WRESTLING WITH HIS ANGEL
The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, 1849-1856
By Sidney Blumenthal
Illustrated. 581 pp. Simon & Schuster
This second volume in Sidney Blumenthal’s magisterial biography of Abraham Lincoln might as well have been titled “The Wilderness Years.” In 1849, Lincoln’s single term in the House of Representatives had ended without distinction. With no clear future in politics, he returned to his home in Springfield, Ill., and to workaday lawyering. As Blumenthal neatly puts it in “Wrestling With His Angel,” a vividly written, wide-ranging and often surprising account of the president-to-be, “Politics forgot about Lincoln, but he did not forget about politics.” Bustled off the national stage sooner than he had wished, Lincoln felt wounded, but he was far from defeated. Blumenthal shows us a man intensely engaged in the politics of the time, piloting his way around the partisan shoals of one of the nation’s most turbulent decades. It was an era that was rife with “premonitions of civil war, shattering deaths, fatal compromises, crushing defeats, corrupt bargains, brazen betrayals, and reckless ambition joined in a pandemonium of political bedlam,” Blumenthal writes.
For much of this period, Lincoln was overshadowed by his longtime rival, Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic senator from Illinois, who appropriately dominates much of Blumenthal’s narrative