Updated: Feb 7, 2021
Saturday January 20, 2021
By Sidney Blumenthal
The creation of the Republican Party and Lincoln’s rise to the presidency were the themes for the Study Forum for the past five meetings. All the Powers of Earth describes the cultural environment and political life of early 19th century America. In this, Blumenthal tells how Lincoln had to contend to successfully push his campaign to stop the growth of slavery. Blumenthal has written a beautiful narrative that draws on infrequently cited sources to shed new light on Lincoln’s motivations and sources of support. Blumenthal has established himself as among the great Lincoln biographers. This is the third of his planned five-volume political biography of Abraham Lincoln.
The Study Forum discussed the passages that described Lincoln’s career-long conflict with fellow Illini, Stephen Douglas. The Little Giant helped Lincoln to hone his arguments to raise his own stature and prepare him to present his position powerfully for a national audience. To the extent that Lincoln is quoted on racial animosity, it was only to counter Douglas’ race-baiting in front of eagerly racist audiences in Illinois. Lincoln needed to parry Douglas’ charges of racial preference and miscegenation. While his language is offensive to modern ears, never once did Lincoln stray from his insistence on the Declaration’s promise that all men are created equal.
Even more profoundly, Blumenthal develops the moral basis of Lincoln’s life-long objection to slavery. It was never just a political position. If he could not openly side with the abolitionists, it was because a successful political move against slavery had to be conservative. Strong steps were required to merely begin to limit the to be able to put it on the course of extinction. The Kansas Nebraska Act had raised the specter of slavery being extended indefinitely. Lincoln had devised a conservative political argument that for the first time, could win a majority of northern voters. Once in office, Lincoln was able to take the first action against slavery in US history.
Our Forum agreed that this book was a very enjoyable read that opened new insights to moral courage and political sophistication that characterized the political life of Abraham Lincoln.
All the Powers of Earth: the Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1856-1860; Sidney Blumenthal (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019) pp 745.