LINCOLN'S GAMBLE by Todd Brewster

LINCOLN'S GAMBLE

The Tumultuous Six Months that Gave America the Emancipation Proclamation and Changed the Course of the Civil War
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KIRKUS REVIEW

What a difference half a year makes—in this instance, in transforming Abraham Lincoln’s conduct of the Civil War into a war not just to preserve the Union, but to free the enslaved as well.

Journalist and one-time West Point historian Brewster (co-author, with Peter Jennings: In Search of America, 2002, etc.) comes at this project a bit late, it seems. Much of his ground was covered by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005) and the film that grew from it, Lincoln, while the evolution of Lincoln’s views on slavery and emancipation is the subject of Eric Foner’s much deeper-reaching book The Fiery Trial (2010). Still, Brewster provides a highly readable, vigorously researched account of the fraught six-month period in which the Emancipation Proclamation came into being, which inarguably changed the course of the Civil War. Brewster opens with W.E.B. Du Bois’ aperçu, somewhat inaccurate but also somewhat on the mark, that Lincoln was an illegitimate, poorly educated Southerner whose championing of abolition was politically calculated. Whether accurate or not, Lincoln’s decision brought added resolve to the battle to restore the Union, adding equality to “the American ideal of liberty.” Brewster is particularly good as a close reader of Lincoln’s drafts of the document and their evolving intent: As he notes, Lincoln’s wording, “dull, careful, lawyerly, precise,” makes it plain that only the states in rebellion were subject to the law’s harsh judgment. The extension of Lincoln’s reasoning to the Thirteenth Amendment can clearly be seen in the documents and Brewster’s thoughtful elucidation, though that extension was by no means fait accompli. Brewster offers as an interesting counterfactual what might have happened had Lincoln’s initial proposals been adopted, introducing a gradual emancipation that would not have been completed until 1900 and that would likely have involved mass repatriation of freed slaves to Africa. Instead, of course, Lincoln turned his army into “an army of liberation.”

A sturdy, instructive, well-written book.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9386-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2014




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