OPINIONSrnReinventing Americarnby Brian Robertsonrn”Fox populi.rn—AnonymousrnLincoln at Gettysburg: The WordsrnThat Remade Americarnby Garry WillsrnNew York: Simon & Schuster;rn317pp.,$23.00rnNo public figure in American historyrnis more inscrutable than AbrahamrnLincoln. While this is in some measurerndue to his extraordinary deftness as arnpolitician, it is primarily the result of hisrnastounding success in refounding thernRepublic in his own image. So thoroughlyrndid Lincoln reform our collectivernhistorical and political consciousnessrnthat it has become almostrnimpossible for us to appreciate the intellectualrnrevolution he achieved.rnWith Lincoln at Gettysburg: ThernWords That Remade America, GarryrnWills surmounts these obstacles to arnfuller appreciation of Lincoln’s significance.rnBy a detailed look into thernrhetorical and political sources that Lincolnrndrew on in his famous address,rnWills allows us to hear the familiarrnwords anew with all of their originalrnforce and meaning. More importantly,rnhe leaves us better equipped to reexaminernLincoln’s complex political legacy.rnThe Lincoln of popular mythologyrnis the unassuming back-woods lawyerrnwho, distinguished by a sort of folkrnwisdom and an uncanny knack for thernright words at the right time, guided therncountry through its greatest crisis torndate, saving the nation from destructionrnat the hands of Southern politicians andrnabolishing slavery in the process. Willsrnreveals to us an altogether different creature:rna consummate politician whosernBrian Robertson is a freelance writerrnliving in Princeton, New ]ersey.rnmelancholy aspect and homespun mannerrnof speaking were carefully contrived.rnFar from being unsophisticated, Lincolnrnwas thoroughly a man of his time, familiarrnwith the latest intellectual trendsrn(including Transcendentalism—whichrnhad a direct influence on him throughrnthe thought of the radical abolitionistrnand spiritualist Theodore Parker) andrndriven from a young age by an eeriernsense of destiny and a burning ambitionrnto effect great changes. Indeed, as thernbook’s subtitle indicates. Wills arguesrnthat Lincoln achieved a political and intellectualrnrevolution of major proportionsrnat Gettysburg, reconstituting thernnation on the notion of equality.rnWhile Wills does much to underminernthe Lincoln mvthology, he hasrnnothing but praise for the genuine article.rnIronically, the figure that emergesrnbears resemblance to the Lincoln portrayedrnby his most vigorous critics; WillmoorernKendall and M. E. Bradford,rnamong others, long ago made the claimrnthat I incoln had set out to dissolve thernoriginal constitutional compact and createrna new nation. At the time they werernvilified as cranks—they still are vilifiedrnfor that matter—but their theories havernfound sudden respectability in academicrncircles, if Wills and the Princeton historianrnJames MePherson (whose recentrnbook on Lincoln has a similar thesis) arcrnany indication. The main point of contentionrnappears now to be whether thisrnrecreation of the United States was arngood thing.rnWills is unreserved in his opinion thatrnit was. While the portions of his bookrnthat explore the background of the addressrn(the Greek revival in architecturernand oratory, the rural cemetery movementrnwhich was part of that revival, thernTranscendentalist and political roots ofrnRepublican ideology) arc fascinating andrnconvincing scholarship, the essence ofrnthe book lies elsewhere. I’wo of thernchapter titles, “Revolution in Thought”rnand “Revolution in Style,” convey thernauthor’s central thesis. According tornWills, Lincoln was the first prominentrnfigure to understand that the age ofrnflowery, long-winded oration was over;rnthat the pace of modern life required arnmore compact, incisive way of communicating,rnone which achieved the largestrnpossible impact in the fewest possiblernwords. In this, he was a precursor tornMark Iwain, and hence to all of modernrnAmerican literature. Closely relatedrnto this revolution in style is Lincoln’s innovativernuse of religious symbolism inrna secular context: by his literary talents,rnLincoln was able to create a civic religion,rnwhich substituted political idealsrn28/CHRONICLESrnrnrn