The first thing you need to know about this book is that it won the Hay-Nicolay Dissertation Prize, Abraham Lincoln Institute and Abraham Lincoln Association which is named for two of Lincoln’s officious factotums and given by an organization that is the Actor Causae for the secular beatification and canonization of Lincoln. Thus it is more than a little lacking in objectivity.
For those of us who have studied twentieth century American history we enjoy a good deal of certitude – based on ample documentary evidence – that American involvement in the First World War was not due exclusively to the sinking of the Lusitania, nor was our involvement in the Second World War due solely to the attack on Pearl Harbor, nor yet again did the Gulf of Tonkin incident serve as casus belli for Vietnam [if it ever even occurred]. What all of these incidents had in common is that they presented highly publicized excuses to do what the executive branch had determined to do in the first place.
McClintock is correct that the issues that caused secession were a political crisis but where he first misses the boat is in failing to realize that the government of the time required a consensus of the states to operate – if you will it functioned from the bottom up and not the top down. The election of Lincoln as a regional minority president [he won only 17 states and 39% of the popular vote] destroyed that consensus and made the achievement of his primary goal – the transcontinental railroad – impossible to achieve along the route that his supporters had selected.
While it may be difficult to believe in this day and age the press in 19th century America was more dishonest, venal and partisan than today’s media empires. They may have had the saving virtue of not claiming the same mantle of objectivity in the service of truth and justice that today’s media has expropriated without so much as a blush but to use them as primary sources you might as well read Mother Jones News for stock market coverage.
Lincoln was every bit as devious as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lydon Johnson would be in the century following him in his machinations to create a war. He was every bit as ill-informed as they were as to what the costs of that war would be. No declared war in the 19th century – War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish-American War – received unanimous support in the Congress. In the 20th century a single member of Congress, Jeanette Rankin, cast the single vote in the House against both World Wars – on the innocent if not quaint reasoning that no democracy should ever vote unanimously for war. Had Lincoln been forced to bring a war declaration before a full House and Senate it is unlikely he would have gotten his way. By going to the mob he was able to achieve his ends. If McClintock had been able to convey even a fraction of that truth he would have performed a great service – even if it cost him the accolades of the anointed.
Lincoln and the decision for war: the northern response to secession Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c 2008 Russell McClintock Nationalism Northeastern States History 19th century Hardcover. xii, 388 p.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. -370) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
When Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 prompted several Southern states to secede, the North was sharply divided over how to respond. In this book McClintock offers his interpretation of the decision-making process from bitter partisan rancor to consensus. From small towns to big cities and from state capitals to Washington, D.C., McClintock highlights individuals both powerful and obscure to demonstrate the ways ordinary citizens, party activists, state officials, and national leaders interacted to influence the Northern response to what was essentially a political crisis.
He argues that although Northerners’ reactions to Southern secession were understood and expressed through partisan newspapers and officials, the decision fell into the hands of an ever-smaller group of people until finally it was Lincoln alone who would choose whether the future of the American republic was to be determined through peace or by sword.