Lincoln and Davis
Imagining America, 1809-1865
American Political Thought
Sales Date: November 1, 2001
340 Pages, 6.13 x 9.25 in
- Published: November 2001
Abraham Lincoln: the Great Emancipator, savior of the Union, and revered national hero. Jefferson Davis: defender of slavery, leader of a lost cause, and forlorn object of scorn. Both Lincoln and Davis remain locked in the American psyche as iconic symbols of victory and defeat. They presided over a terrible war that decided the fate of slavery and severely tested each man’s resolve and potential for greatness. But, as Brian Dirck shows, such images tend to obscure the larger visions that compelled both men to pursue policies and actions that resulted in such a devastating national tragedy.
Going well beyond most conventional accounts, Dirck examines Lincoln’s and Davis’s respective ideas concerning national identity, highlighting the strengths and shortcomings of each leader’s worldview. By focusing on issues that have often been overlooked in previous studies of Lincoln and Davis—and of the war in general—he reveals the ways in which these two leaders viewed that imagined community called the American nation.
The first comprehensive and detailed study to compare the two men’s national imaginations, Dirck’s study provides a provocative analysis of how their everyday lives—the influence of fathers and friends, jobs and homes—worked in complex ways to shape Lincoln’s and Davis’s perceptions of what the American nation was supposed to be and could become and how those images could reject or accommodate the institution of slavery.
Dirck contends that Lincoln subscribed to the notion of a “nation of strangers” in which people never really knew one another’s hearts, reflecting his wariness of sentimental attachment, while Davis held to a “community of sentiment” based on honor and comradeship that depended a great deal on emotional bonding. As Dirck shows, these two ideals are very much a part of the current national conversation-among citizens, scholars, and politicians—that has brought Davis back into the fold of great Americans while challenging many of the clichés that surround the Lincoln myth.
Ultimately, Dirck argues, the imagined communities of these two remarkable men transcend the experience of war to illuminate the ongoing debates over what it means to be an American. Through this engaging and original work, he urges a restoration of balance to our understanding—not only of Lincoln and Davis, but also of the contributions made by North and South alike to those debates.
"A thoughtful, original, and well-written extended comparative biography of the two Civil War presidents."—Civil War History
"Dirck succeeds in pouring somenew wine into old bottles in this well-written and thoughtful intellectual history. "—Journal of Southern History
"This is intellectual history at its most stimulating."—William C. Davis, author of Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour
"Provides fascinating new insights into the personalities and policies of Lincoln and Davis. In the process, it explores the crucial issue of national identity that served as the fulcrum of nineteenth-century politics—and social psychology. Innovative, insightful, and well-written, it offers a fresh perspective on some of the oldest issues in American history."—David Shi, author of America: A Narrative History
"A psychologically sophisticated, novel analysis not only of the two Civil War presidents but also of American nationalism broadly conceived."—Michael Burlingame, author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln
Part One: Early Imaginations
Part Two: Sectional Imaginations
Part Three: Wartime Imaginations