Abraham Lincoln

Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President


Edited by Brian Lamb

Edited by Susan Swain

Edited by C-SPAN

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In this beautifully designed volume, America’s top Lincoln historians offer a diverse array of perspectives on the life and legacy of America’s sixteenth president. Spanning Lincoln’s life — from his early career as a Springfield lawyer, to his presidential reign during one of America’s most troubled historical periods, to his assassination in 1865 — these essays, developed from original C-SPAN interviews, provide a compelling, composite portrait of Lincoln, one that offers up new stories and fresh insights on a defining leader. Extras include a timeline of Lincoln’s life, brief biographies of the 56 contributors, and Lincoln’s most famous speeches.


Readers can review an online supplemental appendix to Abraham Lincoln:
Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President
A C-SPAN Book on the
Internet at http://www.c-span.org/lincolnbook
Available on this C-SPAN Web page are:
• Complete transcript of each featured author's interview
• Video of each author's interview
• A slideshow of photos from the book
• Podcasts about the book and about Lincoln
• Links to C-SPAN's other Lincoln sites

To Harold Holzer, Peter Osnos, and Richard Norton Smith—
great storytellers, all.

—B. L., S. S., and all at C-SPAN
To Virginia, Frances, Patricia, and especially Marie.
—S. S.

In the summer of 1993, I was indulging in a regular habit—scouting out new nonfiction releases at my local bookstore, the now-defunct Brentano's in Arlington, Virginia—when I spotted an interesting title on top of a stack: Harold Holzer's Lincoln-Douglas Debates. It was a history book with a contemporary connection: The 1992 campaign, and especially the quadrennial ritual of presidential debates, seemed to generate more than the usual amount of disparagement. Time and again, critics would invoke the 1858 matchup between Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the alternative to increasingly shallow and sound-bite-driven campaigns.
That chance encounter with Holzer's book became the genesis of a sixteen-year relationship between our television network, C-SPAN, and the sixteenth president of the United States. It will come as no surprise, then, that C-SPAN has committed itself to being the "television network of the Lincoln bicentennial," agreeing to cover many of the major events planned by a federally appointed bicentennial commission. Visitors to C-SPAN's Web site (www.C-SPAN.org/Lincoln200years) can find hundreds of hours of our original Lincoln-related video, with more to come. Meanwhile, our friends at PublicAffairs, with whom we have published four previous books, joined forces with us to produce this edited collection of Lincoln essays, featuring the views and scholarship of more than fifty writers and historians drawn from C-SPAN's programming archive.
Now, back to that Brentano's. Our sixteen-year interest in Lincoln began with Harold Holzer, co-chair of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and one of the nation's best-regarded Lincoln scholars. When not dissecting Lincoln's prose, Holzer serves as senior vice president for external affairs at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harold gave us an hour-long interview about his debate book for C-SPAN's long-running author series, Booknotes. This was our introduction to the large, passionate, and sometimes tempestuous community of Lincoln scholars, amateur historians, archivists, writers, researchers, impersonators, museum curators, teachers, collectors, and critics, all of whom contribute to a national conversation about Lincoln that has been taking place for more than one hundred and fifty years.
It's a dialogue that constantly surprises. For example, from that initial Holzer interview, we learned that the Lincoln-Douglas debates, while historically significant, supply a poor model for candidates in the digital age, when bloggers and social networkers often set the pace for daily political coverage. Lincoln and Douglas met on seven stages across the state of Illinois. Each debate was three hours in length, much longer than nearly all of today's feature films. The 1858 version of one-on-one rhetorical combat consisted of an hour-long speech by one candidate, followed by a ninety-minute rebuttal, and then a half-hour closer by the initial debater.
This somewhat leisurely format became familiar to C-SPAN viewers in 1994 when we set out upon one of our most ambitious and rewarding productions ever—working with all seven of those Illinois debate towns to re-stage each of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in its entirety. Then-colleague Maura Pierce spent hours on the phone, making connections in the relevant communities and piecing together a vast amount of research. C-SPAN's education consultant for the project—master educator and longtime friend Dr. John Splaine—helped spearhead the publication of a companion guide to the televised debates. Finally, in the late summer of 1994, C-SPAN producers and technicians descended upon the Illinois prairie, trailing in their wake production trucks, cameras, generators, and portable satellite uplinks.
On April 13, 1996, as a byproduct of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, I found myself in the basement ballroom of a Best Western hotel in Springfield, just blocks from the Illinois state capitol. I had agreed to be keynote speaker for the annual convention of the Abraham Lincoln Presenters. Looking out from the podium, I saw before me fifty-seven Abrahams—tall, short, fat, and lean. There were bearded Abes and a few clean-shaven ones. Some sat side-by-side with their modern-day Marys; others worked the Lincoln circuit solo. My remarks to the group were window-dressing for in-depth sessions on the fine art of Lincoln presenting. One speaker offered advice that resonated when he told the assembled Abrahams, "If you expect to be treated seriously, never work for free; charge at least $300 an event." Readers of this book, which has several descriptions of Lincoln's relationship with money, might find themselves thinking that Lincoln himself would have agreed heartily with this counsel.
