Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Guest Review: Lincoln in the World

Summary: A captivating look at how Abraham Lincoln evolved into one of our seminal foreign-policy presidents—and helped point the way to America’s rise to world power.

This is the story of one of the most breathtaking feats in the annals of American foreign policy—performed by one of the most unlikely figures. Abraham Lincoln is not often remembered as a great foreign-policy president. He had never traveled overseas and spoke no foreign languages. And yet, during the Civil War, Lincoln and his team skillfully managed to stare down the Continent’s great powers—deftly avoiding European intervention on the side of the Confederacy. In the process, the United States emerged as a world power in its own right.

Engaging, insightful, and highly original, Lincoln in the World is a tale set at the intersection of personal character and national power. The narrative focuses tightly on five distinct, intensely human conflicts that helped define Lincoln’s approach to foreign affairs—from his debate, as a young congressman, with his law partner over the conduct of the Mexican War, to his deadlock with Napoleon III over the French occupation of Mexico. Bursting with colorful characters like Lincoln’s bowie-knife-wielding minister to Russia, Cassius Marcellus Clay; the cunning French empress, EugĂ©nie; and the hapless Mexican monarch Maximilian—Lincoln in the World draws a finely wrought portrait of a president and his team at the dawn of American power.

In the Age of Lincoln, we see shadows of our own world. The international arena in the 1860s could be a merciless moral vacuum. Lincoln’s times demanded the cold, realistic pursuit of national interest, and, in important ways, resembled our own increasingly multipolar world. And yet, like ours, Lincoln’s era was also an information age, a period of rapid globalization. Steamships, telegraph wires, and proliferating new media were transforming the world. Global influence required the use of “soft power” as well as hard.

Anchored by meticulous research into overlooked archives, Lincoln in the World reveals the sixteenth president to be one of America’s indispensable diplomats—and a key architect of America’s emergence as a global superpower. Much has been written about how Lincoln saved the Union, but Lincoln in the World highlights the lesser-known—yet equally vital—role he played on the world stage during those tumultuous years of war and division. -- Crown

Booking Pap Pap is back with another interesting review. This time it's for LINCOLN IN THE WORLD: THE MAKING OF A STATESMAN AND THE DAWN OF AMERICAN POWER by Kevin Peraino. Here are his thoughts:

When we think about Abraham Lincoln we generally think of the President who ended slavery in the United States and successfully guided the country through the Civil War. We seldom think of Lincoln in terms of his foreign policy. In fact Lincoln had never traveled outside the United States. In LINCOLN IN THE WORLD, THE MAKING OF A STATESMAN AND THE DAWN OF AMERICAN POWER  author Kevin Peraino presents five events that helped define Lincoln’s foreign policy.

The first example deals with his position on the conduct of the United States in the Mexican War. His anti-war position was debated heavily with his law partner, Billy Herndon. At the time Lincoln was a first term Representative in the U.S. Congress and the country was being driven by the “Manifest Destiny” drumbeat and his position was not well received. His view was probably the main reason he lost his Congressional seat after one term and was also a major factor in his debates with Stephen Douglas and his ultimate defeat for a seat in the U.S. Senate some ten years later.

According to Peraino the second episode that influenced his foreign policy stance was his interaction with his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward. Seward saw Lincoln as weak on international relations and used that knowledge along with Lincoln’s preoccupation with domestic problems to attempt to wrest control of foreign policy. At the end of the day Lincoln held his own with his Secretary of State and although their methods were different, both men had the same goals. The challenges for Lincoln and Seward were to prevent England, France and Spain from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate nation and at the same time prevent those countries from aggressive land grabs while the country was occupied with the Civil War.

The third incident was Lincoln’s standoff with Britain’s Lord Palmerston during the Trent crisis of 1861. An international incident occurred when the captain of the U.S.S. San Jacinto boarded the British ship, Trent, and seized two Confederate envoys. Lincoln applied deft diplomacy to avoid a war with Britain and prevent a recognition of the Confederacy.

The next chapter attempts to make a case that Lincoln and Karl Marx were in a race to use the media to mold public opinion. There is no evidence that their paths ever crossed. Marx worked for a short time as a writer for the New York Tribune and he supported Lincoln’s anti-slavery stand and thought of it as a part of the worldwide abolition of slavery. Marx contended that the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation strongly influenced the British labor movement. Of all the cases put forth by Peraino I think this is the weakest.

The final episode deals with Lincoln’s stance with Napoleon III’s occupation of Mexico and the installation of Maximillian as the head of government. Many feared this was a prelude to foreign intervention in the Civil War. Many wanted the United States to invade Mexico but in the end Lincoln’s patience and the later withdrawal of French troops led to a quick demise of Maximillian’s rule.

Peraino closes his book by examining John Hay’s attempt to define the lasting role of Lincoln’s foreign policy. Hay served as Lincoln’s personal secretary and later as Secretary of State for McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt.

LINCOLN IN THE WORLD is an interesting look at Abraham Lincoln foreign policy perspective. Peraino shows that the Civil War was an influence on world events and was not fought in a vacuum. The author also points out that at the end of the Civil War the United States army and navy were the largest in the world, making them a world power. Lincoln’s policy was twofold: avoid foreign intervention in the Civil War and keep foreign governments from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate nation. It’s clear that Lincoln handled his international issues well while under tremendous pressure from the Civil War.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in U.S. history, particularly the Civil War.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.


bermudaonion said...

I always thought Lincoln was so involved with domestic affairs he didn't have time for foreign policy. This sounds interesting.

Beth F said...

As Kathy said, I never really think of Lincoln on the world stage. I always imagine that his focus was on saving on the Union. Mr. BFR would love this one