Lincoln president-elect : Abraham Lincoln and the great secession winter 1860-1861

by Harold Holzer

Hardcover, 2008




New York : Simon & Schuster, 2008.


Abraham Lincoln first demonstrated his determination and leadership in the Great Secession Winter -- the four months between his election in November 1860 and his inauguration in March 1861 -- when he rejected compromises urged on him by Republicans and Democrats, Northerners and Southerners, that might have preserved the Union a little longer but would have enshrined slavery for generations. Though Lincoln has been criticized by many historians for failing to appreciate the severity of the secession crisis that greeted his victory, Harold Holzer shows that the president-elect waged a shrewd and complex campaign to prevent the expansion of slavery while vainly trying to limit secession to a few Deep South states. During this most dangerous White House transition in American history, the country had two presidents: one powerless (the president-elect, possessing no constitutional authority), the other paralyzed (the incumbent who refused to act). Through limited, brilliantly timed and crafted public statements, determined private letters, tough political pressure, and personal persuasion, Lincoln guaranteed the integrity of the American political process of majority rule, sounded the death knell of slavery, and transformed not only his own image but that of the presidency, even while making inevitable the war that would be necessary to make these achievements permanent. Lincoln President-Elect is the first book to concentrate on Lincoln's public stance and private agony during these months and on the momentous consequences when he first demonstrated his determination and leadership. Holzer recasts Lincoln from an isolated prairie politician yet to establish his greatness, to a skillful shaper of men and opinion and an immovable friend of freedom at a decisive moment when allegiance to the founding credo "all men are created equal" might well have been sacrificed.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member estamm
This is probably the best book covering Lincoln from the 1860 election to his inauguration. It is not only exhaustive, but it adds so many interesting tidbits that it is a really refreshing read. I have a tendency to get bored quickly if I'm in a 'dry' read, but this book never bored me, and I read a number of things that I had never read before. I especially liked the fairly detailed chapter of the long train ride from Springfield to Washington, and a good description of the speeches that Lincoln gave at the various stops and the (partisan) reactions to them. I also liked the chapter that showed how his inauguration speech evolved.
Holzer really delves into the idea that Lincoln didn't say much while the southern states were succeeding at an alarming pace following his election. Really, just about anything Lincoln could have said would have made the states succeed more quickly. He must have had many sleepless nights.
This is an excellent book, and if you are interested in this time of Lincoln's life, this is the one to read.
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LibraryThing member cyderry
It's hard to believe that a book this large was devoted only to the activities surrounding one man in a 3½ month period of time. It was extremely detailed in the activities of Abraham Lincoln following his election as President of the United States from Election Day until his inauguration.

During the time period between the election and inauguration, Lincoln was besieged by office seekers. He would spend hours everyday greeting those that traveled to Springfield to shake his hand and tell him what job they wanted him to give them. At the same time, the nation was being torn apart by the Southern states starting their secessions, Lincoln remained quietly in Illinois. He believed that he did not have the power and influence required until the Electoral College confirmed his election and that President Buchanan should be the person to handle the current crisis.

During the Secession winter of 1860-1961 Abraham Lincoln 'successfully maintained a masterful inactivity and public silence to prevent the spread of slavery, privately fought a political battle to bar unprincipled compromise.'

When asked to evaluate the reasons for the crisis as it related to him, he "reminded them that no President could possibly prove wicked enough to destroy the country in the four years allotted by the Constitution - not even, it implied, a Republican elected by a minority of the popular vote." (history repeating itself?) and when asked on the legality of the seceding states he said " My opinion is that no state can in any way lawfully get out of the Union without the consent of the others."

The book told of his struggles to create a cabinet, his train trip to Washington and the threats on his life all while finalizing his inaugural speech which would endeavor to show his devotion to the laws of the nation and the Constitution as well as maintaining the traditions of the Founding Fathers.

This was a very detailed book with numerous quotes and stories of Abraham Lincoln at this time. However, I think that in the long run, it was too detailed when it came to the day to day activities and could have been shortened with some good editing.
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LibraryThing member ShanLizLuv
I think it is extraordinary that there so much new Lincoln material these days. I couldn't have imagine there's be any new ground to cover. This one is pretty good, if dry at times. Conventional bios rarely gave more than a few paragraph to that critical time between election and inauguration. This book fleshes out the behind the scenes maneuvering, not unlike what's happening now, actually, but with far less publicity.… (more)



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