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“Turning on the Light.” The Literary World 27 (January 11, 1896): 11.


That this volume will be criticised by the old abolitionists and their children goes without saying, for to them it partly ascribes “the most terrible war that ever afflicted mankind,” while such men as Daniel Webster and James Buchanan did everything in their power “to quiet agitation and prevent bloodshed.” To prove this is the task undertaken by Horatio King, ex-Postmaster General of the United States, in a bulky volume, which is historically valuable, as it chiefly is made up of original letters written at the time the events were transpiring of which they treat. It is both an explanation and a justification of Buchanan’s administration. He was condemned for the treasonable course of the “Constitution” newspaper; for his censure of Northern interference with slavery, though he equally condemned secession; and for his slow movements, which were hardly more tardy than those of the first weeks of Lincoln’s presidency. Buchanan was actuated solely by a patriotic desire to save the Union, though he doubted if it could survive the shock of the Civil War. Mr. King quotes the President’s letter to Slidell regarding General Holt as proof that Slidell did not possess that influence with Buchanan attributed to him by General Crawford. Another interesting quotation is Governor Curtin’s statement that Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech was received with “roars of applause,” Colonel Lamon to the contrary. Mr. King also rebuts the “manacle charge” of Mrs. Surratt, one of the Lincoln conspirators. A short chapter on the “Bladensburg Races” in the War of 1812 gives the amusing parody, written about that time on “John Gilpin’s Ride,” concerning Madison and Dolly’s flight from Washington. A few miscellaneous articles and poems by King are appended to the main part of the book. The preface contains a sketch of him by his son, Horatio C. King, showing the changes effected in our postal system largely through his father’s energy and wisdom.