"The hand of the amateur has rested heavily upon Lincoln studies," complained James G. Randall in 1936 in his famous article "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" His own prodigious work, the work he encouraged among his graduate students at the University of Illinois, the broadly stimulating influence of his article on other scholars, and the general trend toward professionalism in historical studies in the twentieth century gave Randall what he asked for. Professionalism has been the major development in the Lincoln field in the last forty-three years. [1] Page  [End Page 10]

Randall lived long enough to witness the change himself. Writing a new foreword to his first Lincoln book, Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, in 1950, he reflected on the changed historical world:

Conditions and techniques of research have undergone considerable "modernization" since the author's student days. Extensive use of photostats and microfilms, the development of archival administration together with superb archives buildings for state and nation, the availability of grants in aid, the processing of manuscripts, the preparation of archival guides and manuscript calendars, the expansion of government agencies with their own research staffs—all such things have served greatly to facilitate the procedures of historical study in America. When the author first used the papers of the attorney general's office, they were casually housed in an old-fashioned building in Washington, rented by the government; it was obvious that they had not been previously used for historical purposes. In that period documents pertaining to confiscation and captured property were found (after sifting the haystack) in what was correctly called the "miscellaneous division" of the treasury department. It was a kind of Old Curiosity Shop, where, as compensation for the labor, the student could at least have complete assurance that no one else in historical study had been over that mess of material before.[2]
When Randall wrote "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress were closed and there was "no definitive edition of the works to be had." In 1947 the Library of Congress opened the Papers, and in 1953 the Abraham Lincoln Association published a definitive edition of the Collected Works.[3] The Papers are now available on microfilm in many repositories.[4] A supplemental volume of the Page  [End Page 11] Collected Works, published in 1974, added twenty years' accumulation of newly discovered Lincoln documents. [5] Some six hundred of Mary Todd Lincoln's letters are now available in published form, and the Illinois State Historical Library has acquired the letter books of Lincoln's son Robert.[6] The Herndon-Weik Papers, the critical source for Lincoln's early life, were still in private hands in Randall's day, but are today at the Library of Congress (and readily available on microfilm elsewhere). [7] The important diaries for the history of the Lincoln administration, which were not readily accessible, have since appeared in volumes marked by scholarly care in editing. [8]

Professionalism triumphed especially in the work of the Lincoln Centennial Association, which began to alter its original celebratory nature in 1923 and published the first volume of Papers in 1924 in order to "contribute something solid and lasting to the understanding and appreciation of Lincoln's life." In 1925 the Association hired Paul M. Angle, the first of its capable Executive Secretaries "trained in the special requirements of research work." In 1929 it became the Abraham Lincoln Association. By 1940 the Association was publishing The Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, which appeared for twelve years. The work of the Association and its Executive Secretaries, Paul M. Angle, Benjamin P. Page  [End Page 12] Thomas, Harry E. Pratt, and William E. Baringer, put the Lincoln field in the forefront of modern historical scholarship.[9]


James G. Randall was practically an association by himself. He and his graduate students not only answered many of the questions asked in "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" but also provided the interpretive framework for these answers. This interpretation dominated the Lincoln field, and the field of Civil War history in general, for decades.

Randall championed an interpretation now known by the unfortunately ambiguous term "Revisionism"—unfortunate because it has itself been much revised since Randall's day. Revisionism challenged the view that fundamental and irreconcilable sectional differences made the outbreak of war inevitable. It scorned a previous generation's easy identification of the Northern cause with abolition, but it continued a tradition of hostility to the Reconstruction measures that followed the war. The Civil War became a needless conflict brought on by a blundering generation that exaggerated sectional differences between North and South. Revisionists revived the reputation of the Democratic party as great nationalists before the war and as dependable loyalists during it. Revisionism gave Lincoln's Presidency a tragic beginning at Fort Sumter, a rancorous political setting of bitter factional conflicts between radicals and moderates within Lincoln's own party, and an even more tragic ending. The benevolent Lincoln died at the moment when benevolence was most needed to blunt radical designs for revenge on the South. [10]

Randall's great Revisionist work was the monumental biography, Lincoln the President (1945–1955). It provided in large measure the "adequate full-length biography" that Randall had Page  [End Page 13] asked for in "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" Fellow Revisionist Avery O. Craven justly called it "one of the truly great biographical undertakings of our time." Along with T. Harry Williams's Lincoln and the Radicals (1941), Lincoln the President established the Revisionist scheme for interpreting Lincoln's administration as a drama of the President's high-minded opposition to the vindictive intrigues of the Radical Republicans. In a telltale passage Randall lamented that "the conservative Lincoln, President of the dis-United States, found among his own Republicans almost a greater vexation than among those of the opposite party, or even among enemies in arms." [11]

Randall labored long on the four volumes of Lincoln the President, and by the time the volumes began to appear in print, new currents in the historiography of the Civil War were making their interpretive framework dated. When the British edition of the first two volumes appeared in 1947, the Times Literary Supplement could already point to the works that would soon lead to the downfall of Revisionism in Civil War historiography.[12] Lloyd Lewis also commented in 1947 on "Mr. Randall's tender-minded response to the inter-party assaults upon Lincoln" and "the anti-Radical prejudices which weakened the imposing objectivity of ... 'Lincoln, the President.'" Randall's labored defense of George B. McClellan met Lewis's special disapproval:

Mr. Randall's espousal of McClellan as a great general and savior of the Republic is apparently based more upon sympathy for him as a "victim" of Radical wrath than upon any military grounds. This sympathy traps him into saying that among surviving Union veterans after the war "no Page  [End Page 14] tradition was stronger than admiration for 'Little Mac' and confidence in his leadership."

Any reading of the proceedings of veterans' societies, reunions, gatherings of all kinds will, I am sure, convince Mr. Randall that admiration for Grant and confidence in his leadership was infinitely higher than for McClellan, and was probably higher for Sherman and Sheridan and Thomas, too. [13]

Lewis might well have added that Randall's treatment of McClellan's role in saving the Union at Antietam significantly failed to mention that the General's victory stemmed in part from the fortuitous discovery of a set of Lee's plans wrapped around some cigars. It would have hurt Randall's case to note that McClellan's most important battlefield victory was, even more than most victories, attributable to luck.

The heavily Revisionist slant of Randall's work suggests that there is cause to look at the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln anew. This seems especially true since Randall wrote the first two volumes of Lincoln the President, which deal with Lincoln's administration through November, 1863, without the benefit of the Abraham Lincoln Papers—materials that require some sixty reels of microfilm![14]

A significant but previously unnoted weakness of Revisionism makes fresh work on Lincoln's Presidency especially promising: Revisionists were hostile to political parties.[15] Some of the early reviews of Lincoln the President sensed that something was amiss in Randall's view of party politics. The Times reviewer noted that Randall had "few, if any, good words to say for the American party system."[16] Lloyd Lewis too saw the improbability of Randall's hostile view of party politics:

Mr. Randall makes, I think, far too much of the abuse heaped upon Lincoln, for it ... is remarkable only because of his subsequent canonization. As a matter of fact, President Grant, after one term in the White Page  [End Page 15] House decleared himself to be libeled and slandered as "scarcely any man in political history"—a statement which greatly surprised that expert upon American political history, James G. Blaine. It was Blaine's conclusion that no persons in public life had been vilified as had been Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay.

The point is that wildness of political tongue has always characterized our Presidential campaigns and victimized our candidates. [17]

Yet historians have failed to make the obvious connection: if one blames the Civil War on a "blundering generation," then surely the political parties deserve most of the blame for unnecessarily heating passions to the boiling point of war. [18]

In Randall's view it was not the mass of Americans who blundered into war in 1861. Their sentiments were sound enough, but there was not "much likelihood that they could compel a national party to perform adequately for the nation the task which its hands had seized." Randall spoke of political parties almost as barnacles on the ship of state. "It is not feasible to review the manner in which parties had fastened themselves upon the government," he said of their origins in the early republic. And he swallowed whole the jaundiced view of party politics in Illinois purveyed by Thomas Ford's History of Illinois (1854):

It was not an inspiring picture. Because of the want of true "issues" and the scramble for favor, as explained by Ford, an election became "one great fraud, in which honor, faith, and truth were ... sacrificed, and politicians were debased below the ... popular idea of that class of men." Government might mean one thing to the people; its purpose in the minds of politicians was another matter.
Randall's view of Lincoln as a statesman—he entitled one of his books Lincoln the Liberal Statesman—was surprisingly old fashioned. Lincoln became a statesman for Randall by shedding the confines of partisanship: "As President he was less of an intense party man than he had been in earlier days. The muting of politics for the higher unity of a nation struggling for survival was his aim."[19] Page  [End Page 16]

Reviewers noticed immediately that Randall was prejudiced against the Radicals but failed to realize how much Randall equated Radicalism with party. Thus he introduced Radical leaders Benjamin F. Wade and Zachariah Chandler as "Republicans who vindictively hated the South and viewed the war as an opportunity for party gain." A small and unrepresentative group, Radicals became powerful the way parties became powerful: "The unnatural development by which the radicals constituted an increasingly influential portion of a party that also included Lincoln and the moderates was a matter of tactics, drive, and organization." Randall showed little understanding of the nature of nineteenth-century party allegiance:

The true party alignment, if there had to be parties, would have been moderate liberals on one side (non-vindictive Republicans together with the main body of the Democrats), and on the other side Republican Jacobins mustering under such a leader as [Thaddeus] Stevens or Wade. This would have left the more bitter Democrats of the Fernando Wood or Vallandigham school with no place to go except in a hopeless group to themselves, which is where they might well have been left. The Northeast would thus have had less directing influence, big business would have had smaller opportunity in the exploitive sense, and the party associated with Lincoln would have had larger influence in his own section, the Middle West. [20]
"If there had to be parties"! Nowhere does Professor Randall appear more as the gentle academic than in such passages as this one. The obverse of this impossible ideal was a cynicism about the actual workings of American political parties:
One is struck with the lack of significance (in terms of public service) attaching to parties in Lincoln's day of power. It was in the narrow and uninspired sense that parties functioned—i.e., as organizations or machines owned and operated by politicians for winning elections and seizing or retaining government offices, not as groupings of citizens for civic-minded betterment.... There was little regrouping according to principle; existing party models were perpetuated as instruments for gaining political power. Had parties been made over for the emergency Page  [End Page 17] each group would have been composed of like-minded men. Instead of that, each of the major parties was made up of diverse elements, in keeping with the practice of party managers whose object is not to create a clear-cut division for deciding a public issue, but rather to garner the votes of all kinds of citizens, whether they agree or not.[21]
The effect of Randall's work was practically to remove Lincoln from the Republican party.

Revisionist hostility to politics bore unfortunate fruit in treatments of the election of 1864. William Frank Zornow's Lincoln & the Party Divided (1954), the only book-length study of the election, maintained an almost sentimental view that the story of Republican politics was "the same old story; Lincoln was supported by the people and opposed by the Unconditional political leaders." Zornow termed the move to replace Lincoln as Republican nominee in 1864 a "conspiracy." [22]

David M. Potter was correct in saying that Zornow's book did "not significantly alter the outlines" of the story of that election as previously understood. [23] Revisionists had always argued that the election was not a struggle between disloyal Democrats and loyal Republicans for the very existence of the United States. On the contrary, they said, George McClellan would have saved the Union too, had he been elected instead of Lincoln. The Republican party, fearing defeat, used the loyalty issue to hang the false charge of treason on the Democracy. Kenneth M. Stampp's study of Indiana provided the model. Governor Oliver P. Morton, Stampp claimed, seized on the loyalty issue by pressing the Lambdin Milligan treason case in Indiana and smearing the Democrats with complicity in a conspiracy to sever the Old Northwest from the Union. Republicans, Revisionists argued, Page  [End Page 18] thereby dodged the "real" but divisive issue within their own ranks, Reconstruction.[24]

Zornow reduced the Republican campaign to merest bombast and smokescreen. He maintained that "the literary quality of the articles was much higher" in the Democratic literature issued by Samuel F. B. Morse's Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge than in the Republican Loyal Publication Society literature, "for it was not the purpose of Morse and his friends to appeal to the emotions of the American voters but to their intellects." In language reminiscent of Randall, Zornow said that Republican victory in 1864 meant that the party "was fastening itself upon the nation's government." "Republican leaders," Zornow claimed, "hailed the election as a triumph for the party and not for the administration."[25]

We need new studies of the election of 1864. To distinguish between the administration and the party—between Lincoln and the Republicans in other words—should have been impossible after the publication of Reinhard H. Luthin and Harry J. Carman's Lincoln and the Patronage (1943). Radicals were not alone in using the techniques of party organization. Lincoln admitted that his administration "distributed to it's party friends as nearly all the civil patronage as any administration ever did." [26] He was a loyal Republican and shared his party's fears of a disloyal opposition in 1864. This is the little-noted purport of Lincoln's famous blind memorandum of August 23, 1864. Without knowledge of the contents, each Cabinet member signed Lincoln's statement that, if McClellan won, it would "be my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground Page  [End Page 19] that he can not possibly save it afterwards." [27] Historians who cite this as proof of Lincoln's fear of being defeated and as proof of the opportunity available to Radicals to dump him for a more "available" man miss the real operative content of the memo: Lincoln thought McClellan's election would mean the loss of the Union. If the Republican party was insincere, so was Mr. Lincoln; if not, we cannot dismiss the loyalty issue as a political dirty trick. Nor do more recent scholars find any discernible difference in the quality of literature distributed by the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge and the Loyal Publication Society. In his two-volume Union Pamphlets of the Civil War, 1861–1865, Frank Freidel says of the era's Democratic and Republican literature simply that "the techniques and types of material were quite parallel." Democratic Campaign Document 11 (Miscegenation Indorsed by the Republican Party), for example, was anything but a high-minded appeal to intellect. [28]

Recovering a sense of the critical nature of the election of 1864 would alter our approach to it, for little zeal has gone into the study of it. There are enough articles, for example, on the role of German voters in the election of 1860 to fill a whole volume. When Zornow wrote Lincoln & the Party Divided, there was not a single article to cite in regard to their role four years later. This would not be the case if historians appreciated the importance of the election of 1864 as they do the previous one.[29]

There were vital differences between the parties, but Revisionists did not think them vital. Zornow stated blandly that there was little difference between the parties except on emancipation.[30] Today, this seems to be a great difference indeed. Page  [End Page 20] McClellan did not, as Revisionists claimed, stand on Lincoln's platform—for McClellan's Union, had he won, would surely have been a Union with slavery as before. Might not recent American history much more nearly resemble South Africa's had that been the case? Does not the possibility of such a result make the election as critical as any in American history?

