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Lincoln At Peoria, The Turning Point by Lewis E. Lehrman

A Book Review


Lincoln At Peoria, The Turning Point
by Lewis E. Lehrman
published by Stackpole Books
2008

"Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution…" Mr. Lincoln, Peoria October 16, 1854.

Lincoln at Peoria is a stout tome of 412 pages, adorned by 808 footnotes and 14 pages of bibliography. The complete transcription of the three-hour speech in question occupies 51 of the pages.

At first glance, this work is a detailed analysis of what the Mr. Lehrman considers the defining point in the political career of Abraham Lincoln. He proceeds by investigating the development of Lincoln's political views leading to that precise and settled presentation at Peoria, dissecting the speech in great detail, and thoroughly demonstrating that Lincoln was guided by the foundations established therewith, from that point on until his death.

Surprisingly, what emerged for this reader was a distilled and simple picture of the temperament and philosophy of Abraham Lincoln. Contrary to some who would claim his mantle in our times, the author paints Lincoln as a conserver, pointing out that he was a "self-described conservative." Although he would use harsh means as President in order to save the Union, Lincoln was neither a radical nor a revolutionary seeking to set the nation on some new path - on the contrary, he was a purist and reformer, always urging a return to first and foundational principles. And he found those principles foremost in the Declaration of Independence, which he placed on an almost scriptural pedestal.

"In Lincoln's judgment, the objective moral order of the Declaration of Independence was timeless, universal, and immutable." Lehrman, pg 239

Over and over from Peoria, to Gettysburg and beyond, Mr. Lincoln spoke in hallowed tones of a "nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." In Lincoln’s view, the essence of Liberty was the freedom to enjoy the fruits of ones own labor; that without this Liberty, Equality was left an empty platitude. And so Lincoln repeatedly called the nation to return to lofty vision of the Founders, with a new resolve to bring that vision to fulfillment.

Lehrman shows Lincoln to be an international man as well who spoke not only to the nation, but to people everywhere. Lincoln saw the temptation to profit from another mans toil as a universal human temptation. He decried the failure of the nation to live up to its professed ideals in the eyes of a watching world.

"I hate it (indifference to slavery) because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world - enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites - causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty - criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest." Mr. Lincoln, Peoria October 16, 1854.

Lehrman declares that Lincoln believed in the objective moral order; that this was the real difference between Lincoln and his main antagonist, that other famous Democratic Senator from Illinois, Stephen Douglas. Douglas could never follow Lincoln from the plane of rights to the higher question of right and wrong.

"If you admit that slavery is wrong," Douglas "cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong." Mr. Lincoln, Galesburg October 7, 1858.

So in this day when many would claim the right to the mantle of Abraham Lincoln, this book will help us to see the real Lincoln with clarity and to deny that mantle to those who may bare some resemblance to the image, but do not share the essence, of the man.

"Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution. Let us turn slavery from its claims of "moral right," back upon its existing legal rights, and its arguments of "necessity." Let us return it to the position our fathers gave it; and there let it rest in peace. Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south - let all Americans - let all lovers of liberty everywhere - join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations." Mr. Lincoln, Peoria October 16, 1854.



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