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Abraham Lincoln: A Biography, published in 1952, was an immense success with the reading public as well as with Lincoln specialists. It brought Benjamin Platt Thomas to the crest of his career, and he enjoyed the recognition like no other experience of his life in history, business, and farming.
His delight and satisfaction are apparent in contemporary photographs: Thomas at the office of his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, who snapped him still in his overcoat and later reproduced the picture on the book jacket; Thomas at a bookstore in Springfield, Illinois, where he autographed copies of his Lincoln for hometown buyers; Thomas at the speakers' table of book luncheons in Chicago and New York; and Thomas in his book-lined study at home: with his wife; in an easy chair, reading; and at his desk, writing.
Certain details in the photographs of the author at home are emblematic of Thomas's life. He holds a pen, poised on the page, looking on it intensely. He also holds a cigarette, unmindful of its harmful potential. And above his desk hangs a caricature of Lincoln by Boris Riedel. Old Abe's lifted eyebrows and drooping mouth convey a quizzical look, a mock dismay. The caption reads: "My God, another book"!
Thomas cherished that cartoon. He was quietly amused by the proliferation of Lincoln studies, even as he added to it. Although Thomas is mainly remembered for the most widely read life of Lincoln of his generation, his many publications and activities as a resident of Lincoln's Springfield exemplify the life of a professional historian without academic affiliations.
For the benefit of Knopf's promotion of Lincoln, Thomas sketched his own life, and he must have smiled when he noted that he had been born on Washington's birthday, February 22, 1902. His father, "a successful general storekeeper" in Pemberton, New Jersey, died when Ben was two, but "the young widow Thomas" soon married Ernest Ward Pickering, and the boy's relations with his stepfather "became those of a father and son." Pickering was a Baptist min- Page [End Page 15] ister, and his calling took the family from the small town of Pemberton to larger communities: Chester, Pennsylvania, and Collings-wood, New Jersey, both close to Philadelphia; Newark, New Jersey; and, by the time Ben reached high school, Baltimore, Maryland.
Thomas next enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where he majored in economics, made Phi Beta Kappa, and was class president. He stayed in Baltimore after graduation in 1924, teaching at St. Paul's School for a year before he was "beguiled into selling bonds" for an investment house. Weary of that business and interested in history, he returned to Hopkins in 1926, where a graduate school scholarship and good teachers, notably John H. Latané, paved the way, in just three years, to his Ph.D. degree.
Thomas's dissertation, "Russo-American Relations, 1815–1867," reflected the importance of diplomatic history when it was published in 1930. It was a solid, scholarly work, based largely on sources in the State Department and at the Library of Congress. Reviewers pointed out that Thomas cited nothing in Russian (not knowing the language), but he could figure out French, the language of diplomacy in St. Petersburg. A larger difficulty inhered in the subject itself and in the canons of "scientific history," in Page [End Page 16] which Johns Hopkins had led the profession. The topic had to be treated in cold, impersonal ways, and the prose, although clear, was complex. Thomas later remarked, "It might almost be said that a man must slough off the ponderosity that adheres to him from graduate training before he can hope to write well."
In 1929, with scholarly credentials in order, Thomas became an associate professor of history at Birmingham-Southern College, in Birmingham, Alabama, where he stayed three years. Also in 1929, on the day after Christmas, Thomas married Salome Kreider, a student from Springfield at Goucher College, and so she, too, moved from Baltimore to Birmingham. As it happened, the Kreider family owned a summer cottage at Old Mission, Michigan, as did Logan Hay, a prominent lawyer and civic leader in Springfield. As president of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Hay was making it "the medium of a thorough, scientific study of Lincoln." He became acquainted with Ben and Sally Thomas in Michigan and during their visits to Springfield, and soon the professor contributed "A Russian Estimate of Lincoln" to the association's Bulletin. In this piece, Thomas collected references to the Civil War president in the dispatches of Eduard de Stoeckl, the Russian minister at Washington. 
Logan Hay had launched the association's research program in 1925 with the appointment of Paul M. Angle as executive secretary. In 1932, when Angle moved on to head the Illinois State Historical Library, Hay offered the Lincoln post to Thomas, who was "amazed and thrilled" to accept it. Although Thomas had enjoyed teaching at Birmingham-Southern, where he was well liked, it had become his "lot to teach European history" in which he "saw no future," for he "lacked the necessary proficiency in foreign languages." He also had envied Angle's seemingly "ideal situation with full time for research and writing." Moreover, according to his wife many years later, Thomas was "not too fond of living in the South partly because of their prejudices against Negroes." The move north no doubt also appealed to Sally Thomas, whose father was Page [End Page 17] an eminent physician, and who came from an old Springfield family, her mother a Pasfield. 
Thomas plunged into his new work, "the sort of intensive program under which one learns much in a short time." Between 1932 and 1936, he edited and contributed to every issue of the association's quarterly Bulletin, prepared articles for its annual volumes of Papers, and wrote two books that the association published. His mentor in this work was Logan Hay, who was "more demanding than any professor" Thomas had known in graduate school, "yet always sympathetic and encouraging." 
In becoming a Lincoln authority, Thomas also benefited from conversations with Angle. When he asked Angle what biographies of Lincoln he should read first, he was told "to skip them for the present and read what Lincoln wrote and said himself." In following this advice, Thomas familiarized himself with Lincoln's perspective on unfolding events. Not only did an understanding of that perspective later inform Thomas's Lincoln but it also defined his early attention to Lincoln's words.
In "The Individuality of Lincoln" and "Lincoln's Humor," Thomas collected several dozen choice expressions and anecdotes. His audience for these two essays surely enjoyed the material as much as he did. By arrangement and commentary, Thomas also looked for larger themes in Lincoln biography. Lincoln's "genius for original expression" and the charm and power of his figures of speech betokened his "growing self-confidence" and effectiveness. Moreover, his sense of humor reflected "an intimate acquaintance with Page [End Page 18] human nature," acquired at New Salem and broadened by the practice of law. Adept at sarcasm and ridicule on the stump, his speeches became more serious as his political career advanced; "occasional flashes of humor" to be found after 1854 were typically used to elucidate an argument. His willingness to laugh at himself indicated "a total absence of false pride, a calm self-assurance untinctured by conceit." His wit was most often "an aid to clarity of meaning." Thomas's early study of Lincoln texts, especially patterns of thought and expression in them, enriched his life of Lincoln.
High on Thomas's research agenda was an examination of Lincoln's years in New Salem, 1831–37. From county records, early letters, pioneer reminiscences, and other sources, Thomas culled data that he combined with material collected by the Old Salem Lincoln League and by the state architect responsible for the reconstruction of the village. The result, foreshadowed by several articles in the Bulletin, was Lincoln's New Salem (1934), a compact and revealing account of a pioneer community, Lincoln's life there, and the site during the decades after he left, years that saw the disappearance and reproduction of the village.
New Salem, as pictured by Thomas and rebuilt by the state, was not a random cluster of sordid jerry-built cabins but a well-ordered community of "substantial and comfortable" structures. It was not a poor, primitive settlement but a prosperous middle-class community, for, in the march of civilization, "roving hunters and trappers" and "restless squatters" had been superseded by farmers with "stock and capital." The "budding intellectuality" of the place was more important than its "crudities and imperfections." New Salem was Lincoln's school. Its supportive environment "freed him from the retarding influence of his family." Everyday life in New Salem presupposed the ideals that Lincoln came to support—equality of opportunity, democracy, nationalism. In other words, Thomas took Page [End Page 19] for granted the "frontier hypothesis" that traced American ideals and institutions to the New Salems of the nation.
Lincoln's New Salem was a best-seller for the association, running through four printings before Alfred A. Knopf published a new edition in 1954. Although the book was advertised as "extensively revised," Thomas in fact made only "a few changes to bring it up to date." He revised certain acknowledgments. He revisited the much-vexed question of Lincoln's love for Ann Rutledge, raising further doubts about its credibility. And he added to Lincoln's debt to the community: the friendship of the people there gave Lincoln "a conviction of the essential worth and rightmindedness of ordinary people" everywhere.  Lincoln left New Salem with faith in himself but also with faith in humanity. Thomas's book evoked a Lincoln to inspire readers bewildered by the times, whether they be defined by the Great Depression or the cold war.
To promote the new edition, Thomas wrote a brief essay on the significance of New Salem to Henry Horner, who was said to have gained "new faith and new courage" from his solitary visits to the site. To Carl Sandburg, the piece was "a beautiful and darkly tender tribute" to the beleaguered depression-era governor. To Thom- Page [End Page 20] as, it was also a way to express his own deep feelings about New Salem.
Less popular but no less scholarly was Thomas's second book for the Abraham Lincoln Association, Lincoln, 1847–1853: Being the Day-by-Day Activities of Abraham Lincoln from January 1, 1847, to December 31, 1853 (1936). This was the second of four volumes in which the association's researchers endeavored to establish Lincoln's whereabouts on every day of his prepresidential life. With a box for each day, and seven boxes to a page, the book conformed to the format of a lawyer's daybook of the kind then used by members of the bar such as Logan Hay. The abundance of empty boxes tended to emphasize the days on which Lincoln could not be tracked, while documented activities of importance that could not be summarized in a few words were relegated to an appendix. Thomas overcame the limitations of the layout and fleshed out the skeletal entries of the log in a sixty-page introduction, a connected account of seven years of Lincoln's life.
Angle had begun the day-by-day series with seven pamphlets, combined into Lincoln, 1854–1861 ... (1933); Thomas's book came next; and Harry E. Pratt finished the work with Lincoln, 1840–1846 ... (1939) and Lincoln, 1809–1839 ... (1941). Under the auspices of the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, other specialists revised, enlarged, and extended the series. Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, 1809–1865 (1960) superseded the Springfield compilation as a daily record of Lincoln's life. Yet this more comprehensive work required only three volumes, not four, because it not only discarded the ledger format but also dispensed with a dozen maps that charted Lincoln's activities and with the unifying biographical essays that had introduced the set.
The series on which Lincoln Day by Day is based, even with editorial apparatus, is still mainly a reference work, indispensable in vouching for Lincoln autographs or bird-dogging Lincoln biographers, but not a publication to command popular or academic attention. Just as Thomas's introduction has scarcely been noticed since 1936, so his preliminary sketches, printed by the association between 1933 and 1935, have been slighted. Most of those articles Page [End Page 21] discuss the legal environment in which Lincoln worked, providing the context for his growth as a lawyer just as the study of New Salem had sketched the environment of his early development. In this work, Thomas quietly established a benchmark for subsequent research on Lincoln and the law. A plethora of books and articles has added to the picture without essentially changing it.
Thomas drove the circuit as assiduously as Lincoln rode it. In his autobiography, his only recollection of Lincoln, 1847–1853 was the research that supported part of it: "I can well remember the days I spent in dingy central Illinois courthouses, often in the basement, turning the interminable pages of dusty ledgers and poring through grimy files long undisturbed. Invariably the clerks declared it was a waste of time; no Lincoln documents had been found for years. Yet in every instance I did find documents and records, and in more than one courthouse the documents ran into the hundreds."  In Springfield itself, Thomas "stumbled upon" transcripts of records of the federal courts in Illinois before 1855. Sifting through these records, he found that many cases involving Lincoln were of "the routine, hum-drum sort," yet others were important discoveries.
From letters, newspapers, and congressional records, Thomas traced Lincoln's course in politics, which alternated with his practice of law. Thomas's introduction provided a full analysis of Lincoln's term in Congress and his activities in the 1848 presidential campaign, that together were important in "awakening him" to the urgency of the slavery question.  All in all, the period that Thomas charted "was for Lincoln a time of great development ... of mental discipline and growth." As "his legal ability grew, and his political thought matured," the tenor of his speeches changed: in the 1830s and 1840s, they tended "somewhat to floridity," but after 1853 they were "keenly analytical and logical." Moreover, in practicing law, Lincoln was "in constant contact with the common people." By learning to gauge public opinion, he "unconsciously prepared himself to be their spokesman."
