Lincoln in the World by Kevin Peraino is not your regular biographical history of President Lincoln during the American Civil War. If you are looking for biography of Lincoln, I don’t recommend this book. However, if you are generally familiar with Lincoln and are looking for a different perspective to fill in your knowledge; this book is for you.
Peraino organizes the book in an usual way, focusing on specific relationships between Lincoln and key persons of the period. In this way Peraino illustrates the development of Lincoln, the statesman and diplomat. While never leaving the United States and much focused on the Civil War, Lincoln certainly had his share of international crises and demonstrated quite a high level of skill in international relations. Perhaps the most important was to ensure that no European power sided with the Confederacy.
In the section Lincoln vs. Seward the reader will learn a good deal about Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward. At first being rivals for the presidential nomination, Lincoln and Seward grew to be quite an effective diplomatic team relying on each others strengths.
I found a quote from Seward to be very apropos of a political view much needed today “I learned early from Jefferson that, in political affairs, we cannot always do what seems to us absolutely best. We must be content to lead when we can; and to follow when we cannot lead; and if we cannot at any time do for our country all the good that we would wish, we must be satisfied with doing for her all the good that we can.”
A second quote from Seward gave me great pause to consider current world and our relationship to China. Seward said “The nation that draws the most materials from the earth, and fabricates the most, and sells the most of productions and fabrics to foreign nations, must be, and will be the great power of the earth.”
In the section Lincoln vs. Palmerston, describes the diplomatic balancing act needed to manage the economic effects of king cotton on the British economy. Peraino’s descriptions of the Trent Affair (abduction of Confederate agents Mason and Sidell from British ship, HMS Trent, in international waters) is an excellent example of the Lincoln/ Seward diplomacy.
Most readers know Karl Marx for his Communist Manifesto. Little known to this reader was that Karl Marx was quite the international journalist and critical observer of the American scene during the Civil War. In the section Lincoln vs Karl Marx, we learn that he was one of the most widely read columnists of New York Tribune.
I found the section on Lincoln vs. Napoleon perhaps the most interesting. In the deep recesses of my memory I knew the basics of Napoleon’s ventures in Mexico and his installation of Maximilian as puppet Mexican emperor. However, what was surprising to me was uproar in the United States to invade Mexico at the same time
Particularly interesting was a 4 hour meeting between the Confederacy’s Vice President, Alexander Stephens, Lincoln and Seward at Hampton Roads, Va on February 3,1865. The topic was a serious proposal by Stevens for the Union and Confederate armies to join forces and invade Mexico to expel the French army! Lincoln was skeptical of the proposal and nothing came of it.