Book Review: In The Name Of The People

In The Name Of The People:  Speeches And Writings Of Lincoln And Douglas In The Ohio Campaign Of 1859, edited by Harry V. Jaffa and Robert W. Johannsen

This book is a rarity and it deals with one of the more fascinating and obscure aspects of Abraham Lincoln’s political career, and that was the two speeches he made on behalf of the Republicans in Ohio during 1859.  This campaign, although obscure and little known outside of specialists in the political career of Abraham Lincoln, marks an important transition point for Lincoln, in that it shows that his increased reputation nationwide as a Republican orator against Douglas had gotten the attention of the Republican party in other states in the Midwest and he was thought as a useful defender of republican virtue to help deal with more conservative areas where his moderate views would help allay concerns, and also shows that Douglas’ behavior in 1858 was starting to damage his nationwide political prospects for the presidency even before the disastrous breakup of the Charleston convention in 1860.  If Lincoln was not thought of as a front-runner for president, 1859 shows that he was at least in the conversation and was attracting the hostility of potential rivals who disliked seeing him nose into their turf.

This book consists mostly of the speeches of Douglas and Lincoln as well as a thoughtful if negative piece of formally anonymous writing by Buchanan’s attorney general Jeremiah Black about Douglas’ views on the political power of territories.  What this book does, and does well, is to present Lincoln, Douglas, and Black’s writing as part of an overall context of the Ohio gubernatorial campaign of 1859.  After a preface gives a reason for this book’s existence, the introduction gives the setting of the politics of Ohio during the late 1850’s as well as the issues that were at stake between Republicans and Democrats as several parties involved sought to burnish their political credentials with an eye towards 1860.  After that there is the famous Dividing Line essay in Harper’s from Douglas as well as his speeches at Columbus and Cincinnati.  This is followed by some observations on Douglas’ views concerning popular sovereignty by Jeremiah Black as well as Douglas’ speech in Wooster and then closes with Lincoln’s speeches in Columbus and Cincinnati.  At least in the author’s mind, these speeches were of great success in helping Lincoln gain some reputation with Republican voters outside of his home state as he was speaking with border Northerners of a similar background to his own and laying the groundwork for the Cooper Union speech.

In many ways this book is dealing with transitional material, but it is transitional material that many readers are not likely to know particularly and that makes it very compelling, which is something to enjoy and appreciate.  The speeches by both Lincoln and Douglas show an ability to discuss some serious aspects of political thought and practice over the course of an hour and a half to two hours in length that is at a level of depth far beyond anything we see in contemporary political discourse.  If one disagrees with the logic of Douglas and Black and prefers that of Lincoln, this book does demonstrate that all of them were thinking in terms that were both ideal as well as practical.  Black and Lincoln come off as more cerebral and certainly more self-aware than Douglas, but Douglas’ views show an interesting view of empire and of freedom that if it does not bear a close relationship to his own conduct involving territories like Utah with its polygamy problem, his efforts at trying to present himself as appealing as a leader of the free soil North is something that must be respected at least, even if it was ultimately unsuccessful.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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