His Greatest Speeches: How Lincoln Moved the Nation

St. Martin’s. Nov. 2021. 224p. ISBN 9781250763457. $27.99. HIST
In a compelling book that is at once probing, provocative, profound, and sometimes problematic, Schaub (political science, Loyola Univ. Maryland; Erotic Liberalism) parses three of Abraham Lincoln’s most revealing speeches to explain how they informed political thought and spurred action. She closely exegetes the speeches in chronological order to show Lincoln’s recourse to scripture and history when he wanted to make a case for the promise of the nation or the character and demands of securing democratic freedom. Especially insightful is the analysis of Lincoln’s Lyceum speech of 1838, in which he argued that American democracy and destiny hinged on grounding all public action in the Constitution and respect for the law. Schaub also offers an original reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863, in which he reminded the nation that only fealty to the principles of the Declaration of Independence could save the great experiment in self-government. And she adds to the large body of literature on Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address of 1865 by emphasizing Lincoln’s focus on the long history of slavery, which she says called on all Americans to reckon with that crime.
VERDICT An essential work on the purpose, poetry, and power of Lincoln’s words.
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