Title Reviewed:
A House Dividing, Lincoln As President Elect

Author Reviewed:
William E. Baringer

R. Gerald McMurtry


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 281-283

Article Type:
Book Review

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Book Reviews

A House Dividing, Lincoln As President Elect. By William E. Baringer. (The Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, 1945, pp. ix, 356. Bibliography, Index, and Illustrations. $4.00.)

With an attractive title and a copious subject William E. Baringer has made a scholarly, but withal an interesting, study of the most dangerous period of American history—Abraham Lincoln's four months tenure as president-elect. The gaunt lawyer is deftly portrayed "as a man living between two worlds, one dead, the other struggling to be born." Yet the book is not a segment of the history (November 6, 1860 to March 4, 1861) of the United States; it is rather "the story of the making of a statesman" at a "time big with the fate of the nation."

The two main topics of this day were "crisis" and "cabinet." Lincoln, a representative of the Republican party, a youthful institution, was determined that a dissatisfied minority must not be allowed io disregard with impunity the results of a lawful presidential election. In a position of great influence, but with no power, Lincoln's task was threefold: "He must, unite his party, make himself its leader, and impose on the Republican party a political program which would increase its strength without alienating the whole slaveholding section." Not only did he resist compromise with the South "with the iron grip of a railsplitter," but he moulded the policies and principles of the Republican party—forced them on his followers as no party leader had ever done. To the bitter end Lincoln refused to restate his policy—a sop demanded by Southerners who did not like the principles he had previously enunciated.

One problem, which immediately presented itself after the election, was the matter of patronage—the proper distribution of the "loaves and fishes." At first this distribution of offices was an annoyance, but as Lincoln grew in political wisdom, he discovered that "political plums" constituted a mighty political club that could occasionally be used to his own advantage.

The selection of the cabinet was the chief task of the patronage problem. A desire was expressed that Lincoln would appoint a "cabinet in which all men (all except fools and fanatics) will have confidence." Lincoln's efforts were certainly directed along these lines. The cabinet problem was involved with geography, friendships, ability of candidates for portfolios, secret bargains, coalitions, the right of the vice-president-elect to name one member, and many other annoying and complex factors. After four months of classifying "Grade A" claims with those of lesser pretentions, Lincoln appointed a cabinet almost identical to the one he had had in mind on election night.

With the "vultures" taken care of, Lincoln studied the threats of secession, heard the secession salvos, and formulated his border state policy. Resting heavily upon press reports—-particularly "the most perspicuous of the reporters —Henry Villard" of the New YorkHerald the untiring author has delved to the very depths of the plots and counterplots of pre-Civil War politics. At the same time Baringer has infused into his narrative human interest stories about the president-elect, his family, and associates. Ample attention has likewise been given to Lincoln's visit with his stepmother, the Farewell Address, the inaugural tour, the Baltimore assassination plot, and his brief residence in Washington as president-elect.

As the reader follow-s Lincoln through these many political complications, from the Republican "mecca" at Springfield to the Nation's capitol in Washington, he will be consciously aware that the lawyer from Illinois is no longer an untried statesman, but one who is capable of dealing with "problems …. enough to frighten the greatest statesman who ever lived."

One is impressed with Baringer's Bibliography of source materials. Then, too, in addition to his attractive title the chapters bear headings replete with fascinating alliterations such as "Bates and Botts," "Travel to Washington," and "Travail In Washington."

In summarizing this scholarly and readable work, this reviewer believes that if all phases of Lincolniana were as thoroughly and interestingly treated as this four months period of Lincoln's life, the Lincoln theme would truly be exhausted.

This volume was selected by the American Institute of Graphic Arts as one of "The Fifty Books of the Year." This award is based on excellence of design and manufacture. The fifty books were selected from nearly six hundred entries produced by 149 publishers and printers. A duplicate exhibition of the winning fifty books is being displayed in England. A House Dividing was produced by R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, The Lakeside Press, Chicago and Crawfordsville, Indiana. The book was designed by Michael Stancik.

R. Gerald McMurtry

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.