It was the intent of the Abraham Lincoln Association's researchers "to form the ground work upon which a definitive biography Page [End Page 22] of Lincoln eventually will be based."  So wrote Thomas in 1936 in his last report as executive secretary, little expecting that he would in time incorporate his association writings into his own "definitive" Lincoln of 1952.
"Springfield," Thomas wrote of his decision to leave history for business, was "primarily a business town." Most of his friends were businessmen. Perhaps, as an outsider put it, "neither the salary nor the position" that he left "was quite commensurate with the social circles in which the Thomases moved." And so, as he said, he "succumbed to the money-making urge." With one partner and then two, he formed an insurance firm. He prospered. He was recognized. He was elected secretary-treasurer of the Springfield real estate board, and he served a term as president of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce. He became a member of the Sangamo and Illini Country Clubs. He attended and eventually joined the First Presbyterian Church (the Lincoln family church). And he served on several corporate and charitable boards in town, including, for instance, the boards of the First National Bank and Memorial Hospital. (His offices, both as Lincoln scholar and insurance salesman, were in the bank building, on the Old State Capitol square.)
Thomas's business interests also extended to the farmland that his wife had inherited and that he managed with conspicuous success. He raised not only "the usual Illinois crops" (corn, wheat, oats, and soybeans) but also purebred polled (hornless) Hereford cattle and Duroc hogs. He enjoyed the drive to the Thomas Farms, about eighteen miles east of Springfield, and delighted in the chance "to swap yarns with cattle men" at auctions on the summer fair circuit. He was proud to serve as director and president of the Illinois Polled Hereford Association. 
For eight years Thomas was the typical businessman, unusual only in his new "hobby" of raising registered cattle and his perennial fondness for sports, especially baseball. Captain of the Johns Hopkins team and coach at the nearby prep school, he had played semipro ball before going to graduate school. Now he sized up Page [End Page 23] Springfield's farm club and high school teams and was pleased to have "tipped off the Phillies" to "Ducky" Schofield, a promising infielder.
Paul Angle knew Thomas well, especially from their years together in Springfield before Angle became director of the Chicago Historical Society in 1945. Both had profited from Logan Hay's tutelage, and both valued writing that was clear and graceful. They shared intellectual interests, especially history, but they also enjoyed card-playing and other diversions. Angle prized Thomas's comic repertoire, including his talent for mimicry, as when he delivered a monologue in pseudo-Russian, and his knack for pantomime, as when he imitated the habits of pitcher and batter. Above all, Angle recognized Thomas's gentle unpretentious nature that gave him "friends everywhere," not only among the businessmen and cattlemen with whom he worked before Angle left Springfield but also in the widening circle of historians, writers, and publishers who came to know Thomas before Angle wrote about him so affectionately. 
In "deserting history temporarily," between 1936 and 1945, Thomas did not abandon the world of books. He "read widely in general literature, learning how a good novelist builds up his plot and something about literary grace and artful writing." Moreover, he renewed his ties to the Abraham Lincoln Association, becoming a director in 1939 and treasurer in 1942. Thomas sold his interest in the insurance business at the end of 1944 and went back to history. "When your training is along that line," he later wrote, "it is pretty hard to derive a full measure of satisfaction from anything else." Although Thomas continued to manage the family farms, he was again the "lonesome" scholar, reading and writing in a non-academic environment. Some local businessmen were skeptical, even patronizing about his work—until, all of a sudden, his Lincoln received national attention and a substantial financial return.
Thomas decided not to continue two earlier studies, Russo-American relations after 1867, and Lincoln's Vandalia, the latter Page [End Page 24] work conceived as a complement to Lincoln's New Salem. In the New Salem book, however, he had touched on the interpretation of that village by certain early Lincoln biographers, and soon he was writing Portrait for Posterity, which focused not on Lincoln but on Lincoln's major biographers. Across the country, from the Library of Congress to the Huntington, he found collections of their letters—"sometimes bitter, sometimes funny, sometimes gossipy, sometimes keen and penetrating"—that threw light on their books. Here, in their personal correspondence, they expressed "their real feelings" about Lincoln and about each other. Thomas combined metaphors from art and the theater in the title of his manuscript, "Portrait for Posterity: Backstage with Lincoln's Biographers." Although the book's subtitle was changed in the proofs to Lincoln and His Biographers, Thomas used the original phrase, or a similar one, when he spoke on the topic.
Earl Schenck Miers, director of the Rutgers University Press, which published Portrait for Posterity in 1947, pointed out several difficulties with the manuscript as drafted. It took "too much for granted," as if it were written for "the specialist," not "the general reader." The cast of characters came "onto the stage" with little introduction; Thomas dropped them there "on strings and eliminate[d] them, when needs be, through a trap door." The stage was cluttered with bit players—Rothschild and Hill and Newton, for example. The plot was "shot through with structural weaknesses." And the notes, "ye gods!" The work (to use one of Thomas's quotations) was "a rivulet of text flowing through a meadow of footnotes." 
Revising the manuscript, Thomas simplified his composite portrait. Out went a host of secondary figures. Out went the notes. And in came expanded sketches of the major artists. Thomas not only added to what the early biographers wrote about each other but also introduced recent biographers for whom he had no private correspondence but only personal impressions. The manuscript, Page [End Page 25] which had been devoted to William H. Herndon and his contemporaries and to Ida M. Tarbell, William E. Barton, and Albert J. Beveridge, now included pages on Carl Sandburg, Angle, and James G. Randall. 
As publication approached, the author wrote for permission to quote certain letters, including Sandburg's in the Tarbell and Barton papers. Back came the poet's request for context: "Brother Thomas ... For some sentences, I would want to be sure of annotation. 'Set "em" up and knock "em" down' is pointlessly colloquial unless the reader knows that 'em' is a row of [Lincoln's] putative fathers and one by one Doc Barton alibis them of bastardy." Whereupon Thomas promptly dispatched not only the pages with Sandburg quotations but the whole chapter about Sandburg's Lincoln books—a cautious assessment that he had written "with the most respectful feelings." The reply put Thomas's fears to rest. "Let it ride, as is," Sandburg wrote. "I know I will find the book fascinating reading. You seem to ride no hobbies nor personal predilections."
Yet Thomas's perspective was clear on every page. Above all, he enjoyed the idiosyncracies of the biographers. As a recent critic has put it, they were a "great gallery of eccentrics," a "grotesque cast of characters." Sandburg came to the same conclusion, with a new metaphor: "Ben took a kettle of queer fish and made it a living aquarium."
Furthermore, Thomas relished the obsessions of the early biographers. By emphasis, he virtually reduced their work to certain leading questions: "Was the real Lincoln a god, or a man with extraordinary gifts but with human weaknesses? If a man, was the legitimacy of his birth questionable? Did he truly love Ann Rutledge? Did he have a religious faith, or was he a confessed non-believer?" Lincoln's religion, paternity, and acquaintance with Ann Rutledge are indeed the most indexed subjects of the book. Not Page [End Page 26] even Mary Todd Lincoln surpasses Ann Rutledge in page references. And so "a major task" of modern scholars was to "clear away the myths, the half-truths, and the untruths" of the first "blustery, vehement group" of biographers.
By training, Thomas was ready to admire Beveridge's relentless attention to research and revision. Thomas also appreciated the late but salutary arrival of the academicians, led by Randall. Not only did they correct portions of the Lincoln portrait that had been "smudged by unskilled hands," they filled "glaring blank spots" in the canvas, especially in the depiction of the presidential years.
By temperament, however, Thomas responded most warmly to those who humanized Lincoln: to Herndon, even though most of the stories that agitated the biographers sprang from his "mercurial mind"; to Sandburg, a kind of "impressionist," creating a vast "panorama through minutiae"; and, above all, to Ida Tarbell, whose picture of Lincoln's human qualities transcended the particulars of her composition. Thomas appreciated Tarbell's role as a "popularizer," making Lincoln meaningful to a wide audience. In a field "marked by singular intolerance," she was tolerant, open-minded, and supportive. She welcomed, for instance, the Abraham Lincoln Association's program to set the record straight: "It is a consolation to have a watch dog ... at the door in Springfield."
Thomas arranged the biographers into "two groups of artists" competing to paint the Lincoln portrait. The realists, led by Herndon, "would throw the highlights into bold relief against the shadows." The idealists, participants in the apotheosis of Lincoln, would soften his features "with refracted light—the kind peculiar to a halo." Making the canvas a palimpsest, they vied for space before the easel. At times, they simply threw "pigment, brush, and palette at each other." 
Thomas acknowledged that the artistic metaphor had its limits. What, for example, should he call Tarbell, "an idealistic realist or a realistic idealist"? He concluded that "realism and idealism in Lincoln literature ... should be complementary rather than antagonistic." Trained to pay scrupulous attention to the facts, he came to regard "prosaic documentation" as an "inhibiting technique." By temperament, he saw the need to "combine realism with a mea- Page [End Page 27] sure of imagination," and imagination, in this case, included "the idealist's sensitivity" to the "soul-qualities" of Lincoln that gave him greatness.
Portrait for Posterity was greeted with delight in Lincoln circles and praised in the press and by academic reviewers. Readers, and Thomas himself, regarded the book as something new, a fresh perspective in the Lincoln field, although subsequent attention to several biographers has tended to date Thomas's work. The book was also replete with clues to Thomas's approach in his own life of Lincoln.
Yet Thomas was so disappointed with sales of Portrait for Posterity that he thought "seriously of going back into teaching." Although he preferred the life of an independent scholar, he felt "like a parasite," dependent upon his wife's income. "And with three kids to educate over the next eight or ten years," he hardly felt "justified in indulging in an activity" that yielded "only about $1,000 for two years work." 
Thomas's anguish derived in part from his belief that Portrait for Posterity, with sufficient promotion, would have duplicated in some measure the popular success of The Lincoln Reader (1947). In that anthology, Angle as editor and Miers as publisher had linked together 180 excerpts that could be "bought, borrowed, or stolen" from Lincoln sources. The compilation, which met the demand at that time for a one-volume life of Lincoln, sold nearly half a million copies, partly because it was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, which itself signified that author and publisher would share at least $100,000. Although Thomas did not feel "jealous" of Angle's success, he blamed Rutgers for promoting the Reader "to the detriment of" the Portrait. On the contrary, Miers replied, Rutgers put $2,000 into promoting Thomas's book, more than a commercial publisher would have spent, and if royalties from sales had not yet covered the advance, it was simply because the Reader was a popular book while the Portrait was not. The patchwork biography had general appeal, but only the Lincoln specialist or the professional historian would appreciate a book about books. The An- Page [End Page 28] gle volume could be understood and enjoyed by itself; it provided "a complete reading experience." By contrast, "some prior knowledge" was essential "for the fullest enjoyment" of the Portrait. Miers hammered home the difference that Thomas had attempted to transcend. Thomas had not fully realized that the topic itself limited the audience, regardless of the book's wit and insight.
Months before Thomas realized that Portrait for Posterity would be a commercial "flop," he had embarked upon a study of the abolitionists, another topic with limited appeal. He soon narrowed the project to a biography of Theodore Dwight Weld, a "great, lovable, picturesque but publicity-shy Abolitionist" who exemplified the view that the leadership of the antislavery crusade was not confined to New England but spread across the North. "I don't know how a life of Weld will sell," Thomas wrote, "but after much soul-searching I have concluded the hell with sales."
