Abraham Lincoln: A Biography
Benjamin P. Thomas. Foreword by Michael Burlingame Southern Illinois University Press, 2008 Library of Congress E457.T427 2008 | Dewey Decimal 973.7092
Long considered a classic, Benjamin P. Thomas's Abraham Lincoln: A Biography takes an incisive look at one of American history's greatest figures. Originally published in 1952 to wide acclaim, this eloquent account rises above previously romanticized depictions of the sixteenth president to reveal the real Lincoln: a complex, shrewd, and dynamic individual whose exceptional life has long intrigued the public.
Thomas traces the president from his hardscrabble beginnings and early political career, through his years as an Illinois lawyer and his presidency during the Civil War. Although Lincoln is appropriately placed against the backdrop of the dramatic times in which he lived, the author's true focus is on Lincoln the man and his intricate personality. While Thomas pays tribute to Lincoln's many virtues and accomplishments, he is careful not to dramatize a persona already larger than life in the American imagination. Instead he presents a candid and balanced representation that provides compelling insight into Lincoln's true character and the elements that forged him into an extraordinary leader. Thomas portrays Lincoln as a man whose conviction, resourcefulness, and inner strength enabled him to lead the nation through the most violent crossroads in its history.
Thomas's direct, readable narrative is concise while losing none of the crucial details of Lincoln's remarkable life. The volume's clarity of style makes it accessible to beginners, but it is complex and nuanced enough to interest longtime Lincoln scholars. After more than half a century, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography is still an essential source for anyone interested in learning more about the many facets of the sixteenth president, and it remains the definitive single-volume work on the life of an American legend.
In 1890 Abraham Lincoln’s two main White House secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, published the ten-volume biography Abraham Lincoln: A History. Although the authors witnessed the daily events occurring within the executive mansion and the national Capitol, their lengthy biography is more a recounting of the Civil War era than a study of Lincoln’s life.
Editor Michael Burlingame sifted through the original forty-seven-hundred-page work and selected only the personal observations of the secretaries during the Lincoln presidency, placing ten excerpts in chronological order in Abraham Lincoln: The Observations of John G. Nicolay and John Hay. The result is an important collection of Nicolay and Hay’s interpretations of Lincoln’s character, actions, and reputation, framed by Burlingame’s compelling preface, introduction, chapter introductions, and notes. The volume provides vivid descriptions of such events as Election Day in 1860, the crisis at Fort Sumter, the first major battle of the war at Bull Run, and Lincoln’s relationship with Edwin Stanton and George McClellan.
In this clear and captivating new work, Burlingame has made key portions of Nicolay and Hay’s immense biography available to a wide audience of today’s readers.
John Hay believed that “real history is told in private letters,” and the more than 220 surviving letters and telegrams from his Civil War days prove that to be true, showing Abraham Lincoln in action: “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil.”
Along with Hay’s personal correspondence, Burlingame includes his surviving official letters. Though lacking the “literary brilliance of [Hay’s] personal letters,” Burlingame explains, “they help flesh out the historical record.” Burlingame also includes some of the letters Hay composed for Lincoln’s signature, including the celebrated letter of condolence to the Widow Bixby.
More than an inside glimpse of the Civil War White House, Hay’s surviving correspondence provides a window on the world of nineteenth-century Washington, D.C.
Published to a flurry of praise--and consternation--from Lincoln scholars, Burlingame's book takes a hard and unsentimental look at, among other things, Abraham Lincoln's excruciating yet fruitful midlife crisis, his marriage to a dishonest woman who often embarrassed and sometimes physically abused him, his estrangement from his father, his explosive temper, and his aversion to women.
On 18 April 1861, assistant presidential secretary John Hay recorded in his diary the report of several women that "some young Virginian long haired swaggering chivalrous of course. . . and half a dozen others including a daredevil guerrilla from Richmond named Ficklin would do a thing within forty eight hours that would ring through the world."
The women feared that the Virginian planned either to assassinate or to capture the president. Calling this a "harrowing communication," Hay continued his entry: "They went away and I went to the bedside of the Chief couché . I told him the yarn; he quietly grinned."
