Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are routinely voted by historians and the general public alike in polls and surveys as ranking, respectively, as the best American president and British prime minister in their countries’ histories. Indeed, in a 2002 BBC television series Churchill topped the board as the greatest Briton in history, while a recent 2018 poll of 200 political scientists confirmed Lincoln’s ranking as the greatest president. In Lincoln & Churchill: Statesman at War, Lewis E. Lehrman presents a comparative study of these two giants of British and American history. This is not the first book to pair Churchill with another figure. Dual biographies have previously paired Churchill with David Lloyd George, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Anthony Eden, George Orwell, Jan Smuts, Charles De Gaulle, and Gandhi. Lincoln, for his part, has been the subject of dual biographies with, among others, Frederick Douglass and Jefferson Davis.
Although as Lehrman notes, Churchill was born nine years after Lincoln was assassinated (but for the president’s murder the lives of Lincoln and Churchill would probably have overlapped for several years), there is much new ground for study in comparing the two leaders who led their countries in brutal wars for survival. A comparative study, the book contrasts the two statesmen by such themes as personality, leadership, rhetoric, virtues as leaders, Anglo-American relations, managing of cabinet ministers and legislators, and relations with the generals and army leadership.
In this outstanding work, Lehrman is much too harsh in comparing Field Marshal John Dill and US Civil War general George McClellan. Although both soldiers very much frustrated Churchill and Lincoln respectively, it is unfair to Dill to equate him with McClellan. Dill was a far greater man and general than the “Little Napoleon.” Whereas McClellan had a powerful army he refused to use, Dill had the thankless task of leading the British army in the two years after Dunkirk. In 1940-41 the British army possessed meager resources and even fewer means. Dill held the line and received Churchill’s disdain. That Churchill became entirely exasperated with Dill and rightly moved him out in favor of Alan Brooke should not disguise the fact that Dill, unlike McClellan, was a brilliant general.
Lehrman is well-suited to undertake this study as he has previously authored Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point as well as Churchill, Roosevelt & Co.: Studies in Character and Statecraft. In Lincoln & Churchill: Statesman at War he has written a well-researched and absorbing work.