I had never realized that Abraham Lincoln was a captain in the Black Hawk War in Western Illinois in 1832 – indeed, I had never even heard of that war. But its impact on the young Lincoln, who witnessed atrocities against civilians by Native Americans and who also had to protect an elderly Potawatami seeking refuge from his own men, had a profound impact.
Instead of focusing on economics when he entered the U.S. House of Representatives, Lincoln turned his attention instead to the Mexican War of 1846, siding with Henry Clay in opposing the war against President James K. Polk.
Amy Greenberg, an Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Women's Studies at Penn State University and a leading scholar of Manifest Destiny, recounts the events of this time in her book A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (Random House 2012; $30). Her book recounts a story of many parts of history including Manifest Destiny, secret military maneuvers, gunshot wounds, the founding of the of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the country’s first national antiwar movement as well as political spin.
Greenberg also introduces us to John Hardin, Lincoln’s chief political rival in Illinois politics as well as, for a time, one of his closest friends.
“They were about the same age, and had Hardin survived the U.S.-Mexico War he may very well have overshadowed Lincoln in the 1850s,” says Greenberg. “Had Hardin survived the U.S.-Mexico War he may very well have overshadowed Lincoln in the 1850s. He is a fascinating character in his own right, and he left voluminous correspondence about his experiences both as a politician and an officer in the U.S. Mexican War. Yet there has been no published biography of this man.”