While I was digging through my files today I found a historiographic essay I wrote early in my academic career. It was one of my flashier works as a historian. Notice the liberty I took with the introduction. At the time, my professors thought I was insane. Now, they see the method to my madness. Anyway, I thought it would be cute to present you with a short chronology of the way the history of Abraham Lincoln was written by a once freshman: (Note, the footnote indications probably don't work)
[Edit: Damn, this is totally a draft. I found the other one. It's not much different though, just much cleaner and better transitions. As I had fixed in the final, it's Joshua Speed who was rumored to be Lincoln's best friend. Not John.]
"Come in the room, Abraham. It’s too damn cold out there in the storeroom. The brazier is blazing in here." called John Speed while lying comfortably in his duck-feathered bed.
The fire licked the top of the masonry bricks, illuminating the room intermittently as the gas in the wood released with sudden crackles and pops. It was a cold night in Springfield, Illinois in his father's shop. Thankfully, he possessed the makings of a real room. Most in the trader town had shanties and less space in their entire house than his apartment. He was a lucky and warm man.
Abraham was staring at the ceiling with his arms crossed behind his head. The floor was hard and uncomfortable. The young Abraham Lincoln, who would eventually be the sixteenth president of the United States of America, could only ponder one thing thus far this night – and that was how bad his back hurt. His long frame was not suited for planks, he decided in that instant, as he gathered up his blanket and started moving toward Speed’s room. "You are right, Jonathon" Lincoln said in his Midwestern draw, "I'm coming in there to enjoy your fire."
Jonathon sat up in bed, his heart suddenly pounding, blood coursing through his ears. "What the hell is wrong with me," he thinks as his breath catches in his throat. He hears Lincoln’s footsteps closer to the door. "You’ll need to take your shoes off if you’re coming in here, Lincoln. I don't want any of that dirt from the road messing up my room."
"Your roof, your rule, Mr. Speed," says Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln took long strides across the bedroom to the best place to remove his boots from his weary feet, the bed. As he sat down, he caught Jonathon staring at him fiercely. Lincoln turned his head quickly away and removed one boot. Out of the corner of his eye he still noticed the glare. With one boot in hand, and a strong, firm hand on his knee, Lincoln said, "You can’t tell anyone about this. It never happened."
Jonathon placed his hand over Lincoln's and said, "Abraham, I don’t know what to do – I can’t quit you."
“Mr. Lincoln, you are the most conscientious man I ever saw, ” said the prostitute when Abraham Lincoln neglected her services because he was short two dollars. The prostitute in Springfield was willing to credit Lincoln the two dollars, but the man who later became known as “Honest Abe” did not want to take the chance that he would not honor his word.
Despite his seedy beginnings, Abraham Lincoln grew up to become the sixteenth president of the United States. (1861) His early years were marked with economic strife as his family migrated from farm to farm in both Illinois and Indiana. When asked about his early life by a campaign journalist, Lincoln simply replied, “it is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of me or my early life…it can all be condensed into a simple sentence…’the short and simple annals of the poor. ’”
Eventually, Abraham Lincoln hit his stride as a lawyer and began seeking political positions. As president, he led the Union during the American Civil War, and signed the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), freeing all slaves in the United States. In 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head, ending his life while still in his second term as president.
Abraham Lincoln is nothing less than an American iconic figure, and has been covered profusely by American historians. Abraham Lincoln left a horde of information after his passing, including personal letters that has led to numerous interpretations of both his personal and political life. Historians have taken many different historical stances on Lincoln since his death in their attempts to define the man and his life. The main interpretations this essay will focus on are from around the last one hundred years of history writing about Lincoln. The history topics covered are consensus, progressive, psychological, and sociological history.
In 1893, John T. Morse wrote a two volume biography on Abraham Lincoln entitled Abraham Lincoln. In Abraham Lincoln, Morse focuses mainly on Lincoln’s childhood and humble beginnings. He narrates the abysmal surroundings that Lincoln lived in and tries to relate that to his thought patterns. It was written in a consensus style, as Morse does not elaborate on the flaws of Lincoln, nor his political failings. It glorifies his conscientious views of how slaves were treated, his relationship with cabinet members, and his attitude.
Six years after Morse’s biographical record, Norman Hapgood wrote another, albeit smaller, biography on Lincoln entitled again, Abraham Lincoln. A bit ahead of its time, but still consensus, Hapgood’s biography was an attempt to capture the “personality” of Lincoln opposed to telling the drama of his entire life. Hapgood spends the majority of his story-telling dictating Lincoln’s life as a lawyer. He focuses on the decision-making practices and apparently never says a cross word about it.
