Lincoln and the Border States; Preserving the Union

By William C. Harris
September 2011; 424 pages, 10 photographs, 1 map, 6 x 9; Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1804-0, $34.95



Lincoln and the Border States; Preserving the Union By William C. Harris
Lincoln and the Border States; Preserving the Union
By William C. Harris

Faced with a divided nation, Abraham Lincoln deemed the loyalty of the border slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri crucial to the preservation of the Union. But while most scholars contend that these states were secure by the end of 1861, award-winning historian William C. Harris argues that Confederate campaigns and guerrilla activities kept the border region in constant turmoil—and that those states preoccupied Lincoln at every turning point of the war.

This first history of Lincoln’s border-state policies in more than eighty years offers a fresh and comprehensive perspective on how he negotiated, sometimes falteringly, the complex politics attached to such divisive issues as emancipation and suspension of habeas corpus. It provides new insights into the president’s leadership and the daunting problems he faced, as well as a window into federal-state relations, military-civil affairs, and the ongoing struggle for the Union.

A native Kentuckian whose wife’s family included slaveholders in Kentucky, Lincoln identified with the upper South and understood how its people often had torn loyalties. But Harris shows how few problems proved more troublesome for Lincoln than political disputes in the border states involving military interference in civil affairs, and nothing exceeded the difficulties he faced there over his antislavery policies and the enlistment of blacks in the army.

Harris argues that Lincoln’s patient and judicious management of border-state affairs, despite occasional missteps, proved crucial in keeping the border states in the Union, gaining their support for the war effort, and ultimately securing the end of slavery. Describing presidential relations with governors, congressmen, and regional military commanders and his handling of factionalism among Unionists, Harris shows how Lincoln’s careful attention to the border states paved the way for emancipation, an aspect generally overlooked by historians.

In the end, says Harris, it was mainly due to Lincoln’s skillful leadership that the border states were saved for the Union and slavery was abolished in America. His well-researched book treats in rich detail Lincoln’s triumphs and tragedies in dealing with the border region, providing the definitive account of the crucial part these states played in America’s bloodiest war.

“In this important new study, Harris examines Lincoln’s sometimes rocky relations with the border states and shows with great precision how Lincoln managed to keep the border states mostly on his side and get slavery abolished therein as well.”—James M. McPherson, author of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

“A masterful work that probes one of Lincoln’s most persistent and intractable dilemmas.”—Daniel E. Sutherland, author of A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War

“A definitive study that adds a new level of understanding to a neglected but crucial Civil War subject.”—Harold Holzer, Chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

WILLIAM C. HARRIS is Professor Emeritus of History at North Carolina State University and author of numerous books, including With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, Lincoln’s Last Month, and Lincoln’s Rise to the Presidency, winner of the Henry Adams Prize. 

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