When democracy is in trouble, the thoughts of the nation turn to Abraham Lincoln. He saved the Union once, perhaps he can do so again. But is statesmanship possible at a distance, removed from the unique circumstances that gave rise to its redemptive deeds? Certainly, the statesman expects his influence to give form and shape to the future, but can the influence be perpetual, or at least periodically renewable? Lincoln himself in his 1858 “Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions” spoke of writing—which he called “the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye”—as a permanent resource. He described its effect as “great, very great in enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and of space.”

It seems that historians, political scientists, and journalists have all had the same idea of seeking help from Lincoln. On the heels of other recent titles, last year saw the publication of Michael Zuckert’s A Nation So Conceived: Abraham Lincoln and the Paradox of Democratic Sovereignty and James H. Read’s Sovereign of a Free People: Abraham Lincoln, Majority Rule, and Slavery (both very fine books recently reviewed in the CRB). The almost Shakespearean fecundity of Lincoln’s language is on display in each title: A Nation So Conceived from the Gettysburg Address

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