After he finished the manuscript, however, Thomas hoped to place it with a major publisher such as Knopf or Harcourt, Brace, and even when he returned it to Rutgers, he was bullish about the book. Were there "book club possibilities"? Might it "aspire to the Pulitzer Prize"? And how about the "movie possibilities" of a book with so much "action" and also "a strangely fascinating romance, the race question, and an abundance of bizarre characters"?
Indeed, the abolitionists in Theodore Weld were more eccentric than the biographers in Portrait for Posterity, and Thomas used to best advantage the letters of Weld and the Grimké sisters, before and after Theodore's marriage to Angelina in 1838. Although Weld in effect soon withdrew from reform as a vocation, as another biographer argues,  Weld and the Grimké sisters later met the "su- Page [End Page 29] preme test" of their belief in human equality by accepting into their home the mulatto sons of Henry Grimké.
A book with such a climax lent itself to adaptation by a magazine for African Americans, but nothing came of Thomas's hope that Weld would receive one of the "prizes given for books that promote good race relations."  It is clear, however, that Thomas's concern about race relations in his own day, even though it predated the civil rights movement, led him to give ample attention to the views on the subject held by those whom he studied, including Lincoln.
In the end, Weld fell short, both financially and critically. Rutgers sold only 616 copies in six months, with the result that royalties were less than the $1,500 that Thomas had contributed "to cover advertising costs." As Miers predicted, the book did not "sky-rocket into best sellerdom." And the reviews were "mixed," as Thomas admitted, especially among historians who were reluctant to place Weld at the forefront of the abolitionists. But Thomas was seemingly unphased by the book's apparent failure, for he was deeply engrossed in another manuscript with excellent prospects.
It was Miers who suggested that Thomas break off from Lincoln and study the abolitionists, thereby proving his "versatility." After Thomas completed the manuscript for Weld but before he had arranged for its publication, he further proved his versatility by bringing up to date a history of the Springfield-based Sangamo Electric Company. To an account of the enterprise down to 1936, written by its late president, Robert C. Lanphier, Thomas—"at the solicitation of friends in the official family" of the company—added "Sangamo in Peace and War." In this part of Sangamo: A History of Fifty Years (1949), he deftly summarized the company's mobilization during World War II, when it produced electronic mechanisms for defense needs rather than its well-established watt-hour meters.  Page [End Page 30]
Undoubtedly, Thomas best demonstrated his versatility as an historian, with the skill to engage every kind of reader, by writing Abraham Lincoln: A Biography. He began the manuscript late in 1949, fully conscious of the need for a short and readable synthesis of Lincoln scholarship. Thomas hesitated to embark upon the project, knowing that Sandburg planned to rework his six-volume biography of Lincoln into a single volume, but Sandburg raised no objection. His work would come out later than Thomas's, and "they would supplement each other." Whereupon Miers, who had migrated from Rutgers to Knopf, concluded a contract with Thomas and saluted his friend's new association with a premier New York publisher: "Brother, this is the big time, and you are in it." The house of Knopf, in a press release, announced the news: "Biographer of Lincoln's Biographers Writing Lincoln's Biography." 
Thomas worked rapidly and intensively on the manuscript, reaching the inauguration by summer 1950. "I am plugging away," Thomas reported to Sandburg. "Making very satisfactory progress, and trying to say a whole lot in a very few words. As Nicolay and Hay said of Lincoln, I almost begrudge the necessary parts of speech. Am trying to keep it simple and straightforward and yet tell everything essential to the story." 
During the latter half of 1950 and the first half of 1951, Thomas worked his way through Lincoln's presidency. Miers reviewed each group of chapters, coming out to Chicago or Springfield on three occasions to go over the manuscript with Thomas. Miers praised the work until it was completed, but then he suddenly expressed a number of reservations and returned the manuscript. As Miers saw it, Thomas obscured wartime policy decisions by "quoting too much." He failed to bring out Lincoln's "military genius." And he let battles blur "the focus on Lincoln," as if he were using "the Sandburg approach in capsule form." 
Miers's critique so "jolted" the author that he wrote twice in reply. "I have put a lot of sweat and thought into this book—some twelve or fourteen hours a day for a year and a half—and I don't Page [End Page 31] think it is too far off the beam." Thomas believed that "the balance between battles and the man in the White House" was about right. He would "give Lincoln every bit of credit he deserves" in military matters, but he would not join "the superman school." It would be possible to dispense with some quotations, such as Frank Haskell on Gettysburg and Sylvanus Cadwallader on the Crater, but on the whole the manuscript should be left intact.
Thomas next heard directly from Knopf. The manuscript needed "some polishing" but not the overhauling that might be necessary to satisfy Miers. After all, Miers was perhaps "unduly influenced by a reading" of the manuscript of T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and His Generals (1952). What Knopf thought was missing, however, was more of the "personal" side of Lincoln's life, more about "an average day" in the White House. "Of course this isn't the main story or even a thirty-second relation to it, but it's awfully helpful human stuff" that the average reader would want.
So Thomas decided to add a chapter, "Profile of a President." By "more browsing in the Lincoln Papers," he found "colorful stuff," not just for the new chapter on life in the White House but for the entire second half of the book. After further research and careful rewriting, Thomas sent off the revised manuscript in October 1951. His extra attention to the Lincoln Papers, often called the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, opened for research use and microfilmed by the Library of Congress in 1947, made for a better book and also gave him material for several presentations. Moreover, the chapter that Knopf had elicited proved ideally suited both for a book-promotion pamphlet and for an article in Look magazine.
To obtain an assessment of Thomas's revised manuscript, Knopf turned to Allan Nevins, professor of history at Columbia University. Nevins was a prolific scholar, then working on a multivolume history of the sectional controversy, including The Emergence of Lincoln (1950). He met Thomas during his research trips to the Illinois State Historical Library. Thomas supported the fund that Nevins and others used to transform American Heritage into an immensely popular yet reliable periodical. Sharing an interest in expanding the audience for well-written history and exchanging tips on par- Page [End Page 32] ticular sources for their own books, they became such good friends that Nevins invited Thomas, his wife, and "what children you can muster" to join Nevins and his family in Oxford during his sabbatical in the spring and summer of 1952.
Nevins gave Thomas and Knopf a multifaceted review. He submitted numerous "suggestions and corrections" by page, all "trifles, hardly worth your notice," although Thomas picked up most of them. He praised Thomas's ability to compress the story without crushing the life out of it, leaving it "pemmicanized—nutritious but flavorless." The Civil War was "very ably rendered," he declared (probably because he knew of the Miers critique), Thomas "presenting it always as Lincoln saw it." And Nevins opened and closed these and other observations with the fullest endorsements: the work was "quite beyond criticism.... It is an admirable book, almost a perfect book." 
But Nevins did have one general suggestion of substance: Thomas should add "more generalizations, or deductions, upon the frontier as a school ... upon the inner nature of the sectional struggle ... upon 'man's vast future' as Lincoln saw it, and so on, and so on. We have all the facts we need; more rays of cosmic illumination would be helpful." Thomas picked up the suggestion. He had written "with the definite purpose of avoiding encomiums and letting the facts themselves bring out Lincoln's greatness," but he now saw the need to spell out such points for "the uninitiated reader."
Although these insertions, "amounting to perhaps ten pages in all," would require "the most painstaking writing," Thomas knew exactly what he wanted to add. In talks and papers, he had already begun to suggest the continuing significance of Lincoln's life and Page [End Page 33] writings as he saw it. For example, in 1950, during his first year at work on the biography, he discoursed on Lincoln's relevance to the present at programs to mark Lincoln's birthday and to herald the Chicago Historical Society's exhibit of the five surviving copies of the Gettysburg Address. Again in 1952, on Lincoln's birthday, just as Thomas finished his manuscript, he led a discussion regarding Lincoln's enduring legacy. This last occasion was the final meeting of the Abraham Lincoln Association before the completion of its most ambitious and important publication, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.
Thomas in fact doubled his contribution to the commemoration of the Gettysburg Address and the celebration of the Collected Works by ghostwriting Adlai E. Stevenson's speeches for those programs. "I have just read Stevenson's best speech," the Illinois governor wrote to Thomas before speaking on November 19, 1950. Oh, to hear "the shattering applause and to witness the orator's unctuous modesty"! Stevenson felt "an even greater sense of gratitude" for Thomas's "rescue work" before the "austere and scholarly" program on February 12, 1952. 
Thomas was closely associated with the Abraham Lincoln Association's documentary project. His appointment in 1945 as one of three trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library ensured that the state's leading collection of Lincolniana would be fully accessible to the editors, if there were ever any doubt on that point. Together with Randall and Angle, Thomas was an editorial adviser, and he was the most active member of the group, being the only one residing in Springfield. Working closely with Roy P. Basler, the principal editor from 1947 to 1952, Thomas "faithfully read and polished Page [End Page 34] the interminable annotation" of the text as it was prepared. In this way, the biographer reviewed and expanded his knowledge of Lincoln's writings, and this familiarity with the Collected Works before the set was published facilitated his apt use of Lincoln's own words throughout his biography. No other life of Lincoln so often closes a paragraph or section of the text with just the right quotation.
Thomas's parallel role in the publication of the Abraham Lincoln Quarterly kept him abreast of the secondary literature that impinged upon his biography. The Quarterly, which took the place of the Papers and Bulletin of the Abraham Lincoln Association in 1940 and ran through 1952, was the responsibility of the executive secretary, the last being Basler, and two associate editors, including Thomas since 1945 and George W. "Gib" Bunn Jr., who became the association's president in 1942. In this position, Thomas both read submissions to the Quarterly and supplied reviews—all quite fair and perceptive—of books about Lincoln and the Civil War era.
At the program before the publication of the Collected Works, Thomas could look back upon a successful apprenticeship as a Lincoln researcher, a new venture into Lincoln historiography, and a fresh reading of letters to and from Lincoln—all of which contributed to his forthcoming biography. Among the speakers for the occasion was Allan Nevins, whose recent and most enthusiastic review of Thomas's manuscript had assured its publication later in 1952. In the audience sat Alfred and Blanche Knopf, who had come to Springfield to see Thomas's and Lincoln's homes and who especially enjoyed their visit to New Salem with Thomas. Now, the publisher was set to orchestrate "a real Knopf effort" to promote the book. 
For several months in 1952, Thomas corresponded with bookmakers and book promoters at the house of Knopf as they engaged in mapmaking (Where is Pea Ridge? How is Culpeper spelled?), jacket design (On which side did Lincoln part his hair? On which side was that mole?), and publicity (Did Lord Charnwood's 1916 biography, which led the one-volume field, or Nathaniel Stephen- Page [End Page 35] son's 1922 biography use original sources, or original manuscript sources, thus limiting how much could be claimed for Thomas's book?). Thomas also gave attention to illustrations, permissions, and, for promotional use, autobiographical pieces.
There were puffs to obtain, too. "My chief hope," Alfred A. "Pat" Knopf Jr. wrote to Thomas, "is that you won't be so tied up writing the Governor's speeches this summer that you won't be able to work on the book, too." Stevenson was eventually drafted as the Democratic nominee for president, and Thomas could hardly predict how this would affect his relations with the governor, but meanwhile Knopf received a letter from Stevenson, who had seen the galley proofs of the book. "It is a stirring story of a humble man who rose to greatness through his loyalty to his country's highest principles; a book from which adherents of democracy today may draw new inspiration." He then endorsed a copy of the letter to the author: "Dear Ben: Your words are always better than mine!"
Carl Sandburg's endorsement, almost obligatory, was strangely framed. Preceding assurances that Thomas's work was "the most scrupulously written of all Lincoln one-volume biographies," Sandburg quoted Stevenson's witticism, "Lincoln has been lied about more than Santa Claus." And following some reference to Thomas's view of Lincoln as spokesman for democracy for all times, Sandburg repeated F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum, "We are tired of great causes." Long after Knopf edited out the quotations, Sandburg was sore about "his butchery of my blurb." 
