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06/03/2008
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book reviews
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A critical review of ‘A New Birth of Freedom: Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War by Harry V. Jaffa

  1. With the realization that Jaffa spends so much of he text focusing on Lincoln as a scholar, this investigation seeks to provide a clear understanding of Lincoln in this light.
  2. Jaffa goes on to argue that Lincoln's interpretation of the Declaration of Independence is what served as the basis for him to support the abolition of slavery.
  3. To illustrate this point one only needs to consider Francis Fisher Browne and John Y. Simon's recent biography which chronicles the everyday life of Abraham Lincoln.
  4. Other writers examining Lincoln's life also appear to be quite preoccupied with Lincoln's ability to fit into his surroundings.
  5. Neely maintains that Lincoln typically became rigid and inflexible in his attitudes and opinions, preferring to rely on to the strict interpretations provided by the Constitution.Although this may provide for provocative read material it does not appear to provide a fair and accurate picture of this historical figure.
  6. In the end, Jaffa's work provides a strong historical analysis of how Lincoln was able to effectively serve as president of the United States.

A New Birth of Freedom: Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War by Harry V. Jaffa is the long awaited sequel to the author’s 1959 book, Crisis of the House Divided. Although the specific objective of the A New Birth of Freedom is to examine Lincoln’s development of the Gettysburg Address, what makes the text so unique is that it focuses on Lincoln as a scholar. This aspect of Lincoln’s personality is often overlooked in the context of autobiographical data on Lincoln.With the realization that Jaffa spends so much of he text focusing on Lincoln as a scholar, this investigation seeks to provide a clear understanding of Lincoln in this light. By examining what Jaffa writes about Lincoln as a scholar and comparing this to what others have written on this historical figure, it will be possible to demonstrate that Jaffa’s work makes a notable contribution to scholarly understanding of Lincoln as both a man and a leader.

[...] Jaffa through his analysis of both Lincoln's rhetoric and writing is able to find a clear connection between the philosophical undertones of the founding fathers and the specific decisions made by Lincoln with respect to what direction the country should take. When viewed from Jaffa’s perspective much of the negative publicity that has been given to Lincoln swiftly falls by the wayside. While one can effectively argue that Lincoln was indeed a man ruled by his moral convictions, his moral convictions stemmed from his relentless pursuit of better understanding what the founding fathers wanted for the government and people of the United States of America. [...]


[...] While the specific analysis provided by Jaffa with respect to Lincoln's interpretation of the declaration of independence clearly shows the ability of this president to critically examine the past work of philosophers and scholars, Jaffa’s argument culminates in a review of the specific information provided by Lincoln during the Gettysburg address. According to Jaffa, through the utilization of the Gettysburg address Lincoln poses a timeless question that is both important for reflection but also difficult to answer: there, and all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness? [...]


[...] Although the authors provide a clear understanding of how Lincoln progressed through his education and scholarly development, the central focus of their text appears to be Lincoln's inadequacies in the context of social situations. The authors offer many reflections from third parties, which accurately portray a president that was not comfortable with his appearance, status or position: On the present occasion the whiskers were reinforced by brand-new clothes from top to toe ; black dress coat, instead of the usual frock; black cloth or satin vest, black pantaloons, and a glossy hat evidently just out of the box. [...]

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