Knowing that the 1860s would be dominated by the Civil War, with Lincoln as a central figure, I wanted to read more of where he came from and the differing views that led to the breaking up of the country. During his failed bid for a US Senate seat in 1858, Lincoln famously debated his most famous rival, Stephen Douglas, in locations throughout Illinois. In The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Texts, the author attempts to recreate the actual words spoken, versus the cleaned up text later promoted by Lincoln, byusing the newspaper accounts from the papers supporting the opposite political party than the speaker. This was the best example so far of showing how this book is much more powerful when reading it in the context of the events before and after it. You can see how controversy and debate happens at the intersection of competing but equally supported ideas. While Lincoln and Douglas were heated in their debates, in the big picture they were both moderates, backing similar compromises. This added much more subtlety and complexity to the Lincoln that emerges in the Presidency.
(Read November 2008)