cover image President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman

President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman

William Lee Miller, . . Knopf, $30 (497pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-4103-9

Subtle and nuanced, this study is something of a sequel to Miller's Lincoln's Virtues . Here he examines Honest Abe's moral and intellectual life while in the White House, prosecuting a bloody war. Miller finds that early in his presidency, Lincoln balanced two strong ethical imperatives—his duty to preserve the union and his determination not to fire the first shots. Of course, Miller also addresses that other great moral challenge: slavery. In short, says Miller, Lincoln believed slavery was “not only profoundly wrong but profoundly wrong specifically as measured by this nation's moral essence,” and he used a terrific amount of political savvy to push through emancipation. But more original is Miller's discussion of what Lincoln thought was at stake in the war. Through a close reading of the president's papers, Miller persuasively argues that Lincoln believed secession would not merely “diminish” or “damage” the United States but would destroy it. That, in turn, was an issue of global import, for if the American experiment failed, free government would not be secure anywhere. Miller has given us one of the most insightful accounts of Lincoln published in recent years. (Feb. 5)