Books about Lincoln offer new perspectives
This year marks the 215th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Scholars continue researching his life, revealing additional insights and forming new interpretations.
Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America, by David J. Kent, 322 pages, Lyons Press hardcover, 2022
Author David J. Kent, a retired scientist who is president of the Lincoln Group of D.C., provides a unique perspective on Lincoln’s interest in science.
Abraham Lincoln was raised on frontier farms with scant formal education. Nevertheless, he made time to read whatever books he could borrow. When he was able to afford his own reading material, Lincoln selected books explaining the principles of science and math. His life experiences touched on many scientific fields: agriculture, meteorology and mechanics. He read to gain an academic understanding of these subjects.
In addition, Lincoln was fascinated by astronomy and the principles of logic. He followed with great fervor the latest scientific discoveries and their practical applications.
Lincoln’s legal practice included patent and copyright cases as well as lawsuits involving new technologies. As a congressman, Lincoln was granted a patent to lift boats through shoals, and as president, he signed a law creating the National Academy of Sciences.
In wartime, Lincoln oversaw the deployment of technological advances on the battlefield and encouraged inventors to submit their ideas to a military panel for review.
Lincoln Looks West: From the Mississippi to the Pacific, edited by Richard Etulain, 263 pages, Southern Illinois University Press paperback, 2023
Octogenarian Richard Etulain, professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, is the editor of an anthology of nine scholarly essays that explore Lincoln’s policies regarding the western United States.
Lincoln was viewed as a “man of the west,” an appellation he warmly embraced. Lincoln favored federal funds for internal improvements and the construction of a transcontinental railroad. He believed that homesteading should be the basis for settling the west in an egalitarian fashion. Lincoln sought the establishment of land grant colleges to teach agriculture.
Even when he was immersed in the Civil War, Lincoln found time to engage in the minutiae of patronage appointments and the politics of the territories in the American West.
Other fascinating subjects in Lincoln Looks West include Lincoln’s Native American policies, his interactions with Mormons and his stand regarding the Mexican War.
Lincoln and Reconstruction, by John C. Rodrigue, 168 pages, Southern Illinois University Press paperback, 2022
The assassination of our 16th president at the beginning of his second term, just as the Union emerged victorious in the Civil War, gives rise to speculation about what might have been. This scholarly treatise explores the evolution of Lincoln’s policies regarding re-integrating the Confederate states into the Union.
Lincoln and Reconstruction does more than speculate. It is a rich source of factual material regarding Lincoln the politician. His goal was to attain achievable objectives through flexibility, weaving together coalitions, moving public opinion through communication while maintaining fealty to the Constitution.
The president was pressured by two opposing forces: abolitionists in his party and the military necessity of keeping the border states in the Union. Lincoln juggled these disparate political pressures keeping true to his inner core of beliefs.
Lincoln also grew in his empathy toward African Americans. What he viewed initially as a war to keep rebelling separatists from leaving the Union evolved into a war to end slavery. Lincoln constantly refined his understanding of what emancipation might mean.
John C. Rodrigue, professor of history at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, eschews secondary sources for the most part and focuses on Lincoln’s own writings.
Correction: The print version of this article stated that Illinois straddles the Mississippi River; in fact, it borders the river.