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Archive for February, 2010

Book Review: Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Posted by jaystile on February 21, 2010

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald ©1996
After reading this book my opinion of Abraham Lincoln has been greatly diminished. You can consider me quite underwhelmed. After reading biographies of the founding fathers like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington: Lincoln comes off more like one of our current politicians instead of the great leader that we were taught he was in school. I believe this book gives an accurate depiction of the life Abraham Lincoln. It is well cited (with 100 pages of citations for 600 pages of content). It is quite the marathon read and unfortunately, I did not enjoy it very much.

Lincoln’s life has been well documented, so I will not rehash it. You can read quite a bit about him on wikipedia, so I would like to share with you the things I found most interesting. At the age of eight he was given an ax and helped clear ‘the farm’ so they could plant. I think, “What today’s parents would say if you gave an eight year old boy and ax and told him to go clear some trees?” He was hired out by this father for hard manual labor. All this hard work made him immensely strong. Oddly, in contrast to his height and strength he had a high and shrill pitched voice. This is not the booming voice that I had expected. Lincoln only had a year or so of formal schooling but he really enjoyed reading (something I do admire).

Most of his skill as a lawyer was learned through practice not through study. He delegated most of his research to his law partners to cite precedence. He was very ambitious politically. I don’t approve of politically ambitious people. Their goal is to be in charge and they think they have the right to be in charge. C’est la vie. He helped found the Republican party and became their first candidate for President. This was not due to his great leadership, but because of his ability not to provide an opinion on any high profile topic. Due to his experience practicing law, Lincoln saw both sides of an argument. While I appreciate someone who is thoughtful, he often withheld his opinion if he knew it would damage him politically.

People are familiar with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This freed the slaves of the Rebels. What a lot of people don’t know is that it did not free the slaves of the border slaves states that remained with the Union. Another fact is that Lincoln preferred deportation instead of emancipation. He wished to compensate slave holders and relocate the slaves to Liberia. Emancipation was more of a gambit to get Rebels to rejoin the Union by fear of losing their slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was executed with extraordinary wartime powers. There was also the suspension of habeas corpus.

The following excerpts did not sit well with me

Much of the dissatisfaction with the Emancipation Proclamation was muted, because the President on September 24 issued another proclamation, which suspended the writ of habeas corpus throughout the country and authorized the arbitrary arrest of any person “guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of the United States.”

When General David Hunter, in the Department of the South, attempted to raise black regiments in South Carolina, the President overruled him, stating that he “would employ all colored men as laborers, but would not promise to make soldiers of them.”

Convention prohibited him from taking an active part in most of the canvasses, but, with or without the President’s explicit approval, his aides did whatever was necessary to ensure the defeat of the Democrats. In Kentucky, General Burnside proclaimed martial law, and the imprisonment of Democratic candidates and voters helped secure the election of Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, a “Union Democrat” favored by the Lincoln Administration.

Thoughts on Terrorism
Lincoln was aware that his life was in danger. I admire him for continuing to go about his life. Its an interesting dichotomy. The few can bring terror to the many. The many cannot stand and say, “We are not scared for you are too few.” Therefore, we get full body scanners in airports.

In addition, he recognized that it was impossible for him to be fully protected. If a group of conspirators plotted his death, he said, “no vigilance could keep them out….A conspiracy to assassinate, if such there were, could easily obtain a pass to see me for any one or more of its instruments.”

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