Angle also read the galleys and wrote to both author and publisher in praise of the book. He told Thomas: Page [End Page 36]
With several endorsements in hand and with a brochure and other announcements prepared, the Knopf staff began in June to alert booksellers to Thomas's Lincoln, set for publication on November 10, 1952. Advance sales were facilitated by 200,000 circulars with return order cards, and $25,000 was allotted for newspaper and magazine advertisements. The response was sufficient for Alfred Knopf to declare that everything was going "swimmingly." "The book will be an enormous success," wrote Miers, who took an interest in the matter even after he had left Knopf. "Both you and the Department of Internal Revenue will do well." With that in mind, Knopf arranged to spread Thomas's tax liability over an additional year by advancing him $7,500 on royalties in 1952. His contract, itself generous, had given him by that point only $1,500, less the cost of making the maps. 
Buoyed by such omens of critical and commercial success, Thomas prepared for a promotional tour in November 1952. To embellish a story about him, a Saturday Review columnist asked about Springfield on the eve of the presidential election. With so many Page [End Page 37] braintrusters, ghostwriters, and reporters in town, Thomas replied, Lincolniana was in temporary "eclipse behind the asteroid Stevensonia." Even so, "you can still get an argument on almost every street corner as to whether the Lincoln home, now undergoing a facelifting, should be painted white or 'Quaker brown.'"
On election night, Stevenson, his sister, and Thomas drove together to the hotel at which the governor conceded to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stevenson recalled a Lincoln remark after an election defeat, Thomas remembered another phrasing of it, and Stevenson adapted it as a way to end his concession speech. The governor had been asked how it felt to lose and he was reminded of Lincoln, who "felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh."
Thomas's agenda included talks in Milwaukee and Chicago and, in New York and Washington, radio interviews, press conferences, and recordings. The trip gave the author an opportunity to express his own religious feelings, not just his understanding of Lincoln's faith. For Edward R. Murrow's program, This I Believe, he outlined a spiritual voyage through Lincoln to God: "In my own case, the attitude of questioning instilled in college brought me to denials and rejections. Then, through study of Lincoln, I found beliefs to cling to." For a broadcast from the Library of Congress, he touched on Lincoln's belief in God and his deep faith in democra- Page [End Page 38] cy.  He also spoke at a Library of Congress luncheon attended by "most of the wits and scholars in town," for whom he lightened his remarks. The occasion was the presentation of his final manuscript as well as the corrected galley and page proofs—a gift arranged by his friends at the library, now including Basler as well as David C. Mearns, another Lincoln scholar. Thomas thought it altogether "fitting that his original manuscript repose in Washington 'along with most of my royalties.'" 
Back from the east by the end of November, Thomas began to receive a remarkable number of complimentary letters and to follow his book on the "Best Seller List" of the New York Times. For eighteen weeks, it ranked well—as high as fourth—in the nonfiction category, and he noticed that two books, the autobiography of Tallulah Bankhead and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, topped the list. He soon formulated the introduction to the talk that he gave early in 1953, first in Springfield and then in Chicago and New York, on a second promotional tour: "It has been exciting" to have written a best-seller, Thomas told these audiences, "and at the same time rather embarrassing to find myself, week after week, creeping up on Tallulah before a nation-wide audience. Of course, the Bible has stood between us." Reporters and friends chuckled as they repeated his remark about creeping up on Tallulah. As Sandburg wrote, it "spread around like a Lincoln anecdote."  Page [End Page 39]
Thomas's Lincoln was also recognized in other ways. The Book-of-the-Month Club made it a nonfiction alternate, and it was chosen by the History Book Club. It received thirteen votes, while the nearest competitor received three votes, in the Saturday Review poll that preceded the Pulitzer prize for biography. Knopf printed nearly 50,000 copies of the book before the publication date, confident of its success, and more than double that number within a year. Soon there was a British edition and also some thirteen translations, most of which were arranged by the U.S. Information Agency of the State Department. Although the income from foreign language editions was nominal, Thomas was no doubt pleased by this implicit recognition that his life of Lincoln was relevant to the cause of democracy during the cold war. Among the acknowledgments from colleges and universities to which he gave copies of these translations was a note from C. Vann Woodward at Johns Hopkins: "Congratulations on your reception by the United Nations."
Reviews of the book flooded in from newspapers, magazines, and academic journals; almost without exception they praised it in terms no less positive than the prepublication endorsements. Among the reviewers were several friends, including Angle, Basler, and Nevins. Harry Pratt, then Illinois state historian, emphasized the wealth of sources on which the book was based. Gib Bunn, president of the Springfield Marine Bank (Lincoln's bank) and of the Abraham Lincoln Association, pointed out that it was a "formidable feat of scholarship" simply "to know what to leave out." Page [End Page 40] Max Eastman, Gerald Johnson, Mark Van Doren, and other prominent writers judged the book favorably, as did a whole posse of historians of the period. T. Harry Williams declared that the author united "the factual mastery of the realists with the perception and literary skill of the idealists," a reference to Portrait for Posterity that Thomas would have appreciated. William B. Hesseltine recognized the "fine combination of scholarship and common sense" in the book, even as he complained about its marketing: Why did the preface (which Thomas added at Knopf's request) so direct the book to "the Lincoln beginner" and to the teacher with a reading list to compile? And why was the book, an American biography of Lincoln, so automatically compared with the English-oriented history of the Lincoln era by Lord Charnwood? So much for the publisher.
The author was taken aback, however, by Donald W. Riddle's criticisms in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Riddle, who taught in the Chicago Undergraduate Division of the University of Illinois, called the biography a "chronicle," as if it were "dull and dry," declared the chapters on Lincoln's early life "conventional," described the illustrations, that Thomas had selected, as "mediocre," and in general felt that the author had failed to "explain" Lincoln. All of these points, which Thomas contested, could be set aside as "matters of opinion," but Thomas would not let pass Riddle's remark that it was a "myth" to picture Lincoln as "retired from politics" between the end of his congressional term and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. On the contrary, to Thomas, who had studied the period closely, it was a fact, not a myth, that Lincoln had withdrawn from politics at that time. If so, Riddle responded, he questioned not the fact but its interpretation: Lincoln had been "so utterly repudiated because of his Mexican War stand" that he had to wait several years before he could "rehabilitate himself." With the dispute becoming semantic, Thomas let the editor cancel the publication of his exchange of letters with Riddle, and Page [End Page 41] "this bit of unpleasantness" receded. Yet it was not perhaps accidental that Thomas, in a truly outstanding article a year later, described the decisive circumstances of Lincoln's decision to reenter politics as "no less compelling than the sunburst which appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road." 
Reviewers of Thomas's Lincoln, again with virtual unanimity, praised the author's literary craftsmanship, his succinct but evocative style, his skill with words—almost reminiscent of Lincoln's. His success, they often noted, was not dependent upon literary tricks such as imagined conversations and "reconstructed" thoughts of Lincoln and others. Yet John A. Garraty, a close student of biographical writing, was prompted to ask Thomas to what extent four particular passages in the book were based on "specific evidences" and to what extent they were "reconstructions."
Thomas explained his approach by reference to another passage in the biography. How should he introduce Lincoln's well-known memorandum, probably written in early September 1862, when the Confederate army was thrusting into Maryland? "The will of God prevails," the president began. "In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time." Lincoln went on, in Thomas's summary,
wondering why God, who, by his mere quiet power over the minds of men, could stop the war at any time, allows it to con- Page [End Page 42] tinue; trying to find out what God's purpose is. Those are all the facts we have. But here is where the imagination comes in.
Lincoln must have been alone. He couldn't have thought out and penned such a memorandum except in solitude. But he was an extremely busy man. If he was alone, he must have written it late at night. Why was he up late and not working? He must have been waiting for news. What was his mood? Solemn, obviously, from the nature of the memorandum. Anxious, inevitably, with the enemy on Northern soil and a great battle impending. And so I introduced the memorandum this way: "The lonely man in the White House found time for meditation as he waited for news night after night. With his strong sense of fatalism, he felt a Power beyond himself shaping the nation's destiny, and in an hour of anxiety he solemnly penned his thoughts." Those sentences are largely imaginative, yet I am convinced that they portray the situation accurately, and that something would have been lost in the telling without the use of imagination. 
No reviewer called upon Thomas to explain or extend his coverage of slavery and race relations. He quietly departed from the "revisionist" interpretation of the Civil War and seemingly regarded the containment of slavery in the 1850s, like the containment of communism in the 1950s, as the only practicable and appropriate policy for the nation. He strove at all points for balance and proportion in his biography of Lincoln: Frederick Douglass is not in the index, but neither is Theodore Weld.
Only a few reviewers commented on Thomas's omission of footnotes, and no one held that against him. If Thomas had thereby sacrificed "scholarly punctilio" to "readability," the loss was scarcely felt until the early 1990s, when a surprising number of Lincoln specialists snapped at each other over the extent to which a 1977 biography borrowed from Thomas's book—a question that for some turned on how much Thomas might be said to have borrowed from earlier writers. 
However, Thomas did receive corrections from alert readers, and he hastened within a month of publication to send a list of changes to Knopf, adding to it twice before the next printing. Most of Page [End Page 43] the errors were minor, if not inconsequential, and the plates were easily changed to accommodate a different date here or a correct name there, but the printer had to reset several sentences to keep the story of Senator Stephen A. Douglas holding Lincoln's hat at the inauguration and to substitute a whole new paragraph for an anecdote about General Richard S. Ewell that Thomas had backdated from Gettysburg to Antietam. After the third printing, Thomas left the text alone, disregarding a list of two dozen points that bothered Pratt. Having already corrected a few of those details, Thomas annotated most of the rest as "not important" or "immaterial." He kept the list along with Pratt's earlier letter about correcting Sandburg's Lincoln, especially The Prairie Years, for the sake of Sandburg's one-volume biography: "The errors in P.Y. are so evenly scattered that it keeps up your interest and you wonder what is coming next." Pratt was a likable stickler for details. That he and other specialists brought errors to Thomas's attention, not one of which was paraded about in a published review, was an index to the level of civility then obtaining among Lincoln scholars.
The Lincoln biography brought Thomas recognition in academic as well as popular spheres. He received honorary degrees from Knox College and Northwestern University during commencement season in June 1953 and from Lincoln College the following September, when the town of Lincoln, named for the prairie lawyer, marked its centennial. Knox had conferred its first LL.D. degree in 1860 on Lincoln himself and had accorded the same honor to five biographers before Thomas. Illinois College had made the same connection, in a sense, by awarding Thomas an honorary degree in 1947, when his book on the biographers appeared. (Thomas became a trustee of Illinois College in 1953 and served in the "triumvirate" that kept it going between presidents.)  In 1955, he returned to Birmingham-Southern College for an honorary degree.
Thomas was often invited to speak, on these and other occasions in the mid-1950s. He typically prepared a "Lincoln paper," using Lincoln texts in developing his own informative and sometimes inspirational themes. At Knox and the University of Kentucky his topic was "Lincoln's Democratic Faith." For the Civil War Round Page [End Page 44] Table at Tulane University he spoke on "Lincoln and the South." And for the Ohio Historical Society he wrote "Lincoln versus the Historians." Interestingly, Thomas suggested in an interview before his talk at Tulane that Lincoln would have "gone slow" with integration, not pushing the South to accept the Supreme Court's mandate unless he were compelled to do so. 
Thomas also accepted other "Lincoln" assignments. He wrote and recorded a radio script on Lincoln that was later published. He narrated a television program on Lincoln in New Salem and Springfield. He wrote Lincoln articles for encyclopedias, including American Peoples, Grolier's, World Book, and Americana, the last entry supplanting one from the early twentieth century by the collector Daniel Fish! Moreover, with some difficulty, he wrote memorials to Lincoln friends. 
