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Response to Review of Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln

Thanks indeed for the thoughtful review of Founders' Son.

Two quibbles: Lincoln's Quaker interlocutor was Eliza Gurney (Kirkbride was her maiden name). When she met Lincoln she was a widow – always a way to get his attention. Atheist was a term of abuse applied by believers to Paine and such as the young Lincoln, but they were in fact deists. They thought they were rescuing God and his creation from the hokum of scripture (Lincoln would change his mind about scripture).

Two more substantive points. The reviewer politicizes and romanticizes Lincoln's relations with his generals. He did not take his opinions from them. He told them what he wanted them to do; if they disappointed him, he got rid of them. He picked McClellan because McClellan was the best available at the time; he turned to Grant because Grant proved to be better. President Jefferson Davis was also picking and choosing his generals, but he (and his polity) had different ends in view, largely because they had different views about the nature of America and its founding. 

King Cotton certainly fortified slavery, but we should beware of agricultural determinism. In 18th-century America slaves harvested tobacco, rice and indigo. In the West Indies they harvested sugar. Slaveowners fought to bring their property into Kansas where cotton does not grow. Clever managers would have found ways to use slaves on assembly lines. Unpaid labor is always welcome, to those who are willing to profit from it.