Daniel W. Stowell, ed. The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases. 4 vols. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008. Illustrations. 2,328 pp. $300.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8139-2606-3.
Published on H-Law (July, 2009)
Commissioned by Christopher R. Waldrep
Abraham Lincoln and the Rule of Law
Historians have examined almost every nook and cranny of Abraham Lincoln’s life regaling us with stories of Lincoln as a toddler in Kentucky, his struggling youth in Indiana, his legal career, and his tenure as our president during a time when the Republic was in peril. The reason for this, of course, is that the public’s interest in Lincoln is nigh inexhaustible and people remain deeply interested in Lincoln as a human being as well as a politician and statesman. This high interest suggests that Lincoln does matter and he continues to resonate with us deep into the twenty-first century.
While Lincoln expired in 1865, he has been kept alive in the hearts of the American people. There seems to be a belief that Lincoln not only explains American national history, but also, in a broader sense, is a global figure representing the liberal democratic tradition. For those who dislike Lincoln, whether they be ardent neo-Confederates or those who see Lincoln as crafting an all-powerful nation-state, it is the very reverence held for Lincoln that they dislike as much as they oppose his policies. Thinking about Lincoln as a historical figure thus becomes difficult, for his life is bound up in the country he loved and those for whom he surrendered his life to keep it safe.