July 1862. He was already decided on what to do, but just getting opinions. Some were for, some were against or thought it should be put off or had no opinion. Eventually Lincoln was convinced by William Henry Seward to postpone doing it until there was a Union victory.
After General McClellan actually had a victory FOR ONCE at Antietam, Lincoln gave the rebel states 100 days to return to the union, or else their slaves would be freed for them. Of course they didn’t do that, so he issued the proclamation on January 1, 1863. At the time it didn’t have any immediate effect--it only applied to the rebelling states, slave owners ignored it, radicals thought it fell short and was hollow and meaningless (all you did was free slaves not under your control and not the ones who were!), and of course it ticked off the South. But the author says it fundamentally transformed the character of the war because it added a moral/humanitarian force to the union cause. Also it allowed acceptance of black men into union military and that union officers had no duty to return slaves to their masters. By the end of the war, nearly half a million slaves had made it to the North. At first they were only in support roles, but eventually got into support roles (200,000 of them). It marked the high point of the Civil War, and irrevocably committed the US government to termination of slavery. “I believe that in this measure my fondest hopes will be realized.” Lincoln said.
Then there’s General McClellan, who I’ve now read about in a few books and man, dude was such a turd. Basically, he had an attitude problem and didn’t actually want to fight. Which is actually putting it really mega super polite, but you'll see how bad he got in other readings. “McClellan was given every chance to prove his worth in two separate command stints, but his agonizing tactics of delay proved to be more than the patient Lincoln could bear.” As general-in-chief he was a “tentative fighter at best.” He had a huge ego, disdained civilian leadership, resented any advice he was offered, was openly critical of Lincoln, the cabinet, and members of Congress. He regularly overestimated the strength of the enemy, would rather drill his troops than go into battle. McClellan was loved by his men, but a constant sense of frustration to Lincoln.
After months of delay, McClellan finally came up with a strategy to attack the Richmond capital, but he continued to complain. He didn’t have enough soldiers, couldn’t deal with confederate movements, fretted about losing lives, and his insecurities about his soldiers’ readiness and the size of the enemy led to more procrastination. He blamed others all the time. “He wrote the secretary of war: “You have done your best to sacrifice this army,” but the telegraph operator deleted the sentence from the rest of the message.”
In 1862 Lincoln took a more active role in managing military affairs--he read up on military theory, consulted with advisors, studied maps/charts, wanted info on everything, and he started formulating his own strategy. “The war would have to be fought if it was to be won, and Lincoln intended to win it.” He finally fired secretary of war Simon Cameron, who was “corrupt and ineffective” for being “selfish and openly discourteous” and he was “incapable of either organizing details or conceiving and advising general plans” and his service was “obnoxious to the Country.” What a lulu. He replaced him with Edwin Stanton, who did a lot better job.
In November 1862, barely one year into McClellan’s command, Lincoln decided that since McClellan wasn’t using his army, Lincoln would like to borrow it for awhile, and relieved him of duties. He tried out Ambrose Burnside (who got smashed at Fredericksburg) and Joseph Hooker (who brought the term “hookers” as a word for the prostitutes that were always following him around into our lexicon), but they weren’t really an improvement. But finally, he found Ulysses S. Grant, who may have been drinking, a sloppy dresser and ignoring basic military protocol, but he’d actually DO stuff. Lincoln said, “I can’t spare this man. He fights.” Reportedly when Lincoln was informed of Grant’s drinking habits, the president said: “Find out what he’s drinking and order it for my other generals.”
Eventually Lincoln expanded the idea of abolishing slavery and went to great lengths to convince people to vote for the 13th Amendment--offering jobs to people, twisting arms, calling in favors. And it got voted in, with three votes more than the bare minimum! Huzzah!
He was very tired by 1865. When a delegation of women overheard him laughing one day, they told him off for laughing while boys were dying on the battlefield. He said if he didn’t get the occasional laughter to break his sadness over the war, his heart would break. Awwww.
“He came to acknowledge, and even depend upon, a higher power; indeed, it seemed that the connection between Lincoln and the Almighty enabled him to take on the great challenges he faced as president. He saw himself as an instrument of God’s will; he had been charged with a “vast” and “sacred” trust, the responsibilities from which he “had no moral right to shrink.” Still, Lincoln did not expect that God would show him the way. “These are not…the days of miracles,” he said. “I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right.” He had to trust his own judgment as well as God’s. “In the present civil war,” he wrote, “it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party…He could give the final victory to either side any day-yet the contest proceeds.”
“For all his trials, Lincoln had become a masterful president. His political skills and powers of persuasion were unmatched. His self-confidence was strong, and he demonstrated great faith in his abilities and in the worthiness of his cause. The depth of his insight, and his ability to judge and inspire men, had transformed him into an extraordinary leader. Lincoln’s growth was unexpected, certainly, to most who knew him. But he had guided-and was guiding-the nation through unprecedented times, and he had a vision for the future.”
“In Lincoln we see the decency of popular government. Its role, then as now, was “to elevate the condition of men…to afford all, an unfettered start, in the race of life.” The war was a “People’s contest,” he said, because upon its outcome depended the proposition that the will of the majority must prevail. To him democracy was an experiment that the world had not seen before; it had been successfully established and administered, but now it had to be maintained against “a formidable attempt to overthrow it.”
I liked how this book gave a great rundown on how being a war president enabled Lincoln to make huge governmental changes--the author does a great job on that, as well as covering Lincoln’s personal evolvement. This is a good short rundown of the fellow, so four stars.