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For many years The Abraham Lincoln Association Papers served as a respected and conspicuous expression of association effort. After a lengthy lapse the series was resumed in 1979, because the board of directors desired to affirm that Lincoln scholarship enjoyed both a proud tradition and a contemporary vitality. This commitment affords license not only to share the latest findings about Lincoln but also to re-issue significant but scarce writings from the past. The selections in this year's edition reflect that dual purpose.
The first two essays originally appeared in successive volumes of the Papers published in the early 1930's. Those times fifty years ago may have been dark days for the American republic, but they were the Abraham Lincoln Association's golden age. Riding on the crest of a growing membership and the inspired leadership of president Logan Hay, the organization was sponsoring and enriching Lincoln scholarship with remarkable energy and success. In addition to publishing its Papers and the Quarterly Bulletin, the Association was in the midst of an ambitious multivolume venture to document Lincoln's day-by-day activities; that series remains an essential reference tool to historians and biographers today. It also earned plaudits for specialized studies on the two communities of Lincoln's formative years: Lincoln's New Salem (1934) and "Here I Have Lived": A History of Lincoln's Springfield (1935). These latter books, which also have stood the test of time, were the work, respectively, of Benjamin P. Thomas and Paul M. Angle. With Logan Hay these two gifted historians were the key to the Abraham Lincoln Association's extraordinary productivity and success a half century ago. In reprinting essays that each contributed at the time, we both celebrate the Association's golden age and remind readers of the timeless value of their writings.
Paul Angle served as executive secretary of the Association from 1925 to 1932, when he became secretary of the Illinois State Historical Society. In the 1935 edition of the Papers he contributed an essay on "Lincoln's Power with Words." Noting that among the paradoxes of Lincoln's life, none was more striking than his mastery of language in spite of scant formal schooling, Angle deftly examined his reading habits, oratory, mental processes and literary style. He concluded that Lincoln's words mirrored his personal greatness: "his ruggedness, his tenderness, his tolerance, his humility."
Succeeding Angle as executive secretary was Benjamin Thomas, whose four years in that position earned him an equal reputation for Page [End Page 5] clarity, energy and sound judgment. The 1936 edition of the Papers carried his essay on "Lincoln's Humor: An Analysis." Thomas probed the sources and purposes of Lincoln's humor, characterizing it as earthy, homespun, vernacular and shrewd. Like Angle he sensed a momentous change in his subject in the early 1850's, when Lincoln's attention riveted on slavery and his humor shifted from a frivolous style of ridicule to more serious purpose. Like his oratory and prose, Lincoln's humor was a revealing measure of the man.
Joining these two distinguished writings of an earlier age is an interesting short essay of more recent vintage. In "Jesse W. Fell and the Lincoln Autobiography" Harold K. Sage enlightens us on the disposition of a famous document and corrects a sturdy myth about its provenance. This study was privately printed in 1971, and in our opinion deserves wider circulation and attention.
The publications committee of the Abraham Lincoln Association provided general editorial advice and assistance in the preparation of this volume. Its members are Floyd Barringer, John Chapin, Cullom Davis (chairman), Irving Dilliard, Robert P. Howard, Robert W. Johannsen, Charles Patton, Alvin Rountree, and Clyde C. Walton. Staff members of the Illinois State Historical Society and Library assisted in picture selection and other matters. Editor and production supervisor was Kitty Wrigley.