As it happened, however, Thomas was diverted from a new book of his own not so much by Lincoln projects as by books on the Civil War. He was called upon to review at least two dozen Civil War histories for the book review sections of the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and the New York Herald Tribune. He served on the selection panel of the newly formed Civil War Book Club. For several publications, he wrote about his favorite books of the year, usually in the Civil War field.
"America's Sternest Trial," an article in the Saturday Review, illustrated Thomas's transition from a Lincoln biographer to a Civil War historian. The connection is apparent not just in his reference, in one sentence, to Civil War History and the Lincoln Herald (periodicals for which he was now an adviser), but in his interpretation of the war as a whole. It was America's "supreme national experience." More than a conflict to decide "the status of the Negro" or "the fate of the Union," the Civil War was "democracy's testing time," and it was no less significant in Thomas's day, "with democracy under mortal challenge." Page [End Page 45]
Although Thomas had always aimed to write and speak for a wide audience, his opportunities as a "popularizer" clearly mushroomed after the Lincoln book. At the same time, he became a kind of nonresident professor, engaged in a spectrum of professional activities. He read book manuscripts for publishers, supported fellowship applications, and advised on appointments, the last for Princeton University's History Department.
As soon as he had finished the Lincoln manuscript, Thomas was asked what he would write next. Does not a scholar with such a biography "unemploy himself, so to speak?" He agreed, at least as far as "big" books are concerned. "It isn't the money"—Thomas was about to prove himself on that score. Rather, Thomas cherished "the lift that comes from bringing pleasure and enlightenment to many, many people." In any case, he had no plans for "another Lincoln book." He felt "somewhat like a field that's been overcropped and needs rotation." If, however, he seemed to be "lying fallow," he had "several ideas for other books," even though "none of them quite click." 
Waiting for Lincoln to appear but undecided on what to do next, Thomas began to edit the recollections of a newspaper correspondent, Sylvanus Cadwallader. The Illinois State Historical Library had acquired the manuscript in 1928, and Thomas had looked it over after seeing it described in glowing terms in letters relating to Lloyd Lewis's biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Having quoted Cadwallader twice in his Lincoln manuscript, Thomas discussed with Miers how best to abridge and annotate the correspondent's reminiscences. It was clear to Thomas that the manuscript was publishable, but only if it were limited to Cadwallader's recollections of the Civil War years, when he covered Grant. Miers was himself interested in the manuscript, both to use it in his own book on Grant at Vicksburg and to publish it with World, his employer after he left Knopf. He finally deferred to Knopf, but it was understood that Knopf would hold back publication of Cadwallader's Three Years with Grant until Miers's The Web of Victory appeared. Thomas, who first edited the Cadwallader manuscript late in 1952, put the project aside. There was no reason yet to consider the "criticism and suggestions" of Knopf's editor or Knopf's own view that Thomas should not only supply more "editorial tissue" to the Page [End Page 46] manuscript but also cut it further, Cadwallader's text still being "perhaps one-sixth too long."
Friends took for granted that Thomas's next book would be a biography. If he liked the Civil War, Miers wrote, "then, for God's sake, do a one-volume Robert E. Lee and make another fortune." Nevins urged Thomas to leave the war behind and write up Andrew Carnegie or Booker T. Washington, using their papers at the Library of Congress. A life of Carnegie would add to the "new perspective" on the giants of business that Nevins himself had provided, and he evidently thought that the biographer of Weld would be interested in Washington.
Thomas preferred, however, to stay with the Civil War. He was tending toward a study of Civil War commanders but then hesitated to be in such "a hurry to kick over T. Harry Williams' applecart." Besides, as his wife pointed out, military history would mire him in "the dull subject of tactics" when his "real forte" was personalities. He then proposed to explore the home front during the war, to describe the "nation in arms," North and South. Pat Knopf liked the idea, but then Alfred Knopf, meeting with his editors, swung against it: "A nonmilitary history of the Civil War wouldn't be very exciting." And so the topic was left to a legion of present-day historians.
Interviewed in New York when Lincoln was published, Thomas declared that Stephen A. Douglas was next. One columnist reported that Thomas "may" write a life of Douglas, although he wondered if "his personality can be made vivid to today's generation." Another columnist wrote that Thomas was "quite definite" about the biography, although he faced the problem of "how fair a Lincoln man can be to Lincoln's great opponent."  Page [End Page 47]
Thomas was indeed familiar with the difficulties of writing sympathetically about Lincoln and Douglas. Beveridge had championed Douglas in his biography of Lincoln, decrying those who thought that Douglas had to be "written down in order to write Lincoln up." To Nevins, Douglas had "wantonly reopened" the slavery question in 1854 and did not rise above "expediency and opportunism" until the eve of disunion. Thomas himself had become critical of Douglas for not caring "whether slavery was voted up or voted down." By contrast, Lincoln cared. Thomas by 1950 fully endorsed the view that Lincoln, after the Kansas-Nebraska Act, commanded the high ground: the morality of the matter transcended politics; slavery was wrong and incompatible with American democracy; and American democracy was the world's "last best hope" against despotism in Lincoln's day and totalitarianism in Thomas's.
Back in Springfield, Thomas discarded the idea of a biography of Douglas and settled on a life of Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war. From New York, Knopf sent the necessary assurances: "My colleagues here agree with me that Stanton would be a better subject than Douglas."  Thomas already knew of Stanton's centrality in the Lincoln administration, and he probably saw his new biography as a bridge between his prolonged study of Lincoln and his growing interest in the Civil War. He recognized that Stanton was "a real challenge ... a man of mystery ... a mixture of good and bad."  Yet Thomas, if anyone, could be fair with Stanton, judging from references to him in Lincoln.
But his friends were worried. His recent success had especially delighted Angle, Basler, Gib Bunn, and Miers. "There was a simple goodness in Ben," Miers later wrote, "the same simple goodness that was in his hero." Alas, Stanton was no such man. As a consequence, Miers thought, Thomas became "tense with the assignment" and "it dulled his creative drive." For as long as Miers knew Thomas, he had "his heart set on becoming a famous literary historian," but only once, with his "rich, alive, glowing" biography of Lincoln, did he glimpse that goal. Angle was also concerned that the new biography would fail. As he wrote Miers, "Ben is trying to make himself realize that the next book is likely to be Page [End Page 48] a very different story from the present one, but it is awfully hard for a person of his temperament to convince himself. Maybe we will be around to pick up the pieces. I hope it won't be necessary." 
Thomas inquired about other Stanton projects before he began his own. A. Howard Meneely, president of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, welcomed Thomas to the field, having long since set aside his own research, but Stanton was the subject of two manuscripts awaiting publication. Edward S. Corwin, the constitutional historian at Princeton, who began his study in the mid-1920s, was too busy with other projects to make the revisions that the Princeton and Rutgers presses wanted, but he offered to rent his research materials to Thomas for $500. A "first-rate man," although "extremely money conscious," Corwin had already rented his sources to another publisher, for Fletcher Pratt's use in his forthcoming biography. Thomas made the necessary arrangements with Corwin, and no doubt shared Knopf's relief when Pratt's Stanton proved the need for a better biography. 
Meanwhile, Thomas began a thorough search for primary sources. No Lincoln canvass had been so difficult. Friends in Chicago, familiar with important sources, generously offered to help. More important were Thomas's own research trips. "It's good to know that you're a-coming to Washington," wrote Mearns at the Library of Congress. "We'll comb the Stanton whiskers." Thomas also engaged a research assistant "for some six months" to ferret out pertinent manuscripts in Washington.  And he was in touch with several others who held unique materials, including Stanton descendants in New Orleans and Houston.
Thomas worked month after month on the Stanton manuscript, and from time to time wrote Knopf on his progress. Juggling the biography back and forth with short-term assignments, he nearly put it aside in 1954 for a long-term project. Adlai Stevenson and his sister, Elizabeth "Buffie" Ives, had tried since 1948 to interest Thomas in their ideas for books. Would he not like to write a history of the "family newspaper," the Bloomington Pantagraph? It would pro- Page [End Page 49] vide a "window on the development" of central Illinois from Lincoln's day to the present. But the project did not materialize.
When Stevenson became governor, the executive mansion in Springfield was also approaching its centennial, and this time Thomas was co-opted. He collected material for a history of the mansion, "a beautiful old house," in Buffie's eyes, "spacious, graceful, with a dignity reminiscent of the great Southern houses." At a "house party" in 1950, Thomas recorded the recollections of ten daughters of former governors, and he corresponded with others who had grown up in the mansion, bringing together their memories of "unusual or amusing events," "prominent" visitors, and "significant conferences" in the old house. In 1952, however, the Historical Library trustees, including Thomas, made his material available to Octavia Roberts Corneau, "an old Spfd. resident" (born in 1875), but her compilation of such informal reminiscences and biographical data was never published. 
By then, Buffie Ives wanted either a campaign biography of her brother, an assignment that Thomas "didn't much relish," or a history of Stevenson's ancestors back to the colonial period, which caught his interest. Thomas, given access to untapped family papers, imagined "a sort of saga" of Stevenson progenitors, "the kind of thing Sandburg did in Remembrance Rock, except that this would be fact rather than fiction." Although Miers and Knopf were quick to throw cold water on the idea, Buffie and another publisher re- Page [End Page 50] vived it in 1954 and proposed that Thomas limit the book to three generations. Thomas was keen to start on "The Stevensons of Illinois" (over forty years before Jean H. Baker's biography of the family), but Knopf intervened. Not at all eager to see Thomas's "work on Stanton interrupted," he urged him to finish Cadwallader and Stanton and to "put this new temptation behind you, attractive as it is." Thomas thereupon went back to the Civil War, knowing that "Adlai was frightfully disappointed ... and a little surprised" that he would not write up the Stevensons.
Earlier in 1954, Thomas had returned to the wartime reminiscences of Sylvanus Cadwallader. He further shortened the manuscript, as Knopf had recommended, and he revised it again in light of more comments from Joseph M. Fox, his editor for the project. As soon as Miers had completed his own manuscript, which used Cadwallader's reminiscences, Knopf scheduled it for publication early in 1955, to be followed by Thomas's edition later in the year. Bruce Catton, editor of American Heritage, included a liberal sampling of the Cadwallader book in the October issue. Reviewers of Three Years with Grant were generally enthusiastic about such a new and lively source.
Soon, however, the book came under fire. Catton heard from U. S. Grant III, grandson of the Civil War general, and from Kenneth P. Williams, author of Lincoln Finds a General, who were outraged that Thomas let Cadwallader's manuscript go into print or let it appear without sufficiently contradicting the text in the notes. They were particularly offended by the uncorrected account of Grant on a drinking spree during the Vicksburg campaign. That story, which to Thomas seemed to settle "once and for all the question of Grant and liquor," was to his critics demonstrably fabricated. Their letters stung Thomas deeply, and this time his response was printed, unlike his reply to Riddle's review of Lincoln. Civil War specialists who wrote to Thomas felt that he carried the day in the main exchange with Williams and was as gracious in his reply as Williams was nasty in his attack. Knopf, however, felt that Thomas had not adequately protected the book from such an onslaught. Instead of entrusting the manuscript "to a young fellow like Joe Fox," Knopf Page [End Page 51] should have reviewed Cadwallader himself, for he would have "anticipated some of these criticisms" and "dealt with them in advance." Thomas surely realized, with regret, that Knopf in fact blamed him, not Fox, for the controversy.
Sales figures for Grant had been promising. Late in 1955, two months after publication, they reached 7,000 copies, and Knopf confidently predicted that the book would fulfill Thomas's "highest hopes and pass 10,000." A few weeks later, Thomas was pleased to speak on "A Wisconsin Newsman with Grant" on Founders' Day at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. But the letters he then received from Williams and Knopf were disheartening. Thomas had stubbed his toe, as Stevenson would have said, and it was time to go back to Stanton.