Though many historians today would disagree with the Revisionist view and find the party differences over emancipation of great significance, a lack of feeling that the election of 1864 was critical seems to be a continuing legacy of Revisionism. And other important developments in the historical profession threaten to frustrate the possibility of any new study of the election. As Michael Les Benedict explains, "Many American political historians have eschewed study of particular elections, events, or presidential administrations in order to uncover underlying patterns and broader trends of political behavior." [31] This is not a matter of whim or taste; the very logic of modern methods of analysis demands it. If one seeks to explain voters' behavior, one must look at more than one election. Otherwise, one cannot be certain that the behavior exemplified in, say, 1864 was not precisely the same as in earlier elections when issues and/or personalities were different. Sophisticated voter analysis, then, requires looking at elections in series and makes a look at one election alone suspect. Yet the literature generated by a heated campaign like that in 1864 is enormous, and to look at other elections is, necessarily, to slight the manuscript and printed materials available to any one. This is a real dilemma, too often resolved these days by ignoring the ephemera of the single campaign for the outlines of the great social determinants of political behavior. Even practitioners of the new political history have taken alarm. Richard Jensen, in a curiously ambivalent essay, has noted the appearance of "pure social science history with no humanistic aspect whatever." He continues: "Names, events, quotations, personalities, legislation, platforms, and all the appurtenances of old-fashioned storytelling are missing. This style is becoming familiar in the new economic and new social history, and now makes its appearance in the new Page  [End Page 21] political history." Though surely Jensen regards so extreme a development with some alarm, he ends his article with this ringing declaration: "So be it. If the 'new' in the 'new social' or 'new political history' refers to an attempt to include all the people, not just the most vocal one in a thousand, then systematic, subtle methods are called for." [32]

Not only our understanding of the election of 1864 in particular, but also our understanding of the Lincoln administration in general require a new appreciation of the role of political parties in Lincoln's day. Recent work in this area has not yet counterbalanced the weight of Revisionism's hostility to political parties. Perhaps significantly, the first major work of the "new political history"—Lee Benson's The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case (1961)—came in a field where at least one party, the Democracy, had long been a focus of interest and praise. Such work did not come first to the Lincoln field, where parties had been the scapegoats of national disintegration.[33]

Some scholars after Randall did shed his view of parties and celebrated Lincoln's adept handling of politics. Like other historians in the era of Cold War liberalism, they admired what Lloyd Lewis called "tough-minded liberal realists." In David Donald's Lincoln Reconsidered (1956), Lincoln was a statesman by virtue of being a skilled politician, not by outgrowing politics; he was not a victim of the Radical Republicans but their master. In spite of Donald's efforts and a tendency among recent historians to draw Lincoln closer to the Radicals in humanitarian sentiment, insight into Lincoln's mastery of party has not led to studies of the Republicans with Lincoln at the helm and with Democrats as a stubborn and active opposition. In 1969 James A. Rawley could still say, "There is no scholarly synthesis of Civil War politics.... no solid history of either major party during the war.... [nor] a Page  [End Page 22] historiographical article on politics and the Civil War, although historians have systematically surveyed the political historiography of the 1850s and of Reconstruction." [34]


David Potter noted in his review of Zornow's book that "the last fifteen months, although as important as any period in Lincoln's life, have been less carefully reconstructed than other stages."[35] Despite Richard Current's capable conclusion of the unfinished Randall volumes, Zornow's work, and others, the statement is still true. Historians are beginning to focus their attention on these months, but significant work remains to be done, particularly on Lincoln and Reconstruction. Signs of new interest in the question are Christopher Dell's "Reconstruction, Had Lincoln Lived," Stephen B. Oates's "Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction: An Appraisal," Harold M. Hyman's "Lincoln's Reconstructions: Neither Failure of Vision nor Vision of Failure," and Peyton McCrary's Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction: The Louisiana Experiment. [36]

Randall's hand has rested heavily on this area of study also. Though historians have questioned Randall's view that Lincoln differed from Radical Republicans at least as much as he did Democrats or Confederates, they have not generally carried the revision through to include Reconstruction policy. Randall wrote at some length about Reconstruction in Lincoln and the South Page  [End Page 23] (1946), but his arguments there are unpersuasive. His case for Lincoln's moderation focused on the ten percent plan, the veto of the Wade-Davis Bill, and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference. Randall added an original argument that Lincoln's friends left the Republican fold after his death in disgust over Reconstruction policies.[37]

Herman Belz has effectively questioned the meaning of two of these acts. The ten percent plan announced on December 8, 1863, was a war measure, a way to defeat the enemy and not necessarily an ideal plan for peacetime Reconstruction. The real authority behind a ten percent government was an occupying army. Conversely, the more radical Wade-Davis Bill was a plan for peacetime. Lincoln's oath for repentant Confederates promised only their future loyalty. It made sense in a wartime context. With hostile Confederates everywhere, it took courage and a sure commitment to promise to support the Union thereafter. After the war, only a more radical "ironclad" oath declaring past loyalty would solve the "practical" problem of Reconstruction that Lincoln pointed out to John Hay—"how to keep the rebellious populations from overwhelming and outvoting the loyal minority." Lincoln was not ready for a peacetime plan in 1863, and the Wade-Davis Bill would have foiled his hope to set up rump governments as rallying points for fifth-column Unionists in the South during the war.[38]

Since Lincoln forbade note-taking at the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of February 3, 1865, historians have been forced to rely on the recollections of the conference published in 1870 by one of the participants, Alexander H. Stephens.[39] But the Confederate Vice-President's memory five years after the event was Page  [End Page 25] faulty in at least one important particular. Stephens's recollection that Lincoln offered to let Georgia ratify the Thirteenth Amendment prospectively, to take effect five years later, is contradicted by the fact that Lincoln proposed a bond issue immediately after the conference to reimburse Georgia's slaveholders by July, 1865, contingent upon ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. In other words, Lincoln's plan was to have Georgia abolish slavery in five months, not five years. [40] Though several historians have noted this, they have never grasped the psychology in Stephens that it betrays, a psychology of unrealistic nostalgia. Writing five years later, Stephens was really saying: why, Lincoln would not have made us emancipate the slaves until now, let alone allowed the civil rights, franchise, and military policies that Georgia has experienced as a result of emancipation and Reconstruction. Stephens predicted: "Amidst our own ruins, bereft of fortunes and estates, as well as Liberty, with nothing remaining to us, but a good name, and a Public Character, unsullied and untarnished, we will, in the common misfortunes, still cling in our affections to 'the Land of Memories.'"[41] Stephens was among the first in a long line of Reconstruction-haters who invented a Lincoln who would never have reconstructed the South. We need a careful study of the Hampton Roads Peace Conference. It will have to be ingenious and use strategies of indirection, for Stephens's memory is the only lengthy account.

Finally, Randall was simply wrong about the defection of Lincoln's friends from the Republican party. True, many eventually became Liberal Republicans or Democrats, but Randall's error lay in interpreting a defection at any time in their later careers as an indication that they never supported Reconstruction and would not have been supporting it while an unassassinated Lincoln was President—that is, up to March, 1869. Randall assumed that they wanted to defect all along and never really had anything in com- Page  [End Page 25] mon with the post-war Republican party. In that period when Lincoln would have been President, however, not a man to whom Randall pointed defected.[42]

Lyman Trumbull, who opposed Grant in 1872, wrote Reconstruction legislation during Lincoln's uncompleted term. Informed by an officer in Mississippi that the recently passed Black Codes were meant "under the guise of vagrant laws to restore all of slavery but its name," Trumbull introduced the Freedmen's Bureau Bill in Congress on January 5, 1866. Later, he introduced the Civil Rights Bill. Jesse W. Fell became a Liberal Republican in 1872, but eight months after Lincoln's death he told Trumbull that the North had a moral obligation "to adopt measures for the safety and elevation of the African race. Their present nominal freedom is nothing but a mockery." [43] Gustave Koerner, also a Liberal Republican in 1872, had been a wholehearted supporter of Reconstruction as a necessary response to the South's failure to behave "with the least discretion and prudence." Black Codes "soon would have placed most of the free negroes under a sort of Mexican peonage," he recalled in his memoirs. In Southern elections "Moderate men had no chance, and those who had shown Page  [End Page 26] during the Rebellion any Union feeling, were proscribed and persecuted." For Koerner, "the former rebel States formed at this time merely a territory.... They were to be admitted again under conditions, as all Territories had to be admitted, by act of Congress."[44]

William Herndon also joined the Liberal Republican fold in 1872, but only after supporting Reconstruction. He viewed Andrew Johnson's claim to be carrying out Lincoln's policies as a "wilful and premedi[t]ated lie." About a year after Lincoln's death, Herndon demanded that "justice [be] ... done the negro everywhere under our flag."[45] John M. Palmer, who became a Liberal Republican and later a Democrat, had seen Reconstruction from the South, where Edwin M. Stanton stationed him for a period. From North Carolina in 1866 Palmer wrote: "The Union people are the most humble I have ever seen, while the rebels are arrogant and insolent. I am more indignant at Johnson's treachery to the Union people of the south since I came here than ever before. There is no remedy for the evils which exist here other than the complete enfranchisement of the negroes." [46] James Speed, though a Kentuckian, came to advocate Negro suffrage, opposed Johnson's veto of the Freedmen's Bureau Bill, and resigned from Johnson's Cabinet in protest in 1866.[47]

A number of historians have argued that Lincoln would have formed a conservative party, ousting the Radicals and uniting old conservative Whig elements, North and South. In various ways Kenneth M. Stampp, Ludwell H. Johnson, and G. S. Boritt suggest the plausibility of this. [48] There was no one more Whiggish than Lincoln, but the idea of realigning the parties is a carry-over from Page  [End Page 27] Randall's unrealistic dream that there should have been a moderate party opposed to Radicals and Southern fire-eaters. It has no basis either in Lincoln's party policies or his words. His patronage policies to the end did not discriminate against Radicals or any other faction in his party.[49] Lincoln's blind memorandum is proof that he shared his party's equation of loyalty with Republicanism. Nor does the idea of realigning the parties have any basis in the party realities of Lincoln's day. The willingness of former Southern Whigs to be wooed in 1877 was a willingness born of more than a decade of experience with Reconstruction and not anywhere in evidence in 1865 or 1866. It was, as Thomas J. Alexander has shown, former Whigs who instated the Black Codes that forced Congress to pass Reconstruction measures in 1865 and 1866.[50]

Peyton McCrary's Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction: The Louisiana Experiment shows what careful work, with an eye to both local and national events, can do. When Lincoln made General Nathaniel P. Banks "master of all" in reconstructing Louisiana on Christmas Eve, 1863, he was not consciously cutting the ground from under Salmon P. Chase and the Radical Republicans. In fact, George Denison, a Chase Treasury agent in New Orleans, carried Banks's letter outlining his plan to Lincoln. And ironically, Denison had recently attended a meeting with Banks where the general promised to deliver delegates from reconstructed Louisiana for Chase at the Republican nominating convention in 1864! There was no split in Louisiana's loyalist ranks between radicals and moderates until Banks caused one. McCrary's work also proves that Herndon was correct: Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policies were not at all like Lincoln's. Johnson fully endorsed the work of Louisiana Governor Madison Wells, who turned out moderate officeholders for conservatives and returning Confederate veterans. Even General Beauregard was expecting a job. McCrary states it very well: "When Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency in 1865 he pursued a reconstruction policy antithetical to that of his predecessor, if viewed in terms of its impact on the Page  [End Page 28] party system rather than in light of superficial constitutional similarities."[51] Studies of other occupied areas leading eventually to a new synthesis of Lincoln's Reconstruction policies are necessary to answer the time-honored question: What would Reconstruction have been like had President Lincoln lived?


Although opportunities remain to deal with subjects as large as the election of 1864, Lincoln and Reconstruction, and the party context of the Lincoln administration, opportunities for work in the Lincoln field are fewer than in 1936. It is no longer true, as it was when Randall wrote, that "both spade work and refining" need to be done. [52] Most of the spade work is done. The only large exception to this is in the area of legal history, which requires both basic collecting and editing of documents. Significantly, legal history is an area where professionalism has been slow to take command. It is currently enjoying a renaissance—perhaps, a birth—in the historical profession, and promises to be a route to a fresh understanding of Abraham Lincoln. As Harold M. Hyman has pointed out: "Prevailing legal ethics are another void [in our understanding of the legal institutions of Lincoln's day]. Lincoln the lawyer, however deserving description as honest, was a Dun and Bradstreet credit reporter. Today such sale of information about clients' economic stability would violate every state bar's canons of ethics.... My point is that many facets of legal practice before 1860 remain obscure or invisible." Hyman argues correctly that opportunities "for useful work in Lincoln's life in Page  [End Page 29] the law" are not "closed off" by the existing literature. [53] A scholarly edition of Lincoln's legal papers with a long introductory essay or a companion volume by one of the able new legal historians is needed.

In the area of "refining," on the other hand, much remains to be done. One of the reasons for this is that Lincoln's career spanned three eras of American political history that are distinct specialties for professional historians: the Age of Jackson, the coming of the Civil War, and the Civil War itself. Thus Lincoln's life strains the special knowledge and stretches the interest of almost any modern professional historian.

