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Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World

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Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World by Eric Foner

 

Click the image for review of this book.

W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.
336 pages
$29.95

 

A Review by David Madden, Louisiana State Liaison

 

Among the more than 4,000 books about Lincoln, venturesome readers will discover great variety.  OUR LINCOLN deliberately sets out to offer new perspectives, one year after LINCOLN REVISITED: NEW INSIGHTS FROM THE LINCOLN FORUM appeared, making a similar claim.

In the latest book, OUR LINCOLN: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON LINCOLN AND HIS WORLD, edited by Eric Foner, author of major studies of emancipation and reconstruction, twelve Lincoln scholars delve into Lincoln’s involvement in issues about civil liberties, colonization of slaves, black abolitionists, religion, while also scrutinizing “the family that made him, and the family her made.”

James M. McPherson brings to his examination of Lincoln as Commander in Chief not so much new insights as the authority of one who ranks as the pre-eminent historian of the Civil War who won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM. Published this year, his TRIED BY WAR take up the same subject as his essay.

Harold Holzer’s “Visualizing Lincoln” derives from his renowned expertise in the photography of the Lincoln era. Sean Wilentz’s essay on Lincoln and Jacksonian democracy provides one of the freshest perspectives.

Even more unique is a provocative piece on “The Theft of Lincoln  in Scholarship, Politics, and Public Memory” by David Blight, whose RACE AND REUNION won three major history prizes seven years ago,                       

Taken together LINCOLN REVISTED and OUR LINCOLN offer 30 essays that constitute a rich and complex collection of facts and insights. For anyone interested in the president whose 200th birthday we celebrate on February 9, 2009, these two books provide an extraordinary opportunity to meditate on Lincoln’s life and works as we read books and while we attend programs—this year as well as next.

Even so, neither collection of essays offers startlingly fresh views of Lincoln, such as we have seen recently, for instance, in books that delineate the parallel lives of Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Frederick Douglass, Whitman,  Jefferson, and Darwin (quite an evolution in Lincoln studies…).

Perhaps before this year and next have come and gone, we will be left with books and articles, and lectures and panels, that examine other new perspectives. We may safely hope that the “Lincoln and…..” series will continue, perhaps comparing Lincoln as Emancipator with other emancipators, Bolivar, Ataturk, and Garibaldi.

Between military campaigns that he conducted to free Italy from foreign and domestic tyranny, Garibaldi lived for a while on Staten Island in the home of Antonio Meucci, “true inventor of the telephone,” where they made candles for a modest living; Garibaldi rejected riches and kingdoms as rewards for his victories). Just as he had originally asked Colonel Robert E. Lee, Lincoln asked Garibaldi, in 1862, to lead the Union army. For different reasons, both refused.

Would books comparing Lincoln with other wartime American presidents put Lincoln into new perspectives? Imagine comparing Lincoln and Jefferson and the war of 1812 (200th anniversary coming up), Polk and the Mexican-American war, President McKinley and the Spanish American War, Wilson and WWI, Roosevelt and WWII, and so on, right on up to (perhaps even including) Bush. And Obama or McCain?

It may not be too late for books and articles to appear that compare Lincoln and emancipation with John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights struggles. Some readers would welcome a book that examines depictions of Lincoln in poetry, fiction, drama, music, and television and a collection of poems by and about Lincoln.

Actually, we need not wait for such books. Let’s just imagine.

 

            David Madden is Chair of the Louisiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.