Unfortunately, Thomas did not live to complete that biography, although it seems clear that he finished a draft of the entire manuscript. Four months before his death, his research assistant, Robert V. Bruce, "after mulling over" the work, sent Thomas two suggestions: "to blend in the lumpier quotations" and "to remind the reader at intervals of the larger setting, outside Washington." Bruce realized that Thomas expected to absorb the "essence" of many such quotations into the text and assumed that he would indicate the far-flung impact on individual lives of each "Stantonian act" at the War Department.  As in the writing of other biographies, Thomas had reached an "advanced point" at which he had yet to consider these matters—how much context the subject needed and how far the sources as quoted could be merged into the narrative. Page [End Page 52]
After Thomas died, his widow sent the manuscript to Miers, and later it went to Knopf, who was assured by "a very severe critic" that it "definitely ought to be published." To complete the work, Knopf tried to enlist Richard N. Current, but when Current declined, he turned to Harold M. Hyman, probably upon the recommendation of Allan Nevins. In 1962, Knopf published the book, and the title page listed Thomas and Hyman as coauthors. 
It is virtually impossible to apportion credit for Stanton. There are significant discrepancies on this point in statements when Thomas died and when the book was published and reviewed; the preface is ambiguous, and Hyman did not retain Thomas's draft. The Thomas Collection includes only some research materials and a copy of the paper that he read early in 1956 to the Law Club of Chicago. His topic was Stanton's appointment as secretary of war, and whole paragraphs of this paper were incorporated verbatim into the relevant part of the book, with most of the remaining text woven into other passages. Looking back, Hyman remembered that he fell heir not to "chapter drafts" of the whole book but only to "parts" of such drafts. He also remembered his concern to explore topics that Thomas had slighted or overlooked, such as the balance between civilian and military power in wartime and Stanton's professional style. If, to Thomas, Stanton at times appeared devious, this was to Hyman largely the result of Stanton's career as a lawyer, which made him, like Lincoln and Salmon P. Chase, habitually circumspect.  In any case, Thomas's manuscript and Hyman's revisions coalesced into a full-length biography that is probably as satisfactory as the subject allows.
Thomas took his own life on November 29, 1956. Three days before, his doctor had confirmed his suspicion, since the preceding summer, that he had throat cancer. He knew that he would face "long and hopeless agony," and he wished to spare his wife the corresponding "long-drawn-out agony of mind," to save his fami- Page [End Page 53] ly from the burden of the ordeal to come. His minister concluded that he was "choosing the lesser of two evils, in the name of mercy." His decision, a friend wrote, "might have seemed wrong" to those who loved him, but "to him, who loved them deeply in return, it must have been right, and having been so for him, it must come to be so for us also."
Thomas is buried on a knoll in Oak Ridge Cemetery, close to the graves of Oliver Barrett, the Lincoln collector, and Harry Pratt, the Lincoln scholar. Down the hill from their monuments runs a road, and beyond, on an open, high plateau, stands the Lincoln Tomb. Page [End Page 54]
- Thomas, Autobiography [Mar. 1952], Benjamin P. Thomas Papers, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Ill., 1–2. This collection is by far the most important archives for the study of Thomas's life and writings. It contains all the letters, manuscripts, articles, and reviews not otherwise located in these notes. The collection includes correspondence, mainly of 1950–56, and several topical files, all in five archival boxes. That the collection exists, even though it lacks Thomas's research files, his book drafts, and much correspondence, including copies of his own letters, is due in part to the suggestion of John Y. Simon, Ulysses S. Grant Association, Carbondale, and the assistance of Fred B. Hoffmann and Georgia Northrup, Abraham Lincoln Association, Spring-field. Donated to the Illinois State Historical Library in 1995 by Thomas's widow, Sally, and his daughter Sarah, the collection was inventoried by Cheryl Schnirring, curator of manuscripts. The filing of letters by correspondent and year and of papers by topic makes it unnecessary to specify the box and folder of each item. Additional correspondence to, from, and about Thomas is preserved in the papers of Paul M. Angle at the Chicago Historical Society, in the papers of Earl Schenck Miers at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and in the Carl Sandburg and Harry E. Pratt collections at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I am particularly indebted to Thomas F. Schwartz for advice and assistance in writing about Benjamin P. Thomas. I also wish to note Michael Burlingame's arrangement with the Johns Hopkins University Press to publish a Thomas anthology.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 3.
- "Biography" [comment at a session of the 48th annual meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, St. Louis, Apr. 28, 1955, noted in Mississippi Valley Historical Review 42 (Sept. 1955): 293–94], 6. Thomas's dissertation, first entitled "Diplomatic Relations between the United States and the Russian Empire, 1815–1867," was part of the series Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, 48:2.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 5. The article is in the Bulletin of the Abraham Lincoln Association 23 (June 1931): 3–6 (hereinafter Bulletin).
- Thomas, Autobiography, 5; Mrs. Benjamin Pratt Thomas [Salome Kreider Thomas], Memoir, transcription of an interview conducted by Virginia A. Bomke, Sept. 30, 1972 (Springfield: Oral History Office, Sangamon State University, 1989), 6 [copy in University Archives, University of Illinois at Springfield]. When Lincoln "engineered" the removal of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield, Sally Thomas's great-grandfather, George Pasfield II, contributed to the fund for the new statehouse. Her grandfather, George Pasfield III, was a merchant and builder who owned "more real estate than any other man in Springfield." Thomas, Autobiography, 4; History of Sangamon County, Illinois ... (Chicago: InterState Publishing, 1881), 700.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 6; see also his Portrait for Posterity: Lincoln and His Biographers (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1947), 268–74 (hereinafter Portrait). For tributes to Hay by Angle as well as Thomas, see Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 2 (Sept. 1942): 105–13; 2 (Mar. 1943): 207–10. See also Sally Bunn Schanbacher, George W. Bunn, Jr. Memoir, transcription of interviews in 1972 (Springfield: Oral History Office, Sangamon State University, 1973), 33–35.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 6.
- Thomas, "The Individuality of Lincoln as Revealed in His Writings," Bulletin 32 (Sept. 1933): 3–10 (references on 3–4, 8); "Lincoln's Humor: An Analysis," Abraham Lincoln Association Papers ... February 12, 1935 (Springfield: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1936), 59–90 (references on 70–71, 75, 78, 81, 88). Thomas read the first paper to the Lincoln Group of Chicago; with two small insertions, it was reprinted as "The Individuality of Lincoln" in Lincoln Group Papers ... First Series, ed. Douglas C. McMurtrie (Chicago: Black Cat Press, 1936), 79–91, and as the group's reprint no. 5 (Chicago: Home of Books, 1939). The second paper was reprinted in Abraham Lincoln: His Life, Work, and Character; An Anthology, ed. Edward Wagenknecht (New York: Creative Age Press, 1947), 566–80, and in Papers of the Abraham Lincoln Association 3 (1981): 29–47.
- Thomas, Lincoln's New Salem (Springfield: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1934), 16, 25, 29, 89; "New Salem: Dedication and Restoration," Bulletin 33 (Dec. 1933): 8. Other articles anticipating the book include "Old New Salem," Bulletin 29 (Dec. 1932): 3–9, and "Lincoln the Postmaster," Bulletin 31 (June 1933): 3–9. For extracts from the book that in effect epitomize it, see "Lincoln and New Salem: A Study in Environment," Illinois State Transactions for the Year 1934 ([Springfield]: Illinois State Historical Library, Publication 41, ), 61–75. A typescript of Thomas's New Salem with final revisions in his hand is in box 93, Abraham Lincoln Association Papers, Illinois State Historical Library. On the overlapping perspectives of Thomas and the historical restorationists, see Richard S. Taylor and Mark L. Johnson, "Inventing Lincoln's New Salem: The Reconstruction of a Pioneer Village" (paper presented at the 13th annual Illinois History Symposium, Springfield, Dec. 5, 1992), 50–51. For another interpretation of New Salem, see Edward M. Bruner, "Abraham Lincoln as Authentic Reproduction: A Critique of Postmodernism," American Anthropologist 96 (June 1994): 397–415. Thomas's perspective derived from "Frederic[k] Jackson Turner and his school of historians" (New Salem, 100).
- Thomas to Carl Sandburg, June 29, 1953, Sandburg Collection; Thomas, Lincoln's New Salem (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1954), 166, see also 6. Knopf gave the book a subtitle on the jacket, as if to stress the "legend" of Ann Rutledge and the community's impact on Lincoln: Lincoln's New Salem: Its History, Its Influence on Lincoln, Its Lincoln Legends, and the Story of Its Restoration.
- Thomas, "To New Salem," McClurg's Book News, Thomas Papers; Sandburg to Thomas, June 29, . The liberal spacing used in the Knopf edition changed the appearance of New Salem more than Thomas changed the text. Reprintings of the Knopf edition by others (1961, 1966, 1973, and 1987) testify to the book's success.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 6–7, adapted from Portrait, 272–73.
- Thomas, "Executive Secretary's Report," Bulletin 30 (Mar. 1933): 7; "Lincoln's Earlier Practice in the Federal Courts, 1839–1854," Bulletin 39 (June 1935): 6.
- Thomas, Lincoln, 1847–1853, xxxvi.
- Ibid., lix–lx; Bulletin 30 (Mar. 1933): 7.
- Bulletin 42 (Mar. 1936): 8.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 8; Roy P. Basler, A Touchstone for Greatness: Essays, Addresses, and Occasional Pieces about Abraham Lincoln (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973), 43; see also Earl Schenck Miers, The Trouble Bush (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966), 199–200.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 9–10. Hereford Association maps locate the Thomas property at Bolivia in Mt. Auburn Township, and a second farm was a bit south in Buckhart Township, both in Christian County.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 3; R. R. M. Carpenter Jr. (president, Philadelphia Phillies) to Thomas, Sept. 17, 1951; Joseph F. Reardon (director, Minor League Clubs, Philadelphia Phillies) to Thomas, Oct. 22, 1951.
- Angle, "Benjamin Platt Thomas, 1902–1956," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 50 (Spring 1957): 7–23; reprinted in Angle, On a Variety of Subjects (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1974), 177–92.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 8–9; Thomas to Harry E. Pratt, Dec. 5, 1949, Pratt Collection.
- Thomas, Portrait, ix–x. Thomas summarized the book in "Backstage with the Lincoln Biographers" and "Some Sidelights on Lincoln Biography," papers that he read on several occasions between 1947 and 1954. On projects that Thomas had abandoned by the time he returned to history, see Bulletin 23 (June 1931): 10; 42 (Mar. 1936): 8.
- Miers to Paul M. Angle, Aug. 19, 1946, Angle Papers; Thomas, Portrait, 264. Writers to whom Thomas gave "incidental" attention in the manuscript, and whom Miers would omit, included Alonzo Rothschild, Frederick Trevor Hill, and Joseph Fort Newton.
- Thomas placed a copy of the revised manuscript, with footnotes and the galley proofs as corrected, in the Illinois State Historical Library.
- Thomas to Sandburg, Nov. 18, 1946; Sandburg to Thomas, n.d., draft on the preceding letter (Sandburg's truncated spelling is here expanded); Thomas to Sandburg, Dec. 23, 1946; Sandburg to Thomas, Dec. 28, 1946 (copy), Sandburg Collection; see also Thomas, Portrait, 222; "A Man of Faith in Man," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 45 (Winter 1952): 340.
- James Hurt, "Benjamin Thomas: A Portrait for Posterity," Illinois Libraries 74 (May 1992): 307; Sandburg to Thomas, June 24, 1953 (copy), Sandburg Collection; see also Louis A. Warren, ed., Lincoln Lore, no. 968 (Oct. 27, 1947).
