Book Review: The Long Pursuit

The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln’s Thirty-Year Struggle With Stephen Douglas For The Heart And Soul Of America, by Roy Morris, Jr.

This is a good book about the parallel careers of Lincoln and Douglas. If it does not rise to the sublime levels of Jaffa’s Crisis Of The House Divided, which covers somewhat similar ground, albeit from the point of view of political philosophy rather than political history, it is nonetheless a brief yet reasonably full examination of the long rivalry between Lincoln and Douglas, which until the very end of their duel was largely won by Douglas. Much of this book seems very familiar, not merely because so many books are written about Lincoln’s career, but because the book manages to capture the general sense of the scholarly consensus about Lincoln and Douglas, doing so in a brief manner with frequent citations, but without the sort of detail that one would have expected if this book were being written by Guelzo, Holzer, or another historian of that rank.

In terms of its contents, this book begins with the early life of both Lincoln and Douglas, including some fine anecdotes about their childhood and early adulthood, including their parallel dislike for manual labor. Then the book looks at their respective rise through the political ranks in the 1840’s, where Lincoln’s career is derailed after one controversial term in the House of Representatives and Douglas manages to find himself a well-respected but also highly controversial Senator. The book spends most of its time examining the period between 1854 and 1861, where Lincoln became increasingly vocal about slavery, where Lincoln and Douglas debated face-to-face, and where Douglas’ need to preserve the Democratic position in the North by defending some sort of option by which slavery could be kept out of territories fatally weakened his chance to receive the support of fire-eating Southern delegates, whose split from the Democratic party in 1860 and then from the Union in late 1860 and early 1861 led directly to the Civil War. Where this book particularly excels is in its discussion of Douglas’ attempts to convince the South of the folly of secession, efforts that were in vain, ultimately bringing him to an early death in large part because of his alcoholism and inability to rest and preserve his health.

At around 200 pages, and written in a conversational tone, this book is an intimate comparative biography that should not tax its readers too much. If it is not quite scholarly or detailed enough to be of interest to a professional historian, or to garner Lincoln Prizes, the book does serve as a worthwhile and short read for those who wish to introduce themselves to Lincoln and Douglas, to the nature of political life in the mid-1800’s, and to a reasonably balanced perspective on the moral and practical issues of the early American republic. Those readers who enjoy what they see here would be well advised to then explore other, more challenging, books that deal with Lincoln and Douglas, whether one wants to read biographies of the two, or more specialized books like Jaffa’s Crisis Of The House Divided, or Wilson’s Honor’s Voice, or even Freehling’s two-volume set on the South leading up to the Civil War. If this is not a definitive book on Lincoln and Douglas, it is one well worth spending a couple hours with.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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