Lincoln's Rise to the Presidency
William C. Harris
Winner: Henry Adams Prize
Adopting a new approach to an American icon, an award-winning scholar reexamines the life of Abraham Lincoln to demonstrate how his remarkable political acumen and leadership skills evolved during the intense partisan conflict in pre-Civil War Illinois. By describing Lincoln's rise from obscurity to the presidency, William Harris shows that Lincoln's road to political success was far from easy—and that his reaction to events wasn't always wise or his racial attitudes free of prejudice.
“Harris’s book is a standout in its thorough and meticulous determination to explain precisely how Lincoln rose, in little more than a decade, from virtual obscurity as a one-term, western congressman to head the Republican Party, win the presidency, and assume moral leadership of the nation during the Civil War and beyond.”
—American Historical Review
“A compelling portrait of the man destined to save the Union and destroy slavery.”
—Civil War NewsSee all reviews...
“Students of the Civil War era will want to read this book for the evolution of anti-slavery thought. For Lincoln fans, it is a must.”
—Blue & Gray
“Harris’s work ... reveals the wisdom of the Republicans’ choice, and does so in a manner accessible to a broad readership.”
“A thorough and provocative account of Lincoln’s path from little known ex-congressman to the White House. . . . The scope of Harris’s work and his conclusions make [this book] an ideal complement to other key books on the topic.”
—Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association
“Harris has done it again—another superb book on Abraham Lincoln. Building on his impressive body of work, as well as that of Douglas Wilson, Don Fehrenbacher, and others, Harris summarizes Lincoln’s emergence and ascendancy from obscurity to the Presidency. . . . All this, Harris has accomplished with thoroughness and justice. This is an excellent analysis of Lincoln’s political shrewdness and wisdom in the context of the times.”
—Civil War Book Review
“Harris presents a needed update to the literature on Lincoln’s early career in this well-written narrative. Harris argues that the key to understanding Lincoln’s political success lay in his conservatism, which stemmed from his border-state rural background as well as from the cautious nature of his personality. . . . Harris’s lively narrative illuminates important issues in Lincoln’s early political career. . . . [Despite these limitations] this book will remind scholars that Lincoln’s life before he achieved national prominence was as complex and rich as it was after he became president.”
—Journal of American History
“Harris retells a story hardly obscure, but with a wealth of detail from newly accessible documents and with distinctive emphasis upon a conservative, politically adroit Lincoln. . . . All will learn from this detailed analysis of Lincoln’s strategies. Harris portrays a shrewd, eloquent master politician who deserved rather than stumbled into the White House.”
“Illuminates Lincoln’s remarkable rise from obscurity to the presidency and shows in fresh detail how he acquired, and exercised, the political skills and the wisdom that made him a great leader when he got there.”
—William Lee Miller, author of Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography
“An insightful account that convincingly portrays Lincoln as a tactically shrewd, strategically principled, and eloquently forceful leader and reconciler of the heterogeneous antislavery elements in both Illinois and the North at large. . . . A worthy companion to Harris’s prize-winning studies of Lincolns presidency.”
—Michael Burlingame, author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln
“A fine, well-written study that provides sophisticated and balanced insights.”
—Phillip Shaw Paludan, author of The Presidency of Abraham LincolnSee fewer reviews...
Although most scholars have labeled Lincoln a moderate, Harris reveals that he was by his own admission a conservative who revered the Founders and advocated "adherence to the old and tried." By emphasizing the conservative bent that guided Lincoln's political evolution-his background as a Henry Clay Whig, his rural ties, his cautious nature, and the racial and political realities of central Illinois—Harris provides fresh insight into Lincoln's political ideas and activities and portrays him as morally opposed to slavery but fundamentally conservative in his political strategy against it.
Interweaving aspects of Lincoln's life and character that were an integral part of his rise to prominence, Harris provides in-depth coverage of Lincoln's controversial term in Congress, his re-emergence as the leader of the antislavery coalition in Illinois, and his Senate campaign against Stephen A. Douglas. He particularly describes how Lincoln organized the antislavery coalition into the Republican Party while retaining the support of its diverse elements, and sheds new light on Lincoln's ongoing efforts to bring Know Nothing nativists into the coalition without alienating ethnic groups. He also provides new information and analysis regarding Lincoln's nomination and election to the presidency, the selection of his cabinet, and his important role as president-elect during the secession crisis of 1860-1861
Challenging prevailing views, Harris portrays Lincoln as increasingly driven not so much by his own ambitions as by his antislavery sentiments and his fear for the republic in the hands of Douglas Democrats, and he shows how the unique political skills Lincoln developed in Illinois shaped his wartime leadership abilities. By doing so, he opens a window on his political ideas and influences and offers a fresh understanding of this complex figure.