Sidney Blumenthal on the Backwoods Jupiter, Abraham Lincoln

We have a sneak peak at our upcoming June/July/August issue of the Washington Monthly. Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, has written an excellent review of Sidney Blumenthal’s new book: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, 1809-1849.

Dr. Guelzo doesn’t shy away from finding flaws in Blumenthal’s work, which is the first of three intended volumes, but his overall impression is so glowing that it made me want to go right out and order a copy of the book.

And, yes, the author is the same Sidney Blumenthal you may remember from the Lewinsky scandal or more recently from having his email hacked, which led to the disclosure that Hillary Clinton used a private server while serving as Secretary of State. For this reason, Dr. Guelzo opens his review by discussing many of the other politicos who have written about Lincoln over the years. Fortunately, Blumenthal appears to be an excellent researcher and a gripping author.

Blumenthal will be best recognized as the onetime tiger of the Clinton administration—senior White House aide and personal confidante to President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, then senior advisor to Hillary Clinton during her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination, and a paid consultant for the Clinton Foundation. This may seem like an odd fit for writing about the politics of the first Republican president. But the skeptical should drop their shields. This is a splendid book, and on a Lincolnian theme—the political Lincoln—that was in sagging need of a facelift.

According to Dr. Guelzo, “Blumenthal’s narrative of Lincoln’s boot-camp political education rides as bumpily and vigorously as the railroads he represented,” and “Blumenthal’s work of building the context for Lincoln’s political activism in the presidential elections of 1836 through 1848 is a miracle of detail and his six chapters on Lincoln as a congressman in antebellum Washington are worth the price of the book alone.”

In the end, Guelzo assures us that:

Here is a great book, on a theme that too many people disdain to regard as great. That they are wrong about the theme, and wrong about Lincoln, is the burden of Blumenthal’s labor, and no one can come away from reading A Self-Made Man without understanding that, or without eagerly anticipating the ensuing volumes.

It might take a real rough-and-tumble political operative to understand the political drive of Abraham Lincoln. This seems like a fresh angle on what could be considered a stale subject, and the high praise coming from an expert like Dr. Guelzo is enough to rouse my interest.

Check out the whole review.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.