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Lincoln and Congress

Lincoln and Congress

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William C. Harris


E-book (Other formats: Hardcover)
10 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

Winner, ISHS Annual Award for a Scholarly Publication, 2018

In Lincoln and Congress, William C. Harris reveals that the relationship between the president and Congress, though sometimes contentious, was cooperative rather than adversarial. During his time as president, Abraham Lincoln embodied his personal conviction that the nation’s executive should not interfere with the work of the legislature, and though often critical of him privately, in public congressional leaders compromised with and assisted the president to unite the North and minimize opposition to the war.

Despite the turbulence of the era and the consequent tensions within the government, the executive and legislative branches showed restraint in their dealings with each other. In fact, except in his official messages to Congress, Lincoln rarely lobbied for congressional action, and he vetoed only one important measure during his tenure as president. Many congressmen from Lincoln’s own party, although publicly supportive, doubted his leadership and sought a larger role for Congress in setting war policies. Though they controlled Congress, Republican legislators frequently differed among themselves in shaping legislation and in their reactions to events as well as in their relationships both with each other and with the president. Harris draws intriguing sketches of nineteenth-century congressional leaders and shows that, contrary to what historians have traditionally concluded, radical Republicans such as Representative Thaddeus Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner did not dominate their party or Congress. Harris includes the minority party’s role, showing that Northern Democrats and conservative Unionists of the border states generally opposed Republican policies but worked with them on support for the troops and on nonwar issues like the Pacific Railroad Bill.

Lincoln and Congress sheds new light on the influence of members of Congress and their relationship with Lincoln on divisive issues such as military affairs, finance, slavery, constitutional rights, reconstruction, and Northern political developments. Enjoyable both for casual Civil War readers and professional historians, this book provides an engaging narrative that helps readers redefine and understand the political partnership that helped the Union survive.


William C. Harris is the author or editor of twelve books, including Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union, which won the 2012 Lincoln Prize; Lincoln’s Rise to the Presidency; and a previous Concise Lincoln Library book, Lincoln and the Union Governors. He is a professor emeritus of history at North Carolina State University, Raleigh.


“Memorable clashes between President Lincoln and Congress have obscured the partnership that also existed between them. William C. Harris highlights the dynamic tensions that produced a collective leadership needed to win the Civil War.”—Donald A. Ritchie, historian emeritus of the U.S. Senate
“Harris has done it again, this time by delivering an excellent analysis of Lincoln’s partnership with Congress. In this well-crafted narrative, we see the visible hand of the sixteenth president demonstrating his whiggish attitude about the role of the chief executive and his respect for the governmental powers established by the founders.”Stephen D. Engle, author of Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union’s War Governors
“Harris offers a thorough, perceptive, and highly readable account of Lincoln’s relations with Congress in their mutual handling of the American Civil War. A much needed addition to the existing literature, Harris’s book should be required reading for anyone interested in Lincoln, separation of powers, and the politics of the Civil War.”—Jason R. Jividen, author of Claiming Lincoln: Progressivism, Equality, and the Battle for Lincoln’s Legacy in Presidential Rhetoric

 "A key component of the book treats the activities of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, created to “guide the Lincoln administration on war policy, investigate military failures, and seek the removal of incompetent and failed military commanders.” Harris taps into and makes great use of many primary and secondary sources, including the excellent The Radical Republicans: Lincoln’s Vanguard for Racial Justice (1969) by the late Hans Trefousse."--Steven R. Koppelman, Civil War News

"William C. Harris contributes significantly to our understanding of the political environment surrounding Lincoln throughout his presidency. He provides perceptive insights into the unique relationship between Lincoln and the Congressional leadership as both sought to provide supporting legislation to prosecute the war and reconstruct the Union." --Charles M. Hubbard, The Annals of Iowa

“Harris skillfully cobbles together secondary works and the writings of many congressional leaders to present a concise narrative on the relationship between Lincoln and Congress as they struggled with the salient issues of the day. . . . Harris argues that Lincoln continually fended off members of his own cabinet and congressional leaders who believed they were smarter and more qualified to be president. . . . This short book is a good starting place for those who want a quick understanding of Lincoln and his relationship with Congress.”—The Journal of Southern History