A few years ago a new Lincoln biography might have seemed supererogatory, but recent charges that the Great Emancipator was...

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THE FIERY TRIAL: A Life of Lincoln

A few years ago a new Lincoln biography might have seemed supererogatory, but recent charges that the Great Emancipator was a white supremacist at heart have inspired Mitgang, a longtime Lincoln scholar, to compile this gentle and considered defense. Mitgang examines Lincoln's recorded statements in some detail, excusing his famous profession of inequality in the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate only on the grounds that the candidate's political back was against the wall, but citing many other speeches, early and late, to show that while far from being an abolitionist Lincoln always abhorred slavery and its effects. Mitgang makes a particularly good case for the moderate constitutional arguments of Lincoln's influential Cooper Union speech, and recalls also the much stronger language of the second inaugural which called for ""every drop of blood drawn by the lash"" to be ""paid with another drawn with the sword."" A handful of secondary themes -- anecdotes from Lincoln's storekeeper years (and brief experience as a still tender), his opposition to the Mexican War, inconclusive questions about the assassination, a tribute to Lincoln as patron of the arts and defender of a free press, even a sympathetic reassessment of Mary Todd Lincoln -- are consistently thought-provoking if variably relevant. The closing rhetoric -- hailing Lincoln as ""the personification of our moral nature"" -- swings a little too far back in the pre-revisionist direction, but Mitgang does successfully rehumanize Lincoln, remind us of many of his forgotten virtues, and recall the judgments of his contemporaries -- a lineup of friend and foe that tells volumes about Lincoln's true place in history.

Pub Date: May 20, 1974

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974