Book Review: Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession by Russell A. McClintock


Author: Russell A. McClintock
Title: Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
Publication Info: The University of North Carolina Press (2008)
ISBN: 9780807886359

Summary/Review:

From our perspective the Civil War seems inevitable as soon as the southerns states declared themselves seceded from the Union.  McClintock thesis is to examine from a Northern perspective of why war was necessary against this insurgency.  There were other options such as a negotiated peace with concessions made on one or both sides or the Union could have just let those states go.  Similarly, the Union could have acted preemptively to suppress succession movements or gone to war immediately after secession, but did not.  McClintlock paints the picture of the political scene in the North in the time between Lincoln’s nomination and the first shots fired at Fort Sumter.  First, the Republican party itself at that time was a loose coalition of former whigs, Free Soilers and more radical antislavery elements that Lincoln had his hands full trying to keep them together.  Then there were Northern Democrats like Stephen Douglass who had their own ideas of how the crisis should be handled.  Broad opinion across the North ranged from conciliatory to retributional.  And Lincoln himself couldn’t do much about it during the time between his election and inauguration.  The Buchanan administration had their own problems and weren’t up to the task.  Lincoln would bumble and hesitate and try every option to keep the Union against war and eventually would make the decisions that would help the inevitable war begin in a way that would unite the Union behind the cause.  Despite Lincoln’s name in the title this book focuses on a much wider canvas of political figures and ideas of the time.  It can be a bit dry at time but it tackles some interesting questions with fascinating results.

Rating: ***

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