This is but one of the dramatic entries in Hay’ s Civil War diary, presented here in a definitive edition by Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger. Justly deemed the most intimate record we will ever have of Abraham Lincoln in the White House, the Hay diary is, according to Burlingame and Ettlinger, "one of the richest deposits of high-grade ore for the smelters of Lincoln biographers and Civil War historians." While the Cabinet diaries of Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Gideon Welles also shed much light on Lincoln’ s presidency, as does the diary of Senator Orville Hickman Browning, none of these diaries has the literary flair of Hay’ s, which is, as Lincoln’ s friend Horace White noted, as "breezy and sparkling as champagne." An aspiring poet, Hay recorded events in a scintillating style that the lawyer-politician diarists conspicuously lacked.
Burlingame and Ettlinger’ s edition of the diary is the first to publish the complete text of all of Hay’ s entries from 1861 through 1864. In 1939 Tyler Dennett published Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, which, as Civil War historian Allan Nevins observed, was "rather casually edited." This new edition is essential in part because Dennett omitted approximately 10 percent of Hay’ s 1861– 64 entries.
Not only did the Dennett edition omit important parts of the diaries, it also introduced some glaring errors. More than three decades ago, John R. Turner Ettlinger, then in charge of Special Collections at the Brown University Library, made a careful and literal transcript of the text of the diary, which involved deciphering Hay’ s difficult and occasionally obscure writing. In particular, passages were restored that had been canceled, sometimes heavily, by the first editors for reasons of confidentiality and propriety. Ettlinger’ s text forms the basis for the present edition, which also incorporates, with many additions and much updating by Burlingame, a body of notes providing a critical apparatus to the diary, identifying historical events and persons.
Lincoln and the Civil War
Michael Burlingame Southern Illinois University Press, 2011 Library of Congress E457.B954 2011 | Dewey Decimal 973.7092
In Lincoln and the Civil War, Michael Burlingame explores the experiences and qualities that made Abraham Lincoln one of America’s most revered leaders. This volume provides an illuminating overview of the entirety of the Civil War and Lincoln’s administration, focusing on the ways in which Lincoln’s unique combination of psychological maturity, steely determination, and political wisdom made him the North’s secret weapon that ultimately led to supremacy over the Confederacy.
When war erupted in 1861, the North—despite its superior economic resources and manpower—was considered the underdog of the conflict. The need to invade the South brought no advantage to the inefficient, poorly led Union Army. In contrast, Southerners’ knowledge of their home terrain, access to railroads, familiarity with firearms, and outdoor lifestyles, along with the presumed support of foreign nations, made victory over the North seem a likely outcome. In the face of such daunting obstacles, only one person could unite disparate Northerners and rally them to victory in the darkest moments of the war: Abraham Lincoln.
While Lincoln is often remembered today as one of America’s wisest presidents, he was not always considered so sage. Burlingame demonstrates how, long before the rigors of his presidency and the Civil War began to affect him, Lincoln wrestled with the demons of midlife to ultimately emerge as arguably the most self-aware, humble, and confident leader in American history. This metamorphosis from sarcastic young politician to profound statesman uniquely prepared him for the selfless dedication the war years would demand. Whereas his counterpart, Jefferson Davis, became mired in personal power plays, perceived slights, and dramas, Lincoln rose above personal concerns to always place the preservation of the Union first. Lincoln’s ability, along with his eloquence, political savvy, and grasp of military strategy made him a formidable leader whose honesty and wisdom inspired undying loyalty.
In addition to offering fresh perspectives on Lincoln’s complex personality and on the other luminaries of his administration, Lincoln and the Civil War takes readers on a brief but thorough tour of the war itself, from the motivations and events leading to Southern secession and the first shots at Fort Sumter to plans for Reconstruction and Lincoln’s tragic assassination. Throughout the journey, Burlingame demonstrates how Lincoln’s steady hand at the helm navigated the Union through the most perilous events of the war and held together the pieces of an unraveling nation.
Michael Burlingame presents anonymous and pseudonymous newspaper articles written by Lincoln's assistant personal secretary, John Hay, between 1860 and 1864. In the White House, Hay became the ultimate insider, the man who had the president's ear. "Only an extremely small number of persons ever saw Abraham Lincoln both day and night in public as well as private settings from 1860 to 1864," notes Wayne C. Temple, chief deputy director, Illinois State Archives. "And only one of them had the literary flair of John Milton Hay."
