This spring in the home of the Airbnb where James and I stayed in Washington, D.C. there was a book on our bedside table that struck my interest. What Lincoln Believed by Micheal Lind is one of those reads that places the mindset of President Lincoln and his conception of the issues that swirled around the nation regarding race and rights into a most debatable 300-page book. It is a scholarly work with high marks for the deep research and crisp writing. I started it in the summer and turned the last page today.
I am not, however, in spite of the many aspects to the themes which were explored, convinced of its main thrust. That being Lincoln was a white-racial nationalist. Lind argues, as an example, that the Free Soil movement had a racial component that was aimed at creating white communities. That as opposed to limiting the extension of slavery as a moral issue.
Lincoln comes across as a shadow to Congressman Henry Clay and while having political anchors is nothing new with elected officials Lind again and again places Lincoln inside the mold of the former House Speaker. While Lind is able to demonstrate why Lincoln was indeed our greatest president he does so from the perspective– in my opinion–of viewing events too much through the lens of the 21st century.
Lind does–with no doubt–widen the historical record on the passions and courage Lincoln demonstrated throughout his life. Lincoln was the right man for the job in 1861 and as the last chapter–my favorite part of the book– points out Lincoln well understood why the war needed to be fought. The United States needed to show that the preservation of the Union was essential to allow others around the globe to know the philosophical seeds of democratic republicanism could not be easily undone by malcontents. (That point is also so well made in William Safire’s Freedom which has a special place on the bookshelf attached to my desk. Safire was a speechwriter for President Nixon and wrote a very powerful read with his Civil War book.)
For another aspect to Lincoln, his times, and as a source for deeper conversations I very much recommend the book. The owner of the Airbnb in D.C. was a White House staffer for all eight years of President Clinton’s terms in office. I wish now to sit and have coffee with her and get feedback as it was a most interesting book to leave on a reading table. I am glad she did.