Lincoln’s Liability

Robert Wilson writes an interesting and highly enjoyable Lincoln article (“Lincoln at Petersburg,” October 2013), but his statement “We know that Abraham Lincoln was willing to do almost anything to preserve the Union before the Civil War began” is a bit of a stretch. The controversy swirling around slavery in the territories prior to the war is a case in point.

In 1860, in an effort to stop the creation of new slave states, Lincoln and the Republicans ran on a platform that would prevent the spread of slavery into the territories. With enough political will backing him, and the fact that he had every right to argue for change, Lincoln was duly and constitutionally elected president. The one gigantic problem was that the South perceived Lincoln’s argument to be an existential threat to its economic, social and political life and, therefore, chose to leave the Union.

There is absolutely no question that we need to thank our lucky stars for Abraham Lincoln. His sense of humanity and vision, along with his dogged persistence and organizational skills, led ultimately to the birth of our modern republic. However, his pre–Civil War political activities contributed to placing the Union at extreme risk.

Michael Smiddy

Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Gold Bug

I enjoy your magazine but was puzzled by an item in “The First American Coin” in the October issue. Given the current price of gold, an ounce worth $16 in 1849 would be worth about $1,350 today, not $496 as stated. Math is not my best subject; maybe reading isn’t either. But it seems to me the value of that gold today should reflect the market price.  

Robert Corya

Indianapolis, Ind.

The value of $496 represents the real price today of a $16 commodity in 1849. But you are correct: The current purchasing power of an ounce of gold is two to three times that real price.

Reading Our Rights

I’ve enjoyed reading American History magazine for several years now. I was wondering if you might be able to recommend a book that provides a good overview of the civil rights movement. I’ve searched on Amazon, but there are so many titles out there. Could you point me in the right direction? Any help would be much appreciated!

Wes Overton

Iowa City, Iowa

There are a tremendous number of books on all aspects of the civil rights movement. Perhaps the most comprehensive overview is Taylor Branch’s trilogy on the Martin Luther King years: Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge. A collection of primary sources is The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts From the Black Freedom Struggle, ed. Clayborne Carson, et al. You might also check the website Civil Rights Movement Veterans——for recommended reading from folks who were on the movement’s front lines.


Originally published in the December 2013 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.