“Captivating . . . [Lowenstein] makes what subsequently occurred at Treasury and on Wall Street during the early 1860s seem as enthralling as what transpired on the battlefield or at the White House.” —Harold Holzer, Wall Street Journal
“Ways and Means, an account of the Union’s financial policies, examines a subject long overshadowed by military narratives . . . Lowenstein is a lucid stylist, able to explain financial matters to readers who lack specialized knowledge.” —Eric Foner, New York Times Book Review
From renowned journalist and master storyteller Roger Lowenstein, a revelatory financial investigation into how Lincoln and his administration used the funding of the Civil War as the catalyst to centralize the government and accomplish the most far-reaching reform in the country’s history
Upon his election to the presidency, Abraham Lincoln inherited a country in crisis. Even before the Confederacy’s secession, the United States Treasury had run out of money. The government had no authority to raise taxes, no federal bank, no currency. But amid unprecedented troubles Lincoln saw opportunity—the chance to legislate in the centralizing spirit of the “more perfect union” that had first drawn him to politics. With Lincoln at the helm, the United States would now govern “for” its people: it would enact laws, establish a currency, raise armies, underwrite transportation and higher education, assist farmers, and impose taxes for them. Lincoln believed this agenda would foster the economic opportunity he had always sought for upwardly striving Americans, and which he would seek in particular for enslaved Black Americans.
Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s vanquished rival and his new secretary of the Treasury, waged war on the financial front, levying taxes and marketing bonds while desperately battling to contain wartime inflation. And while the Union and Rebel armies fought increasingly savage battles, the Republican-led Congress enacted a blizzard of legislation that made the government, for the first time, a powerful presence in the lives of ordinary Americans. The impact was revolutionary. The activist 37th Congress legislated for homesteads and a transcontinental railroad and involved the federal government in education, agriculture, and eventually immigration policy. It established a progressive income tax and created the greenback—paper money. While the Union became self-sustaining, the South plunged into financial free fall, having failed to leverage its cotton wealth to finance the war. Founded in a crucible of anticentralism, the Confederacy was trapped in a static (and slave-based) agrarian economy without federal taxing power or other means of government financing, save for its overworked printing presses. This led to an epic collapse. Though Confederate troops continued to hold their own, the North’s financial advantage over the South, where citizens increasingly went hungry, proved decisive; the war was won as much (or more) in the respective treasuries as on the battlefields.
Roger Lowenstein reveals the largely untold story of how Lincoln used the urgency of the Civil War to transform a union of states into a nation. Through a financial lens, he explores how this second American revolution, led by Lincoln, his cabinet, and a Congress studded with towering statesmen, changed the direction of the country and established a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Roger Lowenstein has written numerous critically acclaimed books, including the New York Times bestsellers Buffett, When Genius Failed, and The End of Wall Street. He has three children and lives with his wife, Judy Slovin, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Tenants Harbor, Maine.
“Lowenstein’s book is a compelling account of how the United States acquired and exploited the stunning power that modern statehood delivers.” —The Washington Post
“Ways and Means
represents nonfiction writing at its best, using an easy prose to enlighten with thought provoking, sometimes controversial, ideas from the very beginning.” —New York Journal of Books
“Ways and Means
, an account of the Union’s financial policies, examines a subject long overshadowed by military narratives . . . Lowenstein is a lucid stylist, able to explain financial matters to readers who lack specialized knowledge.” —Eric Foner, New York Times Book Review
“[Lowenstein] makes what subsequently occurred at Treasury and on Wall Street during the early 1860s seem as enthralling as what transpired on the battlefield or at the White House . . . His keenly perceptive study details how the protagonists eventually came to reimagine their finances—and ultimately, their economic cultures . . . Captivating.” —Harold Holzer, Wall Street Journal
“[A] fresh look at the president’s essential Republican roots as a self-made man, rather than slaveholder, and belief that anyone could be successful in America . . . An accessible exploration of how war enabled the federal government to acquire real financial power.” —Kirkus
“Lowenstein delivers a fine account of a crucial yet overlooked aspect of the American Civil War.” —Booklist
“Journalist Lowenstein (The End of Wall Street
) argues in this masterful history that the financing of the Civil War was as crucial to the shaping of American history as the Emancipation Proclamation and the defeat of the Confederacy . . . Lucid, character-driven . . . Full of fascinating historical tidbits and clear explanations of complex financial and political matters, this is a must-read for American history buffs.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In Ways and Means
, Roger Lowenstein gives a gripping account of how Lincoln and his secretary of Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, successfully won the financial war against the South, by a combination of better economic policies and by raising unprecedented amounts of money in unprecedented ways. It also tells the deeper story of how Lincoln used the opportunity thrown up by war to forge a new economic union, even as he was remaking the political union. Ways and Means
is a tour de force of narrative history, riveting and eye-opening, that provides a novel and original perspective on our greatest president.” —Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World
“In this riveting narrative, Roger Lowenstein has delivered an outstanding contribution to the rich literature on the Civil War. With deft prose, unrivaled financial acumen, and a sure feel for personalities, he brilliantly illuminates the economic history of the war, a dimension so sorely neglected in the past. This volume will certainly rank as the classic treatment of the subject for a very long time to come.” —Ron Chernow, author of Grant