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Lincoln Looks West: From the Mississippi to the Pacific

edited by Richard W. Etulain, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 2010, $34.95.

 In his April 2009 Wild West cover story “Abraham Lincoln Looks West,” Richard W. Etulain examined the often-overlooked interactions between President Abraham Lincoln and the frontier West. Now he brings together essays from nine experts in a 262-page book that explores the same subject in more detail. “This volume attempts what no other book has done,” writes Etulain, a University of New Mexico professor emeritus of history, in the preface. “Among the more than 15,000 books written about Abraham Lincoln, none has sketched out the full dimensions of his important connections with the transMississippi American West.” The conclusion Etulain reaches in his own introductory overview is that the 16th president of the United States had enough ties with the West to “prove that among Lincoln’s many designations, he deserves to be known as a Man of the West.”

In the first essay, author Mark E. Neely Jr. shows how Lincoln took a party (Whig) stand, not an anti-expansionist stand, against the Mexican War. In the last essay, David A. Nichols focuses on Lincoln and the Indians and concludes that Lincoln, despite his caution and political manipulations, “was obsessed with a goal and would use violence to resolve problems when Indians, or anyone else, forcibly got in the way of his highest priorities.” He agreed to the hanging of 38 Sioux for their roles in the Minnesota Uprising, but he was not deaf to humanitarian pleas. “There is little question,” writes Nichols, “that all 303 Sioux men [slated for execution] would have died without his intervention.”

Lincoln supported the Homestead Act, the transcontinental railroad, the Department of Agriculture and land grants for agricultural education, and he opposed extending slavery into Western territories (as discussed in the second essay, “Lincoln, the West and the Antislavery Politics of the 1850s,” by Michael S. Green). The president made many political appointments in the West, as mentioned in the essays “Lincoln and the Territorial Patronage” and “Lincoln’s New Mexico Patronage: Saving the Far Southwest for the Union.” Clearly more research is needed regarding Lincoln’s dealings with the West, and perhaps this book will spark enough new essays to trigger a second volume.


Originally published in the December 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here