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Lincoln and the Decision for War (2008)

de Russell McClintock

Séries: Civil War America (2008)

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1106194,403 (3.06)1
When Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 prompted several Southern states to secede, the North was sharply divided over how to respond. In this groundbreaking and highly praised book, McClintock follows 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.… (mais)
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The period between the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 and the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861 is one of the most heavily covered in American history. Those five months represent a decisive turning point that led to the bloodiest war that the nation ever fought, followed by the abolition of slavery and Reconstruction. Yet as Russell McClintock notes in the introduction to this book, most of the attention on this period has focused on the attitudes and developments in the South. By contrast, the events and decisions made in the North have received little attention, with Kenneth M. Stampp’s dated [b:And the War Came|913718|And the War Came The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860--1861|Kenneth M. Stampp|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1347460711s/913718.jpg|5183310] dominating the short list of works focused on the secession crisis as it developed there. McClintock’s book is an effort to redress this by showing how the North reacted to the secession movement and how the decisions they made ultimately led to war.

To do this McClintock focuses on politicians and public opinion in four geographic areas: Washington, D.C., and the states of Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts. These areas open up a range of reactions to Southern declarations, as well as proposals for how to respond. He finds that while determination to maintain the Union was widespread, opinions as to how to do this varied widely, with many people supporting some sort of compromise. These attitudes were strongest in the nation’s capital, where Northern politicians had to address the concerns of Southern unionists working to maintain as many Southern states in the Union as they could. Yet there was a real vacuum of leadership in these months, with James Buchanan hobbled by a narrow view of his range of action as president and Abraham Lincoln endeavoring to keep his fragile political party together on the cusp of taking power. In the end, the range of options steadily narrowed, to the point that by April Lincoln faced the choice of resupplying the remaining outposts in federal hands or abandoning them in a further effort at conciliation. His decision to resupply the forts, and the Southern attack on them, helped to erase temporarily the divisions over secession, uniting the North against Southern disunion and bringing about war.

McClintock’s book is a fine study of how the North reacted to secession. It is primarily a study of the political response, which is understandable given the extent to which secession in those months was predominantly a political issue. His depiction of the major political actors is often surprising, with the moderate Lincoln steadfastly opposed to key concessions and the supposedly hard-line William H. Seward at the forefront of compromise. Yet the book suffers somewhat from the author’s focus on the controversy over Fort Sumter, which predominates here to the extent of overshadowing events elsewhere in the South that were contributing to the crisis. This is a minor issue, though, and one that does not detract from McClintock’s overall achievement in providing readers with an examination of an often overlooked aspect of the secession crisis. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
This is a political history of the northern states in the roughly six months from Lincoln's election to the bombardment of Fort Sumter. It is thorough and excruciatingly detailed. It is also repetitive and somewhat aimless. The political parties and popular opinion vacillated between aggressiveness against the seceding states, and a wish to accomodate them. There were polar extremes, and a wishy-washy middle. The author analyzes these phenomena month-by-month, almost day by day. The book is larded with quotations from contemporary journals, newspapers, and letters, which although supporting his analysis mostly reiterate the same thoughts and feelings from one week to the next to the next. I recommend this book for scholars who wish a microscopic look at the politics of this short but crucial period. I do not recommend it for the general reader interested in the history of the times. For such a reader this material could be satisfactorily covered in a fairly brief essay or chapter. The writing is clear and flexible. There are detailed notes and bibliography for those seeking substantiation of the author's opinions or pursuing further information. Note that this work only addresses the northern states. ( )
  anthonywillard | Sep 9, 2012 |
4800. Lincoln and the Decision for War The Northern Response to Secession, by Russell McClintock (read 15 Feb 2011) Though I have read books on Fort Sumter (W. A. Swanberg's First Blood (read 25 Nov 1990) and Maury Klein's Days of Defiance (read 5 Aug 2008)) this book deals with the events in the North after Lincoln's election and with maybe excessive detail relates the course of events from then till after Fort Sumter's fall. It shows Lincoln's masterful handling of the situation, even though it was a very frustrating time for him. The book is extremely well-researched and paints the situation in those crucial months excellently. It is solid history, not overly popularized, with extensive notes and a great bibliography. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 15, 2011 |
From our perspective the Civil War seems inevitable as soon as the southerns states declared themselves seceded from the Union. McClintock thesis is to examine from a Northern perspective of why war was necessary against this insurgency. There were other options such as a negotiated peace with concessions made on one or both sides or the Union could have just let those states go. Similarly, the Union could have acted preemptively to suppress succession movements or gone to war immediately after secession, but did not. McClintlock paints the picture of the political scene in the North in the time between Lincoln's nomination and the first shots fired at Fort Sumter. First, the Republican party itself at that time was a loose coalition of former whigs, Free Soilers and more radical antislavery elements that Lincoln had his hands full trying to keep them together. Then there were Northern Democrats like Stephen Douglass who had their own ideas of how the crisis should be handled. Broad opinion across the North ranged from conciliatory to retributional. And Lincoln himself couldn't do much about it during the time between his election and inauguration. The Buchanan administration had their own problems and weren't up to the task. Lincoln would bumble and hesitate and try every option to keep the Union against war and eventually would make the decisions that would help the inevitable war begin in a way that would unite the Union behind the cause. Despite Lincoln's name in the title this book focuses on a much wider canvas of political figures and ideas of the time. It can be a bit dry at time but it tackles some interesting questions with fascinating results. ( )
  Othemts | Mar 5, 2010 |
Interesting but somewhat dry (my opinion) account of how the north reacted to all the succession fever that swept the south in the months following Lincoln's election. To a Civil War scholar, this is loaded with great information about what was going on in DC and the North before Lincoln's inaugural and up to the firing on Fort Sumter. To the Lincoln scholar, there really is not a whole lot to recommend it... Lincoln is rarely mentioned until nearly 200 pages in (out of 280 non-index pages). That is not a criticism, just a fact.
I did learn a few things... what was particularly interesting was how (and why) the north was split between conciliators and hard-liners in late 1860 and early 1861. There is a lot of that. Bottom-line: Interesting if you want to learn all you can about northern attitudes prior to the outbreak of war. If you want to learn something about Lincoln, this could be skipped. ( )
  estamm | Aug 20, 2008 |
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When Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 prompted several Southern states to secede, the North was sharply divided over how to respond. In this groundbreaking and highly praised book, McClintock follows 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.

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