In the wake of our debates project, C-SPAN's Lincoln coverage seemed to take root and flower in many directions. Reflecting the impressive number of new Lincoln book titles each year, their authors became a reliable part of Booknotes's weekly interviews; Book TV, C-SPAN2's weekend nonfiction book channel, sent videojournalist Richard Hall to Gettysburg to tape hours of the Lincoln Forum's annual discussion to air on our network; Mark Farkas, our network's executive producer for history, produced with his team several specials on the life and times of our sixteenth president; while the 2005 opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum led to several live telecasts from Springfield. Working with presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, the museum's founding executive director, C-SPAN's education department sponsored a national essay contest for high school seniors. The winner, then-eighteen-year-old Mihan Lee of Virginia, read her essay on Lincoln's "New Birth of Freedom," as part of the museum's opening ceremony before President George W. Bush, a crowd of national and Illinois dignitaries, and other assembled Lincoln fans.
To this day, Abraham Lincoln remains elusive. His law partner William Herndon once referred to his friend as "the most shut-mouthed man he ever knew." The many sides of Lincoln, first revealed to C-SPAN viewers through these interviews and special productions, are contained here in a single volume. Abraham Lincoln draws from C-SPAN interviews with some of the people best versed in United States history and in the history of Lincoln and the Civil War. It includes, as well, perspectives from a variety of other American writers who have sat before C-SPAN cameras.
Many aspects of the Lincoln story offer thought-provoking parallels to issues as fresh as this morning's headlines. The Abraham Lincoln that lives in these brief essays is much more compelling than the simple rail-splitter we know from schoolbook days.
Here are just a few observations taken from the highly personal portrait of Lincoln that unfolds through the writers featured in this book:
• Abraham Lincoln was striving, ambitious, and eager to get ahead.
—David Herbert Donald
• Ever since he was young, he wanted to accomplish something so worthy that his story would be told after he died.
—Doris Kearns Goodwin
• Lincoln was shrewd. . . . Lincoln could be ruthless where his political interests were concerned.
—Richard Norton Smith
• Apparently Lincoln wanted to look like Lincoln. He stood out in a crowd, and he used his appearance like a badge.
—John Y. Simon
• Lincoln had within him a terrible bent toward what he called the "hypo"—what we might today call manic depression.
—Alan Guelzo
Lincoln also demonstrates that he could quickly adapt technology for political and policy gain:
• He was really the godfather of the Pacific railroad.
—David Haward Bain
• Lincoln spent more time in the Telegraph Office than in any other place, save the White House itself. The Telegraph Office was the first Situation Room.
—Tom Wheeler
• What Lincoln realized was this new democratic art was the art of the people. It was inexpensive, not elite. Just as Lincoln represented the democratic impulses of America, photography represented those impulses, as well.
—David Ward
Among the clashing opinions on Lincoln and race are these:
• Obviously, Lincoln was not for equality in 1858.
—Harold Holzer
• He was a gradual emancipationist.
—James McPherson
• He understood and Frederick Douglass understood . . . the condition for emancipation was the Union.
—Walter Berns
• Contrary to what most people think, Abraham Lincoln's deepest desire was to deport all black people and create an all-white nation . . . he worked feverishly to create deportation plans.
—Lerone Bennett, Jr.
• What the Emancipation Proclamation did was give African Americans hope. When they heard about it, they understood that the most powerful man in the nation had sided with them.
—Edna Medford
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, one-third of Northerners turned out to either see his corpse or view his funeral train on its twelve-day journey home to Springfield. Since that day, no fewer than sixteen thousand books have been written about Lincoln. Each in its own way attempts to unravel the mystery of this one-term congressman from Illinois, a man who had complex relationships with his family, whose election in 1860 caused seven states to secede before he was inaugurated, whose decision to wage war to preserve the Union caused the deaths of 625,000 soldiers, and whose views on race are ambiguous enough to inspire passionate debate 143 years after his death. Our hope is that readers will find explanations of their own in the words of the fifty-six writers who appear in this book and in the richly textured Lincoln it depicts.
We greatly value the willingness of the featured historians and authors to share their scholarship with C-SPAN audiences. We believe that the snapshots of their work we have provided will encourage you to read more of what they've done. And to facilitate that, we've included short biographies of every author and created a Web site with full transcripts and the original video of their C-SPAN interviews. It's also important to note that any royalties C-SPAN derives from this book will be directed to the nonprofit C-SPAN Education Foundation, which creates classroom materials for middle and secondary teachers.
In 2009, as the nation marks the two hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, we hope Abraham Lincoln and the related television programming that C-SPAN produces will contribute to the ongoing dialogue about Lincoln, presidential power, leadership, racial reconciliation, and American values.
Brian Lamb
with assistance from Susan Swain
Washington, DC
July 2008

