Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
Abraham Lincoln's Path to Reelection in 1864 is a fabulously well-researched history chronicling the fateful election year of 1864 in America. The sub-title, Our Greatest Victory, speaks volumes to how much this election year meant for the future of this great nation and for millions of Americans for decades to come.
We often take for granted that the Civil War was fought and won by the Union and that slavery ended the way that it did. There were so many things and factors that jeopardized all of that. One man bore the brunt of the criticism and the weight of the responsibility for all federal decisions related to the abolition of slavery and the continuation of the war, and that man was Abraham Lincoln, the legendary, nigh-mythological sixteenth president of the United States.
It's easy to forget that Abraham Lincoln was a man, a human being like the rest of us. He wasn't necessarily the smartest or best educated. He didn't have the perfect temperament. He was enamored with his own sense of humor, though not everyone got his jokes. His family wasn't perfectly healthy or perfectly happy (in fact he'd lost his son to illness in the middle of the war). He was far from universally beloved and in fact was perhaps the most hated man on the continent at one time. Yet, despite all of that, he is arguably the greatest president the United States of America ever had, and some would argue one of the greatest leaders in history as a whole.
As this book chronicles, 1864 was the year that would make or break Abraham Lincoln and everything he'd worked toward his whole life and career. It would make or break everything that hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers gave their lives for.
Despite finding itself in the bloodiest war in its history, the Union still held its scheduled presidential election, and Lincoln's name was on the ballot as the sitting president seeking a second term. Hanging in the balance were not only Lincoln's presidency and political career, but also the fate of the Civil War itself and the emancipation of the slaves, which was threatened to be repealed.
Having lost at Gettysburg the year before, the Confederate Army was forced to fight a defensive war—a fighting retreat—with little to no hope of ever again gaining the initiative over the Union Army. Despite losing the edge militarily, the South still held onto one hope politically: that Lincoln would lose the support of the American public, effectively lose the upcoming presidential election because of it, and that he would be replaced by someone who would be more pliable toward negotiating a favorable peace.
This “favorable peace” the South sought would be one that would involve repealing the Emancipation Proclamation, thus, and allowing the South to keep its slaves. This has further-reaching consequences, not just for Americans, but for the world. European powers, for example, had largely chosen not to support the Confederacy following the Emancipation Proclamation for fear that doing so would be supporting the antiquated institution of slavery. If there was a chance that it might be repealed by a future (non-Lincoln) administration, the South's hope for foreign interference might return. How might things have been different if the powerful British Navy were to get involved in breaking up the Union naval blockade that held a stranglehold on Confederate trade and supplies? This Civil War might end, but there would be a dangerous precedence for a continuation of hostilities and issues that could erupt later. No, Lincoln knew that saving the Union would mean winning the war outright and abolishing slavery for good, making the latter a non-issue—non-negotiable—not open to discussion or debate. Freedom would be law, or the land of the free would cease to be.
Lincoln faced opposition not only from the South, and not only from the Democratic party, but even from his own (Republican) party. Many on all sides were sick and tired of war. It had taken a huge economic, social, and human toll on the country. Many saw no end in sight and wanted the war to be over and done with. “Peace” was preached by many of the politicians that opposed Lincoln, painting him as a warmonger. This book does a fantastic job at showing us the types of things that were written and said regarding Lincoln and “his war.”
Opposing Lincoln in the presidential election was none other than George McClellan, the former general who had led the Army of the Potomac (the main body of the Union Army on the eastern front) before George Meade and Ulysses S. Grant. McClellan was fired and replaced by Abraham Lincoln himself for continually squandering opportunities to decisively defeat the Confederate Army, choosing a cautious and apprehensive strategy despite superior numbers and supplies. Their issues may have been even more personal than just a professional disagreement on war strategy. It is recorded that McClellan once disrespected Lincoln at a meeting in his home by arriving late, then going immediately to sleep, essentially ignoring and not acknowledging his commander-in-chief. So, the animosity between these two powerful men was quite deep.
McClellan ran as a Democrat, seeming to support a quicker end to the war and more hope of a peaceful compromise with the South. But hindsight is 20/20. It is hard not to argue that McClellan was the weaker of the two men both as a candidate and as a personality. McClellan had a weaker, more apprehensive, and more pandering disposition.
It reminds us of the quote that says that "weak men create hard times."
It really makes you think about socio-political issues in recent times. So many people are afraid to fight for what they believe in. So many people want to cave to the mob—cave to what's popular or considered acceptable. Few are willing to push back. Few are willing to stand up like Lincoln and say, the hell with what people think, I'm going to do what's right regardless.
Lincoln was such a courageous man with a lot to teach us (and future generations), but he was not invincible. He was not invulnerable. He was not infallible. This book captures that very well.
This book does not stretch or sensationalize. It doesn't go out of its way to excite or entertain. It just is. It is what a history should be—objective, fact-based, and unbiased. This isn't the book for someone who just wants to pick up a book and enjoy it. This isn't the book for someone who wants to be entertained. This is for the intellectual, the scholar—the person who lives, sleeps, eats, and breathes history. The person who is after objective truth.
Check it out on Amazon!