Since national fame came late for Lincoln, the early period of his life has up to now been the least understood. The first study to place Lincoln's pre-presidential career firmly within the context of the Whig party, to which Lincoln belonged from its birth to its death and of which he was an acknowledged leader in Illinois, appeared only in 1978: G. S. Boritt's Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream. In Randall's era the Whig party was not a popular subject for study because the party's economic platform was rather an embarrassment to liberal scholars in the New Deal years. The party still lags behind the Democracy in capturing historians' interest. Boritt points to a number of possible studies and questions that are important for reaching a firm understanding of Lincoln's Whig years: why central Illinois became Whig, the precise nature of Lincoln's relationship with Henry Clay, the election of 1844, and the mysterious movement to disband the Illinois Whig party after that election. Boritt's own study focuses more on Lincoln's economic ideas than on his party involvement, and he urges further study of Lincoln's early career in the light of recent research on Whiggery.[54]

Even the refinements needed in treating Lincoln's better-known pre-war Republican career are not necessarily matters of increasingly esoteric and narrow focus. The Lincoln-Douglas Page  [End Page 30] Debates, events known to every schoolchild in America, provide an excellent example. Despite a substantial body of literature on the debates, only John Y. Simon's superb "Union County in 1858 and the Lincoln-Douglas Debate" places any single debate in the local political and social context. Simon's conclusion makes irrelevant much of the scholarly wrangle that has raged since Douglas first leveled the charge that Lincoln spoke differently to audiences in the northern and southern parts of the state. Lincoln "really had nothing to lose" in heavily Democratic Jonesboro. The "only danger ... was that he might try to win votes by altering his position. The few votes Lincoln could win, however," would have been "drowned in a Democratic sea." Republicans had never gained more than 17.4% of the vote in the district, and Frémont had received only 3.8% in 1856. Such knowledge allows a new appreciation of Douglas's political acumen as well:

Of the sites proposed by Douglas for the debates, none better represented his political astuteness than Jonesboro, in the Ninth Congressional District. Although some Republican sentiment could be found in the district on its northernmost fringes and along the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad, Jonesboro was a Democratic stronghold. Indeed, the sense of Democratic orthodoxy was so strong that the leading local politician, John Dougherty, was running for state treasurer on the Danite [anti-Douglas Democratic] ticket although he had opposed the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill four years earlier. Lincoln could not hope to win many votes no matter how strong his showing in Jonesboro; but a strong showing by Douglas could hurt Dougherty, the state's leading Danite. Furthermore, Douglas showed political courage by carrying his campaign to the stronghold of one of his bitterest opponents. Douglas charged that Danites and Republicans were acting together for his defeat; a few weeks earlier, in fact, Lincoln had talked with Dougherty and expressed pleasure with plans to run Danite candidates for every office.... In carrying the campaign to Jonesboro, therefore, Douglas might succeed in destroying any Republican-Danite alliance. [55]
A similar effort to set each of the other six debates in a context rich Page  [End Page 31] in local politiical geography would make a fine contribution to the literature on this important subject.

The campaign of 1858 likewise holds promise for fruitful application of the newest professional methods in political history. To date, analysis of the voting in the election has been superficial, confined mostly to answering the question whether Democratic gerrymandering caused Lincoln's defeat (it did not). But the race for the Senate was actually eighty-seven local contests for the Illinois state legislature. Did local candidates or issues in any instance overshadow slavery, Lincoln, and Douglas? Did the actual presence of Douglas and/or Lincoln in a local district during the campaign make a difference? The critical areas were the districts in the central part of the state. [56] The application of modern techniques of election analysis to these critical districts is necessary to ascertain the voters' response to the appeals of Lincoln and Douglas. And a debate now rages over what constituted the most important feature of the debates themselves. Was it Lincoln's stress on the moral wrong of slavery (to differentiate himself sharply from Douglas), or was it Lincoln's resurrection of the charge of a Southern and Democratic conspiracy to nationalize slavery? [57] If an event as famous as the Lincoln-Douglas campaign of 1858 can still merit study, it should not be hard to believe that the Lincoln theme is far from exhausted.

Some of the refinements Randall called for over forty years ago are still undone. Among collateral figures in need of biographers, Salmon P. Chase looms large. Chase's stature has grown steadily Page  [End Page 32] since Randall's day, when he was little more than a shadowy villain. Eric Foner credits Chase with being one of the principal intellectual architects of Republican doctrine. [58] Likewise, Louis S. Gerteis points out that "Chase alone represented the Radical point of view in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet."[59] Yet we do not know the most fundamental things about his personality, the sort of things only a biographer can supply. Revisionists pictured Chase, a perennial presidential hopeful, as nakedly ambitious, but at least one close associate found him too vacillating and cautious. J. M. Winchell of Hyde Park, New York, claimed authorship of the famous Pomeroy Circular, which prematurely announced Chase's fitness for the Presidency in 1864. Winchell wrote it, he said, because "Mr. Chase was himself vacillating to a painful degree; moved alternately by aspirations and fears. Finally ... [Winchell] conceived that it would be better to take some action which would determine Mr. Chase's pluck and popularity."[60] It will remain impossible to unravel the tangled debate over Lincoln's relationship with the Radicals until we know more about the most politically prominent Radical. Other administration figures needing biographers are Hugh McCulloch, Caleb B. Smith, William Dennison, James Speed, and Andrew Johnson.[61]

Of the other collateral figures that Randall listed, many still lack biographers: Dennis Hanks, Leonard Swett, Norman B. Judd, John Covode, Jacob Collamer, Edgar Cowan, Amos Kendall, and Page  [End Page 33] John Sherman.[62] Randall's list was suggestive but not comprehensive, and others might be included who still lack biographers or solid article-length studies. John A. McClernand, for example, gained important commands in the war despite the hostility of Grant and Sherman, perhaps because of his importance to Lincoln and Richard Yates in rallying Democrats in Illinois to the Union cause. A biography would illuminate the national military front as well as Illinois politics, and large bodies of McClernand papers are available at the Illinois State Historical Library and at the National Archives. John M. Palmer, a leading Democratic founder of the Illinois Republican party, is, according to Roger D. Bridges, Director of Research at the Illinois State Historical Library, the most important Illinois figure who is without a biographer. Isaac N. Arnold was both an important political associate of President Lincoln and later a Lincoln biographer; he merits study as well, though materials for a biography are not as readily available as in the cases of McClernand and Palmer. Richard J. Oglesby, early Republican and successful Illinois gubernatorial candidate in 1864, is to be the subject of a biography by Mark Plummer of Illinois State University. Elihu Washburne, a close Lincoln associate in the 1850s and a powerful congressman, deserves a book-length study. And Joseph Logsdon's capable biography of Horace White shows that the lives of Illinois' political journalists throw a great deal of light on Lincoln's career. Illinois was the principal arena of Lincoln's political career until 1858, and knowledge of that state's political history is essential to any sound Page  [End Page 34] understanding of Abraham Lincoln. These studies, and others like them on a more modest scale, cannot be too highly recommended. Lincoln students know James Shields, Jesse K. Dubois, Ozias M. Hatch, Sidney Breese, or John C. Bagby only as shadowy figures who wrote to, were written to by, or were written about by Lincoln. They were not major figures in their own right, but they were obviously important men in the Illinois Republican or Democratic parties. We badly need studies of those parties. Randall asked simply, Who were the Lincoln men? And the question still requires an answer. [63]

Some of Randall's suggestions for study of the important Civil War phase of Lincoln's life remain largely unheeded. "Students who wish to recapture the flavor of the Lincoln era must also take account of such a matter as wartime propaganda," he said. Because World War I impressed scholars with the notion of propaganda and because Revisionism interpreted political rhetoric as bombast about non-issues, there was a tendency to ignore or to interpret political speeches, wartime sermons, and pamphlets cynically. Randall called them "assaults upon public opinion," but he recognized a need to study them.[64] There have been only two notable books on such subjects in recent times: George M. Page  [End Page 35] Fredrickson's The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union (1965) and Frank Freidel's two-volume edition of Union Pamphlets of the Civil War (1967). [65] Fredrickson, however, as his title indicates, focused principally on high-brow thinkers and was necessarily highly selective. Freidel's volumes made fifty-two of the best pamphlets readily available. Some of them—Francis Lieber's Lincoln or McClellan: Appeals to the Germans in America (1864), Horace Binney's The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus under the Constitution (1862), and Charles Janeway Stillé's How a Free People Conduct a Long War: A Chapter from English History (1862)—were so widely distributed that they are already available in most research libraries of any size, and many of the rarer pamphlets remain little known and largely unstudied. Freidel's introductory essay on the political pamphleteering of the Civil War did not do for our understanding of political ideology in the Middle Period what Bernard Bailyn did with a similar collection of pamphlets for the ideology of the period of the American Revolution. We know much less than we should about political ideology in the Civil War era. [66]

One problem faced by Freidel (but not Bailyn) was the matter of scale. The Andrew D. White collection of Civil War pamphlets in the Cornell University Library, for example, numbers more than one hundred bound volumes, each containing dozens of pamphlets. Despite the abundance of materials, there is a reluctance to use them. The new political history's hostility to studies of the one voice in a thousand preserved in print helps to keep these materials idle on the shelves. Currently the field of greatest interest is voting behavior, but conclusions about voting behavior often hinge critically on conclusions, too hastily arrived at, about party ideology. Joel Silbey's A Respectable Minority: The Democratic Party in the Civil War Era, 1860–1868 (1977), for example, concludes that a sincere ideology of constitutional conservatism con- Page  [End Page 36] strained the Democrats from reaching out for the voters that could have made them more than a respectable minority.[67] Yet Silbey studied voting behavior more diligently than party ideology, and his conclusions are therefore problematic.

Eric Cardinal, another student of the Civil War Democracy, has astutely pointed out that A Respectable Minority is consistent with Silbey's 1964 seminal essay "The Civil War Synthesis in American Political History," but to extend the earlier insight about antebellum politics to the war itself becomes strangely disturbing. Says Cardinal:

Then [1964] he argued that Middle Period historians tried to explain too much in terms of the [coming of the] war; that other more salient factors explained a great deal more about political events. Now [1977] he says, in essence, that since the Democrats were in the minority at the war's outset, and since they remained in the minority during and after the war, little that was truly significant politically happened during the war. The Democrats continued to lose, with "respectable," or competitive totals. The issues themselves almost seem ephemeral in this view. Moreover, I think Silbey hereby minimizes the war's impact on postwar politics; clearly in the early postwar era at least wartime perceptions played a decisive role on electoral outcomes.
Silbey's point in "The Civil War Synthesis" is important: people in the 1850s did not know that the war was coming and were able to respond to a variety of issues unrelated to sectionalism and slavery that historians after the war had trouble seeing as important. But it strains credulity to say, as Silbey seems to, that once the war actually came, the war was still an unimportant issue. Voting behavior suggests it, though, for the basic party realignment came in the 1850s and survived the Civil War. A serious task of modern scholarship is to reconcile the conclusions arrived at by students of party rhetoric and new political historians. The problem is not solved by ignoring the one or the other.[68]

The new political history—and its principal product, the Page  [End Page 37] "ethno-cultural" thesis that religion is the best predictor of voting behavior—threatens to make political speeches, issues, and platforms mere epiphenomena. This is the culmination of a half century of neglect of these sources by professional historians. Revisionists regarded them as propaganda, effective perhaps, but not to be taken at face value. As the methodological consciousness of the new political history grew in importance, party rhetoric and ideology shrank in significance from propaganda to, one is tempted to say, nothing. [69] Fifty years of neglect leave these sources as a great unmined field of study for Lincoln's era.

To be sure, some developments in Civil War study run counter to this trend. Specialization of skills and interests among professional historians keeps any single trend from dominating. Each skill tends to develop enthusiasms at variance with trends in other areas of specialization. This is a virtue of specialization, a development otherwise usually denounced in the profession. A perfect example is the study of constitutional history, currently undergoing a renaissance led by Middle Period scholars like Arthur Bestor, Harold Hyman, Michael Les Benedict, Philip Paludan, and Herman Belz. The new constitutional history reverses the assumptions under which Randall, the greatest student of constitutional issues under Lincoln, labored. Randall tried to "look through the legal arguments of our leaders to the broad social purposes they have sought to attain. Constitutional history, in its ultimate significance thus becomes social history." He thought that "Much ... constitutional reasoning of that time was ... mere 'rationalizing.'"[70] He aimed to discover how the war shaped Page  [End Page 38] the Constitution. The new constitutional history has reversed the question to ask how the Constitution shaped the war, particularly by limiting policy alternatives. [71] Some actions were, in the mind of the age, simply beyond the pale of constitutionality.

The new constitutional history thus runs precisely counter to the new political history. In the latter we are told to ignore the one voice in a thousand preserved in print. In the former we are told that words counted, that politicians meant what they said about the Constitution. Perhaps this is the area in which we can best hope for a start on the study of Civil War pamphlet literature. As far back as 1888, Sydney George Fisher listed almost forty pamphlets which were answers to or defenses of Binney's The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus under the Constitution. Many of these were written in Philadelphia, where, one observer said, the lawyers "never get tired of looking at themselves in a typographical looking glass." [72] There is no study of the contents of these pamphlets, let alone of their authors and their political context. By beginning with Philadelphia's pamphlet wars, one could get an excellent start on this vast literature. Similar lists could be drawn up for many a constitutional question during the war, and studies of this literature are necessary to test the validity of the new constitutional history. Randall admitted in 1950 that his own Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln was "of considerable length, but a number of other volumes could be produced without exhausting the theme." [73]

Such study would ultimately illuminate political history, and particularly the regnant view that the Democracy was a party of Page  [End Page 39] consistent constitutional conservatism. [74] This view seems suspect in light of the Confederate experience, for Confederates who denounced Jefferson Davis as a tyrant and indulged in traditional libertarian rhetoric were more often former Whigs than Democrats. Jefferson Davis was more cautious than Lincoln about violating the Constitution. [75] Nevertheless, the political opposition to the Confederate President used the same themes as the Democratic opposition in the North. Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens, for example, shared Lincoln's Whig heritage, but his correspondence reverberates with libertarian fulminations against the government fully worthy of the most inveterate Northern Copperhead. Writing to Professor R. M. Johnston on August 26, 1864, Stephens described Davis's policies as "perfectly consistent with the course of a weak timid aspirant for Military Domination." He denounced Davis's sins: "His advocacy of Conscription— ... Provost Marshalship System— .... His permitting ... proclamations of Mar[tial] law in large Districts of Country without censure or rebuke—His asking Congress [for] suspension of the Writ [of Ha]beas Corpus" with "no sensible reason ever given," and "His asking Congress to put [males] ... between the ages of seventeen & 35 under military control." [76] The best modern study of Confederate dissent shows that Confederates were most willing to suspend civil liberties when Union troops threatened their homes. In addition, former Democrats were generally more willing than former Whigs to support former-Democrat Davis's suspensions of civil liberties. [77] Traditional party imperatives more than consistent constitutional conservatism may have dictated Northern civil libertarian dissent as well. Page  [End Page 40]


The Lincoln assassination has fallen through the gap that separates two traditional areas of historical writing, the Civil War and Reconstruction. Despite sensational appeal and timeliness as a subject for study after recent political assassinations, knowledge about the Lincoln assassination has advanced little beyond its state in 1936 and virtually not at all since 1940. On the contrary, an avalanche of absurd sensationalizing has obscured the event and brought about a near-crisis in popular understanding of political violence in America. Though he would surely have deplored the result, Randall must share some blame for this. Throughout his life as a Lincoln scholar, he disdained touching the subject of the assassination. With an Olympian aloofness, Randall said of Lincoln the President: "This biography knows only the living Lincoln." [78] Other professional Lincoln scholars followed Randall's lead.[79]

In a sense, professionals abdicated their responsibility to deal with the assassination; Randall did not even mention the subject in "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" The assassination lacked appeal to professional historians. It must have seemed aberrant, not instructive about the broader currents of American history. It did not fit any traditional categories of study; it was not exactly political history or social history and certainly not military or diplomatic history. It seemed to demand focus on a handful of Page  [End Page 41] obscure individuals, when the profession was moving more and more towards studies of great social movements.