A female historian, Rose Strunksy, tried to tackle Abraham Lincoln in 1914 with her biography of Lincoln aptly named Abraham Lincoln. She states at the beginning of her biography that she has “not tried to find an unopened letter of an unpublished anecdote.” Strunksy, through her own admittance, is attempting to nail down a “new historical perspective” on Abraham Lincoln’s life. In the end, while she may have tried to convey a female perspective on Lincoln’s life, she failed to gain acceptance with her peers because of her numerous citation errors.
In 1926, a more progressive biography of Abraham Lincoln appeared. Abraham Lincoln The Prairie Years by Carl Sandburg was written with the idea that by elaborating and exploring Lincoln’s early life, one could perhaps glean the decisions and personality of Lincoln as an American president. The Prairie Years is a narrative-driven story of Lincoln as a boy and the relationships that he develops. The most compelling aspect of the book that is revisited and hotly debated by future historians is the quote in which Sandburg relates Lincoln’s relationship to Joshua Speed, “[Speed has] a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets.” Sandburg additionally mentions several times throughout the work that Speed and Lincoln slept in the same room. Although interesting for its time, it was also seen as a work without real merit. American historians saw many errors and made sure to make that plain.
In 1952, Benjamin P. Thomas, another progressive historian, tried his hand at Abraham Lincoln with his book entitled, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography. Unlike Sandburg, Thomas attempted to write a biography that stretched Lincoln’s entire life. Thomas promoted Abraham Lincoln and his ideals, but also illuminated some of the failures in Lincoln’s life. Also, the men who presented conflict in Lincoln’s life were not portrayed as evil men. Overall, Thomas wrote a biography that presents Lincoln as a flawed, but still glorious man.
Since World War II, historians have sought differing accounts of history via other sciences. In 1980, George Forgie wrote Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age. Unlike the historians of the past, Forgie sought to find a psychological reason for Lincoln’s decisions during the Civil War. Forgie maintains that Lincoln suffered from an Oedipus complex and only found solace in George Washington. Yet, he was jealous of that immortality and therefore tried to capture for himself, which may explain why he decided to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Also, Forgie insists the reason why Lincoln became so embattled during the Civil War was because his complex disrupted his psyche. He wanted the Civil War to end in order to metaphorically end the war in his head. This kind of rhetoric is typical for a psychological approach, and although odd, adds a new dimension to the Lincoln character.
Another psychological evaluation of Lincoln was presented with Charles B. Strozier’s Lincoln’s Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings. Strozier evaluates Lincoln based on Heinz Kohut’s theory of maturing self. Strozier focuses on Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln’s affection for her. He surmises that Lincoln was depressed because of her untimely passing, which may have shaped his mentality as an individual more than his political experience. Eventually, Strozier delves into what composed Lincoln’s ego and his sense of commonality with the citizen. According to Strozier, Lincoln’s ability to associate himself with the people is what may have led his thinking on the several social issues he dealt with. Overall, Strozier’s book supports what psychologists try to do when they write history: psychoanalyze.
In the 1990s, the sociological perspective began to invade the history scene. In 1991, Barry Schwartz wrote an article titled Iconography and Collective Memory: Lincoln’s Image in the American Mind in an attempt to frame Lincoln within a pre-World War I group mentality. He ascertains that there was a struggle between the agents of history writing in terms of the glorification of Lincoln’s character, and ultimately it was the consumers of history that decided the debate because of readiness to both promote and reject different notions of Abraham Lincoln. The author goes so far as to say that new information, or analysis of Lincoln that is radically different, cannot come to fruition due to this mentality or “structure-centered conception” of older, collective notions of Lincoln.
In 1994, Merril D. Peterson wrote a book entitled Lincoln in American Memory, which takes a different approach to what Scwartz tried to convey in his book. Peterson finds five essential themes in the history of Lincoln that “remain central to Americans’ conception of themselves,” and he then explores those themes to explain how Americans admire and remember Abraham Lincoln. In his analysis of these themes Peterson also provides insight into the way Lincoln’s image is utilized within that construct. Essentially, he argues that the iconic stature of Lincoln is so embedded in the American consciousness that anyone who mentions it (particularly public speakers) can utilize the symbol of Lincoln as a tool to promote national pride and humanism. Peterson also tries to tackle the historiography of Lincoln in terms of the group mentality as well.
Abraham Lincoln is still an iconic figure in American history. The wealth of knowledge and published materials about him have allowed historians to write amazing amounts about his life and untimely death. Initially there was an emphasis on the glorification of Lincoln with little narrative quality. This allowed early consensus authors breathing room so fresh after his death. Later, progressive authors tried to define Lincoln as a man with actual problems and frailties. Much later, psychologists went further, trying to get inside Lincoln’s thoughts and explain his behaviors. Eventually, sociologists tackled the perspective that readers have of Lincoln and the reasons he is remembered in glowing terms. The story of Abraham Lincoln is far from being told completely, and as time and focus changes, so will the history.
