In his splendid Congress at War, the seasoned historian Fergus Bordewich...skillfully describes the continuing congressional effort to abolish the institution ... The author also describes frequent tension between the president and the radical Republicans ... These and other Americans, as Mr. Bordewich...remind[s] us, only by working in tandem finally succeeded in defeating slavery—the greatest moral victory the nation has yet achieved.
... extraordinary ... With fluid, fluent style [Bordewich] encapsulates the period’s sweep, punctuating his broader narrative with colorful detail, bringing acerbic debates into clear focus ... Bordewich skillfully humanizes the back-and-forth that led to these decisions, portraying great men rolling up their sleeves and politicking, at times surreptitiously ... The author deftly draws his reader into the realities of late 18th-century America, animating settings and conditions that made life in general and political service in particular exasperating ... Bordewich writes in such a lively manner one feels like an uninvited but enthralled observer overhearing the debates of that auspicious assembly.
Although the subject of the book is specific, its implications are universal ... has an aptly pugnacious subtitle ... This is popular history of a high order—Bordewich has a terrific eye and ear for the details of his chosen time—and it thoroughly reflects the larger revisionism of our day ... Bordewich is more concerned with magnifying his Radical Republican heroes than with diminishing old Abe ... Lincoln understood the great truth of liberal-democratic policies: that it is the job of a political leader, in a time of crisis, to make the unthinkable imaginable, for then it will rapidly become possible, and soon essential. Bordewich, failing to grasp this truth, reads Lincoln’s words in ways that miss his purposes. He accuses Lincoln of looking past moral concerns when he is actually looking around corners ... Bordewich—like left revisionists generally—resists a political understanding of Lincoln’s political rhetoric. What Booth grasped in a second the revisionists tend to miss at length: that throughout the war Lincoln saw, as great politicians do, that opening the door to radical reform is the hardest part.
... offers insight into the overlooked legislative conflicts during the Civil War, deftly following legislators Thaddeus Stevens, Benjamin Wade, William P. Fessenden, and Clement Vallandigham, and bringing to life the personalities behind factions of Radical Republicans, Unionists, and Copperheads. Bordewich expertly shows how each faction wrestled with funding, equipping, and supplying manpower to what turned out to be a long and expensive war, and whether to authorize military enlistment and extend rights to African Americans ... Bordewich contributes an entertaining, fresh perspective to our ever-evolving understanding and discussion of the Civil War. An important addition for both general readers of American history and scholars of the growing interpretations of Civil War studies.
... provocative ... Bordewich’s ungainly subtitle telegraphs the grand claims he sets out to make for a group of congressmen who mostly styled themselves as Radical Republicans ... A popular historian and journalist blessedly free of academic affiliations, Bordewich is a master of the character sketch, summarizing complicated figures in a few swift phrases. But Lincoln himself never comes alive in his pages. Indeed, he scarcely appears. He lurks just offstage, stepping forward now and then to try, briefly and usually without success, to stymie the righteous zeal that propels the Radicals ... If bordewich oversells the legacy of the Radicals in Congress, his more fundamental misapprehension lies elsewhere: His version of events shortchanges the greatness that humanists of all stripes—not only historians—have found in Lincoln. The problem is partly a failure to appreciate that the Radicals were kibitzers, as many legislators are. But misjudging Lincoln’s role as executive and his commitment to larger obligations is Bordewich’s more telling mistake.
Historian Bordewich delves deeply into Radical Republicans’ determination to outlaw slavery and establish Congress as the most powerful government branch in this packed political history of the Civil War ... carefully documented ... Bordewich offers a unique and colorful perspective on the Civil War, and regularly manages to make congressional minutiae entertaining. Readers seeking fresh insight into the era will be satisfied.
A skilled storyteller, Bordewich builds his narrative around four congressmen ... Bordewich delivers a steady stream of colorful, bitter, sometimes-humorous stories of the abuse that lawmakers exchanged, much of which—unlike more recent debates—led to useful legislation ... A riveting history of the Civil War that argues convincingly that Congress got it right.