When the careful scholars ignored the assassination, people more attuned to catering to the appetite for sensation moved in. It became a fertile field for inventive and irresponsible minds because it has had not only the customary appeal of crime but also an involvement with large emotional forces in American culture. The political motives for Booth's crime—Confederate sympathies and racism—were forgotten. The road to reunion for the United States was not paved by reminding Americans that John Wilkes Booth was a Confederate sympathizer who led a band composed mostly of ex-Confederate soldiers and Confederate spies in plots to kidnap and kill Abraham Lincoln. The need for sectional reconciliation gradually obliterated the popular memory of Booth's political motives, and other historical currents conspired to make Booth's crime seem counterproductive and therefore insane. Hand-in-hand with sectional reconciliation came a view of Reconstruction as "the blackout of honest government." The popular view of Booth as madman owes much to a feeling that there was no reason to kill Lincoln, that Booth killed the man who would have been "soft" on the South in Reconstruction.

For years, Civil War historians could not resist the irony of ending books by saying that John Wilkes Booth unwittingly killed the best friend the South ever had. T. Harry Williams, for example, ended Lincoln and the Radicals (1949) by saying: "Ironically, Lincoln's death had killed also his policy of mercy. The vindictive spirit of the Jacobins became the faith of the nation." Allan Nevins wondered "whether the murder of so mild, magnanimous, and statesmanlike a leader, with the words 'malice toward none and charity for all' so recently upon his lips, would divert national thought upon the problem of Reconstruction into sinister channels, and perhaps poison the politics of the country for years to come." So powerfully did the myth of Reconstruction grip the popular historical imagination, that it became commonplace to argue that Edwin Stanton engineered the assassination in order to remove Lincoln as an obstacle to Radical Reconstruction. Nowhere is the gap that separates professional historical study from popular consciousness more obvious than in the case of the Page  [End Page 42] Lincoln assassination. Hardly any professional historian believes the canard against Stanton; his scholarly biographers, Benjamin Thomas and Harold Hyman, did not even deign to mention the charge in their 1962 biography of that great Secretary of War. Among professional scholars, but among them only, Reconstruction historiography performed a complete about-face in the 1960s, leaving Stanton motiveless. From this point on, the two worlds— academic and popular—did not collide; they simply never met again. [80]

The gap was immediately apparent when Otto Eisenschiml, a chemist and amateur historian, published Why Was Lincoln Murdered? (1937).[81] Professional historians sneered at the book. J. G. DeRoulhac Hamilton referred to the author as a "Viennese chemist" and the book as "four hundred and thirty-eight dreary pages of rambling and disconnected implication and innuendo." William B. Hesseltine quipped that finding the answer to one of Eisenschiml's questions "should have occupied five minutes in a reference room" rather than ten years of study.[82]

There was one good book on the assassination: George S. Bryan's The Great American Myth (1940). Written by a journalist and not an academic, this carefully documented book is altogether sane and balanced—but, alas, little known and virtually unobtainable except from rare book dealers.[83] By contrast, Eisenschiml's Why Was Lincoln Murdered? was first published by Little, Brown in 1937 and by 1939 was in its fifth printing as a Halcyon House Page  [End Page 43] book. It became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and a Grosset and Dunlap paperback.[84]

Bryan did not address Eisenschiml's charges and failed to use all the sources available. William Hanchett of San Diego State University is at work on a book that should remedy these problems. Asked in 1969 to write an article on the assassination for the Encyclopedia Americana, Hanchett became convinced that our knowledge of the assassination was "in a sorry shape." He has concluded that political partisanship played an important role in the early literature on the assassination.

Under the circumstances, it was perhaps natural that the Republicans should immediately have charged that the murder was a Confederate plot, or a Copperhead plot, or (after 1867) an Andrew Johnson plot. At the turn of the century, the Democrats counterattacked. The three volumes of David M. DeWitt condemned the Republican prosecutors of Booth's friends for extreme arbitrariness and vindictiveness, a point of view carried to an extreme in the 1930's when Otto Eisenschiml suggested by insinuation that the Republicans were themselves the instigators of the assassination.
Once embarked on sorting out the historiography of the assassination, Hanchett soon discovered that he could not evaluate the histories without himself deciding what was the truth of the events about which they wrote. He began an extensive search "of the several editions of the transcripts of the conspiracy trial, of the records of the office of the Judge Advocate General, of manuscript collections in the Library of Congress, the Huntington, the Walter P. Hampden Library (in Edwin Booth's home), and the library and museum at Ford's [Theatre], of published government documents, and of rare books and articles."[85]

Until Hanchett's book is finished, perhaps the best thing to Page  [End Page 44] restore sanity to the discussion of Lincoln's assassination is to apply Hannah Arendt's idea of the banality of evil. Naomi Bliven gave it classic statement in a review of some books on Adolph Hitler in The New Yorker: "I do not see Hitler as a Prince of Darkness; I do not see him as a prince of anything. Historically, the agents of destruction have rarely been epic figures.... Perhaps the human attraction to symmetry makes us unwitting Manichaeans—because we have had great good men, we invent great bad men."[86] This insight helps us to understand the myths that surround assassinations. Americans resist the idea that such obscure figures as the Lincoln conspirators (or Lee Harvey Oswald) can alter history; it makes history seem a purposeless chaos. Instead, they look beyond the hapless killers for truly great villains who manipulated them. In this way, history at least shows some pattern of struggle between good and evil, even though the evil sometimes triumphs.


Otto Eisenschiml became contemptuous of professionals, regarding them as members of a guild who refused to take seriously any work that did not come from a fellow guild member. Was he right? What does professionalism mean? Is it a mere parade of academic robes, mortarboards, and long footnotes as the only badges and seals of honest and fruitful historical endeavor?

An example of the salutary effect of professionalism on the Lincoln field can be seen in the literature on Lincoln's famed attribute of clemency. This was fabled even in Lincoln's day. In 1863 Francis De Haes Janvier wrote a poem called "The Sleeping Sentinel" about William Scott, a Vermont soldier who "wearied with a toilsome march, it chanced one night, on guard,/ ... sank, exhausted, at his post, and the gray morning found/His prostrate form—a sentinel, asleep, upon the ground!" Then, "War's inexorable law decreed that he must die." But Lincoln "heard the Page  [End Page 45] plaintive cry/Of that poor soldier, as he lay in prison, doomed to die!" As Scott stood beside his coffin before a twelve-man firing squad, "suddenly was heard the noise of steeds and wheels approach,—/And, rolling through a cloud of dust, appeared a stately coach." Lincoln himself came "to save that stricken soul." [87] Widely declaimed by the famed elecutionist James E. Murdoch, the poem led to an 1870 Harper's Weekly woodcut and article that immortalized the story and added more detail: The boy fell asleep "at the Chain Bridge near Washington," and "Several instances of this nature having then recently occurred, it was thought necessary to make an example of SCOTT." [88] L. E. Chittenden further embellished the story in his Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration (1891), based on his experience as register of the Treasury from 1861 to 1865. Chittenden claimed that Scott had volunteered to act as a sentinel for a sick friend and stayed up all night for the first time in his life, only to have to take his own all-night turn at guard duty the next night. [89]

William E. Barton demolished the accumulating myths in 1925. The War Department, Barton discovered, could not find a single case of any man's actually having been shot "for going to sleep on guard duty" in the Civil War, Scott had only one-third of the night to stay awake, pleaded "Not Guilty" but offered no defense, and was sentenced to die but did not, though there is no record of the source of the pardon. Barton desentimentalized the popular view of Lincoln's clemency in other ways. He thought that "In the long run it had been better for the discipline of the army if he had kept his hands off except in cases where the mitigating circumstances were more pronounced than was usually the case." He quoted journalist Donn Piatt's view of Lincoln's policy towards desertion:

There was far more policy in this course than kind feeling. To assert the contrary is to detract from Lincoln's force of character, as well as his intellect. Our war-president was not lost in his high admiration of Page  [End Page 46]

                                        of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and
                                          MuseumThis drawing by Julian Scott accompanied
                                          the Harper's Weekly 1870 article "The Pardoned
Courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and MuseumThis drawing by Julian Scott accompanied the Harper's Weekly 1870 article "The Pardoned Sentinel."

brigadiers and major generals, and had a positive dislike for their methods and the despotism upon which an army is based. He knew that he was dependent upon volunteers for soldiers, and to force upon such men as those the stern discipline of the Regular Army was to render the service Page  [End Page 47] unpopular. And it pleased him to be the source of mercy, as well as the fountain of honor, in this direction.

Barton tried to document what he could. Still, the chapter has few statistics in it, and this sentence is characteristic: "How many of those 276 men [executed by the military in the Civil War] were sentenced to death as the result of their conviction under a charge of desertion is not known, no attempt having ever been made by the Department to classify those cases according to the nature of the charges preferred." Through phrases like these—"The War Department is unable to state" or "The War Department records have been searched at my request"—one gets the impression that Barton, though a balanced student, conducted much of his research by mail from his gentleman's study.[90]

Professionalization came to the clemency problem directly by the efforts of James G. Randall, who in 1924 encouraged Jonathan Truman Dorris, then a graduate student, to study the subject. Dorris went to Washington and the manuscript sources. The result, among other things, was finding what Barton could not from a distance, that 141 of the 267 military executions were for desertion. Dorris produced a careful article on clemency, noting that Lincoln pardoned 375 offenders convicted by civil courts and refused pardon in 81 cases. Excluding the 75 war-related pardons, Lincoln's 300 still exceeded Buchanan's 141 and Pierce's 175 for peacetime offenses. Moreover, Dorris found pardons in military cases of which Barton was unaware. For example, Lincoln gave a blanket pardon to ninety-six soldiers in the penitentiary in the District of Columbia in 1862 because some were serving sentences of as much as one year for stealing a shirt and a pair of drawers. As Professor of History at Eastern Kentucky State College, Dorris continued to study his subject until 1953, when he published Pardon and Amnesty under Lincoln and Johnson: The Restoration of the Confederates to Their Rights and Privileges, 1861–1898. Not surprisingly, reviewers were impressed by the prodigious research in previously neglected documents. [91] Page  [End Page 48]

A Congregationalist preacher and Lincoln collector as well as an author, Barton wrote in the tradition of the gentleman literatus. Jonathan Dorris was the wave of the future—Ph.D. in history and college professor. Significantly, professionalism did not lead to a debunking spirit. Barton took the cynical view of Lincoln's clemency as either ill-advised sentimentality in the face of suffering or as a higher realism calculated to keep a volunteer army's morale up. Dorris took the more charitable view. He quoted documents in the recently opened Abraham Lincoln Papers in which Lincoln cautioned Stanton that there should be "no motive of revenge, [and] no purpose to punish merely for punishment's sake." Dorris seemed to agree with the writer for the Baltimore American who concluded in favor of Lincoln's leniency in 1864: "The wish is often expressed that we had a second edition of Andrew Jackson.... We suspect he would have made more frequent application of hemp to the throats of rebels than has been done.... Such a course may have been wiser and have led to more fruitful results, but its wisdom is not apparent to us—it is questionable to say the least." [92]


When Randall called for professionalism, he asked for the brand of professionalism with which he was most familiar. An academic historian, he thought mostly of manuscripts, books, and bibliographies; he was generally oblivious to a range of materials that have been of interest primarily to collectors, antiquarians, art historians, special libraries, and museums: broadsides, prints, cartoons, political ephemera, and memorabilia. [93] These materials Page  [End Page 49] have broad appeal and offer avenues of approach to Lincoln that promise substantial historical benefits.