Based on the U.S. Five Dollar Bill
Abraham Lincoln posed for the photograph on which this engraving was later based just three days before his fifty-fifth birthday, on Tuesday, February 9, 1864. The original was taken at Mathew Brady's gallery on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Historians regard the sitting that day as the most productive of Lincoln's many visits to photographers over the years. It yielded the famous penny profile, the well-known picture of Lincoln looking at a book with his son, Tad, and two magisterial portraits later adapted for the five-dollar bill. This is the second, most recent five-dollar bill engraving. What set this Brady encounter apart was that a formally trained artist, not a photographer, posed the president—New York painter Francis B. Carpenter, who was then currently engaged in a project to paint Lincoln and his cabinet at the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862. (This gigantic finished painting now hangs in the U.S. Capitol.) Carpenter, seeking formal new photographs he could adapt for his oil on canvas, likely arranged all the poses at Brady's that day (Brady himself was probably on the battlefield, taking pictures outdoors, and was by then too blind to make plates himself). Lincoln's son Robert later called one of the photographs made that day the best he had ever seen of his father. If they looked different to Robert, and to modern viewers, there is yet another explanation: On this day, for no particular reason anyone has ever learned, Lincoln parted his hair on the right, not the left. The result was a modest but noticeable image transformation—one reason, perhaps, why the images have been so widely used for coins and currency over the years.
Harold Holzer
Co-chair, U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

The essays in this book, from historians and authors, have all been crafted from televised C-SPAN interviews. Most were conducted for our long-running Booknotes series. Others came from Q&A, our Sunday evening interview program, and several were drawn from Book TV's interview programs, In Depth and After Words. A few were conducted for special history programs about Abraham Lincoln.
The transcripts of longer interviews have been excerpted, and the C-SPAN interviewers' questions were omitted to achieve an essay style. Essays are minimally edited so that readers can read authors in their own words. We took care to remain faithful to each author's original meaning; brackets and ellipses, respectively, were used to indicate where words were added or deleted within paragraphs. Capitalization of the first few words in the body of an essay signals where we have pieced together non-sequential portions of the interviews for clarity of thought.
Whether the authors are featured in longer chapters, or in a short take on a specific topic, the purpose of this book is to give you a taste of our featured historians' voices, insights, and scholarship on Abraham Lincoln—at least, in part with the hope that readers will seek out the authors' original works. To that end, the index contains brief biographies of featured authors. In keeping with C-SPAN's public affairs mission and commitment to providing the whole picture, complete transcripts of our interviews with authors—along with video and other features—are available at our Web site, www.c-span.org/lincolnbook.
As with the four previous books based on C-SPAN's author interviews, any of its royalties from the sale of this book will go to the C-SPAN Education Foundation.

