The Last Best Hope of Earth Essay - Critical Essays

Mark E. Neely Jr.

The Last Best Hope of Earth

In the one-fourth of the biography devoted to Lincoln’s life prior to his election as president, Neely portrays Lincoln as a pragmatic political leader, espousing economic development for his region, waiting his turn to run for office as older political mentors had theirs, and performing the mundane tasks of a lawyer-politician in an established party system. While Neely acknowledges that popular myths surrounding Lincoln’s early life are rooted in truth, he does not believe that they help explain either Lincoln’s opposition to slavery or his national idealism.

Once he became a wartime president, Lincoln took steps essential to victory, since defeat would have destroyed his vision of a unified nation. In this endeavor, Neely points out, Lincoln occasionally found it necessary to put expediency ahead of principle. Although he never abandoned his long-standing opposition to slavery, he was willing to delay granting liberties he cherished, especially when delay meant keeping Border States within the union. Expanding executive powers, he often directed the war effort himself. When domestic threats to military success arose, as in the New York draft riots, he did not hesitate to curb civil liberties.

Neely’s richly illustrated biography is both readable and informative, especially so since he clarifies Lincoln’s challenges through analogies to earlier and later times. Although Neely minimizes the role of legend and myth, Lincoln retains his heroic stature, towering above his contemporaries.

Sources for Further Study

American Heritage. XLIV, December, 1993, p.99.

American History illustrated. XXVIII, January, 1994, p.20.

Boston Globe. November 25, 1993, p.26.

Chicago Tribune. October 6, 1993, V, p.3.

Library Journal. CXVIII, September 1, 1993, p.194.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 14, 1993, p.11.

The New Yorker. LXIX, December 6, 1993, p.143.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, September 20, 1993, p.58.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, December 26, 1993, p.1.