Prostitute quoted in Richard N. Current The Lincoln Nobody Knows (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958), 35.
Lincoln quoted in Angle and Miers The Living Lincoln (New Brunswick N.J.:Rutgers University Press, 1955) 33.
John T. Morse Abraham Lincoln (Boston and New York:Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1893)
Norman Hapgood Abraham Lincoln (NewYork:The Macmillian Co., 1899)
Unknown Author’s quote in “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln’ by Norman Hapgood” Harvard Law Review 13:4 (1899) 317-318.
Rose Strunksy Abraham Lincoln (New York: The Macmillian Co., 1914)
Quoted by Strunksy in C.M.T. “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln’ by Rose Strunksy.” The Mississippi Review 1:4 (1915) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Carl Sandburg Abraham Lincoln the Prairie Years (New York:Blue Ribbons Books, 1926)
Omitted in the abridged version of The Prairie Years I possess.
M.M. Quaife “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln the Prairie Years’ by Carl Sandburg” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 13:2 (1926) JSTOR. (12/04/2008) and William E. Barton “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln the Prairie Years’ by Carl Sandburg” The American Historical Review 31:4 (1926) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Benjamin P. Thomas Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1952)
Paraphrased poorly from Brainerd Dyer “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln: A Biography’ by Benjamin P. Thomas” American Historical Review 58:4 (1953) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
George B. Forgie Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979)
Yes, actually stated in Richard N. Current “Untitled Review of ‘Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age’ by George B. Forgie” The Journal of Southern History 46:3 (1980) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Charles B. Strozier Lincoln’s Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings (New York:Basic Books, 1982)
Bertram Wyatt-Brown “Untitled Review of ‘Lincoln’s Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings’ by Charles B. Strozier” The American Historical Review 88:4 (1983) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Barry Schwartz “Iconography and Collective Memory: Lincoln’s Image in the American Mind” The Sociological Quarterly 32:3 (1991) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Quoted from Schwartz “Iconography and Collective Memory”
Merril D. Peterson Lincoln in American Memory (New York:Oxford University Press, 1994)
Quoted from David Glassberg “Untitled Review of ‘Lincoln in American Memory’ by Merril D. Peterson” The American Historical Review 99:4 (1994) JSTOR (12/04/2008)
Angle and Miers The Living Lincoln (New Brunswick N.J.:Rutgers University Press, 1955) 33.
Bancroft, Frederic “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln’ by John T. Morse”. Political Science Quarterly 9:1 (1894):131-133. JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Barton, William E. “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln the Prairie Years’ by Carl Sandburg” The American Historical Review 31:4 (1926) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
C.M.T. “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln’ by Rose Strunksy.” The Mississippi Review 1:4 (1915) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Current, Richard N. The Lincoln Nobody Knows (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958), 35.
Current, Richard N. “Untitled Review of ‘Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age’ by George B. Forgie” The Journal of Southern History 46:3 (1980) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Forgie , George B. Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979)
Glassberg, David “Untitled Review of ‘Lincoln in American Memory’ by Merril D. Peterson” The American Historical Review 99:4 (1994) JSTOR (12/04/2008)
Hapgood, Norman Abraham Lincoln (NewYork:The Macmillian Co., 1899)
James, J.A. “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln’ by John T. Morse.” Amerian Academy of Political and Social Sciences 4 (1894):136-137. JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Morse, John T. Abraham Lincoln (Boston and New York:Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1893)
Peterson D. Meril Lincoln in American Memory (New York:Oxford University Press, 1994)
Quaife, M.M. “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln the Prairie Years’ by Carl Sandburg” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 13:2 (1926) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Sandburg, Carl Abraham Lincoln the Prairie Years (New York:Blue Ribbons Books, 1926)
Schwartz, Barry “Iconography and Collective Memory: Lincoln’s Image in the American Mind” The Sociological Quarterly 32:3 (1991) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)
Strozier, Charles B. Lincoln’s Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings (New York:Basic Books, 1982)
Strunksy, Rose Abraham Lincoln (New York: The Macmillian Co., 1914)
Thomas, Benjamin P. Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1952)
Unknown Author “Untitled Review of ‘Abraham Lincoln’ by Norman Hapgood” Harvard Law Review 13:4 (1899) 317-318.
Wyatt-Brown, Bertram “Untitled Review of ‘Lincoln’s Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings’ by Charles B. Strozier” The American Historical Review 88:4 (1983) JSTOR. (12/04/2008)