A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity

A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0465028306

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In A Just and Generous Nation, the eminent historian Harold Holzer and the noted economist Norton Garfinkle present a groundbreaking new account of the beliefs that inspired our sixteenth president to go to war when the Southern states seceded from the Union. Rather than a commitment to eradicating slavery or a defense of the Union, they argue, Lincoln’s guiding principle was the defense of equal economic opportunity.

Lincoln firmly believed that the government’s primary role was to ensure that all Americans had the opportunity to better their station in life. As president, he worked tirelessly to enshrine this ideal within the federal government. He funded railroads and canals, supported education, and, most importantly, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which opened the door for former slaves to join white Americans in striving for self-improvement. In our own age of unprecedented inequality, A Just and Generous Nation reestablishes Lincoln’s legacy as the protector not just of personal freedom but of the American dream itself.















Lincoln’s vision of a middle-class society and Roosevelt’s positive government economic programs provided the basis for our prosperity in the decades immediately after World War II. They can provide the basis for our prosperity in the twenty-first century. Those who wish to turn the clock back to a time “before the New Deal” often forget that the same forces that produced the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties also triggered the economic catastrophes of 1929 and 2007. We must not forget that

the noblest of cause”: Lyceum address, CW, 1:114. 135    he operated largely by instinct and energy: For Clausewitz, see McPherson, Tried by War, 6. For Lincoln’s book borrowing, see Earl Schenk Miers, ed., Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, 1809–1865, 3 vols. (Washington, DC: Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1960), 3:88. 136    officers who were “zealous & efficient”: Lincoln to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, August 7, 1861, CW, 4:475. 136    “a remarkable, superior mind”: On War, quoted

intended a stern warning against disunion, asserting that war would be the South’s fault, not his. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. . . . You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it. You can forbear the assault upon it; I can not

supporters to the abolitionist cause in the years following its publication. Often forgotten in assessments of the morally transformative aspect of the book was the economic success it brought its author. And Lincoln always admired people who worked hard to make themselves successful. So it is not surprising that, as president, Lincoln asked to meet her in 1862 and is reported to have said, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” Lincoln’s nuanced position

what would later be called infrastructure improvements. It is no surprise that Lincoln became the first—and only—president to hold a federal patent, even if Scientific American said of his device, on the eve of Lincoln’s 1861 inauguration, “[W]e hope the author of it will have a better success in presiding as Chief Magistrate over the people of the entire Union than he has had as an inventor.” *** Lincoln entered politics as a Whig, and more particularly as a follower of the revered political

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