Lincoln in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

Lincoln in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

by Harold K. Bush


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 More than any other American before or since, Abraham Lincoln had a way with words that has shaped our national idea of ourselves. Actively disliked and even vilified by many Americans for the vast majority of his career, this most studied, most storied, and most documented leader still stirs up controversy. Showing not only the development of a powerful mind but the ways in which our sixteenth president was perceived by equally brilliant American minds of a decidedly literary and political bent, Harold K. Bush’s Lincoln in His Own Time provides some of the most significant contemporary meditations on the Great Emancipator’s legacy and cultural significance.

 The forty-two entries in this spirited collection present the best reflections of Lincoln as thinker, reader, writer, and orator by those whose lives intertwined with his or those who had direct contact with eyewitnesses. Bush focuses on Lincoln’s literary interests, reading, and work as a writer as well as the evolving debate about his religious views that became central to his memory. Along with a star-struck Walt Whitman writing of Lincoln’s “inexpressibly sweet” face and manner, Elizabeth Keckly’s description of a bereaved Lincoln, “genius and greatness weeping over love’s idol lost,” and William Stoddard’s report of the “cheery, hopeful, morning light” on Lincoln’s face after a long night debating the fate of the nation, the volume includes selections from works by famous contemporary figures such as Hawthorne, Douglass, Stowe, Lowell, Twain, and Lincoln himself in addition to lesser-known selections that have been nearly lost to history. Each entry is introduced by a headnote that places the selection in historical and cultural context; explanatory endnotes provide information about people and places. A comprehensive introduction and a detailed chronology of Lincoln’s eventful life round out the volume.
Bush’s thoughtful collection reveals Lincoln as a man of letters who crafted some of the most memorable lines in our national vocabulary, explores the striking mythologization of the martyred president that began immediately upon his death, and then combines these two themes to illuminate Lincoln’s place in public memory as the absolute embodiment of America’s mythic civil religion. Beyond providing the standard fare of reminiscences about the rhetorically brilliant backwoodsman from the “Old Northwest,” Lincoln in His Own Time also maps a complex genealogy of the cultural work and iconic status of Lincoln as quintessential scribe and prophet of the American people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609380441
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Publication date: 10/21/2011
Series: Writers in Their Own Time Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

 Harold K. Bush, professor of English at Saint Louis University, is the author ofMark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age and American Declarations: Rebellion and Repentance in American Cultural History.

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Lincoln in His Own Time

A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2011 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60938-044-1

Chapter One

[Autobiographical Statement, 1858]

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln wrote three autobiographies in a two-year period, from 1858 to 1860. This first, terse effort was prepared at the request of Charles Lanman, who was compiling the Dictionary of Congress.

JUNE [15?] 1858

Born, February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky.

Education defective.

Profession, a lawyer.

Have been a captain of volunteers in Black Hawk war.

Postmaster at a very small office.

Four times a member of the Illinois legislature, and was a member of the lower house of Congress. Yours, etc.,

A. Lincoln

[Statement to William Herndon, after 1865?]

John Hanks

John Hanks (1802–1889) was Lincoln's mother's cousin. Lincoln met Hanks in 1822 when Hanks moved from Kentucky to southern Indiana, where he lived in the Lincoln household. Abraham and John hired out for a time splitting fence rails. Denton Offut, a frontier merchant, later hired them to take a flatboat to New Orleans. Hanks would claim later that the sight of the horrors of slavery in New Orleans set Lincoln on the path to his later anti-slavery convictions. Despite his earlier Democratic leanings, Hanks became the banner carrier for Lincoln's "Rail Splitter" candidacy in 1860 and voted Republican that year. Throughout the Civil War, Hanks was singular amongst the Hanks/Lincoln clan in his unwavering loyalty to Lincoln, serving in the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteer Infantry from 1861 to 1864.1 He also attended Lincoln's funeral in Springfield.