Burlingame takes great pains to establish authorship of the items reproduced here. He convincingly demonstrates that the essays and letters written for the Providence Journal, the Springfield Illinois State Journal, and the St. Louis Missouri Democrat under the pseudonym "Ecarte" are the work of Hay. And he finds much circumstantial and stylistic evidence that Hay wrote as "our special correspondent" for the Washington World and for the St. Louis Missouri Republican. Easily identifiable, Hay's style was "marked by long sentences, baroque syntactical architecture, immense vocabulary, verbal pyrotechnics, cocksure tone (combining acid contempt and extravagant praise), offbeat adverbs, and scornful adjectives."
Univeristy Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools 2013 edition Superior Achievement by the Illinois State Historical Society, 2013
Throughout his twenty-three-year legal career, Abraham Lincoln spent nearly as much time on the road as an attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit as he did in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Yet most historians gloss over the time and instead have Lincoln emerge fully formed as a skillful politician in 1858. In this innovative volume, Guy C. Fraker provides the first-ever study of Lincoln’s professional and personal home away from home and demonstrates how the Eighth Judicial Circuit and its people propelled Lincoln to the presidency.
Each spring and fall, Lincoln traveled to as many as fourteen county seats in the Eighth Judicial Circuit to appear in consecutive court sessions over a ten- to twelve-week period. Fraker describes the people and counties that Lincoln encountered, discusses key cases Lincoln handled, and introduces the important friends he made, friends who eventually formed the team that executed Lincoln’s nomination strategy at the Chicago Republican Convention in 1860 and won him the presidential nomination.
As Fraker shows, the Eighth Judicial Circuit provided the perfect setting for the growth and ascension of Lincoln. A complete portrait of the sixteenth president depends on a full understanding of his experience on the circuit, and Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency provides that understanding as well as a fresh perspective on the much-studied figure, thus deepening our understanding of the roots of his political influence and acumen.
John C. Nicolay, who had known Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, served as chief White House secretary from 1861 to 1865. Trained as a journalist, Nicolay had hoped to write a campaign biography of Lincoln in 1860, a desire that was thwarted when an obscure young writer named William Dean Howells got the job. Years later, however, Nicolay fulfilled his ambition; with John Hay, he spent the years from 1872 to 1890 writing a monumental ten-volume biography of Lincoln.
In preparation for this task, Nicolay interviewed men who had known Lincoln both during his years in Springfield and later when he became the president of the United States. "When it came time to write their massive biography, however," Burlingame notes, "he and Hay made sparing use of the interviews" because they had become "skeptical about human memory." Nicolay and Hay also feared that Robert Todd Lincoln might censor material that reflected "poorly on Lincoln or his wife."
Nicolay had interviewed such Springfield friends as Lincoln’ s first two law partners, John Todd Stuart and Stephen T. Logan. At the Illinois capital in June and July 1875, he talked to a number of others including Orville H. Browning, U.S. senator and Lincoln’ s close friend and adviser for over thirty-five years, and Ozias M. Hatch, Lincoln’ s political ally and Springfield neighbor. Four years later he returned briefly and spoke with John W. Bunn, a young political "insider" from Springfield at the time Lincoln was elected president, and once again with Hatch.
Browning shed new light on Lincoln’ s courtship and marriage, telling Nicolay that Lincoln often told him "that he was constantly under great apprehension lest his wife should do something which would bring him into disgrace" while in the White House. During their research, Nicolay and Hay also learned of Lincoln’ s despondency and erratic behavior following his rejection by Matilda Edwards, and they were subsequently criticized by friends for suppressing the information. Burlingame argues that this open discussion of Lincoln’ s depression of January 1841 is "perhaps the most startling new information in the Springfield interviews."
Briefer and more narrowly focused than the Springfield interviews, the Washington interviews deal with the formation of Lincoln’ s cabinet, his relations with Congress, his behavior during the war, his humor, and his grief. In a reminiscence by Robert Todd Lincoln, for example, we learn of Lincoln’ s despair at General Lee's escape after the Battle of Gettysburg: "I went into my father’ s office ... and found him in [much] distress, his head leaning upon the desk in front of him, and when he raised his head there were evidences of tears upon his face. Upon my asking the cause of his distress he told me that he had just received the information that Gen. Lee had succeeded in escaping across the Potomac river. . ."
