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A brilliant, authoritative, and riveting account of the most critical six months in Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, when he penned the Emancipation Proclamation and changed the course of the Civil War.
On July 12, 1862, Abraham Lincoln spoke for the first time of his intention to free the slaves. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, doing precisely that. In between, however, was perhaps the most tumultuous six months of his presidency, an episode during which the sixteenth president fought bitterly with his generals, disappointed his cabinet, and sank into painful bouts of clinical depression. Most surprising, the man who would be remembered as “The Great Emancipator” did not hold firm to his belief in emancipation. He agonized over the decision and was wracked by private doubts almost to the moment when he inked the decree that would change a nation.
Popular myth would have us believe that Lincoln did not suffer from such indecision, that he did what he did through moral resolve; that he had a commanding belief in equality, in the inevitable victory of right over wrong. He worked on drafts of the document for months, locking it in a drawer in the telegraph room of the War department. Ultimately Lincoln chose to act based on his political instincts and knowledge of the war. It was a great gamble, with the future of the Union, of slavery, and of the presidency itself hanging in the balance.
In this compelling narrative, Todd Brewster focuses on these critical six months to ask: was it through will or by accident, intention or coincidence, personal achievement or historical determinism that he freed the slaves? The clock is always ticking in these pages as Lincoln searches for the right moment to enact his proclamation and simultaneously turn the tide of war. Lincoln’s Gamble portrays the president as an imperfect man with an unshakable determination to save a country he believed in, even as the course of the Civil War remained unknown.
"Brewster gets inside Abraham Lincoln’s mind, revealing his struggles with the limited powers of his office. Here is Lincoln, the man, surprisingly ambivalent about the decision for which he is most remembered. A masterful psychological portrait."
– George Stephanopoulos
"This story has been told before, but never as well, with such a firm grasp of the revolutionary implications of Lincoln's decision, or the multilayered levels of Lincoln's quite tortured thought process. Although Lincoln is the most written-about figure in American history, Brewster's book is a major entry in the Lincoln sweepstakes."
- Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers
"It’s hard to act from strength and a higher moral conviction when the war you’re waging is not going well. But in this wonderful study, Todd Brewster authoritatively evokes the strategy of our best president to change the terms of the Civil War and thereby the destiny of his nation."
– Ken Burns
"Readers of this expertly-told tale may note parallels to other times in American history when the lack of a clear mission hampered war efforts. Yet this, finally, is a story of courage and leadership, a stirring account of how Lincoln, perhaps our greatest warrior-president, took firm control of the war, gave clear direction to his generals and, with his historic proclamation, established a purpose worthy of the sacrifices so many made in that epic American ordeal."
– H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam
About the Author
Author background
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To book Todd Brewster for a speaking engagement, please contact CreativeWell at 800 743 9182 or
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Introduction: A Man, Imperfect
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Author's Publicity Tour Recommended Reading List Key Characters in the Book Interview with the Author
Learn More
National Archives: The Emancipation Proclamation New York State Library: The Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln Library National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Antietam National Battlefield Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldier's Home Harrison's Landing, VA The Presidential Proclamations Project at the University of Houston The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln National Civil War Museum National Park Service 'Network to Freedom' (Underground Railroad)
Audio and Video Appearances
Todd Brewster at the National Archives, Washington DC 09.15.14

Public Radio's 'The Takeaway'
Public Radio's 'The Leonard Lopate Show'