.How Lincoln Triumphed in an Era Even More Toxic Than Ours
Allen Barra Published 09.08.19 5:32AM ET
Biographer Sidney Blumenthal talks to The Daily Beast about a pre-Civil War America where Jefferson Davis demanded both Lincoln and Douglas be lynched.
Abraham Lincoln doesn’t make much of an appearance in Sidney Blumenthal’s All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, 1856-1860 until around page 180, entering his own story almost as if through a side door.
Then, with rapidly gathering momentum, he becomes the story, which is Lincoln’s masterful negotiation of the political, economic, and social currents that swept him into the White House in 1860 and inevitably took America into the Civil War.
All the Powers of Earth is the third of a proposed five volumes unique in American historical writing. focusing on the rise of Lincoln as a political animal in a national climate shaped by early 19th century giants Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Henry Clay with increasing tensions over slavery—tensions exacerbated by such men as Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas, and John Brown.
Blumenthal has written more than a dozen books on American politics and history, beginning with the prescient The Permanent Campaign about politicians who campaign for reelection throughout an electoral cycle, leaving little time for governing. (Sound familiar?)
He has written extensively about politics for the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New Republic, often using insight gained from the inside of the political world as an aide to President Bill Clinton.
He took time to answer at length 15 questions on the massive (757 pages) fascinating volume.
Early in All the Powers of Earth, you write about “The great Triumvirate of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun, the representative political men of their age.” Clay,you write, “invented the power of Speaker of the House.” I did not know this—can you elaborate a bit?
Also, I like your phrase that Clay was “Lincoln’s beau ideal of a statesman.” What do you think was Clay’s biggest influence on Lincoln?
Yes, Lincoln had a hero, but then he cast him aside, and finally he vindicated him. Henry Clay, the original “self-made man” in American politics, came from a poor family in Virginia, moved to Kentucky, and proclaimed himself the “Western Star.”