cover image Brought Forth on This Continent: Abraham Lincoln and American Immigration

Brought Forth on This Continent: Abraham Lincoln and American Immigration

Harold Holzer. Dutton, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-451-48901-2

Historian Holzer (A Just and Generous Nation) offers an elegant examination of Abraham Lincoln’s political evolution on the contentious issue of immigration. Chronicling the “seismic political realignment, cultural upheaval, and personal growth” that led to Lincoln openly encouraging immigration and making it a “policy priority” in an historic November 1863 address to Congress, Holzer explains how Lincoln’s proposal resulted in the “first piece of proactive federal legislation” supporting immigration, which would also be the last of its kind until 1965. Holzer is balanced in his estimation of Lincoln’s statements and actions during the years preceding the Civil War, when “poisonous” ethnic tensions flared: he faults Lincoln for “dallying with deplorable nativists” to gain a political edge, but acknowledges a “signal moral achievement” in Lincoln’s “consistent revulsion for the hatred of Catholics and foreigners.” Adding texture to Holzer’s political analysis are profiles of the president’s foreign-born close associates, mainly Germans, like Carl Schurz (the first German-born American elected senator) and Lincoln’s private secretary John Nicolay. (Lincoln’s relationship to the primarily Democratic-voting Irish community was thornier, particularly given his persistent use of ethnic humor—Holzer provides some off-color examples from Lincoln’s “trove of Irish stories.”) This robust and lively account makes cogent connections between history and today’s immigration policy that will resonate with a wide readership. (Feb.)