But as Lowry masterfully points out, while Lincoln may have been born into “the old world,” he could “feel the new one arising.” Shaped by an ethic of self-improvement, and an increasingly successful political career, he gazed out upon a changing world, one being revolutionized by emerging canals, improved transportation, bustling steamboats, manufacturing and the market, railroads and the telegraph. As it happened, he fervently wanted financial advancement not just for himself, but for the American people at large.
We see this in his political life. Though he grew up among Jacksonian Democrats — they were his neighbors and his family — Lincoln gravitated first to the Whig program of economic development and upward mobility, which he democratized (in what Lowry calls “a momentous shift”), and then to Republicanism. Here again, a restless ambition that shaped his own personality became the underpinning for the inchoate Republican vision. As Lowry demonstrates, Lincoln wanted to spread the system of enterprise, free men, and free labor across the continent, benefiting all regardless of class or station. Among other things, even as the war was raging, Lincoln and Republicans created the transcontinental railroad, which would knit East and West together in a growing web of commerce. He signed a land-grant-college bill, protective tariffs, and the Homestead Act — this last, in part because he sought to break up land monopolies and boost the country’s agricultural potential (albeit with minimal government intrusion).