A Bancroft Award–winning historian brings his considerable Civil War expertise to bear in searching for Abraham Lincoln’s beginnings and the events that shaped him.
Freehling (Emeritus, Humanities/Univ. of Kentucky; The Road to Disunion, Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861, 2007, etc.) shows how Lincoln’s shame at his father’s failures drove him to be better in everything he attempted. The author compares him to a Horatio Alger–type character, citing legends and comparisons that illustrated the self-made man who knew how to profit from setbacks. When he was a tall, lanky 7-year-old, his father put an axe in his hand to clear their land in Indiana. His father’s disdain for education may have been the stimulus for his son’s long years of reading aloud and alone over and over to commit to memory. What Tom gave his son was a gift for spinning hilarious tales, often crude but always memorable. Abraham’s frontier charm was all his own. His intelligence, melancholy, and dedication attracted help throughout his life, especially during his excruciating reversals and historic triumphs. Serving in the Black Hawk War, he found his own old-boy network, the group of men who fed him, housed him, and, more importantly, helped him to learn surveying, the law, and politics. He would not forget their help when he was in Washington, D.C. His first short forays into elected office in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Congress taught him the ins and outs of politics and the folly of extremism. As the author notes, Lincoln said very little about slavery. We know he abhorred it, but he also was wise enough to know that extremists on both sides—abolitionists and secessionists—were bound to cause war. His prime objective was to preserve the union. Built on Freehling’s vast knowledge of the time period, this commendable biography shows the geographical division of opinions leading up to war and the life events that made the man who saved the union.
A must for every Civil War library.