The most promising materials from the standpoint of the questions traditionally asked by historians are broadsides.[94] Historians often miss them because they are catalogued and stored as prints. The outstanding collection of Lincoln broadsides at the Illinois State Historical Library contains some intriguing materials. An 1840 broadside throws light on party organization and campaign appeals in Lincoln's state. By 1840 the Whigs, generally slow to organize party structures, had held a state convention and created a state central committee (of which Abraham Lincoln was a member). The party ran a strong campaign for William Henry Harrison that year, but a broadside, "To the Friends of the National Road," reveals a little-known side of Whig strategy. The message was simple: "Elect Martin Van Buren—And the National Road Is Lost." The broadside pictured Harrison as a friend of western improvements and interests, but nowhere did it refer to the Whig party by name. In fact, it identified Harrison and vice-presidential running mate John Tyler as the "National Road Ticket." This broadside is a valuable reminder of the localism of nineteenth-century campaign appeals and, more important, of the Whig party's continuing lack of stable public identity even as late as 1840 in Lincoln's overwhelmingly Democratic state. It might be revealing to study other broadsides and ballots from this famous campaign to determine the status of the Whig party organization in Illinois and elsewhere.[95]

Another interesting item from the collection is a circular from the Union Congressional Committee for the 1864 campaign. This letter listed the speeches available for one or two dollars per hundred copies for the campaign. Although many historians argue Page  [End Page 50] that the Republican party avoided the "real" issue of Reconstruction by stressing the spurious charge that Democrats were traitors, the members of the Union Congressional Committee (E. D. Morgan, James Harlan, Justin Morrill, Elihu Washburne, R. B. Van Valkenburg, James A. Garfield, and James G. Blaine) were thinking of another strategy altogether. Of the nineteen speeches listed in the circular, five dealt directly and primarily with the issue of Reconstruction: Isaac N. Arnold, "Reconstruction; liberty the cornerstone and Lincoln the architect"; M. Russell Thayer, "Reconstruction of rebel States"; Henry C. Deming, "State Renovation"; D. W. Gooch, "Secession and Reconstruction"; and John C. Ten Eyck, "Reconstruction in the States." Eight others dealt primarily with slavery, its abolition, and the proposed Thirteenth Amendment: Abraham Lincoln, "Slavery and its issues indicated by his Speeches, Letters, Messages, and Proclamations"; James F. Wilson, "A Free Constitution"; Charles Sumner, "Universal Emanicipation, without Compensation"; William D. Kelley, "Freedmen's Affairs"; Lyman Trumbull, "A Free Constitution"; James Harlan, "Title to Property in slaves"; Daniel Clark, "Amendment to the Constitution"; and Reverdy Johnson, "Amendment to the Constitution." Two others, by James A. Garfield and Green Clay Smith, dealt with an issue closely related to Reconstruction and slavery, the "Confiscation of Rebel Property." Only four, fewer than the number dealing directly with Reconstruction, discussed other issues such as loyalty in the North: Godlove S. Orth, "The expulsion of Long"; H. Winter Davis, "The expulsion of Long"; R. C. Schenck, "No Compromise with Treason"; and J. D. Defrees, "Thoughts for Honest Democrats." In sum, nearly 80% of the literature recommended by the Union Congressional Committee dealt precisely with those issues—slavery and Reconstruction—that separated Republicans and Democrats in their political platforms and political philosophies. This is only one piece of evidence, and it must be carefully weighed against other evidence, but it is suggestive of the value of looking at broadside collections. [96]

Broadsides, campaign biographies, and pamphlets are useful to Page  [End Page 51] determine the sort of appeal thought appropriate for German-Americans for the simple reason that these materials are readily distinguishable by being printed in another language. A Philadelphia broadside for 1864, for example, ignored slavery altogether to stress Union. "Demokraten, welche die Union lieben.... Wollt Ihr den Rebellen die Hand bieten und ihnen helfen die Union niederzubrechen? Wenn ihr das wollt, so stimmt das Demokratische Ticket!!"[97] Francis Lieber's famous pamphlet, Lincoln oder McClellan? Aufruf an die Deutschen in Amerika, which must have been the most widely distributed German-language campaign document of 1864, likewise dwelt on national unity as the principle at issue in the election. Lieber sneered at states' rights as reminiscent of "Pumpernickel sovereignties" and "petty state domination and provincial pomposity." "If a German wants to have a stew of states, he never need come for it to America," he chided. Though he mentioned slavery, he carefully pointed out that the Confederates did not "struggle only to retain possession of their negro slaves" but to gain "the privilege of using the working man, whether white or black, as the instrument of their power, their pleasure, and their arrogance." "The one candidate is national, the other is not," he said in summation. A closer look at the available foreign-language documentation will help us judge whether appeals to German immigrants stressed antislavery sentiments (as is often said) or nationalism.[98]

Broadsides sometimes vividly illustrate difficult or vague historical concepts. Surely no word is more used and less understood than nationalism in explaining the Civil War. Nationalism is never really love of the whole nation; it always has some specific social content.[99] A Pennsylvania broadside from 1864 makes clear what that issue meant for some in that state: "The Beginning. Election of M'Clellan! ... Armistice! Fall of wages! No Market for Produce! Pennsylvania a Border State! Invasion! Civil War! Anarchy! Page  [End Page 52] Despotism!! The End." Here is a graphic statement of the disasters for Pennsylvania inherent in a new political geography if the nation split.[100]

Even the frequently reprinted recruitment posters of the era contain interesting problems for the student of the role of nationalism in Lincoln's period. The nakedness of the appeal to the pocketbook rather than to patriotism or military glory surely suggests that nationalism is no simple explanation of the willingness of the Northern soldier to fight—even though it is often said that he fought not to free the slaves but to save his country. There are many indications, including the draft policies of the Lincoln administration and the bounty system of the states and counties, that his willingness to fight was a function of the attractiveness of the economic proposition in soldiering. [101]

When the historian leaves broadsides for those closely-related materials, lithographs and engravings, he makes a methodological leap of great proportions; he leaves the familiar realm of words for the visual realm of pictures. Here the payoff is smaller, and unfamiliar skills are demanded, but, given the large size of print collections for this period and the relatively virgin nature of the study, there is plenty of opportunity. The materials most closely related to the historian's familiar craft are political cartoons. Their lack of exploitation in historical narratives is regrettable in light of their relative ease of comprehension and high political content. Most often included as afterthoughts to illustrate books, and chosen, one suspects, by the publisher rather than the author, cartoons can be used as the equals of broadsides, campaign leaflets, pamphlets, and other popular political materials.

The Lincoln field, though better served in this regard than others in nineteenth-century America, still lacks a reliable comprehensive work on the subject of political cartoons. Rufus Rockwell Wilson's Lincoln in Caricature (1945) is incomplete Page  [End Page 53] even for cartoons with Lincoln as the principal subject, and ignores altogether the riches of contemporary cartoons on collateral subjects of Lincoln interest. The commentary is sketchy. [102] A definitive book on Lincoln cartoons as well as a broader study of the political cartoons of the period would do much to stimulate use of the materials by scholars and would probably have a large market.

Courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and
                                          MuseumThis broadside predicts the dire
                                          consequences of a McClellan victory in the 1864
Courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and MuseumThis broadside predicts the dire consequences of a McClellan victory in the 1864 election. Page  [End Page 54]

In addition to the obvious relevance of any cartoon to a study of the political issue upon which it comments, there is material for the social historian as well. Caricatures of blacks in cartoons are rather well known, though there is no exhaustive study of this theme.[103] It is clear that in Lincoln's era the Irishman was also thought of in essentially racial terms as an ape-like creature. This was not only a device of the caricaturist who used an ape-like figure to represent the New York draft rioters, the archetypical Democratic voter, and the Pope; the stock Irish working-class figure crept into reporters' illustrations of the draft riots as well. In this century of extreme ethnocentrism, caricature became reality.

Even the unlikely realm of the stamp collector can provide useful information about contemporary issues. Take, for example, certain envelopes that equated patriotism with hanging Jefferson Davis (see page 58). Even allowing for the exaggeration inherent in caricature, one must be impressed with the sentiment of vengeance present in Civil War politics. One should therefore not be Page  [End Page 55] surprised that the sentiment carried over into Reconstruction. The real wonder is not that Jefferson Davis was indicted but that he was not convicted and hanged.

Courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and
                                          MuseumGovernor Horatio Seymour and New York
                                          City's Irish are caricatured in this 1863
Courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and MuseumGovernor Horatio Seymour and New York City's Irish are caricatured in this 1863 print.

Lithographs and engravings are the most difficult materials of all. There is little the traditionally-trained historian can do with a simple portrait of Lincoln, slavishly, if often unskillfully, copied from a contemporary photograph. Still, we are conscious as never Page  [End Page 56] before of the politician's "image," and there is some useful information in the vast bins of Lincoln lithographs and engravings. Harold Holzer's recent work with Lincoln portraits and prints shows the way. [104] The insatiable sentimentality of the public taste, for example, forced domesticity on a President reluctant for some reason or other to show it. Though Lincoln posed for famous and widely-reproduced photographs with his son Tad, he never assembled his family for a group portrait. Yet there are many lithographs and engravings showing the Lincoln family together around a table in a Victorian parlor. There may be other clues to the nineteenth-century view of statesmanship in such materials, and there would be no better way to trace the growing cult of the Presidency in America than through such popular images.

An increasing number of Americans encounter history primarily by visits to historic sites and museums. The historical uses of material culture are now a primary focus of the discipline of American Studies, but they are little known by historians. In this new area, however, historians in the Lincoln field are leading the way. The Lincoln Sites Project, headed by Charles B. Strozier of Sangamon State University, is a model for the blend of serious historical content and wide popular appeal in a modern historic site. Well funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project began in 1975 by selecting an advisory panel of historians, all of whom visited the Springfield railway depot, New Salem, and Lincoln's law office. Professional writers and media experts wrote the "interpretations" for the sites and provided the seemingly essential slide shows and films that embodied the sophisticated historical ideas supplied by the advisors. The result is some of the best-interpreted historic sites in America, distributing some of the finest popular pamphlet literature available.[105] Page  [End Page 57]

These envelopes depict the popular vengeance expressed
                                          against Jefferson Davis and his fellow Confederate
                                          leaders. All envelopes are courtesy of the Louis A. Warren
                                          Lincoln Library and Museum.
These envelopes depict the popular vengeance expressed against Jefferson Davis and his fellow Confederate leaders. All envelopes are courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum.Page  [End Page 58]

Courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and
                                          MuseumNew York rioters at the Tribune office as
                                          shown in the August 1, 1863, issue of Harper's
Courtesy of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and MuseumNew York rioters at the Tribune office as shown in the August 1, 1863, issue of Harper's Weekly


Historiographical essays written after Randall's have generally noted and commended the onset of the era of professionalism in Lincoln studies.[106] Don Fehrenbacher, writing in 1968, called the period from the 1920s to the 1950s the "golden age" of Lincoln Page  [End Page 59] scholarship, but he detected a change in the character of this scholarship. Although the golden era continued, "the past decade or so has been discernibly anticlimactic and sufficiently different in tone to be treated as the beginning of a new era in the study of Lincoln." [107] He might have dated the new era from the publication of Leon F. Litwack's North of Slavery (1961), which found Lincoln the perfect embodiment of Northern racism. [108] Randall had been content to argue that Lincoln was not the Great Emancipator of popular mythology. He did not ask for new studies of Lincoln and race. Revisionists were not much interested in the question.

The civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s made slavery and race major preoccupations of professional scholars and popular writers. Benjamin Quarles's Lincoln and the Negro (1962) exempted Lincoln from charges of being anti-Negro, but six years later, Lerone F. Bennett labeled Lincoln a "White Supremacist" in a widely read article in Ebony.[109] Once again it was the professor, Quarles, who defended Lincoln; the journalist, Bennett, was the debunker. The Revisionists had killed the Great Emancipator, but the major preoccupation with questions of race in the 1960s tended to make Lincoln's gradualism in reform a defect that overshadowed all other aspects of his character. By the 1970s, even at the hands of his defenders, like Don Fehrenbacher, Lincoln's concern for Negroes was depicted as never a "paramount object"; at best, they were "only his stepchildren." [110] On the other hand, Page  [End Page 60] even his detractors, like George M. Fredrickson, had to admit that Lincoln, though "caught in ... moral and ideological" inconsistencies in his racial thought, by the very fact of being in a dilemma over race was a far cry "from those racists who avoided the dilemma completely by defining blacks as subhuman."[111] The modern civil rights era became a sort of Age of Animus against Lincoln. Though historians answered Bennett's simplistic charges of white supremacy, Lincoln's racial policies became a depressing gray area. The review of Stephen B. Oates's With Malice Toward None by Lincoln scholar David Donald in 1977 capped the era by saying that Lincoln had become, even at the hands of a favorable biographer, a rather dull figure cut in the political mold of William McKinley. [112] G. S. Boritt saw the review as Donald's signal "that Lincoln had lost much of his meaning for America." [113]

The Watergate political crisis quickly revived popular interest in those Presidents once acknowledged to be great. Senator Lowell Weicker cited Lincoln as precedent for having President Nixon appear before a congressional committee; and at the Lincoln Monument, President Nixon compared himself to Lincoln as a much beleaguered President (ignoring "Honest Abe"). Newly inaugurated President Ford sought legitimacy by appearing too humble even to be compared to the great Lincoln ("a Ford not a Lincoln") and by posing for photographs with Lincoln's portrait in the background. In the realm of popular mythology, Lincoln was clearly an unassailable rock of virtue when other values seemed to be crumbling.[114] Page  [End Page 61]

The Age of Animus was a temporary problem among historians also. Don Fehrenbacher complained bitterly that Lincoln's statement in the Charleston debate with Douglas denying any desire for racial equality was becoming better known than the Gettysburg Address. Articles on race like Fehrenbacher's and, to a somewhat lesser degree, George Fredrickson's, brought a saner balance to the initial shock of discovering Lincoln's unquotability for the modern civil rights movement. Careful understanding of the contemporary context of Republican racism, as in Eric Foner's Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, kept Lincoln in the liberal mainstream. The emphasis on race rather than slavery, however, leaves a wonderful opportunity for a massive and meticulous study of the Emancipation Proclamation. The only modern study, John Hope Franklin's small volume, The Emancipation Proclamation (1963), failed to use the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.[115]

The temporary enthusiasms of New Left historiography, which led to what Fehrenbacher brilliantly dubbed the "malign consensus" view of American history, have subsided. [116] There is a new appreciation of nineteenth-century political parties and a new absorption in questions of methodology rather than message. In the newest books by professionals, Lincoln emerges as a figure of traditionally large stature and importance. Peyton McCrary's study of Louisiana Reconstruction blames the disaster there on General Banks and not on Lincoln, who, McCrary argues, was preparing just before he died to move in new directions. G. S. Boritt's monumentally revisionist and brilliant work, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream (1978), offers a solution to a paradox that has dogged the field for a century, a paradox ably Page  [End Page 62] identified by Fehrenbacher: "Demigod and folk hero, both legends are founded on historical fact, and scholars have struggled with the problem of reconciling the two. A common solution is to present Lincoln as the frontier hero down to 1860 and as the national saint after that, along with some vague observations about his remarkable 'growth' in the presidency." [117] Boritt, by shedding the unsophisticated economic views of Progressive and New Deal historiography, reunited the humble frontier politician and the statesman in the White House by depicting Lincoln as a carefully principled and surprisingly consistent follower of the Whig vision of American economic development.[118]

It is professionalism itself and not the New Left version of it that makes the Lincoln field an area of uncertain direction. The problem is not that the professionals will diminish Lincoln's stature by saying "bad" things about him—from Dorris to Quarles and Boritt, they have shown no consistent tendency towards debunking—the problem is that they might cease to say anything about him at all. If the enthusiasms for the new methods in history were to reach the crisis of confrontation with the old methods that Richard Jensen hints at in "History from a Deck of IBM Cards," there would be serious trouble indeed. A crusading zeal to spurn the history of the most vocal one in a thousand for the sake of the recovery of the history of the inarticulate is nowhere more apparent than in France, where the Annales school reigns supreme and where biography is rarely pursued by scholars but instead left to Page  [End Page 63] ancestor-worshipping descendants. [119] The onset of quantification, the new social history, the new political history, and methodological consciousness in general can lead to a disinclination to write biography, to a vague feeling of contempt for those who do write it, and even to a suspicion of any historical figure large enough to demand biographical treatment. The last-named phenomenon is surely evident in the recent laments over the loss of Lincoln's relevance for our age.

