Civil War History Programs with the Resident Associates Program
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Book Review - Lincoln: The Road to War, by Frank van der Linden

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 4

How could there be another book about Abraham Lincoln? Author Frank van der Linden spent eight years gathering research to support a new twist on an old theme--that the Civil War was not inevitable; and, that it could have been prevented.

It begins with Lincoln's early term in Congress, when he rails against Polk's Mexican War, describing it as "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President," in an attempt to win military glory. This becomes a prophecy for Lincoln's own actions as president nearly fifteen years later.

To support the theory, van der Linden states that if Lincoln had left the seven original seceded states alone, no other southern states would have supported them. Neither the Union nor Europe would have recognized them. The Confederacy was too weak to survive for long by itself and slavery was already an anachronism. World opinion and economic pressures eventually would have forced the demise of both.

Instead, Lincoln believed that the Union must be preserved at all costs. His pride prevented him from appearing weak and yielding to the South. Had he done so, the author poses that the ultimate result would have been the same--an end to slavery and a stronger federal government--without the horrors of four years of war.

Does this book present a flawed Lincoln, a politically motivated individual succumbing to political pressure in order to appear strong and win military glory? Or, another aspect of an extremely complex individual? The answer is yes to both, but it is not quite a complete answer. So, make room on your bookshelves for this book on Lincoln--with more to follow!