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LGDC Study Forum to Examine Lincoln's Foreign Policy Tribulations

By David J. Kent

Washington, D.C.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Civil War offered Abraham Lincoln more than anyone's fair share of trials and tribulations. There was the war itself, the personal sorrows of the death of his son Willie, and the constant battles against both enemies and apparent friends. And then there was foreign intervention that could have pushed the Civil War in ways that we would not recognize today. That's where foreign policy comes into play.

The Lincoln Group of DC study forum has just completed our analysis of Allen Guelzo's classic book, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. As John O'Brien so ably discussed in his recent post, Guelzo joined us on the final Zoom session to provide added insight, a key benefit of the discussion group. We've studied more than fifteen books in the decade plus of the study forum (read about that here), but one glaring absence is a deep study of Lincoln's foreign policy.

There have been snippets, of course. The Trent Affair is a common topic in most Lincoln books. Sometimes there is a mention of Napoleon III attempting to start a dictatorship in Mexico. There might even be a hint of Lincoln rejecting a gift of Siamese elephants. But never a deep dive.

That changes with our next book, Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power, by Kevin Peraino. Peraino, a veteran foreign correspondent who spent a decade as senior writer and bureau chief for Newsweek reporting from the Middle East, brings his policy expertise to this intriguing subject. While Lincoln relied heavily on his Secretary of State, William Seward, it becomes clear that Lincoln himself made many of the decisions that helped protect the United States from foreign interference and adeptly managed critical policy complications. The book uses a unique structure of pitting Lincoln against various foils (e.g., Herndon, Seward, the British Foreign Minister, Karl Marx, and Napoleon) as a mechanism for delving into the relevant issues. The final chapter pits Lincoln vs. Lincoln, challenging his own apparent inconsistencies. The result is a stunning look at how the Civil War could have come out much differently.

Our first session on Lincoln in the World is Saturday, March 9th from 10 am to 12 pm. Check out the Study Forum page on this website to get more information on the forum and how Lincoln Group of DC members can join the discussions.


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