I WAS BORN IN Kentucky on the ninth day of February 1802 in Nelson County four miles of Beardstown. My father moved to Hardin County in 1806. I knew Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky. Abraham was known among the boys as a bashful, somewhat dull, but peaceable boy; he was not a brilliant boy, but worked his way by toil; to learn was hard for him, but he walked slowly, but surely. He went to school to a man by the name of Hazel; the school was but a short distance. Lincoln lived on the bank of Knob Creek, about a half-mile above the Rolling Fork, which empties into Salt River, which empties into Ohio River. Abraham Lincoln's mother and I were cousins. Abraham and I are second cousins. I knew Mrs. Nancy Lincoln or Nancy Sparrow before marriage. She was a tall slender woman, dark-skinned, black hair and eyes, her face was sharp and angular, forehead big. She was beyond all doubts an intellectual woman, rather extraordinary if anything. She was born in Mercer County, Kentucky, about 1780; her nature was kindness, mildness, tenderness, obedience to her husband. Abraham was like his mother very much. She was a Baptist by profession.

My recollection — in fact Abraham's father told me so — that his great-grandfather was an Englishman, came from England and settled in Virginia. This is the family reputation. When I was in Kentucky in 1864, I was shown a house in Mercer County which was said to be the house that Abraham's grandfather had built. I doubt the house, but I don't the farm, about ten miles from the mouth of Kubick River, about ten or twelve miles from Harrisburg, southeast from Harrodsburg.

I knew Thomas Lincoln in Kentucky, knew him well. He was cabinet and house carpenter, farmed after he got married, still working at his trade. He was a man about five feet ten inches high, weighed about 180, eyes dark gray, hair black, a little stoop-shouldered, a good-humored man, a strong brave man, a very stout man, loved fun, jokes, and equaled Abe in telling stories. Happiness was the end of life with him. He, Thomas, was older than his wife, say about five years, being born about 1775. Thomas was born in Virginia; so was his wife. Thomas was six years of age when he came to Kentucky. His father was killed by the Indians, as Dennis Hanks has said. The Indian story of Dennis Hanks is generally correct as told you by Dennis, so is Chapman's story generally correct. Thomas told me so. My father and Lincoln's were born in old Virginia in what I called the Rappahannock River. We knew each other in Virginia; that is, the founders did. Abraham's mother was my first cousin. Abraham's grandmother was my father's sister. Abraham's grandfather and mother on his mother's side lived Mercer County, Kentucky, about twenty miles south of Abraham's grandfather on his father's side, the one killed by the Indians. Dennis Hanks and I are cousins. Mr. Sparrow and Mrs. Sparrow never came to Illinois. They lived in Kentucky in Mercer County. Sparrow married my father's sister. Henry Sparrow was his name, lived and died in Mercer County, never came to Indiana. They came from old Virginia. All these families came from about the same county, can't say what county.

Thomas Lincoln moved to Indiana in 1818, probably 1816, and settled in Spencer County, near what is now called Gentryville, Indiana. I stayed in Kentucky, did not come out when Dennis Hanks did. Dennis Hanks came out in about 1818. Mrs. Lincoln died, say in 1818, I think, and lies buried southeast of the Lincoln farm about a half-mile in a rise, knoll, or knob. She was buried by the side of Mr. Hall and his wife, as I understand it. I came out to Indiana in 1822 after Thomas Lincoln had married his second wife, and stayed in Indiana near to and with Thomas Lincoln for four years. I remember Abraham well in Indiana. He was then ten years of age, and fourteen years when I left Indiana and went back to Kentucky. I was, in 1822, twenty years.

Abraham was farming when I got there and when I left and went to Kentucky, he went to school but little. He went to school to Dorsey or Swaney, I can't now say which. Old man Lincoln's house was a rough, rough log one, not a hewed one; his second one was sorter hewed, but is gone — never standing in 1860. The third one was hewed logs — that one was never occupied by Lincoln; it was up but not inhabited; the house stood east and west and faced the south, chimney on east end. It was, is, about four miles to Gentryville from the Lincoln farm, west of east a little. The house stood on a round hill, knoll or knob. Lincoln's farm was on the forks of Big Pigeon and Little Pigeon. The Big Pigeon is north and the little one south.

