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“An intimate character portrait and fascinating inquiry into the basis of Lincoln’s energetic, curious mind.”—The Wall Street Journal
WINNER OF THE BARONDESS/LINCOLN AWARD • From the New York Times bestselling author of A. Lincoln and American Ulysses, a revelatory glimpse into the intellectual journey of our sixteenth president through his private notes to himself, explored together here for the first time
A deeply private man, shut off even to those who worked closely with him, Abraham Lincoln often captured “his best thoughts,” as he called them, in short notes to himself. He would work out his personal stances on the biggest issues of the day, never expecting anyone to see these frank, unpolished pieces of writing, which he’d then keep close at hand, in desk drawers and even in his top hat. The profound importance of these notes has been overlooked, because the originals are scattered across several different archives and have never before been brought together and examined as a coherent whole.
Now, renowned Lincoln historian Ronald C. White walks readers through twelve of Lincoln’s most important private notes, showcasing our greatest president’s brilliance and empathy, but also his very human anxieties and ambitions. We look over Lincoln’s shoulder as he grapples with the problem of slavery, attempting to find convincing rebuttals to those who supported the evil institution (“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”); prepares for his historic debates with Stephen Douglas; expresses his private feelings after a defeated bid for a Senate seat (“With me, the race of ambition has been a failure—a flat failure”); voices his concerns about the new Republican Party’s long-term prospects; develops an argument for national unity amidst a secession crisis that would ultimately rend the nation in two; and, for a president many have viewed as not religious, develops a sophisticated theological reflection in the midst of the Civil War (“it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party”). Additionally, in a historic first, all 111 Lincoln notes are transcribed in the appendix, a gift to scholars and Lincoln buffs alike.
These are notes Lincoln never expected anyone to read, put into context by a writer who has spent his career studying Lincoln’s life and words. The result is a rare glimpse into the mind and soul of one of our nation’s most important figures.
Abraham Lincoln's private jottings reveal his evolving outlook in this probing biographical study. Biographer White (A. Lincoln) examines 12 short, never-published writings Lincoln penned to himself, including fragmentary drafts of speeches and ruminations on contemporary issues. (An appendix contains the full texts of all 109 such writings that survive.) The notes White focuses on run the gamut from meditations on Niagara Falls, whose thunderous force reminds Lincoln of "the vast power the sun is constantly exerting in quiet, noiseless operation of lifting water up to be rained down again," to advice to lawyers ("never take your whole fee in advance," he warns, lest one lose the incentive to win the case), and caustic denunciations of theologians who claimed slavery was God's will: "Wolves devouring lambs, not because it is good for their own greedy maws, but because it is good for the lambs!!!" White frames the writings with insightful analysis of Lincoln's maturing politics and rhetorical style, with its homespun metaphor, steel-trap logic, rhapsodies to liberty, curiosity about cause-and-effect mechanics, and brooding faith in the mysterious workings of Providence. Lincoln fans will love these novel glimpses into his powerful mind.