What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was his Senate campaign against the country's most formidable politician, Stephen A. Douglas, in the summer and fall of 1858. Lincoln challenged Douglas directly in one of his greatest speeches--"A house divided against itself cannot stand"--and confronted Douglas on the questions of slavery and the inviolability of the Union in seven fierce debates. Of course, the great issue was slavery. Douglas was the champion of letting states and territories decide for themselves whether to legalize slavery. Lincoln drew a moral line, arguing that no majority could ever make slavery right. Lincoln lost that Senate race to Douglas, though he came close to toppling the "Little Giant," but he emerged a predominant national figure. Guelzo's book brings alive their debates and this whole year of campaigns, and underscores their centrality in the greatest conflict in American history.--From publisher description.
I read the actual debates a few years ago. At the time, there were a number of things from the debates that I just didn't understand too well. I may have to go back and re-read them now that I have a better sense of the background for some of the topics.
In all, the book was well written. There were a few places where I found myself thinking it was a bit 'dry', but the latter chapters were quite interesting. If you want to know more about the debates (but don't want to actually wade through the transcripts of the debates), then this is the book for you.
Mr Guelzo does not "rewrite" history to meet today's social standards; he has crafted a book painting each man as they were seen, not as we would like to view them in hindsight. Interestingly, the author includes a side-by-side chart comparing each debate listing each accusation or claim made by one man and if applicable, a refutation or denial. Think sports box scores!
The epitome of "inside politics," this book may not be interesting to the average reader who tires of political infighting. One thing it does prove: politics never change. Just as today, over a century ago, candidates played fast-and-loose with the facts, resorted to personal attacks and plied the electorate by exaggerating fears.
Originally reviewed BN.com November 29, 2010
The only thing I didn't like was the very end of the epilogue; I felt it got a bit overblown. I was with Guelzo right up until about the last two pages when he tried to tie the Cold War and 9/11 into everything. I am ALL ABOUT how the past informs the present but it was ham-handed, the nuances are much more subtle. If you are doing your job right when writing a history book, your audience is already thinking these thoughts on their own.