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Jefferson, Lincoln, and the Unfinished Work of the Nation

Jefferson, Lincoln, and the Unfinished Work of the Nation

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Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
8 illustrations


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About the Book

Although the nation changed substantially between the presidential terms of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, these two leaders shared common interests and held remarkably similar opinions on many important issues. In Jefferson, Lincoln, and the Unfinished Work of the Nation, Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler describes the views of two of our nation’s greatest presidents and explains how these views provide valuable insight into modern debates.

 In this groundbreaking new study—the first extended examination of the ideas of Lincoln and Jefferson—Hatzenbuehler provides readers with a succinct guide to their opinions, comparing and contrasting their reasoned judgments on America’s republican form of government. Each chapter is devoted to one key area of common interest: race and slavery, the pros and cons of political parties, state rights versus federal authority, religion and the presidency, presidential powers under the Constitution, or the proper political economy for a republic. Relying on the pair’s own words in their letters, writings, and speeches, Hatzenbuehler explores similarities and differences between the two men on contentious issues. Both, for instance, wrote that they were antislavery, but Jefferson never acted on this belief, while Lincoln moved toward a constitutional amendment banning slavery. The book’s title, taken from the Gettysburg Address, builds on both presidents’ expectations that Americans should dedicate themselves to the unfinished work of returning the nation to its founding principles.

Jefferson and Lincoln wrestled with many of the same issues and ideas that intrigue and divide Americans today. In his thought-provoking work, Hatzenbuehler details how the two presidents addressed these issues and ideas, which are essential to understanding not only America’s history but also the continuing influence of the past on the present.


Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler is a professor emeritus of history at Idaho State University. Previously, he served as department chair and associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters. He is the author of “I Tremble for My Country”: Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Gentry and coauthor of Congress Declares War: Rhetoric, Leadership, and Partisanship in the Early Republic.


“Ronald Hatzenbuehler furnishes in this valuable book what no previous historian has given us: a provocative comparative study of two American giants, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Here is comparative cultural-intellectual history at its best.”—Richard W. Etulain, author of Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era and coeditor of the Concise Lincoln Library
“With courage and conviction, Hatzenbuehler has taken on one of the great remaining tasks of intellectual and political history in linking Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s ideas and interests regarding such contested subjects as race and slavery, political parties, presidential power, federalism, and American exceptionalism. In doing so, he offers rare insight into not only the processes whereby each of these men thought through and acted on principles but also the ways in which circumstances conditioned those principles. The result is a rich and rewarding book.”—Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph’s University

"Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler offers a comparison of the political thought of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. In six chapters, he examines how Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s ideas developed about slavery, political parties, states’ rights, religion and the state, executive power, and political economy. As anyone who takes up comparative history must do, Hatzenbuehler offers three justifications for the subjects of this particular comparison."---Robert G. Parkinson, The Journal of Southern History

“Hatzenbuehler’s book is not written for specialized scholars of either [Jefferson or Lincoln]. The text is brief and spends a good deal of time recounting general history and well-known aspects of their lives. In a wise move, Hatzenbuehler dips modestly into the historiography, referencing only major and more recent contributions to the vast historical literature on both men. . . . This book would work well for advanced undergraduates and graduate students interested in political and constitutional history.”––Mark Elliott, University of North Carolina at Greensboro