At a moment when questions about the efficacy of democracy are on everyone’s lips, this book eerily reflects some of today’s key issues. Among them are the military’s part in domestic policy; the protections appropriate to noncitizens (in Lincoln’s case, Native Americans); the limits of female citizenship; the meaning of free speech; and states’ rights to contravene personal liberty ... [Brown Pryor] has produced a portrait of a president whose failures to act often undermine the democratic ideals and the moral values to which he claims commitment ... Pryor tells us that the greatest contradiction he faced was between the ideal of democracy and prevailing negative views of Indians. Like others of his generation, he thought all men were created equal except for Indians and women. He did not hesitate to abrogate Indian treaties, though he sometimes expressed concern for Indian life ... the notion that democracy involves compromises resonates today. Lincoln’s dilemmas illuminate how apparently benign federal mandates — like universal health care, paid maternity leave or federal land acquisition — that seem on their face to extend democratic possibilities, can be viewed from within state borders as coercive. Fascinating reading on its own terms, Six Encounters With Lincoln nevertheless confronts readers with startlingly relevant questions.
Pryor exploits her wealth of experience as a diplomat in the State Department to evaluate Lincoln as if he were the president she served. Her six 'encounters' are small historical moments, the kind that most of us overlook and that only a veteran of the governmental process, with knowledge of Capitol Hill and the newspaper-reading habits of those who attempt to forge policy, could tease into life ... Pryor is particularly adept at conveying the impossibility of Lincoln’s task: to represent a profoundly fractured country ... Pryor’s Lincoln is a man of excessive ambition, handicapped by strange looks and profound social awkwardness, whose pragmatism often contradicts his loftier ideals...As is inevitable with a posthumous book, one can’t help wondering if another pass would have gotten the balance slightly better ... Pryor makes a case for Lincoln’s naiveté regarding the resolve of Southern states to defend slavery, both at the war’s start and also at its end, auguring a failed Reconstruction policy ... The insinuation that the drama of Civil War had a narcissistic angle for Lincoln is another place where, it seems likely, a more measured assessment would have emerged if Pryor had lived to complete the project.
...meticulously researched ... Pryor tends to accentuate the negative. 'Blind to Southern resolve,' her Abraham Lincoln gives mixed and misleading signals to secessionists and loyalists in the South; is an inept military commander; made bad appointments to reward political allies; lacked dignity and did not inspire confidence; exhibited prejudice toward African-Americans, Indians and women, and grossly underestimated the difficulties of bringing the South back into the Union at the end of the Civil War. On occasion, Pryor’s critique is unfair ... Like all human beings, Lincoln had feet of clay. Nor is it surprising that his contemporaries fixated on his shortcomings. And yet, even as Pryor reveals the man partly hidden behind the legend, that man still deserves acclaim as a pre-eminent political leader.