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.



6 responses

19 12 2008
Will Keene

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



19 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks, Will.


20 12 2008
Chris A

I’ve got Holzer’s book on my Christmas list so thanks for the review. I look forward to reading it.
Also, I downloaded “Wordy Shipmates” as I’ve recently become a big Sarah Vowell fan after finishing Assassination Vacation.


20 12 2008
Terry Johnston

Harry (and Chris):

I finished Wordy Shipmates a few weeks ago. Typical Vowell—insightful and entertaining. Though I thought this one lagged some in the middle. Still, highly recommended.

Haven’t read Holzer’s latest, though it’s on my short list.



5 01 2009
Susan Sweet

Harry thanks for the review of Holzer’s book . The reading group I belong to here in California is reading it in February. I am also a big fan of Sarah Vowell since my boss at the Drum Barracks loaned me Assassination Vacation . She now has me saying “I have been Seward Plaqued ” like she and her family do when they visit someplace that is just a plaque of what had been there.

Was Plaqued yesterday in Charleston a couple of times.
Susan Sweet


5 01 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Enjoy the book, Susan. Come back when you’re done and let me know what you and your group thought.


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