WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates
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WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE: The Life of Abraham Lincoln

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sympathetic narrative biography of Lincoln which admirably fulfills its purposes: it is dramatic without gross floridity, and it presents ""complexities"" without undercutting its subject's stature. The focus is on the slavery question, and although almost half the book deals with the Civil War years, especially Lincoln's concern with holding the loyal border states, the most significant appraisals come earlier. Oates' Lincoln is an Indiana youth steeped in the Founding Fathers and the frontier gregariousness of his skilled, respected father; as he becomes a professionally topnotch Illinois lawyer, he aligns himself with the national economic purpose of Henry Clay's Whigs, rather than with Jacksonian agricultural localism. Proud of his status and prosperity, he nevertheless emerges as an uncommonly principled politician. Oates stresses that, though most Illinois citizens were anti-Negro and many were pro-slavery, Lincoln's first public stand in 1837 was unconditionally against slavery, and the wonder is not that he made concessions to Stephen Douglas' race-baiting in the 1858 debates, but that he made so few. This extensively reconstructed debate, one of the high points of the book, is followed by Lincoln's absorption in building the new Republican Party--a tug of war with politically naive abolitionists and with Know-Nothings whose narrow prejudices he scathingly attacked. After election to the Presidency, however, Lincoln remained surrounded by hostile Republicans who, in 1864, even launched a ""dump Lincoln"" drive after he had practically won the war. Thus Oates' admiring emphasis on Lincoln as ""a thoroughly national man"" grows double-edged. The book shows how, in the name of the Union and party unity, Lincoln tolerated the laxity of General McClellan, a proslavery Democrat, as well as the machinations of his Republican subordinates. Oates, the biographer of John Brown and Nat Turner, does not hesitate to cite once more Lincoln's most famous utterances, and he has provided a rousing context for them. There are no prominent historical revisions here, but for many readers, Oates will convey the shape of the man and the period in a newly direct and moving way.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 1976
Publisher: Harper & Row