Father Abraham

It now appears that the safest way for scholars to treat Abraham Lincoln is in discrete segments of his life, leaving it to other, perhaps braver, souls to draw the appropriate conclusions. This means that, as in this book which focuses on the presidential years, modern Lincoln scholarship seems to miss the essence of the man in all his complexity. A man and his actions are of course inseparable, but the significance of the clues to Lincoln's character that Mark Neely offers us seems to escape the author's own recognition. For instance, Neely makes note of Lincoln's Enlightenment-laden rationalism, so evident in his 1838 Young Men's Lyceum address, but leaves the question as to what we may infer from the fact largely unexplored. Given the revolutionary zeal with which some of Lincoln's later allies would prosecute his war of empire and Utopia, however, the connections beg to be made.

For all that, this book is over a century late; had it been made available to the disenfranchised and defeated Confederates of the Reconstruction South, doubtless much of the pain of losing their homes, their land, and their culture would have been eased by the knowledge that their fortunes had been entrusted to the "last best hope of earth." And if Father Abraham's current intellectual heirs, panting at the chance to proclaim democracy unto all the world, have their way, soon other peoples will have the experience of...

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