A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity by Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle (2015)
A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln
and the Fight for American Opportunity
by Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle
Basic Books, 2015
There are few Americans that would argue against Abraham Lincoln’s place among the greatest Presidents in United States history. His brave yet humble leadership stabilized the union in the midst of its most dangerous trial, the Civil War. The result of that conflict, the freeing of the slaves, has been heralded as his crowning achievement. Yet there are some who claim the emancipation of the slaves was of secondary importance of the conflict.
Authors Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle make the claim in A Just and Generous Nation that Lincoln’s impetus for war was economic rather than moral. There is no doubt that economics concerns were important to the sixteenth president, as they have been important to every other man who has held the office. The authors write, “More than any other president, Lincoln is the father of the American Dream that all Americans should have the opportunity through hard work to build a comfortable middle-class life.” That statement is not controversial, and even their assertion that economics played a larger role in the Civil War than slavery is not without merit, but the conclusions drawn from those assertions smack of partisanship.
The first half of the book is a good overview of Lincoln’s ascendancy to the highest office in the land, and speaks to his own “hard work.” He had nothing handed to him; he was responsible for doing what was needed to achieve success in his own life. The second half of the book, however, begins to assign blame for later economic hardships to partisan politics and particularly Republican leaders (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Reagan, and the younger Bush), set against the “American Dream of successful middle-class society” presidents (Wilson, both Roosevelts, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama). The authors then turn around and state all too truthfully, “Politicians of both parties typically spend more time raising money for their political campaigns than working on legislation or governing.”
Certainly Lincoln was a shrewd politician that pushed for legislation that would eventually eradicate slavery, with or without the Civil War. I am not sure that I would assign the immorality of slavery to a lower rung of importance as the authors did, but they do make a compelling case.
A Just and Generous Nation starts strong and is interesting in its theory of Lincoln’s economic interests. History buffs may enjoy the read, though it is doubtful to shed much new light or change the minds of those who have grown to admire and emulate the Great Emancipator.
Posted on December 14, 2015, in books, politics, reviews and tagged A Just and Generous Nation, Abraham Lincoln, Basic Books, Harold Holzer, history, Norton Garfinkle. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.