Learn more about CCRLS
Reading recommendations from Novelist
Online learning resources
Cover image for A just and generous nation : Abraham Lincoln and the fight for American opportunity
Format:
Title:
A just and generous nation : Abraham Lincoln and the fight for American opportunity
ISBN:
9780465028306
Publication:
New York : Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, [2015]
Physical Description:
311 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents:
PART ONE -- 1. Simple Annals of the Poor : Dreaming the American Dream -- 2. Right Makes Might : Lincoln the Candidate -- 3. Chain of Steel : Defender of the Union -- 4. Saving the Union : Lincoln the Leader -- 5. Wholly Evil or Wholly Good : Not Quite an Abolitionist -- 6. Forever Free : Lincoln the Emancipator -- 7. What We Say Here and What we Do Here : Lincoln the Warrior -- PART TWO -- 8. Full Speed Ahead : Without Lincoln at the Helm -- 9. Positive Government : The Lincoln Legacy -- 10. For a Vast Future : Expanding Lincoln's American Dream -- 11. Government Is the Problem : Rejecting Lincoln's Legacy -- 12. The New Economic Debate : Clinton, Bush, and Obama -- Epilogue : Government for the People : Lincoln's Unfinished Work.
Summary:
"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"-- Provided by publisher.
Conference Subject:
Genre:
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Status
Searching...
973.7092 HOLZER
Searching...
Searching...
973.7 Holzer 2015
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

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.


Author Notes

Harold Holzer is one of the leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. He is a prolific writer and lecturer. He has written, co-written and edited over 30 books including Abraham Lincoln, The Writer (2000), which was named to the Children's Literature Choice List and the Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, and Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President (2004), which won a 2005 Lincoln Prize. He has also written over 425 popular magazine and scholarly journal articles and numerous pamphlets and monographs. He has won numerous awards including the Barondess Award of the Civil War Round Table of New York five times; the Award of Achievement from the Lincoln Group of New York three times; a 1988 George Washington Medal; the 2000 Newman Book Award; and the 2008 National Humanities Medal. He is the Senior Vice President for External Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lincoln scholar Holzer (Lincoln and the Power of the Press) and economist Garfinkle justify adding another Lincoln biography to the overflowing genre by conceiving, and supporting, a radical explanation for the great question about Lincoln's life: Why exactly was the Civil War fought? Eschewing the traditional justifications of ending slavery or preserving the Union, the authors maintain that the overriding factor behind Lincoln's response to the secession of the Southern states was his commitment to pursuing "economic opportunity for the widest possible circle of hardworking Americans." That surprising thesis is based on a close reading of Lincoln's own statements, going back to his early political life. His support for infrastructure projects while he was an Illinois state legislator resulted from his view of government's responsibility to provide, in the authors' words, "opportunities for working people to improve their economic status." That thinking led him to argue that every American, regardless of their race, deserved to profit from their work. The authors spend the last third of the book tracing the fate of Lincoln's economic agenda under his successors, giving their research a more practical angle than simply analyzing the historical record. The thesis is sure to be controversial, but Holzer and Garfinkle make their point well. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

The acclaimed Lincoln scholar and an economist make the argument that Abraham Lincoln worked tirelessly to maintain economic opportunity for all peoplea "right to rise" concept that has been sacred to politicians from then to the present. Lincoln wasn't exactly an abolitionist, write Holzer (Lincoln and the Power of the Press, 2014, etc.) and Garfinkle (Future of American Democracy Foundation), but he envisioned that all Americans could embrace the "American dream," from rags to riches as he hadeven African-Americans. The authors concentrate their study on evidence of speeches and acts of Lincoln's presidency that demonstrated his pursuit of "economic opportunity for the widest possible circle of hardworking Americans." Lincoln hoped to extend Northern middle-class society into the new territories, and he abhorred the Southern aristocratic mindset that was opposed to social mobility through tariffs and internal improvementse.g., public investment in infrastructure. New Western territories were, for Lincoln, meant for poor whites to "go and better their condition" and not for the spread of an institution, though protected by the Constitution, that restricted social mobility and depressed wages. The authors carefully sift Lincoln's speeches, beginning in 1854 with his shrewd political calculation that restricting slavery in the Western territories would mean that at some point in the near future, the "slow but sure arrival of an ever-growing western anti-slavery bloc" would spell the end of slavery in Congress. Time was on Lincoln's side, and he recognized that the nation "will become all one thing or all the other." Moreover, he used his own autobiography to sell the "self-made man" story, as the poor farmer's son who had scant education but huge motivation to better himself. In the second half of this compelling study, Holzer and Garfinkle trace how subsequent presidents managed this vastly changing postwar economic system and the shift from independent artisans to mills and factories. A well-honed work of driving focus, particularly timely in this new era of economic inequality. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


