Sunday, February 10, 2013

Congressman Lincoln

In 1846 Abraham Lincoln was a prominent attorney in the eighth judicial circuit of Illinois and a former member of the Illinois legislature.  He was also the Whig parties’ candidate for Congress from the 7th Congressional District.  In his service in the Thirtieth Congress, from 1847 to 1849, Lincoln first came to national prominence as a politician.

Chris Derose is an attorney and former political strategist who now teaches at the University of Phoenix School of Law.  His new book, Congressman Lincoln: The Making of America’s Greatest President, is old fashioned narrative political history and biography.

After the disintegration of the old Federalist Party, the Democrats swept everything before them with the election of Andrew Jackson.  The Whig Party began as a coalition between former Federalists, disgruntled Democrats and any one else who opposed Jackson and his policies.  As you may recall, Andrew Jackson opposed the National Bank and advocated, like Jefferson, a nation of small farmers.  The Whigs wanted a sound national economy and a national monetary policy and Federal oversight of major internal improvements like canals and post roads.

In 1846, the Whigs won a slim majority in the House of Representatives.  The Democratic President, James K. Polk, was a former Governor of Tennessee and a slave owner.  After Texas revolted from Mexico, Polk provocatively annexed the Republic of Texas as U.S. territory and marched troops to the Rio Grande.  When fire was exchanged between Mexican and U.S. troops, the Mexican War began.  President Polk made no secret that he intended to prosecute the war to secure new territory from Mexico.

The Mexican War was the Vietnam Conflict of its day.  Congressman Abraham Lincoln angered his political enemies and alienated many of his friends when he took the floor of the House and denounced President Polk’s war.  The slavery issue loomed large over the Thirtieth Congress.  Abolitionist Northern Whigs opposed the extension of slavery into the territories and the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia.  Southern Whigs and Democrats generally supported the expansion of slavery.  The slavery issue would ultimately tear the Whig Party apart, with Southern Whigs leaving the party and Northern Whigs who supported abolition forming a new party, the Republicans.

Congressman Lincoln has interesting details about Lincoln’s personal life, his sometimes dis-functional marriage to Mary Todd, his famous wit and his personal habits and appearance.  The book also has a great deal of information about many men who were major national political figures in the 1840s who have now slipped into obscurity.  There is also a lot of information about Lincoln's law practice, including the fact that while he was serving in Congress, he became the first future President to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court.

Gridlock and crisis have not just now hit Washington.  As a matter of fact, it may have been worse in Lincoln’s day as DeRose details how fist fights, sometimes involving canes and knives, broke out between members of Congress on the floor.  Apparently, in the early 19th century Congress maintained a saloon in the basement of the capitol so that members could enjoy a libation between sessions!

All around, if you are interested in the political history of this country, Congressman Lincoln is a great read.

1 comment: