Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I know there are lots of Civil War enthusiasts that find faults with Lincoln's decisions and his handling of touchy issues during his administration, but the more I read about him and understand the full context in which those vital decisions were made, I find his political acumen more and more impressive. Many of those tough decision come to light in William C. Harris's Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union.

Harris's book is the first full-length treatment of Lincoln's unique relationship with the ever-important border states during the Civil War in many decades. Professor Harris upends many former scholar's findings that by 1861 the border states were firmly in the Union's fold. Rather, Lincoln and the Border States shows that during the four year conflict the president had to deal time and again with the slaveholding Union states.

Harris focuses most of this attention on the three most significant border states: Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland. Delaware, due to its small population and geographic location, was tied largely to Maryland's fate. Each of the three principle border states had unique issues that taxed Lincoln's time and patience. He did not deal with all of the states the same, but looked at each one individually and took their unique situations into consideration. For instance, he pushed the envelope on constitutional issues in Maryland with arrests and quieting dissenting presses, but he was much more hands off - at least initially - in Kentucky and Missouri on those issues. In Kentucky, he refused to push black enlistments until the spring of 1864, but they occurred much earlier in the other border states.

Two of Lincoln's most troubling issues in the border states was emancipation and enlisting black soldiers in those states. Radical elements helped end slavery before the war closed in Maryland (November 1864) and Missouri (January 1865), but Kentucky resisted their native son's encouragement and kept slavery alive in the commonwealth until the 13th amendment was ratified in December 1865. Earlier in the war all of the border states, including tiny Delaware, had turned down Lincoln's offer of compensated emancipation, but it was his cautious and thoughtful attention to the border states that kept them in the Union, which ultimately helped win the war. Harris rightfully gives these twin thorns in Lincoln's side considerable attention.

I highly recommend Harris's excellent book on this largely over looked, but very significant topic. I don't think you won't be disappointed by the level of scholarship or readability of the book.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union a 4.75.

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