Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power
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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, Eugénie; 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.
the naval secretary scribbled, “are the two bad men in this matter. The latter is quite belligerent in his feelings, but fears to be insolent towards us unless England is also engaged.”89 Lincoln, too, remained preoccupied with Mexico. On New Year’s Day 1864, the president held his annual reception at the White House. A former State Department employee recorded in his diary that Lincoln quietly quizzed the Mexican minister about his country’s affairs as the receiving line wound its way through
Herndon, p. 125 (“Irish”); Mary Lincoln to Emilie Todd Helm, November 23, 1856, in Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, p. 46; Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed, Aug. 24, 1855, CWL, v. 2, p. 323 (“hypocrasy”); Lincoln to Theodore Canisius, May 17, 1859, CWL, v. 3, p. 380. See also Smith, “The Influence of the Foreign-Born of the Northwest in the Election of 1860,” pp. 197–98. 75. Smith, p. 195; White, A. Lincoln, p. 333 (divided Dems); Lincoln to Seward, Oct. 12, 1860, in CWL, v. 4, p. 125 (“into our
that were piled on the tables. A relaxed Lincoln, growing the beginnings of a wispy beard, pumped hands and warmly slapped backs. Outside, an icy wind howled over the prairie. The crush of uncouth visitors repulsed some witnesses. One newspaperman marveled at the “disagreeably intense” odor that filled the room. Lincoln was not complaining. After nearly thirty years climbing Illinois’s political ladder, he was finally president-elect.1 The American political landscape had evolved dramatically
declared, the long-term goal of American foreign policy should be “our own complete emancipation from what remains of European influence and prejudice.” He derided Britain as “the greatest, the most grasping, and the most rapacious in the world.” Seward believed the trend lines suggested that British power would vanish from the Western Hemisphere within twenty-five years—or “at least within half a century.” And yet, those predictions depended on the maintenance of peace. Seward often challenged
Shiloh—almost seven times the casualties at Bull Run. Shiloh, notes one historian, was the battlefield on which Americans’ “Romanticism expired.” The Union war effort desperately needed a leader to make sense out of the carnage.14 In the international arena, too, the human suffering was becoming unbearable. Although Southern threats about the power of King Cotton had been overstated, by the middle of 1862, Europeans were beginning to feel the pinch. Factory owners slashed working hours