MR. LINCOLN GOES TO WAR by William Marvel


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The Railsplitter as tyrant, warmonger and Machiavellian strategist.

Did Lincoln cause the Civil War? Historian Marvel (The Monitor Chronicles, 2000, etc.) says yes, but then adds a qualification or two. Certainly, he writes, Lincoln could have taken the advice of Cabinet members, newspaper editors and plenty of Northern voters by allowing the South to secede, in which case, Marvel ventures, slavery would have at least been a localized problem, likely to disappear in time. Lincoln, however, “eschewed diplomacy” and replied to the capture of Fort Sumter—which, Lincoln’s secret agents had already told him, was inevitably to fall to the South—by raising an army and threatening invasion. He had already hinted at such intentions in his inaugural speech, knowing that trouble was on the way; indeed, as Marvel writes, Sumter, which supposedly touched off the war, was but the latest of many federal installations that the secessionists had taken, to which then-President James Buchanan had responded by not doing anything. Any attempt to enforce federal law in the South, Lincoln’s advisors told him, “would precipitate war.” By Marvel’s account, Lincoln welcomed the prospect, for the Union needed a renewed forging of bonds and federal authority needed to be extended over states’ rights—an argument still played out in the Capitol today. In any event, Marvel argues, Lincoln willingly violated the Constitution to preserve the Union by, for one thing, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and he came very close to establishing a dictatorship (of the Roman, not Nazi, variety). “Lincoln gradually arrogated so much authority to his office that his own dominant party dared not pass that power on to a member of the opposition,” Marvel notes, so that Republicans raced to strip away presidential powers when Democrat Andrew Johnson took office after Lincoln’s assassination.

Sure to touch off discussion, if not controversy, in professional circles; readers with a penchant for iconoclasm will want to have a look, too.

Pub Date: May 10th, 2006
ISBN: 0-618-58349-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2006


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