(8/8) Wrestling with His Angel: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. II, 1849-1856, by Sidney Blumenthal
Photo: Lithograph of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. From left to right: Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth. Rathbone is depicted as spotting Booth before he shot Lincoln and trying to stop him as Booth fired his weapon. Rathbone actually was unaware of Booth’s approach, and reacted after the shot was fired. While Lincoln is depicted clutching the flag after being shot, it is also possible that he just simply pushed the flag aside to watch the performance.
Permissions: This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publicationoccurred prior to January 1, 1923. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b49830.
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Abraham Lincoln's early life is recast by Sidney Blumenthal in the masterful 'Wrestling with His Angel'
Writing editorial columns. Refining his views on slavery. Condemning the Kansas-Missouri Act. Keeping a wary eye on Stephen A. Douglas and then tormenting him on the issue of popular sovereignty. Studying Euclid. Wrestling with the remnants of the Whig Party and then constructing the contours of the new Republican Party. In short, becoming Abraham Lincoln. In the second volume of his massive political life of Lincoln, the Democratic operative and writer Sidney Blumenthal sketches a Lincoln in the wilderness — after his single term in the House, before his landmark Senate campaign against Douglas — that challenges the established notion that for more than half a decade the future president sat quietly and idly in Illinois, more a passive observer than an activist as his party, his vision of America and his country split apart, tumbling to civil strife and then to civil war. Lincoln was not only seeking a newer world, as Tennyson put it in a poem written a decade earlier, or the way to assemble one. He was also seeking his main chance. Much of the prevailing view of Lincoln in this period (1849-1856) is from William Dean Howells, who portrayed Lincoln as "[s]uccessful in his profession, happy in his home, secure in the affections of his neighbors, with books, competences, and leisure — ambition could not tempt him." Lincoln tolerated, even fostered, that view, as a counterweight to the notion that, as an Illinois newspaper put it at the time, "Lincoln is undoubtedly the most unfortunate politician that has ever attempted to rise" in the state. "Wrestling with His Angel" challenges and changes all that. In a book that barely introduces the main character of the narrative until page 129, Blumenthal argues that Lincoln "entered his wilderness years a man in pieces and emerged on the other end a coherent steady figure." This Lincoln lost a child, and his tortured wife, Mary, descended into depression, panic attacks and migraines. He toiled as a lawyer, traveling across the plains in a buckboard wagon, often working for the railroads, once having to sue for his fee because the company superintendent refused to pay it. This superintendent's name was George B. McClellan. The two would collide again, eventually with President Lincoln firing Gen. McClellan, then with the embattled incumbent chief executive defeating Democratic presidential nominee McClellan for the White House. Uneducated in the traditional sense, Lincoln nonetheless was educated in the classical sense. Much of that education occurred in this period, a good deal of it focusing on Eucild's "Geometry," which Lincoln applied directly to his thinking, then to his arguments, especially his critique of Douglas, which provides the main spine of this volume: "a series of ironclad logical proofs," Blumenthal argues, "on the geometry o...