Abraham Lincoln - James M. McPherson (2009)
The principal collection of Lincoln’s papers is the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection in the Library of Congress. Most of the 18,000 items in this collection are incoming letters. The fullest collection of Lincoln’s own letters, speeches, and other writings is The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler (8 vols. and an index, 1953-55), with the addition of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: Supplement 1832-1865), ed. Basler (1974). The most important of Lincoln’s letters and other writings have been selected by Don E. Fehrenbacher and published in two volumes titled Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1989). Fehrenbacher and his wife, Virginia Fehrenbacher, have co-edited an anthology of Lincoln quotations recalled by hundreds of people who spoke with him titled Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (1996). A valuable selection of Lincoln writings is Lincoln on Democracy, ed. Mario M. Cuomo and Harold Holzer (1990), which has been translated into several languages.
The number of biographies and other books about Lincoln is huge—far greater than for any other figure in American history. Only a selection of the most important can be mentioned here. Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon spent several years after Lincoln’s death interviewing and corresponding with people who had known him, and gathering other material about the first fifty years of Lincoln’s life. This material has been published in Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, eds. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis (1998). Herndon collaborated with Jesse W. Weik to present this material in Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, 3 vols. (1889), which has been reprinted in whole or in part in many subsequent editions, of which the best and most recent is Herndon’s Lincoln, eds. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis (2006). Herndon’s account distorted some aspects of Lincoln’s life and accepted as true some information that may have been apocryphal. Nevertheless, all subsequent biographers were indebted to Herndon for most of what we know about Lincoln’s early life. A year after the appearance of Herndon’s Lincoln, Lincoln’s wartime private secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, published a ten-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: A History, which focused mainly on the presidential years. It was the only biography before the second half of the twentieth century to draw on the main collection of Lincoln’s papers, which were not opened to the public until 1947.
Before 1947, however, other important biographies appeared, including Lord Charnwood, Abraham Lincoln (1917), which was notable for its sympathetic British perspective; Albert J. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln 1809-1858, 2 vols. (1928), whose author died before he could continue the biography into the war years; and Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, 2 vols. (1926) and Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 4 vols. (1939), a powerful evocation of Lincoln and his times, which, however, piles up dubious as well as authentic evidence in a mixed profusion. The fullest scholarly biography to appear before 2009, part of it written after the Lincoln papers were opened, is James G. Randall, Lincoln the President, 4 vols. (1945-55), with the fourth volume completed after Randall’s death by Richard N. Current, who has also written a volume of incisive essays, The Lincoln Nobody Knows (1958). Randall’s interpretation is marred by a tendency to squeeze Lincoln into a conservative mold that fails to appreciate the depth of his antislavery convictions. The same fault is shared in part by Benjamin Thomas’s one-volume biography Abraham Lincoln (1952), but is corrected by two other readable biographies: Stephen B. Oates, With Malice toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (1977) and Richard Striner, Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery (2006). The fullest biography within the covers of a single volume is David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (1995). Richard Carwardine, Lincoln (2003) provides the perspective of another British scholar who emphasizes the moral dimensions of Lincoln’s use of power. Two excellent brief biographies are William E. Gienapp, Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America (2002) and Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America (1993). Neely has also written a comprehensive and valuable reference work, The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (1982), as well as The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties(1991).
Several additional biographies and other studies of Lincoln are scheduled to appear during the bicentennial commemoration of his birth in 2009, including a three-volume biography by Michael Burlingame, which will include much new material, and a perceptive one-volume biography by Ronald C. White.
Other studies of specific aspects of Lincoln’s life and career include: Gabor Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream (1978); Michael Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (1994); LaWanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom (1981); Don E. Fehrenbacher, Lincoln in Text and Context: Collected Essays (1987); Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005); Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (1999) and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (2004); James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (1991) and Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (2008); William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman (2008); Phillip Shaw Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (1994); Ronald C. White, The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words (2005); T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and His Generals (1952); and Douglas L. Wilson, Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (1998) and Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words (2006).