To supplement these interviews, Burlingame has included Nicolay’ s unpublished essays on Lincoln during the 1860 campaign and on Lincoln’ s journey from Springfield to Washington in 1861, essay’ s based on firsthand testimony.
Between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and his departure for Washington three months later, journalist Henry Villard sent scores of dispatches from Springfield, Illinois, to various newspapers describing the president-elect’s doings, quoting or paraphrasing his statements, chronicling events in the Illinois capital, and analyzing the city’s mood. With Sixteenth President-in-Waiting Michael Burlingame has collected all of these dispatches in one insightful and informative volume.
Best known as a successful nineteenth-century railroad promoter and financier, German-born Henry Villard (1835–1900) was also among the most conscientious and able journalists of the 1860s. The dispatches gathered in this volume constitute the most intensive journalistic coverage that Lincoln ever received, for Villard filed stories from the Illinois capital almost daily to the New York Herald, slightly less often to the Cincinnati Commercial, and occasionally to the San Francisco Bulletin.
Lincoln welcomed Villard and encouraged him to ask questions, as he was the only full-time correspondent for out-of-town papers. He spoke with inside sources, such as Lincoln’s private secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay, devoted friends like Jesse K. Dubois and Stephen T. Logan, political leaders like Governor Richard Yates, and journalists like William M. Springer and Robert R. Hitt.
Villard boasted that he did Lincoln a service by scaring off would-be office seekers who, fearing to see their names published in newspapers, gave up plans to visit the Illinois capital to badger the president-elect. Villard may have done an even greater service by publicizing Lincoln’s views on the secession crisis.
His little-known coverage of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Senate race, translated from the German for the first time, is included as an appendix. At the time Villard was an ardent Douglas supporter, and his reports criticized Lincoln.
Not only informative but also highly readable, Villard’s vivid descriptions of Lincoln’s appearance, daily routine, and visitors, combined with fresh information about Springfielders, state political leaders, and the capital, constitute an invaluable resource.
From the time of Lincoln’ s nomination for the presidency until his assassination, John G. Nicolay served as the Civil War president’ s chief personal secretary. Nicolay became an intimate of Lincoln and probably knew him as well as anyone outside his own family. Unlike John Hay, his subordinate, Nicolay kept no diary, but he did write several memoranda recording his chief’ s conversation that shed direct light on Lincoln. In his many letters to Hay, to his fiancé e, Therena Bates, and to others, Nicolay often describes the mood at the White House as well as events there. He also expresses opinions that were almost certainly shaped by the president
For this volume, Michael Burlingame includes all of Nicolay’ s memoranda of conversations, all of the journal entries describing Lincoln’ s activities, and excerpts from most of the nearly three hundred letters Nicolay wrote to Therena Bates between 1860 and 1865. He includes letters and portions of letters that describe Lincoln or the mood at the White House or that give Nicolay’ s personal opinions. He also includes letters written by Nicolay while on troubleshooting missions for the president.
An impoverished youth, Nicolay was an unlikely candidate for the important position he held during the Civil War. It was only over the strong objections of some powerful people that he became Lincoln’ s private secretary after Lincoln’ s nomination for the presidency in 1860. Prominent Chicago Republican Herman Kreismann found the appointment of a man so lacking in savoir faire
“ ridiculous.” Henry Martin Smith, city editor of the Chicago Tribune, called Nicolay’ s appointment a national loss. Henry C.Whitney was surprised that the president would appoint a “ nobody.”
Lacking charm, Nicolay became known at the White House as the “ bulldog in the ante-room” with a disposition “ sour and crusty.” California journalist Noah Brooks deemed Nicolay a “ grim Cerberus of Teutonic descent who guards the last door which opens into the awful presence.” Yet in some ways he was perfectly suited for the difficult job. William O. Stoddard, noting that Nicolay was not popular and could “ say 'no'about as disagreeably as any man I ever knew,” still granted that Nicolay served Lincoln well because he was devoted and incorruptible. Stoddard concluded that Nicolay “ deserves the thanks of all who loved Mr. Lincoln.”
For his part, Nicolay said he derived his greatest satisfaction “ from having enjoyed the privilege and honor of being Mr. Lincoln’ s intimate and official private secretary, and of earning his cordial friendship and perfect trust.”