Author Chris DeRose takes a more detailed look at a period in Abraham Lincoln’s life that is normally glossed over in other biographies – his single term as a U.S. Congressman. The first few chapters highlight the political status of the time, as well as the political wrangling between different factions both within and external to the Whig party. The book goes into various aspects of the key question of the day, slavery. Doing so makes it clear that the post-Civil War reinvention of history to suggest the South wasn’t fighting to maintain and expand slavery is hogwash.
Despite dismissals by others that Lincoln’s term in congress was lacking, DeRose shows that many important decisions were made and that Lincoln was much more active than most freshman congressmen. Unlike first termers in general, Lincoln was willing to stand up for what he believed, even when it wasn’t particularly popular. Several actions related to slavery that would become important later, e.g., the end of the Mexican War and how California and New Mexico were brought in to the Union, were argued and somewhat decided. Critical friendships with players that would be allies or adversaries during his own presidency are also discussed.
Overall, this is much-needed survey of Lincoln’s time in Congress.
Further note: After I had written the above review I had the pleasure of meeting Chris DeRose in September 2014. Chris presented his new book “The Presidents’ War: Six American Presidents and the Civil War That Divided Them” to the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia. He has recently become Chair of the Scholarly Advisory Group at President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C.
David J. Kent is a lifelong Lincolnophile and is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. His most recent article, “Lincoln and the Rule of Three,” was published in the September 2014 issue of The Lincolnian. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and an ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.