Book Review: The Political Thought Of Abraham Lincoln

The Political Thought Of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Richard N. Current

This book is like at least one other book I have read [1] in that it seeks to show readers Abraham Lincoln’s political thought from the person best equipped to do so, namely Abraham Lincoln. Organized in a mostly chronological fashion, aside from the last ten pages which record some of the profound thoughts of Lincoln contained in various other fragments concerning political matters, this book takes a little more than 300 pages to provide a rich set of primary documents from Lincoln’s political speeches and letters, many of which have been discussed in greater detail elsewhere [2] with a minimum of commentary, largely including a brief statement of the context of the speech and then leaving Lincoln to say the rest in his capable fashion. This is a book that is as old as I am, originally published in 1961, but reprinted in 1981 in the version I was given by a close friend of mine, but it is still worthwhile for those who wish to possess a handy and easily accessible collection of Lincoln’s own words for use in research and writing.

In terms of its contents, this book is about as straightforward as it can get. First the author includes a lengthy introduction about the need to examine Lincoln’s political thought from his own writing along with a helpful if somewhat dated examination of good sources for Lincoln’s own writings and some classic commentary on them. After his a healthy selection of Lincoln’s political writing, including his messages to Congress, part of the Peoria speech, excerpts from two of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, some of his early speeches from the 1830’s like the Temperance and his first appeal to the voters of Illinois in 1832, all the way to his last public address three years before he was killed, the full texts of both inaugural addresses, and much more, is included in four sections. The four sections are as follows: the development of his political worldview from 1832-1854, his confrontation with the slave power from 1854-1861, the first half of the Civil War from 1861-1863, and the speeches as the Civil War ended in victory for the Union from 1863-1865, closing with some scattered fragments from his lengthy career as a political speaker.

In providing a selection of Lincoln’s writings that mostly includes his writings in full and not in excerpt, with rare exceptions like the Peoria speech of 1854, and speeches which are focused to his political writings, which is the most profound area of his thinking, given that is the field to which he devoted his intellect and passions, this book allows the reader to have a great understanding of at least some of Lincoln’s personal concerns. For one, although he was not a person whose reading was particularly broad, nor was he someone who was well-traveled, he did view American history and politics with an awareness of its significance for other nations [3], which is represented here by an essay written to a group of English laborers. In addition, Lincoln was deeply concerned with being quoted correctly, to such an extent that some of his letters amount to patient but sometimes fierce explanations of what he said that point out how others have mistaken his words and twisted them, a concern that some writers share with him in frequency and ferocity. Additionally, Lincoln frequently quoted himself from one message to another to demonstrate to the reader that he had either anticipated what he was doing that was viewed as a change or that he wished his audience to understand that he was a largely consistent person who was nonetheless able to change his behavior and thinking when shown to be in the wrong, as evidenced by his considerable growth with regards to racial equality, a change which is noted without a great deal of comment in this volume. Although far from a new book, this is a worthwhile book to read for those who want to view Lincoln’s political thought in his own words, including some rather savvy interpretations of the Bible.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/book-review-the-essential-abraham-lincoln/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/book-review-lincoln-at-peoria/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/book-review-lincoln-and-douglas-the-debates-that-defined-america/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/book-review-lincoln-at-cooper-union-the-speech-that-made-abraham-lincoln-president/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/although-your-dominion-is-small-the-curious-connection-between-abraham-lincoln-and-san-marino/

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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