Congress at War: How Republican Reformers Fought the Civil War, Defied Lincoln, Ended Slavery, and Remade America

Fergus M. Bordewich. Knopf, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-451-49444-3
Historian Bordewich (The First Congress) delves deeply into Radical Republicans’ determination to outlaw slavery and establish Congress as the most powerful government branch in this packed political history of the Civil War. Bordewich’s carefully documented narrative centers on such lawmakers as Thaddeus Stevens, William Pitt Fessenden, and Benjamin Wade, arguing that they coerced President Lincoln into issuing the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in Confederate states. While Lincoln, who receives little sympathy in Bordewich’s account, tried to ameliorate slave owners’ concerns in order to preserve the Union, Radical Republicans pushed for abolition, suffrage, and punishment for the South. Stevens threatened to arm former slaves, while Wade, who often carried “a rifle-cane and a pair of pistols,” documented atrocities against black Union soldiers and pushed for Congress’s authority to oversee Reconstruction. Meanwhile, pro-slavery Ohio Democrat Clement Vallandigham demanded an immediate armistice and put forth, in Bordewich’s view, a “wartime defense of civil liberties” that might have been celebrated in another era, were it not undermined by his “vicious racism and reactionary politics.” Bordewich offers a unique and colorful perspective on the Civil War, and regularly manages to make congressional minutiae entertaining. Readers seeking fresh insight into the era will be satisfied. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 11/20/2019
Release date: 02/18/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-0-451-49445-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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