New York Review of Books Review

WHAT WOULD LINCOLN DO? It's the secular version of asking what would Jesus do - to which the answer tends to be: "whatever I'm doing, and you should be doing too." Theodore Roosevelt even kept a portrait of Abe on his desk so that "when I am confronted with a great problem, I look up to that picture, and I do as I believe Lincoln would have done." The trouble, of course, is that the picture is mute, so someone has to speak on its behalf. In a volume that is really two books in one, the Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer and the economist Norton Garfinkle have done just that. The first part of "A Just and Generous Nation" is a historical argument that Lincoln fought the Civil War "in pursuit of economic opportunity for the widest possible circle of hardworking Americans," a goal that required the destruction of slavery. The second part is a survey of America's political and economic history since Lincoln's death, in which subsequent American presidents are judged by whether they have promoted his ideals or betrayed them. Throughout the book, our first Republican president seems a lot like a liberal Democrat. He expanded the federal government, imposed the first national income tax (as well as the first military draft), made unprecedented federal investments in infrastructure and education and welcomed large-scale immigration. If this Lincoln were around today, he would lower barriers for immigrants, raise taxes on the rich, bolster labor unions and provide generous subsidies for education as well as health care. He'd be supporting Bernie Sanders if not running to his left. Republicans, of course, will say no way, that's not our guy. And they could find warrant for their view too. They might highlight Lincoln's statement "I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich," and infer that he would lower the already low marginal tax rates for wealthy Americans. They could cite his remark (not quoted in this book) that "if any continue through life in the condition of the hired laborer, it is not the fault of the system, but because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly or singular misfortune" - words that might seem to vindicate Ronald Reagan (whom Holzer and Garfinkle excoriate) for shifting "rewards from the ordinary worker to the exceptional entrepreneur." No one should be surprised that opposing ideological camps each claim Lincoln as their own. As he said of North and South, "both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." It's always tricky to lift a historical figure out of the past and drop him into the present. Holzer and Garfinkle don't do this explicitly, as might be done in a fantasy novel, but they turn Lincoln, implicitly, into a sort of time traveler - an approach that is both provocative and problematic. The nation that he saved from disintegration 150 years ago was, after all, vastly different from our own. In Lincoln's time, demand for unskilled labor was rising. In our time, real wages for unskilled workers lucky enough to be employed have been falling. In his time, the idea of slavery as a defensible institution was breaking down, but few Americans favored equal citizenship for blacks and whites. In our time, slavery is (by American standards) ancient history, and most Americans profess belief in civil equality for all races - although, as today's bitter disputes over voting rights and affirmative action make clear, we are far from agreeing on how to achieve it. Still, Holzer and Garfinkle have written a stimulating book. They describe convincingly Lincoln's core conviction that government must foster equal opportunity in order to build and sustain a strong middle class. With clarity and passion, they show Lincoln the pragmatist working toward that end, adjusting his words and actions to the public mood - waiting, for example, for a Union victory on the battlefield before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which he expected would inflame popular fear that former slaves entering the labor market would depress wages or cost white workers their jobs. This book gives a strong account of Lincoln's remarkable ability to make pragmatism work in the service of principle. But translating 19th-century words and actions into 21st-century policy remains a daunting project. Lincoln read the Declaration of Independence as a promise that "in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance." How would he construe the meaning of "equal chance" today? Would he consider the time overdue for providing pre-K education to all children? Would he consider guaranteed universal health care requisite for equality? In his day, education mattered not nearly so much as it does today for improving one's chance at a good life, and medicine had little effect on one's chance of living a long life. Would the time-traveling Lincoln favor more, or fewer, charter schools? Would he prefer private markets for health insurance, or a single-payer system? Of course nobody can answer such questions, and many would consider them nonsensical. What we can say is that for the actual Lincoln, equality basically meant equality of opportunity - though historians still debate whether he was moving late in his life toward recognizing that true economic equality required extending political and civil equality to those who had been enslaved. As for what equality should mean today, we are unlikely to stop arguing about that any time soon, with or without Lincoln's help. In the second part of their book, Holzer and Garfinkle rank recent presidents according to the authenticity or spuriousness of their claims to Lincoln's legacy. Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama pass the test. Reagan and the second President Bush fail it. Some of these judgments are persuasive, as when the authors describe union-busting and "supply side" economics under Reagan, who loved to quote (and misquote) Lincoln, as betrayals of Lincoln's stated principle that "labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." Other judgments could stand some qualification. Does Clinton, who surrounded himself at the White House with Lincoln statuary, really deserve to be wrapped in the great man's mantle after signing a bill that opened the way for incarcerating huge numbers of young black men who could not afford competent counsel? Sometimes the authors' partisanship (with which I am generally in sympathy) flattens out a story that has some uncomfortable complexities. Looking to Lincoln as a mirror in which to examine ourselves has a long history. In the 1930s Carl Sandburg gave America a Lincoln whose pluck and resilience were just what was needed during the Great Depression. In the 1950s we got a Lincoln whose policy of arresting the spread of slavery could be invoked as a precedent for containing the Soviet Union. The 1960s gave us a Lincoln committed to civil rights, but also, according to some black intellectuals, a politician who was at heart a white supremacist. More recently we've gotten a gay Lincoln, a chronically sad Lincoln struggling with depression and a crafty Lincoln who could show today's politicians how to break through gridlock by playing rivals against one another. Abe is a man for all parties and all seasons. On balance, it's probably best to let him be who he was in his own time: someone who hated subjugation of the weak by the strong, and who expected the United States to treat all its citizens with fair and full respect, especially those who had been exploited and demeaned in its name. ANDREW DELBANCO is the Alexander Hamilton professor of American studies at Columbia University. He is writing a book about the United States in the 1850s.


