Sunday, March 29, 2009

Some Man Who Would Take Responsibility and Act

Drew Gilpin Faust reviews James McPherson's new book, Trial by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (Penguin Press, 2008). Faust describes Ulysses S. Grant's first meeting with Lincoln, as recalled by Grant in his memoirs:
Grant's memories of their encounter on that day provide a telling glimpse into Lincoln's conception of his role as commander-in-chief, as well as into the frustrations that had plagued him as he searched for the kind of leader that Grant became. Lincoln explained "that he had never professed to be a military man," but had been "forced" by the shortcomings of commanders to take on a far more extensive military role than he either intended or desired. "All he wanted or had ever wanted," Grant reported, "was some one who would take the responsibility and act." Grant would prove to be just that man.
Here at Penn State, we have just had a visit from Kirt Wilson of the University of Minnesota, who on Friday gave a wonderful talk on Lincoln in public memory. Some of the themes of that meeting with Grant echo in Wilson's very different analysis of Lincoln's invention of shared rhetorical agency in the Emancipation crisis.

Drew Gilpin Faust, "The Progress of Our Arms," The New Republic, 18 March 2009.

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