The Age of Lincoln
By Orville Vernon Burton
Hill and Wang, Hardcover, 9780809095131, 432pp.
Publication Date: June 26, 2007
List Price: $27.00*
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Stunning in its breadth and conclusions, The Age of Lincoln is a fiercely original history of the five decades that pivoted around the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Abolishing slavery, the age’s most extraordinary accomplishment, was not its most profound. The enduring legacy of the age was inscribing personal liberty into the nation’s millennial aspirations.
America has always perceived providence in its progress, but in the 1840s and 1850s a pessimism accompanied a marked extremism. With all sides claiming God’s blessing, irreconcilable freedoms collided; despite historic political compromises the middle ground collapsed. In a remarkable reappraisal of Lincoln, the distinguished historian Orville Vernon Burton shows how the president’s Southernness empowered him to conduct a civil war that redefined freedom as a personal right protected by the rule of law. In the violent decades that followed, the extent of that freedom would be contested by racism and unregulated capitalism, but not its central place in what defined the country.
Presenting a fresh conceptualization of the opening decades of modern America, The Age of Lincoln is narrative history of the highest order.
Winner of the 2007 Heartland Prize “The Age of Lincoln is a dazzling performance.” —Justin Reynolds, The New York Sun “Learned, lively and enriching… Burton’s book is an eclectic, engaging romp across familiar but forgotten terrain… The Age of Lincoln reminds us that ideas are everything, and a book bursting with so many of them will provide robust reading for years to come.” —Catherine Clinton, Chicago Tribune “Burton, a professor at the University of Illinois, has plumbed the depths of recent Civil War scholarship to craft a winning narrative… He also convincingly communicates how the ideas and ideological conflicts that fueled the war have never truly disappeared from our national consciousness.”—Chuck Leddy, Civil War Times magazine “Burton hopes the book, which has been called ‘intriguing’ and ‘dazzling’ by critics, will provide a new perspective on a much-studied man.” —Jessica Reaves, The Chicago Tribune Magazine “A beautifully narrated treatment of the mid-to-late 19th-century years.”—The Weekly Standard “The Age of Lincoln offers a major reinterpretation of nineteenth-century American history from the age of Jackson to the Progressive era… Filled with fresh insights, The Age of Lincoln should open a new era in Civil War-Reconstruction scholarship. —David Herbert Donald, two-time Pulitzer-Prize winner and author of Lincoln “Vernon Burton offers a bold new synthesis of the Civil War era in The Age of Lincoln. He shows how the ferment of religious reform merged with the dynamism of free-labor capitalism to forge a Northern political culture that triumphed over the South and slavery.” —Jim McPherson, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom “Based on a remarkable familiarity with the voluminous literature on the Civil War era as well as his own career of scholarly research, Vernon Burton offers a striking interpretation of the period, replete with new insights about the transformations—political, social, religious, and economic—that American society experienced during those tumultuous years.” —Eric Foner “A remarkable reconsideration of nineteenth century America, The Age of Lincoln seamlessly recounts secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction and renders them newly relevant to the twenty-first century.” —John Hope Franklin “Burton (Illinois) has written an elegant, sweeping synthesis of 19th-century US history that is learned, accessible, and often passionate. . . . It is beautifully written, and the treatments of race and class, the Old South, and Lincoln are superb and rich with insight. This is grand narrative in the best sense. This is grand narrative in the best sense. *Summing Up:* Highly recommended.” —CHOICE “Burton’s book is a worthy heir to Schlesinger’s [The Age of Jackson].” —Publishers Weekly “Beautifully written, brilliantly reasoned volume.” —Library Journal, starred review “A skilled artisan, he weaves together elements of religious, cultural, western, Native American, and political history. This is the most complete and concise history of the Civil War era that has ever been written.” —The Journal of American History “In magisterial fashion Vernon Burton’s The Age of Lincoln covers the broad panorama of the American nation’s most perilous years. Burton faultlessly traverses the social, economic, military, and political landscape of the era, carrying the story into the tumult of the 1890s. Especially striking is his treatment of the Reconstruction South when the victor’s bi-racial, ‘national building’ experiment failed, a situation analogous to the current sectarian strife in Iraq. The Age of Lincoln is bound to become a classic in the field.” —Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Richard J. Milbauer Emeritus Professor of History, University of Florida, and Visiting Scholar, Johns Hopkins University