How President Lincoln weaved a divided country into one nation

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April 22, 2020

How President Lincoln weaved a divided country into one nation

Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Achorn, Atlantic Monthly Press, US $28.00 Pp 376, March 2020, ISBN 978-0802148742

President Abraham Lincoln came to power at a time when the united South was all set to establishing the largest slave society in the world. President Lincoln’s predecessor and the fifteenth President of the United States James Buchanan was not ready to go to war when the southern states seceded. He was too scholarly a politician to get involved in a war. But Abraham Lincoln was a different kind of politician and determined to wage an uphill struggle against the united South. In his view, establishing a slave society was not in line with the Constitution of the United States because the United States was supposed to be a voluntary partnership. In Every Drop of Blood, Edward Achorn says that the opponents of slavery also reflected on the sobering example of the American Revolution only eight decades earlier a resistance so fierce and widespread that even Britain could not subdue it with the world’s strongest military.

But President Lincoln proved to be much stronger than his predecessor. He faced one disastrous battle after another. As a result, Americans were left scanning long lists of the dead and wounded for the name of a husband or son. Edward Achorn says that President Lincoln refused to bend from his course of crushing the rebellion and forcing the shattered pieces of nation back together, though the prospect often seemed as doubtful as trying to fuse Conor’s broken femur. The only executive experience Lincoln had before stepping into the White House was running a two-man law office, yet he brilliantly coordinated the powers of the federal government and its massive war effort to support his mission. Edward Achorn writes, “By 1865, four years of Lincoln’s brutal, unrelenting pressure was at last breaking the Confederacy. But the price had been horrendous.” Nearly 750,000 young men had died by then, many of them buried in unmarked graves far from home and loved ones. Tens — actually hundreds of — thousands of survivors were left debilitated or horribly disfigured.

Edward Achorn argues that, in fighting the war relentlessly, Lincoln assumed vastly greater power than any president had before him. Lincoln used every weapon he could get his hands on  — massive borrowing, the nation’s first federal income tax, the jailing of journalists, the imposition of martial law across the nation. He used military tribunals to imprison tens of thousands of civilians who were suspected of making trouble. He used the draft and, most notably, the emancipation of as many African Americans as possible and their subsequent enlistment in the destruction of the Confederacy. Because of these actions, Lincoln was hated by countless Americans — North and South. But many more millions of Americans shared Lincoln’s dream that this exceptional nation had to be stitched back together by putting an end to slavery. It was their dream Lincoln helped come true.

Every Drop of Blood is a much-needed addition to the growing scholarly literature on President Abraham Lincoln. Edward Achorn tells us how Lincoln used every means available to weave a divided country into one nation. He argues that Lincoln did not hesitate to use brutal force against those who created trouble. It is a meticulously researched and brilliantly written book. It provides fresh and nuanced perspective on current President Lincoln’s time. Edward Achorn is without a doubt a leading historian of the Civil War years. It fills many gaps in scholarly literature on President Lincoln and the Civil War. It is a scholarly work the lay people will enjoy reading.

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