Certainly, Boritt is right when he pleads:

As our perception of human greatness continues to change, we, scholars must raise our gentle, non-idolatrous voices, above all, for the young. To be heard we must improve our traditional learning with the ways of new. We must study the histories of the four corners of the world to garner comparative insights about Lincoln. We must learn modern economic theory. We must not shrug off the social sciences without serious hearing. We must learn to use sophisticated statistical tools. We must not fear psychoanalytic concepts. We must no longer ignore religious meaning. We must harness the computer. We must remain open to the array of improvements, yet but dimly seen, that the future will bring. Beyond all, we must remain historians, and with purpose. Our rule for embracing or rejecting the new should be—as it was for Lincoln—"not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil than good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good." [120]
The opportunities to use these methods are numerous. In addition to the ones mentioned in this article already, there are many others. Boritt himself is at work on two projects of great significance for the Lincoln field. The first is a concordance that, by putting Lincoln's words in a computer, will produce an accurate source for finding all of his remarks on liberty, slavery, women, or any other subject of interest. Boritt hopes to allow the historian more time for thinking about the data by relieving him of the Page  [End Page 64] burden of assembling it. It will be the first such reference work for a historical rather than a literary figure. Working from the base of data assembled for this project, he then hopes to produce a second study that will use sophisticated linguistic techniques and the computer to provide a scientific determination of the acceptability of questionable Lincoln texts.

New Salem is a well-documented frontier ghost town, and a sophisticated reconstruction of its social history, if possible, might provide interesting context for understanding Lincoln's formative years. Springfield, a much larger town, offers even more promising avenues for the new social historian, Paul Angle's study of Lincoln's home town being deficient by modern standards.

The secret ballot is the friend of democracy, but it is the historian's enemy. Fortunately for the modern researcher, Lincoln's early political career was forged in an era of viva voce voting in Illinois. Poll books survive that show precisely how every citizen acted on election day. On March 6, 1848, for example, Springfield's citizens turned out to vote on the proposed state constitution. It included an article, submitted separately, that instructed the legislature to pass laws to prevent Negroes from entering the state. Springfield went for exclusion by an overwhelming 774–148 margin. But among the minuscule sixteen percent minority were the bulk of Lincoln's friends and close political associates: Stephen T. Logan, Lincoln's former law partner; Ninian Wirt Edwards, Lincoln's brother-in-law; Anson G. Henry, who worked tirelessly with Lincoln to organize the Whig party; Simeon Francis, editor of the Whig newspaper; James C. Conkling, another close Whig associate; James H. Matheny, the best man at Lincoln's wedding; and Albert Taylor Bledsoe, chief editorial writer for the Whig paper. Conservative John Todd Stuart even abstained from voting on the article. Only William Herndon voted for exclusion.

The Sangamon County poll books have been available to researchers for years. Mentor Graham, who claimed to be Lincoln's teacher in New Salem, knew about them as early as 1865, when he told William Herndon that Lincoln once acted as clerk at the New Salem poll:

He performed the duties with great facility, much fairness and honesty and dependability. I clerked with him that day and at the same polls. This Page  [End Page 65] was the first official public act in his life. The election books are now at the city of Springfield, Ill. where they can be seen and inspected any day.
Since the books rested at the State Archives rather than the Illinois State Historical Library, the more accustomed haunt of biographers and historians, they have escaped notice until very recently. Dean DeBolt, archivist at Sangamon State University, reports that the poll books were available for ten or fifteen years at the Illinois State Archives, were microfilmed in 1977, and now rest in the university archives. They hold great promise for expanding our knowledge of Lincoln's political base. Complete records of Springfield's vote in 1846 when Lincoln beat Peter Cartwright for Congress and in 1848 when Stephen T. Logan lost the same seat to Thomas L. Harris, for example, should reveal whether Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican War handed Illinois' banner Whig district to the Democrats.[121]

Psychohistory seems to hold less promise for the Lincoln field, not because it is an inadequate method but because the documentation for Lincoln's early life is so spare and unreliable, because he was so notoriously unrevealing and shut-mouthed about his inner self, and because the extant documentation for his life is so heavily political in nature. [122] Still, the documentation is surely no less scarce for Andrew Jackson, the product of an earlier hardscrabble frontier environment, and psychobiographers of him have produced refreshing insights. In particular, James C. Curtis's portrait of a Jackson whose personality was uncontrollable by any party structure and inimical to building them, is a definite improvement on the calculating pragmatic politician pictured by Robert V. Remini in an earlier biography.[123] Charles B. Page  [End Page 66] Strozier of Sangamon State University is currently at work on a promising psychobiography of Lincoln.[124] Certain collateral figures in the Lincoln field seem to cry out for a psychobiographical approach as well. The Todds, badly in need of a careful family history of some kind, might be well served by psychohistory, given their reputations for instability, the obvious differences in political preference among the children of the two wives of Robert Smith Todd, and Mary Todd's intense feeling that her childhood was barren.

Make no mistake about it, however, absorbing these new tools will not be easy. Psychohistory aside, hostility to biography and to the study of individual presidential administrations is built into the new methods. True, in America we are nowhere near a crisis. In fact, significant new biographical studies tumble from the presses weekly. Remini, for example, is at work on the first scholarly study of Andrew Jackson since 1911, and Irving H. Bartlett has just produced a new biography of Daniel Webster (already much studied in recent years), and the newest biography of Lincoln by Stephen Oates was widely reviewed. [125] Significantly, though some of this book's reviewers questioned the need for a new biography of Lincoln in particular, none questioned the enterprise of biography itself. History here is nowhere near being in the state it is in in France, where the distinguished historian René Rémond said in a recent interview:

Comme historien je me suis souvent interrogé sur l'utilité et les vertus de la biographie. Depuis quelques générations, il existe, dans l'école historique française, une prévention de principe contre la biographie. On trouve ce genre trop individuel alors que l'intelligence de l'histoire est celle des réalités collectives.[126]

Biography has its place, probably a firm one, in individualistic America. It is the final, irreducible datum of history. Too many Page  [End Page 67] collective studies describe a historical pattern that the life of no single man followed. George Fredrickson's Inner Civil War describes American intellectual movement from unpopular anti-individualism in the antebellum period, to collective nationalism in the Civil War's glorification of the nation, and then to renewed individualism when the nation loomed after the war as a regulator of economic life. Yet no single group of intellectuals and perhaps no single intellectual followed such a migration in thought.[127] People who liked the nation in 1861 still liked it in 1881. Biography is a constant check on loose generalization and careless classification; indeed, it is the ultimate and irreducible check. If no biography fits the theory, the theory simply is not true.

Yet we cannot fall for some reductionist argument that all history is ultimately biography. Generalizations there must be, and in many ways we are better able to arrive at good ones in the Lincoln field than ever before. Strangely enough, one obvious avenue to them is seldom investigated, and it is a "new" method that somehow has been forgotten in the sea of other new approaches, the comparative one. David Potter gave a suggestive lead in his customarily insightful essay, "Jefferson Davis and the Political Factors in Confederate Defeat" (1958). [128] This comparison of Lincoln and Davis as war leaders is more often praised, quoted, and reprinted than used as a model. Yet model it should be, as an outside observer can tell: "There has been surprisingly little comparative study of wartime politics in the Union and the Confederacy," says British historian of the American Civil War, Peter J. Parish. [129] This essay has already suggested comparisons of dissent, North and South, as a fresh route to understanding what is an old question for Union and Confederacy alike. With so obvious and manageable a comparative standard as the Confederacy available, it is a sad comment on the rigid compartmentalization of modern scholarship that the two are not more often compared. No language barriers, few radical cultural differences, and no chronological differences prevent this, and it should more Page  [End Page 68] often be done. Eric McKitrick's "Party Politics and the Union and Confederate War Efforts" (1967) has followed Potter's lead, and David Donald has carried the idea even further in Liberty and Union (1978). He argues that the Civil War fits the "consensus" view of American history because the Union and Confederate war efforts were so similar in conception. In finance (wary of taxation), on the battlefield (following Jomini's rules), in mobilization (instituting an iniquitous draft), and even in social policy (resorting eventually to recruiting Negro soldiers), the war efforts were obviously the work of "the same great people." More detailed comparisons are needed. [130]

More adventurous comparisons might be suggestive as well. Leaving aside Boritt's plea for studying "the histories of the four corners of the world" (though there surely are insights available from international comparisons), one might look at other American war leaders for standards of comparison. There is no comparison of Polk and Lincoln as war leaders, no look at the relative status of civil liberties in these two admittedly very different wars, and this might be helpful. [131] The obvious contrast between Polk and Lincoln in willingness and ability to handle ambitious commanders of different political persuasion bears looking into as well. The ratings of American Presidents, never considered too silly for inclusion in serious historical journals, practically call out for evaluations of the uses of presidential powers by various executives. [132] Political scientists confine themselves mostly to modern Presidents, but Randall blazed the trail years ago with his comparisons of Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, and other such comparisons would be useful.[133] Page  [End Page 69]

When all is said and done, it would be an insult to the historical profession and its audience to argue that there is opportunity for biographical work on Lincoln on the same scale that existed when Randall wrote "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" There will be many new insights on Lincoln in the years to come, one suspects, but they will come as some of the most important recent ones came, by an increased knowledge of the context of Lincoln's life. Because of the very size and quality of the Lincoln literature—because of the advances made since Randall's day and to a great degree because of him—it is simply easier to learn about Lincoln than in the past. This frees the student to learn more about American history in general, so that Lincoln will be accurately viewed from the proper perspective. The shock of the accusations that Lincoln was a "honkie" was soon dissipated by scholars who knew the breadth and depth of mid-century racism and the minuscule size of the abolitionist movement.

All of the previous generations of scholars approached Lincoln from the inside, toiling to find, assemble, and read the essential documents by and about Lincoln. The new generation can approach him from the outside as well. This allows us to place him properly in American history and gives us adequate comparative standards by which to appraise him. [134] In general, this has benefited Lincoln's image, and it may prove to be the avenue that maintains his high status among a new generation of Americans, professional and layman alike. To measure Lincoln against himself seems to set a very high standard. Measured against other figures of his age, Lincoln remains a giant. Page  [End Page 70]

Acknowledgments: I am indebted to G. S. Boritt, R. Gerald McMurtry, John David Smith, and Frank J. Williams for reading an early draft of this essay and suggesting many improvements. Conversations with Roger D. Bridges and James T. Hickey of the Illinois State Historical Library were also very helpful. Sylvia Neely informed me of recent developments in French scholarship.


