Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Lincoln Books This Week

There are two Lincoln-related books set to be released this week.  One is yet another collection of Lincoln's speeches and writings.  The other is not specifically about Lincoln, but claims to reclaim a misunderstood part of Lincoln's legacy in a new examination of the impeachment of Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson.

The Essential Lincoln: Speeches and Correspondence edited by Orville Vernon Burton (Hill and Wang, 2009, hardcover, 192 pages)

Vernon Burton, a professor of history and sociology at the University of Illinois, was overlooked for his recent book about Lincoln and the Civil War era, The Age of Lincoln (2007), an audacious book that sought to be a sequel of sorts to Arthur Schlesinger's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Jackson (which, astonishingly, had been Schlesinger's bachelor's thesis at Harvard).  That book received only limited attention, though the few reviews noted Burton's clear writing style.

Now Burton unveils a collection of Lincoln's writing, with introduction and notes.  The publication announcement promises that the Cooper Union Address, the 1862 letter to Horace Greeley (with the famous "if I could save the Union" by freeing no, some, or all slaves), the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural.  Other selections are "skillfully edited down," including pieces of the Lincoln-Douglas debates -- understandably -- and the Emancipation -- less understandably, except that most people find it rather boring.  The Macmillan website (Hill and Wang is a publishing house within the larger company) lists 29 included selections.

This collection likely falls short of other compilations of Lincoln's words, including the classic The Living Lincoln by Paul Angle and the two-volume Library of America collection (although there is also a single paperback "Selections" edition from the Library of America), given the few selections included.  

Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy by David O. Stewart (Simon & Schuster, 2009, hardcover, 464 pages)

David O. Stewart is a lawyer turned author, who has written his second book.  The first, a new account of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, was relatively well received.  The second promises to be intriguing, at least to students of Lincoln.

Even though Stewart's focus is on the impeachment and Senate trial of Andrew Johnson, the press notes suggest that he is arguing for a radical reconsideration of the mantle of Lincoln in this trial.  He suggests that most historians believe that Johnson was impeached for trying to preserve Lincoln's goal of a lenient reconstruction, Stewart evidently claims that it is the Radical Republicans who are the true heirs of Lincoln's legacy.

From Stewart's website:
Impeached challenges the traditional version of this pivotal moment in American history, which portrays Johnson as pursuing Lincoln's legacy by showing leniency to the former rebels.   Impeached shows the compelling reasons to remove this unfortunate president from office, reveals the corrupt bargains that saved Johnson's job by a single senator's vote, and credits Johnson prosecutor's with seeking to remake the nation to accord with the ideals that Lincoln championed and that the Civil War was fought for.
This certainly is a unique interpretation of the Republicans in Congress, who had a rather contentious relationship with Lincoln while he was alive.  On the other hand, it is certainly clear that many sides fought to claim Lincoln's mantle to justify their positions.  As such, this book has the potential to shift understanding of the fight for Lincoln's legacy in the years immediately following his death.

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