Choice Review

Historians have tried to tie Abraham Lincoln and his vast pool of writings to many different philosophies and agendas. Historian Holzer and economist Garfinkle use Lincoln's words to explain his positive views on the opportunistic nature of life in the mid-19th-century US, and how these attitudes shaped his political actions. The authors attempt to show that Lincoln was always in favor of economic opportunism, not surprising considering his upbringing on the frontier of America, where the lack of established institutions allowed the hard working and lucky to earn fortunes of their own making. The authors furthermore demonstrate how Lincoln adapted these ideas as president to using government authority to expand opportunity for those who desired it as part of assuring the freedom of common citizens from controlling economic interests. The book becomes less useful, however, when the authors begin to compare Lincoln's pursuit of wider opportunity to the policies of later presidents, both favorably and unfavorably. Lincoln's policies as president might be preferable to the authors', but later presidents faced situations that do not have a clear connection to Lincoln's time. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. --Steven J. Ramold, Eastern Michigan University


Library Journal Review

Acclaimed Abraham Lincoln historian -Holzer (Lincoln and the Power of the Press) and noted economist Garfinkle argue that the principal driving force of Lincoln's life (1809-65), politics, and policies was the need to create the conditions that would allow and encourage "the right to rise," which for the Whig-turned-Republican Lincoln meant using government to build infrastructure, promote education, and encourage innovation. Explained is the president's opposition to secession, fight to save the Union, and move toward emancipation along with his support for government policies to open the West and stabilize currency. The authors apply the Lincoln standard to successive presidents and find that those who subscribed to his lessons, especially both Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fueled prosperity, while conservative leaders who promoted supply-side and free-market economics undermined Lincoln's legacy and weakened peoples' faith in America. VERDICT This review of Lincoln's thoughts and actions and examination of subsequent administrations' willingness to promote and secure the American Dream will generate much-needed debate on the history, efficacy, and morality of government's role and responsibility in shaping an economy of fairness and growth. The future of America depends on that question.-Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Part 1

p. 9

1 Simple Annals of the Poor: Dreaming the American Dreamp. 11
2 Right Makes Might: Lincoln the Candidatep. 33
3 Chain of Steel: Defender of the Unionp. 55
4 Saving the Union: Lincoln the Leaderp. 75
5 Wholly Evil or Wholly Good: Not Quite an Abolitionistp. 91
6 Forever Free: Lincoln the Emancipatorp. 109
7 What We Say Here and What We Do Here: Lincoln the Warriorp. 133
Part 2

p. 159

8 Full Speed Ahead: Without Lincoln at the Helmp. 161
9 Positive Government: The Lincoln Legacyp. 181
10 For a Vast Future: Expanding Lincoln's American Dreamp. 197
11 Government Is the Problem: Rejecting Lincoln's Legacyp. 213
12 The New Economic Debate: Clinton, Bush, and Obamap. 227
Epilogue Government for the People: Lincoln's Unfinished Workp. 255
Appendixp. 261
Acknowledgmentsp. 263
Notesp. 265
Indexp. 293