The Lincoln Of The Thirtieth Congress, by Roy D. Packard
This book is a deeply entertaining one, in that it focuses on one of the important but somewhat obscure aspects of Lincoln’s career, and that is his time as the only Whig representative in the 30th congress from Illinois. Given that this was the only time prior to being elected president that Lincoln had been east of Ohio, it seems likely that the experience was formative in that it gave Lincoln the confidence that he could handle national politics, it gave him important connections with people he would later work with and against in the Civil War a dozen years later, and it would also allow Lincoln to gain a few vital experiences, including dealing with the powers of the presidency and how it relates to Congress, obviously of relevance, as well as patenting a device and arguing in front of the Supreme Court, which certainly allowed him to check a few boxes off of the bucket list. This book does a good job at showing Lincoln’s effectiveness on the stump as well as the way that his principled stand made him some enemies and gave him an education in the boundary between practical and ideal politics.
This short book is about 50 pages and it is organized into several short chapters. The author discusses the set up that allowed Lincoln to make it to Congress as a result of a rotation system among the influential Whigs of the area and shows Lincoln as a master of practical politics. Whether he is seeking to discuss the Congressional Record as it relates to Lincoln or is trying to engage other historians who made various misstatements (such as neglecting Lincoln’s speaking before the Supreme Court on a couple of occasions), the author does a great job at focusing on various elements of Lincoln’s time in Washington. Among the more important aspects of the discussion is Lincoln’s relationship with Clay and his efforts to elect Taylor because of his availability, something that would later benefit him later on in 1860, as well as the estrangement that Lincoln had with his wife, who was glad to show off that her husband was a representative to her Kentucky relatives but did not want to live in Washington DC but rather preferred to stay with those relatives. The author has a lot of wise comments to make about Lincoln’s time in Washington in the 1840’s and does so well.
How influential was Lincoln as a Congressman? He made a few speeches, and was clearly at home in the witty atmosphere of the House of Representatives. He had some committee meetings and made some resolutions and was largely unsuccessful at getting his beloved bills to pass but he clearly was seen as an effective representative even if he took an unpopular stance in opposing the Mexican-American War, which was broadly popular in his region and helped lead to a defeat of the Whigs in the next election in 1848. If Lincoln’s stance was one that made him unpopular in the future and made it hard for people to understand how it was that he would become a war president of considerable skill, his Spot Resolutions and desire to end the slave trade in Washington DC and help pass the Wilmot Proviso were all matters that would reflect well on Lincoln’s character when it came to being remembered by historians. Not everyone who goes to Congress makes the kind of impression that Lincoln made in two short years, and for that Lincoln did a solid job and was certainly a figure who earned at least part of his reputation for his service in the 1940’s.