Historian Masur (American Studies/Rutgers Univ.; The Civil War: A Concise History, 2011, etc.) explores Abraham Lincoln’s views on national reconciliation.
On April 11, 1865, shortly after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox—and just three days before his own assassination—Lincoln gave his final speech, to thousands (including John Wilkes Booth) gathered on a mud-filled White House lawn. “We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart,” he said. But rather than deliver the expected victory speech after many years of civil war, Lincoln talked about Reconstruction, by which he meant “the re-inauguration of the national authority.” As Masur explains, Lincoln had refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of secession. Throughout the war, he viewed the Confederacy as the “so-called” seceded states and worked to re-establish the authority of the federal government. As outlined in his 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, he intended to offer a full pardon to participants in the rebellion and to make emancipation a key part of national healing. Masur uses Lincoln’s final speech as a lens through which to recount the ongoing national debate over the reunification of North and South. In newspapers and speeches, many asked, were the seceded states still within the Union or out? Had they forfeited their rights? Should they be treated as conquered provinces? Determined to end the war and restore peace, Lincoln had been working since 1862 to re-establish national authority by appointing military governors after Union military victories in several states, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. The author details these efforts and the extent to which Lincoln publicized his reconciliation intentions through widely distributed handbills. “Lincoln not only sought justice,” writes Masur, “he also desired mercy.”
A concise, useful analysis of Lincoln’s generous hope for postwar America, seen against the failures of the actual Reconstruction that followed.