America's greatest president, who rose to power in the country's greatest hour of need and whose vision saw the United States through the Civil War
Abraham Lincoln towers above the others who have held the office of president—the icon of greatness, the pillar of strength whose words bound up the nation's wounds. His presidency is the hinge on which American history pivots, the time when the young republic collapsed of its own contradictions and a new birth of freedom, sanctified by blood, created the United States we know today. His story has been told many times, but never by a man who himself sought the office of president and contemplated the awesome responsibilities that come with it.
George S. McGovern—a Midwesterner, former U.S. senator, presidential candidate, veteran, and historian by training—offers his unique insight into our sixteenth president. He shows how Lincoln sometimes went astray, particularly in his restrictions on civil liberties, but also how he adjusted his sights and transformed the Civil War from a political dispute to a moral crusade. McGovern's account reminds us why we hold Lincoln in such esteem and why he remains the standard by which all of his successors are measured.
There's probably not much left to learn about Lincoln's life, but the flood of bicentennial studies attest that he apparently still has things to teach us. In this modest, fluent bio, part of the American Presidents Series, former Democratic senator and presidential nominee McGovern (Social Security and the Golden Age) finds an inspiring lesson in what a man can do with his life. McGovern's Lincoln is a smart, ambitious striver who overcame humble origins, repeated setbacks and spells of depression. He is an idealist who, though burdened with the racial prejudices of his day, embraced the principle of equal opportunity. Most resonantly for the author, he is a brilliant politician who, combining pragmatism with high purpose, steered a crooked course through ugly political realities to end the intractable curse of slavery. Some of McGovern's judgments, like his overstated depiction of Lincoln as an exponent of "total war," miss the mark, and his subject remains something of a paragon. (His chief complaint is about Lincoln's wartime suspensions of habeas corpus and press freedoms.) Still, when McGovern's lucid homage concludes. "We wish our leaders could be more like Lincoln; we wish we all could be," readers are likely to agree. Photos.