Lincoln President-Elect

19 12 2008

I just finished the latest from Harold Holzer.  All in all, a well written book, easy to read, with lots of stuff I did not know.  Great background on the evolution of the First Inaugural Address.  Lots of anecdotes.  But no bibliography, and sometimes the analysis is lacking.  For instance, on page 458 (emphasis mine):

“And then, despite a giant step backward at Baltimore that might have crippled less agile leaders, he had recaptured public confidence while harmonizing a balanced and brilliant cabinet.”

lincoln-president-electI’m a big, big Lincoln fan – I’ll be buying Burlingame’s new doorstop unless someone gives it to me – but some things I don’t get.  I’m not one of those who think Lincoln possessed exemplary management skills – I’ve worked for people who managed like him, and they were without a doubt the worst bosses imaginable.  Maybe that’s just a matter of taste (I doubt it), but my thoughts on this evolved over time until I said yeah, Abe did not have mad management skills.  But this image of Lincoln’s cabinet being a dream team has never made sense to me.  Now, if Holzer is saying that AL did a great job with his cabinet selections politically, I’d agree.  His primary purpose was obviously to pay the debts incurred on his way to the White House.  But practically speaking, I find it hard to argue that the best people were put in the jobs for which they were most suited.  Welles was a newspaper editor – many might say his job was keeping his diary, and Gustavas Fox actually ran the Navy Dept.  Blair was the son of a newspaper editor.  Chase would prove a thorn in the side of the administration until his departure.  Cameron?  CAMERON???  Perhaps I misapprehend the meanings of harmony and brilliance.

I think this is another case of  repeating something until it  becomes truth. 

As for the book, it’s worth the read despite what I consider flaws in logic and many, many typos.  It has some real gems.  But for a better analysis of Lincoln during this period, I recommend McClintock’s Lincoln and the Decision for War.

It looks like this will be my last ACW book for 2008, as next up is Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates.  I’ll write up something on my thoughts about this year’s reads soon.