Founders' Son

A Life of Abraham Lincoln


By Richard Brookhiser

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Abraham Lincoln grew up in the long shadow of the Founding Fathers. Seeking an intellectual and emotional replacement for his own taciturn father, Lincoln turned to the great men of the founding-Washington, Paine, Jefferson-and their great documents-the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution-for knowledge, guidance, inspiration, and purpose. Out of the power vacuum created by their passing, Lincoln emerged from among his peers as the true inheritor of the Founders’ mantle, bringing their vision to bear on the Civil War and the question of slavery.

In Founders’ Son, celebrated historian Richard Brookhiser presents a compelling new biography of Abraham Lincoln that highlights his lifelong struggle to carry on the work of the Founding Fathers. Following Lincoln from his humble origins in Kentucky to his assassination in Washington, D.C., Brookhiser shows us every side of the man: laborer, lawyer, congressman, president; storyteller, wit, lover of ribald jokes; depressive, poet, friend, visionary. And he shows that despite his many roles and his varied life, Lincoln returned time and time again to the Founders. They were rhetorical and political touchstones, the basis of his interest in politics, and the lodestars guiding him as he navigated first Illinois politics and then the national scene.

But their legacy with not sufficient. As the Civil War lengthened and the casualties mounted Lincoln wrestled with one more paternal figure-God the Father-to explain to himself, and to the nation, why ending slavery had come at such a terrible price.

Bridging the rich and tumultuous period from the founding of the United States to the Civil War, Founders’ Son is unlike any Lincoln biography to date. Penetrating in its insight, elegant in its prose, and gripping in its vivid recreation of Lincoln’s roving mind at work, this book allows us to think anew about the first hundred years of American history, and shows how we can, like Lincoln, apply the legacy of the Founding Fathers to our times.


  • "[Brookhiser's] melding of Lincoln with the founders yields significant implications for the interpretation of the American past--in both the Revolutionary and Civil War eras."—Drew Gilpin Faust, New York Times Book Review
  • "Beautifully written and choked with insights.... For Brookhiser, Lincoln's life was an encounter with a succession of fathers: his own, the Founding Fathers, and God the father. Can it be only a coincidence that in time he himself was regarded as Father Abraham?"—Boston Globe
  • "Mr. Brookhiser positions Lincoln as the self-conscious heir of the 18th-century Founders and thus fends off the claim (made in the fever swamps of both left and right) that Lincoln subverted the Constitution in the interests of creating an all-powerful central government."—Allen Guelzo, Wall Street Journal
  • "Brookhiser has done the seemingly impossible: He has written a life of Lincoln that is fresh, original, and ideal for those new to the subject.... With deft, epigrammatic phrases Brookhiser distills Lincoln's life to its essence."—National Review
  • "Since he is well-chronicled, and often mythologized, it is hard to expand our understanding of Lincoln. But Richard Brookhiser does an expert job of finding new room."—Weekly Standard
  • "Founders' Son is not just another Lincoln biography (more than 15,000 have already been published). Instead, it is a chronicle of Lincoln's mental and spiritual evolution, much of it written in his own words; indeed, Abraham Lincoln has almost all the best lines."—Washington Times
  • "Abraham Lincoln is the most written-about man in American history, yet Richard Brookhiser, a historian and writer of extraordinary talent, has written an analysis that is lively, incisive, novel--and brilliant. This book reminds us of Lincoln's reverence for the Founders, his 'stubborn concern for first principles' and--ultimately--the often-overlooked reverence for the Almighty God that guided him in America's darkest hours."—John Boehner, Speaker of the House
  • "With characteristic elegance and economy, Richard Brookhiser demonstrates that Lincoln assured America a future by reconnecting the nation with its past. With, that is, the world-shaking egalitarianism of the Founders' natural-rights doctrine. Hence this book is--whether Brookhiser meant so or not--a primer on the great topic of present-day politics, the relevance of the Declaration of Independence as a manifesto for limited government."—George F. Will

On Sale
Apr 26, 2016
Page Count
368 pages
Basic Books

Richard Brookhiser

About the Author

Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and the author of thirteen books, including John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court, Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, and James Madison. He lives in New York City.

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