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Abraham Lincoln: Leadership and Democratic Statesmanship in Wartime

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Research paper

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In his recent study of Abraham Lincolns wartime leadership, Tried by War, the eminent historian James McPherson writes that in the vast literature on the sixteenth president...the amount of attention devoted to his role as commander-in-chief is disproportionately far smaller than the actual percentage of time he spent on that task. Indeed, by my count only four major works within the sea of Lincoln books are devoted to an examination of Lincolns performance as war president, notwithstanding that he is the only president whose entire administration was bounded by war. Several years ago, a number of eminent scholars participated in a conference on Lincoln, which was to be published as an edited book. But the organizer of the conference realized that there was a paper missing something on Lincoln as war leader. The organizer asked me to write the missing paper after the fact, and I was happy to do so. But the episode proved McPhersons point. Here was a serious conference that included first-rate scholars, yet Lincolns role as wartime leader emerged only as an afterthought. Alas, nothing came of the book, so this essay languished for several years. But the delay may have been propitious. Publishing it now leverages two events. The first is the bicentennial of Lincolns birth the second is the election of President Barack Obama, in connection with whom Lincolns name is frequently invoked. But ironically, the true parallel between Lincoln and a contemporary president may be between the 16th president and Obamas predecessor, George W. Bush. It was Bush, after all, who arguably had to confront a Lincolnesque crisis following the attacks of 911. Problems that Bush and Lincoln both faced included the decision to go to war, the balance between vigilance and responsibility when it came to security and civil liberties, dealing with domestic opposition to the war, and the relationship between policy and military action and its corollary, civil-military relations.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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