1809Lincoln is born to Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln in a one- room log cabin, near what is now Hodgenville, Kentucky.
1811The Lincolns move to a farm on Knob Creek.
1816The Lincolns move to Indiana, settling near present-day Gentryville.
1818Nancy Hanks Lincoln dies of "milk sickness."
1819Thomas Lincoln remarries in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children.
1830The Lincolns move to Illinois, settling in Macon County near what is now Decatur.
1831Abraham Lincoln, twenty-two, moves to New Salem. He works as a laborer, a clerk in one grocery store, and becomes part owner of another. Later, he serves as town postmaster and as a surveyor. He reportedly was romantically involved with two women—Mary Owens and Ann Rutledge.
1832Lincoln enlists in a local militia, the Thirty-First Regiment of Illinois, following the governor's call for troops at the breakout of the Black Hawk War. He serves for fifty-one days but sees no action. His fellow militiamen elect him as their captain. Lincoln is defeated in his first run for the Illinois General Assembly as a Whig Party candidate.
1834Lincoln is elected to the Illinois General Assembly, representing Sangamon County. He begins to study law.
1836Lincoln is re-elected to the state legislature. Abraham Lincoln receives a license to practice law from the Illinois Supreme Court.
1837Lincoln, twenty-eight, moves to Springfield, sharing a room with Joshua Speed. He becomes a junior law partner of John Todd Stuart, Mary Todd's cousin.
He and eight other Whigs push successfully to have the state capital moved from Vandalia to Springfield.
1838Lincoln wins a third term in the Illinois General Assembly.
1839Lincoln travels the Eighth Judicial Circuit, practicing law.
He meets Mary Todd at a Springfield ball.
1840Lincoln wins a fourth term to the Illinois General Assembly. Abraham and Mary begin courting.
1841Lincoln and Mary break off their engagement. Ending the law partnership with Stuart, Lincoln becomes a law partner of Stephen T. Logan.
1842Lincoln, thirty-three, and Mary, twenty-three, begin courting again in secret and are later married.
1843Robert Todd Lincoln, their first son, is born at the Globe Tavern rooming house. Lincoln loses nomination for Congress.
1844Lincoln buys his first and only home, at Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield, for $1,500. He sets up a new law practice with William H. Herndon as his junior partner.
1846Edward Baker Lincoln is born at the Lincoln home.
Lincoln is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig.
1848Lincoln delivers speech in Congress opposing the Mexican War. He is not re-nominated for a second term.
1849Lincoln proposes legislation to begin abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.
Lincoln fails to win a federal post from new president Zachary Taylor.
1850Edward Baker Lincoln, three years and ten months old, dies at the Lincoln home, probably of tuberculosis.
William Wallace Lincoln is born at the Lincoln home.
1853Thomas (Tad) Lincoln is born at the Lincoln home.
1854The Kansas-Nebraska Act, giving individual territories the right to determine whether or not they would legalize slavery, becomes law.
Lincoln is re-elected to the Illinois Legislature. He withdraws to pursue a run for the U.S. Senate, a race he eventually quits after throwing his support to Lyman Trumbull to ensure a Republican victory.
1857The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, issues its Dred Scott opinion with seven of nine justices agreeing that no slave or their descendents could be U.S. citizens. Lincoln speaks out against the ruling.
1858Lincoln delivers his "House Divided" speech after securing the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. He faces incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, and the two meet in seven debates across the state.
1859Illinois Legislature re-elects Douglas to the U.S. Senate over Lincoln by a vote of fifty-four to forty-six.
1860Lincoln is chosen by the Republican National Convention in Chicago as its candidate for president of the United States.
Lincoln is elected the sixteenth president of the United States, defeating Stephen Douglas (Northern Democratic Party); John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democratic Party); and John Bell (Constitutional Union Party). His vice president is Hannibal Hamlin of Maine.
Lincoln grows a beard at the urging of an eleven-year-old letter- writing girl from Westfield, New York.
South Carolina becomes the first state to secede from the Union.
1861The Confederate States of America are established. Jefferson Davis is selected as president; Alexander H. Stephens is vice president.
Lincoln gives his Farewell Address to Springfield a day before his fifty-second birthday. It takes him twelve days to reach Washington, DC, where he is inaugurated president.
The Civil War begins with the April 12 attack on Fort Sumter,
Charleston (SC) by the Confederacy. Union forces at Fort Sumter surrender. Lincoln issues a call for seventy-five thousand volunteers.
Confederate forces win the battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia.
1862William Wallace Lincoln, eleven, dies at the White House, probably of typhoid fever.
Confederate forces win the second battle of Bull Run; Union wins Battle of Antietam, in Maryland.
1863Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.
The battle of Gettysburg (PA) is a Union victory.
The battle of Vicksburg (MS) is a Union victory.
Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of National Soldiers' Cemetery.
1864The National Union Party (a temporary name for the Republican Party used to advance the notion of a reunited nation) nominates Lincoln for re-election at its convention in Baltimore. Hamlin replaced on ticket by Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat.
Union forces take control of Atlanta.
Lincoln is re-elected, defeating General George B. McClellan, the Democratic candidate.


On Sale
Oct 22, 2008
Page Count
304 pages