Saturday, April 7, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Politics, no matter how frustrating or confusing are central to our nation's story. It was just as true 150 years ago as it is today.

The secession of the first few Southern states was largely a reaction to the election of Republican president Abraham Lincoln, who was chosen largely on that party's platform of the non-extension of slavery into the Western territories; something that the Deep South states would not consider. One can appreciate the Southerners concern. Had they not spent as much in treasure, toil and bloodshed in obtaining the territories as the North? Why were they to be excluded for what was just as rightly theirs?

As for Lincoln and the Republicans, who saw slavery as inconsistent with the ideals of the Founding Generation as contained in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the containment of slavery was the best means for eventually seeing it end. If it expanded, it continued to survive and thrive. The United States could not be a model of democracy to the world while slavery was part of its experience.

In Lincoln and the Decision for War, author Russell McClintock, PhD and high school teacher, examines the politics both in the open and behind the scenes in the months from Lincoln's election in November 1860 to Fort Sumter's capture in April 1861. McClintock shows that although Lincoln had advice coming from seemingly every direction and that even internal factions of Republicans and Democrats differed on how to settle the secession issue, the decision ultimately rested with the president. And, only after attempting to consider numerous peaceable alternatives, did he opt for war. A war that actually made the Southerners appear to the be the aggressors and thus united a diverse and previously fractured Northern populace to support that war.

Although the author does include some common citizens' thoughts throughout the book he largely uses those political giants of the era to get at the drama. Probably my favorite chapter was the last, "Everybody is Now for the Union," in which McClintock includes more of those common people's comments to show the swell of support for Union war mobilization after Major Robert Anderson's forces were forced to surrender Fort Sumter.

While I did find this book highly informative, I must admit I was hoping for a more exciting account of these significant and controversial events. On a scale of 1 to 5 I give Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession a 3.

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