In This Review

Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln
Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln
By Richard Brookhiser
Basic Books, 2014, 376 pp

When Abraham Lincoln was born, in 1809, Thomas Jefferson was still president and the revolutionary generation of 1776 was still firmly in command of the country. As Lincoln reached maturity, the founding generation slowly died off, and American political culture had to adjust to its absence. As Lincoln built his career and developed his political philosophy, the nature of the founders’ legacy remained a contentious issue. In this elegantly written book, Brookhiser reveals Lincoln’s role in that debate and offers new insights into Lincoln’s inner life and political thinking. Founders’ Son reminds readers that the Civil War was a struggle over the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; Southern secessionists based their positions on a particular interpretation of what the founders meant to say in those documents. It fell to Lincoln, more than to anyone else, to combat those ideas. Brookhiser’s argument that Lincoln’s reading of the Declaration of Independence serves as the foundation of contemporary American political ideology is hardly original, but the biographical and cultural context in which Brookhiser sets the observation makes it feel fresh.