  1. American Historical Review, 61 (1936), 270.return to text
  2. Randall, Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln (rev. ed.; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1951), p. x.return to text
  3. Roy P. Basler, ed., Marion Dolores Pratt and Lloyd Dunlap, asst. eds., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953–1955), hereafter cited as Collected Works. return to text
  4. Abraham Lincoln Papers, 97 reels, Library of Congress. A useful printed index is the Index to the Abraham Lincoln Papers (Washington: Library of Congress, 1960). The collection is often referred to as the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection (of the Abraham Lincoln Papers), but it should henceforth be called the Abraham Lincoln Papers because there is now a collection of Robert Todd Lincoln's own papers at the Illinois State Historical Library.return to text
  5. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: Supplement, 1832–1865 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974).return to text
  6. Justin G. and Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters (New York: Knopf, 1972). A new biography of Robert would be very much in order. Ralph G. Newman and James T. Hickey plan to publish a volume of Robert's letters about his father.return to text
  7. Herndon-Weik Collection, Library of Congress (microfilm copy, 14 reels).return to text
  8. Randall paved the way, editing, with Theodore Calvin Pease, The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, Vols. 20 and 22 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1925, 1933). Tyler Dennett's Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay (New York: Dodd, 1939); David Donald's Inside Lincoln's Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase (New York: Longmans, Green, 1954); and Howard K. Beale's edition of the Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, 3 vols. (New York: Norton, 1960) supplied needs Randall had expressed. Only Beale's edition of The Diary of Edward Bates (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1933) remains in the state Randall complained of. It is not published "in full"; a segment for the period 1846–1852 at the Missouri Historical Society remains in manuscript form only.return to text
  9. See Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Changing Image of Lincoln in American Historiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 11. Randall noted the Association's change in "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" pp. 284–85. return to text
  10. On Revisionism, see Thomas J. Pressly, Americans Interpret Their Civil War (1954; New York: Free Press, 1962), pp. 291–328.return to text
  11. Craven's review appeared in Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 43 (1956), 128. In John Walton Caughey's "Historians' Choice: Results of a Poll on Recently Published American History and Biography" (Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 39 [1952], 301), Randall's Lincoln the President ranked third among "Preferred American Biographies, 1920–1950"; it was behind only Douglas S. Freeman's R. E. Lee and Samuel E. Morison's Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Randall's four volumes were Lincoln the President: Springfield to Gettysburg, 2 vols. (New York: Dodd, 1945); Lincoln the President: Midstream (New York: Dodd, 1952); and, with Richard N. Current, Lincoln the President: Last Full Measure (New York: Dodd, 1955). It will be cited hereafter as a four-volume work. Williams's book was published by the University of Wisconsin Press. The quotation is from Lincoln the President, II, 25. return to text
  12. "Above the Battle: The Enigma of Abraham Lincoln," Feb. 1, 1947, pp. [1] 58–59. return to text
  13. "Lincoln a Tough-Minded Liberal Realist," New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, June 22, 1947, clipping in Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum. return to text
  14. Randall left certain topics for discussion in the later volumes because of the temporary unavailability of the Abraham Lincoln Papers (Lincoln the President, I, x–xi).return to text
  15. Pressly, Americans Interpret Their Civil War, pp. 338–60. Critics focused on Revisionism's lack of concern for the question of slavery and race. return to text
  16. "Above the Battle," p. 59. return to text
  17. Lewis, "Lincoln a Tough-Minded Liberal Realist."return to text
  18. The phrase "blundering generation" is Randall's in "A Blundering Generation," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 27 (1940), 3–28. return to text
  19. Lincoln the President, I, 138, 13, and II, 204. See also ibid., I, 15. For an excellent analysis of the reasons for Ford's overly cynical view of frontier politics, see "The Illinois Bookshelf," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 38 (1945), 99–104. return to text
  20. Lincoln the President, II, 63, 218. return to text
  21. Ibid., p. 221.return to text
  22. The book was published by the University of Oklahoma Press, quotations from pp. 112, 13. Zornow adopted the term "Unconditionals" (p. 15) for Randall's "Vindictives" because the latter seemed "too harsh," but it had little effect on the way he interpreted the structure of politics. For Zornow, it was the party that stood between the people and the President they wanted: "The American public in January seemingly acquiesced in Lincoln's decision to stand for re-election. Unfortunately many of the most influential party leaders were reluctant to renominate Lincoln" (p. 12).return to text
  23. Potter's review appeared in Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 42 (1955), 135. return to text
  24. Stampp, Indiana Politics During the Civil War (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1949). Stampp retained the Revisionist insight that the Democracy was a loyal opposition, but he did not describe the Republican party as dominated by a small Radical faction, and he saw real differences between Republicans and Democrats. Stampp's stress on Morton's ambition and his manipulation of the treason issue, however, made only the Republicans appear "political" and fit the old Revisionist argument that Republicans used propaganda as a cloak for naked ambition. Zornow also accused Republicans of dodging Reconstruction issues (pp. 164–77).return to text
  25. Zornow, pp. 181, 219, 221. return to text
  26. The book was published by Columbia University Press. Lincoln candidly explained patronage to Carl Schurz in a Nov. 10, 1862, letter. Collected Works, V, 494. return to text
  27. Collected Works, VII, 514. return to text
  28. The book was published by Harvard University Press; quotation from I, 14–15.return to text
  29. Frederick C. Luebke, ed., Ethnic Voters and the Election of Lincoln (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971). See also Zornow, pp. 211–13.return to text
  30. "The voting public went to the polls in November with no clear issues before it.... Actually, Lincoln and McClellan were agreed on nearly all fundamental points except emancipation," says Zornow on page 162. Five pages later he says, "Thus emancipation became an issue in the campaign." This seeming contradiction was no problem for Zornow, who assumed, as most Revisionists did in order to see the war as needless, that slavery was doomed anyway. He held that "by the summer of 1864 the fate of slavery had been sealed. Slavery as an institution probably could not have been continued by the Confederacy even had it been victorious" (p. 169).return to text
  31. "Numbers, Science, and History: A Review Essay of The Indiana Voter," Indiana Magazine of History, 74 (1978), 51.return to text
  32. "History from a Deck of IBM Cards," Reviews in American History, 6 (1978), 229, 233. return to text
  33. Most historians agree that Benson's book (Princeton University Press) was the first major work of the "new political history." See, for example, Eric Foner, "The Causes of the Civil War: Recent Interpretations and New Directions," Civil War History, 20 (1974), 199n, and Benedict, "Numbers, Science, and History," p. 11n. Jacksonian scholarship before Benson had stressed the virtues of at least one party—the Democracy—especially in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s famous book, The Age of Jackson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1945). return to text
  34. Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era (New York: Knopf, 1956), pp. 57–81; Rawley, ed., Lincoln and Civil War Politics (New York: Holt, 1969), p. 126. Randall called Lincoln a "tough-minded liberal realist" in Lincoln the Liberal Statesman (p. ix), but he did not significantly alter his view of party politics or of statesmanship. return to text
  35. Potter Review, p. 134. return to text
  36. Dell's unpublished paper was delivered before the Lincoln Group of Boston, October 15, 1977. Oates's paper was delivered at the American Historical Association meeting in San Francisco, December, 1978. Hyman's paper will be the third annual R. Gerald McMurtry Lecture at the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, Fort Wayne, Indiana, May 8, 1980. I am indebted to Frank J. Williams, president of the Lincoln Group of Boston, for information on Dell's paper and to Professors Oates and Hyman for information about their papers. McCrary's book was published by Princeton University Press in 1978.return to text
  37. The book was published by Louisiana State University Press; see especially pp. 117–61. return to text
  38. Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy during the Civil War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), pp. 241–42. On pp. 223–24 BeIz criticizes the treatment of the Wade-Davis Bill in Lincoln the President. return to text
  39. Stephens, A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: National Pub. Co., 1868–1870), II, 576–622. Stephens claimed that the book was based on conversations held in 1867 and that his poor health delayed publication until 1870, but he wrote the concluding sections between January and May, 1870. See his letters to Linton Stephens, Jan. 15 and April 5, 1870, Alexander H. Stephens Papers, Manhattanville College (microfilm copy, University of Notre Dame). return to text
  40. Stephens, II, 614. Lincoln wrote a draft of a resolution to reimburse the slave states with 400 million dollars, half to be paid upon the cessation of "resistance to the national authority" on April first and half "only upon the amendment of the national constitution recently proposed by Congress, becoming valid law, on or before the first day of July next" (Collected Works, VIII, 260–61).return to text
  41. Stephens, II, 669. Stephens himself, incidentally, merits a major biography.return to text
  42. Some defected from Lincoln's racial policies before Lincoln died (Orville Hickman Browning and John Todd Stuart)—proof only that Lincoln's racial views were more liberal than those of some of his close associates. David Davis, who opposed Reconstruction and had been wary of the Emancipation Proclamation, urged Lincoln on January 18, 1863, to change his policy on slavery. Lincoln replied that it "was a fixed thing—that he intended to adhere to it." Randall and Pease, eds., Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, I, 616. These cases prove precisely what Randall wanted to disprove: that Lincoln's friends were more conservative on the slavery question than was Lincoln. Classifying Salmon P. Chase as Lincoln's friend strains belief, especially in light of Randall's attitude toward Chase in other writings. Moreover, though Chase became a Liberal Republican by 1872, he had been in the vanguard of Republican Radicalism earlier. Montgomery Blair had been removed from the Cabinet before Lincoln died, and Gideon Welles, in the words of his biographer, was "not a member of the inner circle" of Lincoln's Cabinet and "not as important to Lincoln, politically or personally" as other members. See John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 392, 353. Though certainly a friend of Lincoln's, Lamon always far exceeded Lincoln in hating abolitionists. Lamon, for example, blamed the disastrous retreat from Bull Run on "A d—n fat abolitionist Lieutenant" and on "abolition spectators." Willard King, Lincoln's Manager, David Davis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), p. 185. Randall's list is in Lincoln and the South, pp. 149–53.return to text
  43. Mark M. Krug, Lyman Trumbull: Conservative Radical (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1965), pp. 237, 240, 236. return to text
  44. Thomas J. McCormack, ed., Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, 2 vols. (Cedar Rapids: Torch Press, 1909), II, 458, 459.return to text
  45. David Donald, Lincoln's Herndon (New York: Knopf, 1948), p. 260.return to text
  46. George Thomas Palmer, A Conscientious Turncoat: The Story of John M. Palmer, 1817–1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1941), p. 194. return to text
  47. James Speed, James Speed: A Personality (Louisville: John P. Morton & Co., 1914), pp. 94–95, 102–03.return to text
  48. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865–1877 (New York: Knopf, 1965), pp. 4–49; Johnson, "Lincoln's Solution to the Problems of Peace Terms, 1864–1865," Journal of Southern History, 34 (1968), 584–86; Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream (Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1978), pp. 239, 301.return to text
  49. John and LaWanda Cox, Politics, Principle and Prejudice, 1865–1866 (Glencoe: Free Press, 1963), pp. 42–44.return to text
  50. "Persistent Whiggery in the Confederate South," Journal of Southern History, 27 (1961), 328. return to text
  51. The book was published by Princeton University Press in 1978; quotations from pp. 203–04, 354. return to text
  52. "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" p. 272. Some of the spade work could now be refined, however. Jay Monaghan's Lincoln Bibliography, 1839–1939, Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, Vols. 31 and 32 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1943–1945) could probably be doubled in size and descriptive comments be vastly improved. An additional bibliography of journal and periodical articles would be useful. Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, 1809–1865, edited by Earl Schenck Miers, 3 vols. (Washington: Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1960) could be supplemented with numerous citations for dates missing in the book. A Lincoln atlas with maps of his travels, electoral districts, vote distribution, and judicial circuit would be very useful.return to text
  53. "Neither Image Breaker Nor Broker Be," Reviews in American History, 6 (1978), 77. John J. Duff's A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (New York: Rinehart, 1960) and John P. Frank's Lincoln as a Lawyer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961) have not completely filled the need Randall saw for studies of Lincoln's professional life. return to text
  54. Boritt, pp. 314, 328, 329, 331. We are badly in need of a definitive and lengthy biography of the perpetual Whig standard-bearer, Henry Clay, the last major biography being Glyndon Van Deusen's one-volume Life of Henry Clay (Boston: Little, Brown, 1937). Until Boritt's book, Paul Simon had made the greatest contribution since 1936—Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965).return to text
  55. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 62 (1969), 287, 277–78.return to text
  56. Richard Allen Heckman, Lincoln vs Douglas: The Great Debates Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1967), p. 59.return to text
  57. The two most important Lincoln books since Randall's sought to prove the importance of Lincoln's stress on the morality of slavery issue in the Debates are Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (Garden City: Doubleday, 1959), and Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), pp. 96–142. Michael F. Holt in The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: Wiley, 1978) stresses Lincoln's resurrection of the conspiracy charge as his most important weapon against Douglas (p. 277). Holt credits Potter's Impending Crisis, 1848–1861 (New York: Harper, 1976) with the insight. Potter's chapter on Lincoln and Douglas is the best brief treatment of the Debates in print. Fehrenbacher's book reversed our understanding of the House Divided Speech, the Freeport Question, and Lincoln's presidential nomination.return to text
  58. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 73–102. return to text
  59. "Salmon P. Chase, Radicalism, and the Politics of Emancipation, 1861–1864," Journal of American History, 60 (1973), 43.return to text
  60. Randall and Current, Lincoln the President, IV, 108.return to text
  61. McCulloch's papers are at Lilly Library, Indiana University. Smith is the subject of an unpublished dissertation by Richard J. Thomas, "Caleb Blood Smith: Whig Orator and Politican, Lincoln's Secretary of the Interior" (Indiana University, 1969). Dennison has no biographer. The Speeds are the subject of an unpublished dissertation by Gary L. Williams, "James and Joshua Speed: Lincoln's Kentucky Friends" (Duke University, 1971). Eric McKitrick says of Andrew Johnson that "No truly satisfactory biography ... has ever been written, and conceivably a great contribution might result if some highly able person were to undertake such a work." See McKitrick, ed., Andrew Johnson: A Profile (New York: Hill and Wang, 1969), p. vii. return to text
  62. Many of the biographies Randall requested appeared in later years. Robert W. Johannsen's Stephen A. Douglas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973) replaced George Fort Milton's work on Douglas. Donald's Lincoln's Herndon is definitive. Others are F. Lauriston Bullard, "Abraham Lincoln and George Ashmun," New England Quarterly, 19 (1946), 184–211; Richard H. Sewell, John P. Hale and the Politics of Abolition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965); David L. Smiley, Lion of White Hall: The Life of Cassius M. Clay (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962); James A. Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan, 1811–1883 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955); and Albert D. Kirwan, John J. Crittenden: The Struggle for the Union (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1962). Richard Yates was not well served by Richard Yates and Catherine Yates Pickering's Richard Yates: Civil War Governor (Danville, Ill.: Interstate Printers, 1966). Jack Nortrup's "Yates, the Prorogued Legislature, and the Constitutional Convention," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 62 (1969), 5–34, shows the need for more work on this important Illinois figure. return to text
