The second installment of the acclaimed historian and former Clinton adviser’s massive study of Abraham Lincoln delves into his deeply cerebral “wilderness years” out of the political spotlight.
After his one term as Illinois Congressman, Lincoln returned from Washington to Springfield in 1849 to practice law, wondering whether his political days were over. Yet as former Washington Post and New Yorker reporter Blumenthal (A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. I, 1809-1849, 2016, etc.) delineates in this minutely researched biography, Lincoln's political career was entering a latent but potent period, marked by intellectual study and writing and keen observation of alarming political developments such as the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Always a Whig in politics until then, the provincial lawyer was angered by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, largely by the efforts of Illinois Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Blumenthal records the excruciating nuances in the events unfolding during these fraught years, including the surprisingly anti-slavery views of the Mexican War general Zachary Taylor and his equally surprising sudden death by cholera; the landslide presidential victory in 1852 of the young, impressionable Franklin Pierce, successfully manipulated by Douglas and Jefferson Davis, war secretary and “acting president of the United States”; the passing of the old order of Lincoln’s heroes Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun; passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; and the collapse of the Whig Party into the new Republican Party. As the author chronicles, all of this conspired to bring Lincoln back into the fray. Blumenthal also reveals the extent of Lincoln’s intellectual study during this time and how he began “shadowing” Douglas in framing his anti-slavery speeches. This period of dormancy would explode with the realignment of the Whig Party by Free Democrats, Free Soilers, and Know Nothings and would climax with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 (presumably to be covered in Blumenthal’s next installment).
A painstakingly researched portrait of the political landscape as the country inched toward civil war.