The New York Times

Hard Times

A HISTORIAN TURNS TO AMERICA’S PAST TO ARGUE THAT A LIBERAL IMPULSE HAS OFTEN PREVAILED OVER FEAR AND DIVISION.

“The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels”

By Jon Meacham

403 pages. Random House. $30.

At the close of his First Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln entreated the seceding slaveholders to “swell the chorus of the Union” until the nation was touched “by the better angels of our nature.” It is among the most eloquent sentences by our most eloquent president, and subsequent speechwriters and pundits have quoted it nearly to death. But as Lincoln knew well, eloquence is not necessarily the same as efficacy. Five weeks after his inauguration, the secessionists fired on Fort Sumter and the slaughter of the Civil War began.

Jon Meacham is the latest writer to cite

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