  63. The list of potential biographies could be very long indeed. War governors, for example, supply numerous figures for study. Professor Gilbert R. Tredway of Campbell College is at work on a biography of one of the most important, Oliver P. Morton. Randall also recommended "an examination of the letters and papers of Lincoln's biographers" ("Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" p. 285). Though Benjamin P. Thomas's Portrait for Posterity: Lincoln and His Biographers (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1947) provides a readable and adequately researched introduction to the problem, there is no exhaustive study of Lincoln historiography nor of any Lincoln biographer except Herndon. The papers by Robert W. Johannsen and Stephen B. Oates at the Carl Sandburg Centenary conference at Knox College, Jan. 21, 1978, show the promise of the sort of study Randall recommended. Johannsen is at work on a book on Sandburg. Robert W. Johannsen, "The Poet as Biographer: Carl Sandburg's Prairie Years"; Stephen B. Oates, "Carl Sandburg: Chronicler, Composer, and Poet of the Mythical Lincoln." Johannsen to the author, Jan. 5, 1978, Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum. A study of Randall would be welcome. Logsdon's book is Horace White, Nineteenth Century Liberal (Westport: Greenwood Publishing, 1971).return to text
  64. "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" p. 291. He recommended study of the Union League Clubs, and it is still needed. See Maxwell Whiteman, Gentlemen in Crisis: The First Century of the Union League of Philadelphia, 1862–1962 (Philadelphia: Union League of Philadelphia, 1975).return to text
  65. Fredrickson's book was published by Harper; Freidel's work was cited in note 28.return to text
  66. See Bailyn's "General Introduction" to the first volume of his edition of Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 1750–1776, 4 vols. projected (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965).return to text
  67. The book was published by Norton; see p. 257. return to text
  68. Cardinal to author, June 28 and July 13, 1978, Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum. Silbey's essay appeared in Civil War History, 10 (1964), 130–40. return to text
  69. Foner's Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men does not deal with the Civil War years nor with the Republicans' opposition. Richard H. Sewell's review (Journal of American History, 58 [1907], 717) noted that "By emphasizing the idealism as well as the self-interest of Republicanism, and by insisting on the secondary importance of nativism and race prejudice in forging the new party, Foner bravely—and persuasively—bucks the current trend among political historians." Sewell also questioned Foner's "close identification of political rhetoric and mass belief." Foner's "Politics, Ideology, and the Origins of the Civil War" in George M. Fredrickson, ed., A Nation Divided: Problems and Issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Co., 1975), pp. 15–34, likewise stresses ideology in the pre-war period.return to text
  70. "The Rule of Law Under Lincoln," Lincoln the Liberal Statesman, pp. 121, 125.return to text
  71. Bestor asserted the "configurative role" of the Constitution in "The American Civil War as a Constitutional Crisis," American Historical Review, 69 (1964), 327–52. Other important works are Hyman, A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution (New York: Knopf, 1973); Paludan, A Covenant with Death: The Constitution, Law, and Equality in the Civil War Era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975); Belz, Reconstructing the Union; and Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction, 1863–1869 (New York: Norton, 1974). return to text
  72. Fisher, "The Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the War of the Rebellion," Political Science Quarterly, 3 (1888), 487–88. The quotation is from a clipping laid in a copy of Binney's pamphlet. See Jim Presgraves to the author, n.d., Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum. return to text
  73. The quotation is from p. ix of the revised edition.return to text
  74. Richard O. Curry, "The Union As It Was: A Critique of Recent Interpretations of the 'Copperheads,'" Civil War History, 13 (1967), 25–39 and "Copperheadism and Continuity: The Anatomy of a Stereotype," Journal of Negro History, 57 (1972), 29–36.return to text
  75. David M. Potter, "Jefferson Davis and the Political Factors in Confederate Defeat," The South and the Sectional Crisis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968), pp. 263–86.return to text
  76. The letter is in the Stephens Papers, Library of Congress (microfilm copy).return to text
  77. Thomas B. Alexander and Richard E. Beringer, The Anatomy of the Confederate Congress: A Study of the Influences of Member Characteristics on Legislative Voting Behavior, 1861–1865 (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1972), pp. 199–200.return to text
  78. Quotation is from IV, vii. See also III, 437, where Randall praises the collection of Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress as "notable in that it knows not of the assassination."return to text
  79. Benjamin P. Thomas gave John Wilkes Booth's conspiracy three paragraphs in more than 500 pages in Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1952), p. 519, though surely it is one of the more mysterious and controverted aspects of the Lincoln story. Richard N. Current devoted only nine pages of 304 in The Lincoln Nobody Knows (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958) to assassination-related events, especially the cases of Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt. Stephen B. Oates's With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Harper, 1977) mentioned Booth only three times and devoted about three of 436 pages to the assassination (pp. 429–32). Only Reinhard H. Luthin's The Real Abraham Lincoln (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1960) devoted some seventy of his 675 pages (pp. 606–76) to the crime, and these still constitute the best brief treatment.return to text
  80. P. 372; Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, 1864–1865 (New York: Scribners, 1971), p. 327; Thomas and Hyman, Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War (New York: Knopf, 1962).return to text
  81. The book was published by Little, Brown of Boston.return to text
  82. Eisenschiml, Reviewers Reviewed: A Challenge to Historical Critics (Ann Arbor: William L. Clements Library, 1940), pp. 9, 13. All reviewers quoted from the book's dust jacket (Eisenschiml pleaded in his defense that the publisher and not he wrote that material), and some made sloppy errors. Hesseltine, for example, said that "The [Washington] telegraph wires were grounded by some of the conspirators," though he surely had no way of knowing for certain.return to text
  83. The book was published by Carrick & Evans of New York. Daniel Weinberg of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago informed me during a telephone interview that he rarely has a copy of Bryan's book in stock.return to text
  84. Eisenschiml has had imitators also. Theodore Roscoe, The Web of Conspiracy: The Complete Story of the Men Who Murdered Abraham Lincoln (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1950); Vaughan Shelton, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder Trial (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1965); and David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr., The Lincoln Conspiracy (Los Angeles: Schick Sunn Classic Books, 1977). See Hyman, With Malice Toward Some: Scholarship (or Something Less) on the Lincoln Murder (Springfield: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1979). return to text
  85. Hanchett to the author, June 6, 1978, Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum.return to text
  86. "The Naked Emperor," Aug. 29, 1977, p. 86. return to text
  87. The Sleeping Sentinel was published by T. B. Peterson & Brothers of Philadelphia; quotations are from pp. 11–13, 15.return to text
  88. "The Pardoned Sentinel," Feb. 26, 1870, p. 133.return to text
  89. The book was published by Harper & Brothers of New York; quotation is from p. 267. return to text
  90. Life of Abraham Lincoln, 2 vols. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1925), II, 250–53, 255, 257, 262.return to text
  91. The book was published by the University of North Carolina Press. See also Frank W. Klingberg's review in Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 41 (1954), 523–24.return to text
  92. Thomas, Portrait of Posterity, pp. 214–15,219; Thomas calls Barton the "first of the modern, thorough-going realists" (p. 242), but Barton was, more properly, among the last of the great amateurs in the field. Dorris, "President Lincoln's Clemency," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 20 (1928), 547–68, and an article by the same title in Lincoln Herald, 55 (1953), esp. pp. 2–3, 6, 7.return to text
  93. Randall mentioned broadsides and circulars in "Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" p. 291, but not in such a way as to encourage study of them as integral parts of political history or as respectable historical documents. For scholarly treatment of a special kind of broadside, see George Winston Smith, "Broadsides for Freedom: Civil War Propaganda in New England," New England Quarterly, 21 (1948), 291–312. return to text
  94. Harold W. Gammans's A Check List of Broadsides and Pamphlets Associated with Abraham Lincoln (Bristol, R.I.: Franklin Printing Co., 1958) was limited to 500 copies and based principally on two collections. Since it does not describe the broadsides, its usefulness is extremely limited. Until something better comes along, the scholar must visit the various Lincoln collections and examine the broadsides personally. return to text
  95. "TO THE FRIENDS OF THE NATIONAL ROAD," LB-323, Lincoln Broadside Collection, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield.return to text
  96. "Union Congressional Committee Rooms," LB-334, ibid. return to text
  97. "Democrats, who love the Union .... do you want to offer the rebels your hand and help them break down the Union? If you want this, vote the Democratic ticket!!" The broadside is in the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum. return to text
  98. Freidel, Union Pamphlets, II, 1130–31, 1133.return to text
  99. Potter, "The Historian's Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa," The South and the Sectional Conflict, pp. 34–83.return to text
  100. "THE BEGINNING," broadside, Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum.return to text
  101. William G. Carleton concluded that the coincidence of high volunteering and high dissent in the Midwest proved that the soldiers "were mainly attracted to the cash bounties proffered volunteers." "Civil War Dissidence in the North: The Perspective of a Century," South Atlantic Quarterly, 64 (1966), 392.return to text
  102. The book was subtitled 165 Poster Cartoons and Drawings for the Press and was published by Primavera Press of Elmira, N.Y.return to text
  103. See Elwood Parry, The Images of the Indian and the Black Man in American Art, 1590–1900 (New York: Braziller, 1974). Forrest G. Wood's Black Scare: The Racist Response to Emancipation and Reconstruction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968) uses broadsides and prints of blacks to great effect. William Murrell's A History of American Graphic Humor, 2 vols. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1933), II, passim, comments on social stereotypes in cartoons and patriotic envelopes, but covers too large a period to treat the subject in depth. Frank Weitenkampf's Political Caricature in the United States in Separately Published Cartoons (New York: New York Public Library, 1953) lists over 190 cartoons for the years 1860–1864. Perceptive comments on the use of cartoons are in John Sullivan, "Jackson Caricatured: Two Historical Errors," Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 31 (1972), 39–44.return to text
  104. See, for example, Holzer's "Prints of Abraham Lincoln," Antiques, 109 (1974), 329–35; "Lincolniana: Lincoln and the Printmakers," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 68 (1975), 74–84; "Lincoln and Washington: The Printmakers Blessed Their Union," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 75 (1977), 204–13; "Out from the Wilderness," The Connoisseur, Oct., 1978, pp. 124–31; and "The Lincolns at Home," American Art & Antiques, Feb., 1979, pp. 100–05. return to text
  105. I am indebted to Professor Strozier for a typescript of his "Final Report on Lincoln's Thought and the Present: A Program for Historic Site Interpretation" (Feb. 20, 1979), on which this paragraph is based.return to text
  106. Angle, "The Changing Lincoln," in O. Fritiof Ander, ed., The John H. Hauberg Historical Essays (Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana College Library, 1954), pp. 1–3; Clyde C. Walton, "An Agonizing Reappraisal: 'Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?'" in Ander, ed., Lincoln Images: Augustana College Centennial Essays (Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana College Library, 1960), p. 103 [a warning against antiquarianism]; Fehrenbacher, The Changing Image of Lincoln, pp. 4–5. Angle's "Where We Stand: Lincoln Scholarship," in A Portion of That Field: The Centennial of the Burial of Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967), pp. 23–40, and Johannsen's "In Search of the Real Lincoln, Or Lincoln at the Crossroads," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 61 (1968), 229–47 are other historiographical essays on Lincoln.return to text
  107. Fehrenbacher, Changing Image of Lincoln, pp. 4–5.return to text
  108. The book was subtitled The Negro in the Free States, 1790–1860 and published by the University of Chicago Press; see, esp., p. 276.return to text
  109. Quarles's book was published by Oxford University Press; Bennett's "Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist" appeared in the Feb., 1968, issue, pp. 35–38, 40, 42. Angle noted the loss of Negroes' admiration for Lincoln and perceptively predicted a decline in "Lincoln's stature as a champion of human freedom" in 1965 ("Where We Stand: Lincoln Scholarship," pp. 29–30, 36–37).return to text
  110. "Only His Stepchildren: Lincoln and the Negro," Civil War History, 20 (1974), 309. return to text
  111. Fredrickson, "A Man but Not a Brother: Abraham Lincoln and Racial Equality," Journal of Southern History, 41 (1975), 51–54.return to text
  112. Donald's review appeared in New York Times Book Review, March 13, 1977, p. 2. return to text
  113. Boritt, "Whither Lincoln," Lincoln Herald, 80 (1978), 1. The relationship between Negroes and Lincoln after his death could bear attention. For a pioneering effort, see John David Smith, "Black Images of Lincoln in the Age of Jim Crow," Lincoln Lore, Number 1681, March, 1978. return to text
  114. Mark E. Neely, Jr., "Abraham Lincoln Did Not Defend His Wife Before the Committee on the Conduct of the War," Lincoln Lore, Number 1643, Jan., 1975; Richard Harris, "Reflections: Nixon and Lincoln," New Yorker, April 15, 1974, pp. 108, 110–14.return to text
  115. Fehrenbacher, "Only His Stepchildren," p. 298. Franklin's book was published by Doubleday of Garden City, N.Y.return to text
  116. Fehrenbacher, "Only His Stepchildren," p. 298.return to text
  117. Fehrenbacher, Changing Image of Lincoln, p. 6.return to text
  118. The unrealistic nature of traditional liberal scholarship on Lincoln can be seen in Randall's loaded questions: "How far was the nascent Republican economic regime in keeping with Lincoln's concepts, and how far in general can the Republican party be regarded as Lincoln's chart and compass? Does not Lincoln's ideology seem as close to the New Deal as to post-Civil War Republicanism?" ("Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?" pp. 286–87). Republican economics were Whig economics, and Lincoln defended them throughout his life. Boritt also refutes Randall's charge of "the mediocrity of some of Lincoln's Whig campaign speeches" (p. 293). On Progressive economics and Lincoln, see Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, p. 296.return to text
  119. See Owen Connelly, "Who's Afraid of Will and Ariel," in Reviews in European History, 3 (1977), 185–86, and Josef Konvitz, "Biography: The Missing Form in French Historical Studies," European Studies Review, 6 (1976), 9–20. The Association for French Historical Studies scheduled a session entitled "Political Biography after Its Abolition by the Annales School," for its Sept. 9, 1978, meeting in Newport, R.I.return to text
  120. Boritt, "Whither Lincoln," p. 1. return to text
  121. Sangamon County Election Returns, Springfield Poll, March 6, 1848, Sangamon State University Archives (microfilm copy). Graham's letter is reprinted in Kunigunde Duncan and D. F. Nickols, Mentor Graham: The Man Who Taught Lincoln (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944), p. 251. DeBolt to author, Sept. 21, 1976, Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum. return to text
  122. Charles B. Strozier, editor of Psychohistory Review, delivered "The Search for Identity and Love in the Young Lincoln" at the New England Historical Association meeting in Oct., 1976. Richard Current's comments on the paper suggested the difficulties in dealing with Lincoln as a subject of psychobiography.return to text
  123. Remini, Andrew Jackson (New York: Twayne, 1966); Curtis, Andrew Jackson and the Search for Vindication (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976). return to text
  124. See Strozier, "Abraham Lincoln," Psychobiography, 1 (1978), 3–15. return to text
  125. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821 (New York: Harper, 1977); Bartlett, Daniel Webster (New York: Norton, 1978). return to text
  126. "As a historian I have often asked myself what the utility and the virtues of biography are. For several generations there has been, in the French historical school, a prejudice against biography. This genre is considered too individual while history's understanding is that of collective realities." Aimé Savard interroge René Rémond (Paris: Le Centurion [1967]), p. 10.return to text
  127. See, for example, Neely, "Nationalism and the New Economics: Elisha Mulford and the Organic Theory of the State," American Quarterly, 29 (1977), 417–21. return to text
  128. The South and the Sectional Crisis, pp. 263–86.return to text
  129. The American Civil War (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1975), p. 707.return to text
  130. McKitrick's essay was published in William Nisbet Chambers and Walter Dean Burnham, eds., The American Party System: Stages of Political Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 117–51. Donald's book, subtitled The Crisis of Popular Government, 1830–1890, was published by Little, Brown. The quotation is on p. 121. return to text
  131. Tom Reilly, "Newspaper Suppression During the Mexican War, 1846–48," Journalism Quarterly, 54 (1977), 262–70, 349, is a pioneering article on this subject. return to text
  132. See Gary M. Maranell, "The Evaluation of Presidents: An Extension of the Schlesinger Polls," Journal of American History, 57 (1970), 104–13. return to text
  133. "Lincoln's Peace and Wilson's" in Lincoln the Liberal Statesman, pp. 151–74, and Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, pp. 523–30. return to text
  134. Other subjects for study might include: a careful re-evaluation of Lincoln's reading and of his views of education; Lincoln's mind (why, for example, did he think slavery began in 1434?); Lincoln's nationalism; Lincoln's image in all periods of American history (the Progressive Era, when two historians were Presidents, would be especially interesting); and an exhaustive treatment of Lincoln historiography. Finally, if someone does not provide a scholarly, up-to-date, and lively 200-page biography for college undergraduates, there may never be any more Lincoln scholars.return to text