THE PRESIDENCY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN is the latest in a series of scholarly books on American presidents published by the University Press of Kansas. It fulfills the objective of the series by offering a thorough exploration of the conflicts, issues, and challenges faced by Lincoln while in office. Further, it is sufficiently detailed to demonstrate the relationship between numerous subordinate concerns and Lincoln’s two overriding challenges: preserving the Union and ending slavery.
Although the work is not primarily biographical, it admirably clarifies Lincoln’s role as national leader. Unable to prevent the Civil War, the president found himself driven by the logic of military necessity. Paludan shows that with limited ability to control events, Lincoln effectively controlled the pace of events. Inevitably, he faced urgent objections and even hostility from friends and foes who wanted a slower or faster pace of Emancipation or military affairs. The book chronicles Lincoln’s efforts to satisfy the Congress and the shapers of public opinion, to manage a large and diverse group of military commanders, to preserve unity within his often divided cabinet, to clarify his broad policies, and to fulfill the logistical demands of war. Lincoln’s delays, balancing acts, changes of course, and compromises, though they dismayed some, contributed to his ultimate success.
Paludan’s scholarly history is highly specific and richly documented to benefit professional historians, yet simultaneously its comprehensive nature and pellucid, elegant style commend it to the general reader.