February 12, 2008 will be the bicentennial of the birth of the sixteenth president of the United States. This very readable and fascinating look into the life of one of Americaís best-known presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was written with this in mind.
John C. Waugh begins his story with the family background of Lincolnís parents and his birth in Kentucky in 1808. The family moved to Indiana, where Lincolnís mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died. Lincolnís father remarried, and his family grew because of his stepmotherís children and receiving into the family cousins who had lost their parents. One of these cousins, Dennis Hanks, is quoted by Waugh, as are other relatives and friends of Lincoln. Waugh weaves their quotes smoothly into his story, giving the reader gets a real taste or feel for Lincoln and his times - Waugh presents Lincoln on a very personal level.
Lincoln was against slavery, but as Waugh shows, he was not for equal rights for African-Americans. He did not consider whites and blacks to be on the same level and supported the idea of sending African-Americans to a colony or country in Africa like Liberia. He opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories and into the already free states. He, like others, hoped slavery would eventually die out in the South. He was not the rabid abolitionist many Southerners thought him to be. That came later, when he tried to restore the Union.
The story that Waugh tells is not only about the man but also of his main political opponent in Illinois and later for the presidency, Stephen A. Douglas. Their debates in Illinois in 1858 over the expansion of slavery into the territories are an important part of American history, part of their campaigning to convince the Illinois legislature to elect them to be a U.S. Senator. Douglas won that campaign.
Lincoln and some of his colleagues in the Illinois House of Representatives were responsible for moving the Illinois state capital from Vandalia to Springfield, where it remains today. He became a powerful Whig party politician in his local area and then in the state of Illinois, being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He opposed the Mexican-American War as an unjust war land-grab from the Mexicans. When he was in the Illinois House of Representatives, he and a representative of the opposing party authored a resolution against slavery. This went largely unnoticed, but it was his first political act against slavery.
The book contains endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. The centerfold includes illustrations of drawings and photographs from the time period. The individual chapters are short.
One Man Great Enough ends with Lincolnís Presidential inauguration, the South seceding from the Union, Fort Sumter being surrendered, and the death of Douglas. A book on Lincolnís term as president would be of great interest to readers who will like this present book. One Man Great Enough: Abraham Lincoln's Road to Civil War is highly recommended to those interested in Lincoln, U.S. history, Illinois history, or politics.
John C. Waugh is a journalist-historian who writes for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and many other publications. He is a former bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor. He is the author of On the Brink of Civil War (2003), Surviving the Confederacy (2002), Reelecting Lincoln (2001), Sam Bell Maxey and the Confederate Indians (1995), and The Class of 1846 (1994).