- Thomas, Portrait, book jacket; "Backstage," 13.
- Thomas, Portrait, 275.
- Thomas, "Backstage," 13; Portrait, 296, 201, 276, 193.
- Thomas, Portrait, 28.
- Thomas, "Our Lincoln Heritage from Ida Tarbell," Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 6 (Mar. 1950): 17; Portrait, 309, 283, 304, 310.
- Two years after publication, Thomas thought it "the most original Lincoln book to appear in a long time," adding that "it should certainly enable one to read the more important biographies with more discernment." Thomas to Pratt, Dec. 5, 1949, Pratt Collection. For a sampling of reviews, uniformly positive, see Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 5 (Mar. 1948): 49–51.
- Thomas to Angle, Jan. 19, 1948, Angle Papers.
- Thomas to Miers, July 22, 1948; Miers to Angle, July 27, 1948; see also Miers to Thomas, July 27, 1948, Angle Papers; Earl Schenck Miers, "Lincoln as a Best Seller," Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 5 (Dec. 1948): 181, see also 179, 189. Interestingly, Portrait for Posterity was named the 1947 Book of the Year by the Advisory Group of the Lincoln National Life Foundation, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, while The Lincoln Reader received honorable mention. Lincoln Lore, no. 987 (Mar. 8, 1948).
- Thomas to Angle, Jan. 19, 1948, Angle Papers; Sandburg, comment on book jacket of Theodore Weld, Crusader for Freedom (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1950) (hereinafter Weld); Thomas to Alan E. James (editor, Rutgers University Press), Mar. 27, 1948, Thomas Papers.
- Memo on promoting Weld (draft), before Jan. 5, 1950; see also letter of that date from Harold N. Munger Jr. (director, Rutgers University Press), Thomas Papers; Thomas to Sandburg, Jan. 27, 1949, Sandburg Collection.
- Robert H. Abzug, Passionate Liberator: Theodore Dwight Weld and the Dilemma of Reform (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), x, 233–34.
- Memo on promoting Weld; see also Mary Anthony, "An Abolitionist and His Negro Nephews," Negro Digest 9 (Dec. 1950): 22–25.
- Munger to Thomas, Mar. 30, 1950; see also Oct. 24, 1950, Mar. 14, 1951, Thomas Papers; Miers to Thomas, July 27, 1948, Angle Papers; Thomas, Autobiography, 11.
- Thomas, Autobiography, 10–11. The Lanphier and Thomas book, an attractive little volume, was followed by John H. Schacht, Sangamo, 1949–1959 (1960), an inexpensive supplement; both works were printed by the company, which at the time was a major Springfield employer.
- Sandburg to Thomas, Mar. 30, 1953 (copy), Sandburg Collection; Miers to Thomas, Jan. 18, 1950; William Cole, "News of Borzoi Books," Knopf release, Jan. 30, 1950; see also Miers to Thomas, Dec. 28, 1949, Jan. 11 and 31, 1950, Thomas Papers; New York Times, Feb. 2, 1950, 25:3; Thomas to Sandburg, Nov. 27, 1949, Sandburg Collection.
- Thomas to Sandburg, May 11, 1950, Sandburg Collection.
- Miers to Thomas, May 24, 1951; see also Jan. 31, Feb. 23 and 27, June 19 and 30, Sept. 14, and Dec. 4, 1950, and Jan. 2, 1951.
- Thomas to Miers, May 27, 1951; see also May 26, 1951.
- Knopf to Thomas, June 1 and 8, 1951.
- Thomas to Angle, June 10, 1951, Angle Papers; Thomas to Knopf, Sept. 12, 1951 (draft), Thomas Papers; see also "The President Reads His Mail," Lincoln Herald 55 (Spring 1953: 30–34); "Profile of a President," Look, Feb. 24, 1953, pp. 57–60, 65–68.
- Nevins provided a scenario to lure Thomas to England: "We shall write when we feel like it. When we feel like talking we shall beard the Oxford dons. When we feel like rambling we shall get on bicycles and shoot off into the Cotswolds, or down to Stratford, or up to Warwick. When we feel like roistering we shall take the train to London." As further bait, Nevins gave Thomas a year's subscription to the Times Literary Supplement, but nothing came of his plan. Nevins to Thomas, Dec. 27, 1950; see also Oct. 20, 1950, and Feb. 17, Oct. 10, 1951; Miers to Thomas, Jan. 29, 1951. Nevins also failed to stimulate sales of Thomas's Weld by sending Rutgers a glowing endorsement of the book after the first reviews appeared, hoping that his remarks would be "useful for quotation" in any "subsequent promotion" by the publisher. Nevins to Munger, n.d. (copy); Munger to Thomas, Dec. 5, 1950.
- Nevins to Thomas, Dec. 10, 1951; see also Jan. 19, 1952.
- Nevins to Thomas, Dec. 10, 1951, Thomas Papers; Thomas to Miers, Jan. 6, 1952; see also Miers to Thomas, Dec. 29, 1951, Miers Papers.
- Thomas to Miers, Jan. 6, 1952, Miers Papers.
- Thomas, "For Us the Living," Historical Bulletin 9 (Madison: Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin, 1951); Thomas, "The Meaning of the Gettysburg Address, Then and Today," Chicago History 2 (Fall 1950): 264–72; Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 7 (June 1952): 87–97. The manuscript of the Wisconsin address, on February 10, 1950, contains several paragraphs, including parallels between Lincoln's day and Thomas's, that he deleted before publication.
- Stevenson to Thomas, Nov. 6, 1950, Jan. 17, 1952, Dec. 24, 1951; see also Oct. 31, Nov. 22, 1950; "Governor Stevenson's Remarks," Chicago History 2 (Fall 1950): 260–63; Stevenson, "Lincoln as a Political Leader," Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 7 (June 1952): 79–86. A few concluding phrases of the latter speech reflect slight changes in the manuscript. The two addresses appear as Stevenson's in The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson, ed. Walter Johnson, asst. ed. Carol Evans, 8 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972–79), 3:468–71, 515–20, although most of the preliminary correspondence is included (3:313–14, 316, 321, and 482).
- [Basler], "News and Comment," Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 7 (June 1952): 105; see also Basler, ed., Marion Delores Pratt and Lloyd A. Dunlap, asst. eds., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953; Index, 1955), 1:xiv (hereinafter cited as Collected Works); Thomas F. Schwartz, "Lincoln's Published Writings: A History," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 9 (1987): 19–34.
- Miers to Angle, Dec. 29, 1951, Angle Papers; see also Knopf to Thomas, Jan. 25, Feb. 4 and 15, Mar. 14, 1952, Thomas Papers.
- See Sidney R. Jacobs (production manager, Knopf) to Thomas, Mar. 24, May 22, Sept. 9 and 16, 1952; Alfred A. "Pat" Knopf Jr. to Thomas, Mar. 31; Thomas to Knopf, Apr. 1, 1952; Thomas, Autobiography [written at the request of Lucy Johnson (publicity department, Knopf), Mar. 19; acknowledged, Apr. 1, 1952]; Thomas, "Why I Wrote a New Lincoln Book," McClurg's Book News, enclosed in Johnson to Thomas, Feb. 18, 1953; "Why Thomas's Abraham Lincoln Is Necessary," Knopf release, Aug. 5, 1952.
- Pat Knopf to Thomas, Apr. 3; Stevenson to Knopf, June 17; see also Knopf to Thomas, Apr. 10 and 16, June 19, 1952, Thomas Papers; Thomas to Elizabeth "Buffie" Ives, June 11, 1952, Adlai E. Stevenson II Papers, Illinois State Historical Library; Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson, 4:7.
- Sandburg's endorsement, n.d.; Sandburg to Thomas, June 24, 1953; see also Thomas to Sandburg, May 11 and 17, 1952, Sandburg Collection; Pat Knopf to Thomas, Apr. 10, May 13 and 15, 1952; Sandburg to Thomas, May 15, 1952, Thomas Papers.
- Angle to Thomas, quoted in Thomas to Pat Knopf, Apr. 30, 1952; Angle to Knopf, May 9, 1952; see also Angle to Alfred Knopf, Apr. 29, 1952; Thomas to Angle, May 1, 1952; Pat Knopf to Angle, May 7, 1952, Angle Papers; Knopf to Thomas, May 2, 1952, Thomas Papers. Stevenson, Sandburg, and Angle, among others, are used in many advertisements (e.g., New York Times, Nov. 9, 1952, 7:8).
- Knopf to Thomas, Oct. 2, 1952; Miers to Thomas, Sept. 15, 1952; see also Knopf to Thomas, Dec. 10 and 22, 1952; Miers to Thomas, Jan. 11 and 18, 1950; "Knopf's Plans for 'Abraham Lincoln,'" Publishers' Weekly, Sept. 20, 1952, pp. 1245–46.
- Thomas to Bernard Kalb, n.d. (draft); see also Kalb to Thomas, Oct. 17, 1952; Saturday Review, Nov. 8, 1952, p. 15.
- Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson, 4:188. Stevenson's Lincoln story, which moved his supporters to tears, was a question for those involved before it became a research puzzle for historians. See Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. to Stevenson, Apr. 23, 1954, annotated by Stevenson for Thomas, n.d.; Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson, 4:186–87, 355–56; Emily Morison Beck to Thomas, June 15, 1954; John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 13th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1955), 540. When Thomas traced Lincoln's words to his party's defeat in New York in 1862, not to his own loss to Douglas in 1858, Stevenson thanked Thomas, with particular reference to Schlesinger's colleagues: "You have saved me from the horrid fate of academic ridicule. Proudly, defiantly, I've scattered copies of your letter—with your advice to Harvard skeptics underlined in red crayon!!" Stevenson to Thomas, May 4, 1954, Thomas Papers. See also Elizabeth Stevenson Ives and Hildegarde Dolson, My Brother Adlai (New York: William Morrow, 1956), 302; [Ives], "When Adlai Said, 'It Hurts Too Much to Laugh,'" Donald Sevener's column, Illinois Times (Springfield), Thomas Papers; Merrill D. Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 326, 439n. 19; Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, comps. and eds., Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996), 510n. 11, 550n. 24.
- "Benjamin P. Thomas, City Writer, Has Full Schedule," Illinois State Journal-Register (Springfield), Nov. 2, 1952, 2:1–2.
- "This I Believe: Man Is Spiritually Imperfect Because of God's Plan, Says Lincoln Biographer," Illinois State Journal, Jan. 19, 1953, 16:4–6; see also Thomas and others, "Lincoln Biographies," Library of Congress, "Intermission Broadcast" (annotated copy). Thomas's theme for This I Believe recurred in "The Education of Women in a Troubled World," his commencement address on June 6, 1953, at Ferry Hall, the preparatory school in Lake Forest, Illinois, from which his wife and two daughters graduated.
- "Authors Meet Here to Honor Writer of New Life of Lincoln," Washington Star, Nov. 23, 1952, Thomas Papers; "Gives Manuscript of Lincoln Book to Library of Congress," Illinois State Journal, Nov. 21, 1952, 16:3–4. For his luncheon talk, Thomas relied upon his paper, "The President Reads His Mail." See "Author Gives U.S. Lincoln Book Ms.," New York Times, Nov. 20, 1952, 33:2. Thomas and Pat Knopf collected the materials for the Library of Congress. Knopf to Thomas, Sept. 4, 9, 16, and 24, 1952; Verner W. Clapp (acting librarian of Congress) to Thomas, Nov. 21, 1952. The Illinois State Historical Library later acquired another typescript of the manuscript, slightly revised by Thomas for the typesetters.
