Lincoln and the Border States
Preserving the Union
William C. Harris
Abraham Lincoln Institute
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.
“After reading Harris’s account, it is impossible not to sympathize with Lincoln’s comment that the turmoil in Missouri had ‘tormented’ him ‘beyond endurance.’ Harris distinguishes his work with sound judgment, thorough research, and a readable style. Though he finds fault with Lincoln’s course of action in some instances—after rioting in Baltimore, for example, Harris asserts the new president was not careful enough to distinguish states’ rights supporters from secessionists—all in all Harris regards Lincoln’s border state policies as impressively successful. It is hard to disagree.—”
—Indiana Magazine of History
“Harris has written a big-picture history of a topic rife with complexity and has done it well. . . . His book makes a strong argument about an important historical issue.”
—Journal of American HistorySee all reviews...
“A very fine book, fully worthy of its eminent award [the 2012 Lincoln Prize]. Narrative history writing at its best.”
—Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association
“Harris has done something new in Lincoln and Civil War studies. . . . His probing work brings the border states back to center stage and demonstrates how and why Lincoln mastered the art of balancing competing interests without yielding on the essential priority—an insightful lesson on leadership that speaks to our own day. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“An important and impressive new study. . . . As I finished reading this outstanding study, I was reminded of Frederick Douglass’ ultimate assessment of Lincoln. ‘Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent,’ Douglass wrote in the last of his autobiographies, ‘but measuring him by the sentiment of his country—a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult—he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.’ Professor Harris has given us a remarkable picture of Lincoln’s leadership in this well-written, exhaustively researched, and handsomely produced volume.”
—Charles B. Dew, Civil War Book Review
“In this important new study, Harris examines Lincoln’s sometimes rocky relations with the border states and shows with great precision how Lincoln managed to keep the border states mostly on his side and get slavery abolished therein as well.”
—James M. McPherson, author of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
“A masterful work that probes one of Lincoln’s most persistent and intractable dilemmas.”
—Daniel E. Sutherland, author of A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War
“A definitive study that adds a new level of understanding to a neglected but crucial Civil War subject.”
—Harold Holzer, Chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial FoundationSee 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.