- Thomas, untitled paper, 1; Sandburg to Thomas, Mar. 30, 1953. On Thomas's tour and talk, see Knopf to Thomas, Jan. 14 and 20, 1953; Illinois State Register, Jan. 19, 1953, 1:6–7, 3:2–3, 6:3; Herman Kogan to Thomas, Dec. 18, 1952, Jan. 23, Feb. 4, 1953; Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 5, 1953, 6:1–5; Irita Van Doren to Thomas, Feb. 12, 1953; New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 11, 1953, 27:4–7. For the New York Times's imprecise but much-cited "Best Seller List," see Section 7, page 8, on every Sunday between Nov. 30, 1952, and Mar. 29, 1953.
- Knopf to Thomas, Jan. 9 and Apr. 2, 1953; "The Pulitzer Prize: Judges vs. Critics," Saturday Review, May 16, 1953, p. 21. Thomas's book did not qualify for the prize itself, Joseph Pulitzer having excluded biographies of Washington and Lincoln "as too obvious," a prohibition not yet lifted in 1952. John Hohenberg, The Pulitzer Prizes (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 19–20; see also Orville Prescott's review of the book, New York Times, Nov. 11, 1952, 27:2.
- Woodward to Thomas, Nov. 21, 1956. On book sales, see clipping from a New Orleans newspaper, Mar. 21, 1956. On translations, see reports, mainly from William A. Koshland at Knopf, regarding editions in Arabic (Syria), Chinese (Taiwan), French, German, Greek, Hebrew (Israel), Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Spanish (Mexico), and Turkish. Successive editions of the book in the United States point to its continuing appeal. After at least six hardcover printings by Knopf, Random House issued a Modern Library edition (1968). Next came a Knopf paperback (1973), a fine reprint in the Book-of-the-Month Club American Past series (1986), and a Barnes and Noble paperback (1994). The 1986 reprint, more fully illustrated than the original edition, includes an introduction by Stephen W. Sears.
- Pratt, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 45 (Winter 1952): 409–10; Bunn, Lincoln Library Bulletin (Springfield), 14 (Nov. 1952): 1; Williams, New York Times, Nov. 9, 1952, 7:4:2; Hesseltine, "How Lincoln Grew to Greatness," Thomas Papers; see also Angle, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 9, 1952, 4:3; Basler, Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 7 (Dec. 1952): 188–89; Nevins, Saturday Review, Nov. 8, 1952, pp. 15–16; Eastman, The Freeman, Mar. 23, 1953, pp. 459–60; Johnson, New Republic, Dec. 15, 1952, p. 19; Van Doren, New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 9, 1952, 6:3. Regarding a preface for Lincoln, see Harold Strauss (editor-in-chief, Knopf) to Thomas, Mar. 3, 1952.
- Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39 (Dec. 1952): 564–65; Thomas to Riddle, Dec. 15, 1952 (draft); Riddle to Thomas, Dec. 23, 1952; Thomas to Wendell H. Stephenson (managing editor, Mississippi Valley Historical Review), Dec. 16, 1952 (draft); see also Stephenson to Thomas, Dec. 19, 1952, Jan. 15 and 21, 1953. The question that divided Thomas and Riddle was subsequently rephrased; see, for example, Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850's (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1962), 19–22. For collateral data, see Michael Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 1–19.
- "Abe Lincoln, Country Lawyer," Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1954, p. 61. This article was reprinted, with some elaboration, in High Moment: Stories of Supreme Crises in the Lives of Great Men, ed. Wallace Brockway (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955), 190–204. The article evidently stemmed from the possibility of a contribution from Stevenson, who thought of using Thomas "as a ghost," the governor expressing such a "partiality for that particular ghost!" Stevenson to Thomas, Mar. 10, 1952. The Atlantic first offered $400 for the piece, and Thomas was later paid that amount. Stevenson to Hermon D. Smith, Mar. 26, 1952; Donald G. Reepler[?] (treasurer, Atlantic Monthly) to Thomas, Dec. 7, 1953.
- Garraty to Thomas, Jan. 26, 1953, citing passages in Lincoln by page and paragraph: 93:4, 115:2–3, 315:3, and 400:5.
- Collected Works, 5:403–4; Thomas, "Biography," 3–4; Lincoln, 339.
- Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory, 331–32; see also Journal of Information Ethics 3 (Spring 1994): 8–88, especially the articles by Robert Bray and Stephen B. Oates.
- Memorandum relating to Lincoln; Pratt to Thomas, Mar. 19, 1950; see also Thomas to Jacobs (at Knopf), Dec. 4, 1952; Thomas, Lincoln, 245–46, 341; Knopf to Thomas, Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, 1953.
- L. Vernon Caine, To Heights Beyond: The Story of Illinois College, 1955–1973 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986), 6.
- Article in a New Orleans newspaper, [Mar. 20, 1956]. Other clippings, correspondence relating to Thomas's presentations, and his second and third papers are in the Thomas Papers.
- "Abraham Lincoln" in The American Story: The Age of Exploration to the Age of the Atom, ed. Earl Schenck Miers (Great Neck, N.Y.: Channel Press, 1956), 183–88; Illinois State Journal, Feb. 9, 1956, 13:8, regarding Wide, Wide World (NBC), Feb. 12, 1956; "Recollections of Judge Bollinger," in The Bollinger Lincoln Lectures, ed. Clyde C. Walton Jr. (Iowa City: Bollinger Lincoln Foundation, 1953), 23–34; "Harry Edward Pratt, 1901–1956," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 49 (Summer 1956): 135–43; see also Thomas to Marion Bonzi Pratt, Sept. 28, 1956.
- Saturday Review, Oct. 29, 1955, p. 12.
- Kalb to Thomas, Oct. 17, 1952; Thomas to Kalb, n.d. (draft).
- Knopf to Thomas, Jan. 13, 1953; see also Jan. 20, 1953; Letters from Lloyd Lewis, Showing Steps in the Research for His Biography of U. S. Grant, introduction by Robert Maynard Hutchins (Boston: Little, Brown, 1950), 15–16; Thomas, "A Book Is Born," Civil War Book Club announcement. On the acquisition of the manuscript, see Miers, The Web of Victory: Grant at Vicksburg (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955), 308; Thomas to Angle, Jan. 22, 1955; Angle to Thomas, Jan. 25, 1955, Thomas Papers. On plans and arrangements with Miers, see Miers to Thomas, May 31, 1952; Thomas to Miers, Sept. 20, 1952, Miers Papers; Miers to Thomas, Sept. 22, 1952; Knopf to Thomas, Oct. 2, 1952, Thomas Papers.
- Miers to Thomas, May 24, 1952; see also Nevins to Thomas, Mar. 3, 1952.
- Thomas to Miers, May 19, 1952; Jacobs to Miers, Sept. 18, 1952 (copy); Thomas to Miers, May 28, 1952, Miers Papers.
- Harry Hansen, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 23, 1952, 4:13:1; John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 30, 1952, 6:2:4.
- Book reviews in Bulletin 31 (June 1933): 10; Abraham Lincoln Quarterly 5 (Mar. 1948): 39; 6 (Dec. 1950): 247; Thomas, "For Us the Living," 10–11.
- Knopf to Thomas, Dec. 3, 1952; see also Dec. 2, 1952.
- Thomas to Sandburg, June 29, 1953, Sandburg Collection.
- Miers, Trouble Bush, 232–33, 212, 231; Angle to Miers, Feb. 17, 1953, Angle Papers.
- Knopf to Thomas, Mar. 16, 1953; Munger to Thomas, Feb. 24, 1953; see also Corwin to Thomas, Mar. 10, 1953; Knopf to Thomas, Apr. 23 and June 15, 1953, Feb. 1, 1954; Pratt, Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War (New York: W. W. Norton, 1953).
- Mearns to Thomas, Mar. 27, 1953; Robert V. Bruce, Foreword in Lincoln and the Tools of War (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956), xi, see also 355.
- Stevenson to Angle, May 3, 1948, Angle Papers. In this letter, Stevenson saw the Pantagraph's history in terms suggested by Walter Johnson, the University of Chicago professor who would later edit Stevenson's papers. Stevenson had first discussed the project with Johnson, but if he should "decline to undertake it," Stevenson expected to come back to Angle "for an entree" to Thomas. In any event, Stevenson and Thomas were soon to meet. That Stevenson tried to commission a history of the Pantagraph in 1948 suggests that the family was less than satisfied with Harold Sinclair's manuscript, completed in 1946 but left unpublished for thirty years. See Sinclair, The Daily Pantagraph, 1846–1946 (Bloomington, Ill.: Evergreen Communications, 1976), vii–viii; Eleanor Ann Browns, "Harold Sinclair and the Technique of the Historical Novel" (Master's thesis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1947), 5.
- Ives and Dolson, My Brother Adlai, 222, see also 239–40; Thomas to Leslie C. Small, draft on Small to Thomas, Apr. 1, 1950; Ives to Thomas, n.d.; see also "Daughters of Governors Meet at Executive Mansion," Illinois State Journal-Register, July 2, 1950, 10:1–3; "Governor's Mansion Nearing Its Centennial," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 44 (Summer 1951): 185–86; Minutes, Board of Trustees, Illinois State Historical Library, Oct. 1, 1952, Thomas Papers; "The Governor's Mansion, 1853–1953: A Social History of the Illinois Executive Mansion," Octavia Roberts Corneau Papers, Illinois State Historical Library.
- Thomas to Miers, May 28, 1952; see also Miers to Thomas, May 31, 1952, Miers Papers; Knopf to Thomas, Sept. 30, 1952; see also Oct. 8, 1952; Ives to Thomas, Oct. 10, 1952; see also n.d. [a few days before Sept. 30]; Julius Birge (Bobbs-Merrill) to Thomas, Sept. 27, 1952.
- Fox to Thomas, Aug. 10, 1954; Knopf to Thomas, Oct. 8, 1954; Catton to Thomas, July 30, 1954; American Heritage, Oct. 1955, pp. 65–93.
- Thomas, ed., Three Years with Grant as Recalled by War Correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955), xi; Knopf to Thomas, June 15, 1956; see also Apr. 2, 1956; American Heritage, Aug. 1956, pp. 106–11; Bell I. Wiley to Thomas, June 9, 1956; Bernard A. Weisberger to Thomas, Aug. 13, 1956; Glenn Tucker to Thomas, Sept. 25, 1956; Kenneth P. Williams, reply to Thomas, unpublished letter to the editor, American Heritage, copy in Ulysses S. Grant Association, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Williams, Lincoln Finds a General: A Military Study of the Civil War, 5 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1949–59), 4:439–51; Ulysses S. Grant III, "Civil War: Fact and Fiction," Civil War History, June 1956, pp. 29–40; Gordon Parks, "Three Years with Grant ... An Appraisal," Wisconsin Magazine of History 40 (Autumn 1956): 50–56. Brooks D. Simpson adds to criticisms of Thomas's editing in his introduction to the Bison Books edition of Three Years with Grant (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1996).
- "A Wisconsin Newsman," Wisconsin Magazine of History 39 (Summer 1956): 238–44.
- Bruce to Thomas, July 28, 1956.
- Knopf to Sally Thomas, Nov. 11, 1956; see also Jan. 25 and Mar. 12, 1957; Thomas and Hyman, Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962). Hyman, who studied under Nevins at Columbia, worked on Stanton during his years in the History Department of the University of California, Los Angeles. On the faculty of Rice University since 1968, Hyman was interviewed about the book on October 26, 1996, in Springfield.
- Thomas and Hyman, Stanton, vii; see also "Edwin M. Stanton Takes Over the War Department" [Jan. 27, 1956]; Stevenson to Thomas, Jan. 20, 1956, Stevenson Papers.
- New York Times, Nov. 30, 1956, 50:1; Angle, "Thomas," 19; Miers, Trouble Bush, 233–34; Richard Paul Graebel, funeral sermon; George W. Bunn Jr., "Benjamin P. Thomas, 1902–1956," Lincoln Library Bulletin 18 (Jan. 1957): 1.