When Lincoln, Abe, and I returned to the house from work, he would go to the cupboard, snatch a piece of corn bread, take down a book, sit down in a chair, cock his legs up as high as his head and read. He and I worked bare-footed, grubbed it, plowed, mowed, and cradled together, plowed corn, gathered it, and shucked corn. Abraham read constantly when he had an opportunity; no newspapers then; had monthly meetings at church, sometimes at private houses. Abe went to church generally — not always. I know he read Weem's Washington when I was there, got it wet — it was on a kind of bookshelf close to the window — the bookshelf was made by two pins in the wall and a clapboard on them, books on that. Lincoln got it of Crawford, told Crawford and paid it in pulling fodder by two or three days' work. He frequently read the Bible. He read Robinson Crusoe, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Lincoln devoured all the books he could get or lay hands on; he was a constant and voracious reader. I never could get him in company with woman; he was not a timid man in this particular, but did not seek such company. He was always full of his stories, as much so in Indiana as Illinois. He would go out in the woods and gather hickory bark, bring it home, and keep a light by it and read by it, when no lamp was to be had — grease lamp — handle to it which stuck in the crack of the wall. Tallow was scarce. Abraham was a good hearty eater, loved good eating. His own mother and stepmother were good cooks for their day and time. In the summer he wore tan linen pants and flax shirt and in the winter he wore linsey-woolsely, that is, during the time I was there. I have seen Lincoln — Abraham — make speeches to his stepbrothers, stepsisters, and youngsters that would come to see the family.

I moved from Kentucky to Illinois in the fall of 1828 and settled where I now live — four miles northwest of Decatur — and built the first house in Decatur. I wrote to Thomas Lincoln what kind of a country it was; he came to this State the first day of March 1830 — to my house. He then built ten miles west of Decatur, and about a hundred steps from the N.F. of Sangamon River and on the north side of it on a kind of bluff . The house, the logs of it, I cut myself in 1829 and gave them to old man Lincoln. The house set east and west, fronted south, chimney to west end, the same house which was shown in Chicago. Lincoln broke up fifteen acres of land. Abraham and myself split the rails; he owned four yoke of oxen; broke prairie for others. Two yoke belonged to Thomas Lincoln and two to my brother. Dennis Hanks came out at the summer time. Mr. and Mrs. Hall — Dennis Hanks married Abraham's stepsister, so did Hall. Abraham during the winter of 1830–31 walked three miles and made a thousand rails for Major Warnick.

I knew Abraham's own sister Sarah; she was a short-built woman, eyes dark gray, haired dark brown; she was a good woman, kind, tender, and good-natured, and is said to have been a smart woman. That is my opinion.

After Abraham got to Decatur, rather to Mercer, my county — a man by the name of Posey came into our neighborhood and made a speech; it was a bad one, and I said Abe could beat it. I turned a box or keg, and Abe made his speech. The other man was a candidate; Abe wasn't. Abe beat him to death, his subject being the navigation of the Sangamon River. The man after the speech was through, took Abe aside and asked him where he had learned so much and what he did so well. Abe explained, stating his manner and method of reading and what he had read; the man encouraged Lincoln to persevere.

Offutt came to my house in February 1831 and wanted to hire me to run a flatboat for him, saying that he had heard that I was quite a flatboat man in Kentucky; he wanted me to go badly. I went and saw Abe and John Johnston, Abe's stepbrother; introduced Offutt to them. We made an engagement with Offutt at 50¢ per day and $60 to make the trip to New Orleans. Abe and I came down the Sangamon River in a canoe on March 1831, landed at what is now called and known as Jamestown — five miles east of Springfield — once called Judy's Ferry. We left our canoe in charge of Mr. Mann, walked afoot to Springfield, and found Off utt. He was at a tavern in Oldtown, probably Elliott's; it was Elliott's. He, Offutt, expected to find his boat according to contract at the mouth of Spring Creek, five miles north of Springfield, got disappointed. Abe, Johnston, and myself went down to the mouth of Spring Creek and there cut the timbers to make the boat; we were about two weeks cutting our timber — suppose it was on Congress land. Abe walked afoot to Springfield, thence to Judy's Ferry, got the canoe, and floated it down to the mouth of Spring Creek, where the timber was cut; we then rafted the logs down to Sangamon River to what is called Sangamontown, seven miles northwest of Spring Creek, walked one mile, eat two meals a day. When we got to Sangamontown we made a shanty, shed. Abe was elected cook. We sawed our lumber at Kirkpatrick's mill on Prairie Creek about one and a half miles southwest of Sangamontown. We hewed and sawed the timber at the mouth of Spring Creek. We finished making and launching the boat in about four weeks. We loaded the boat with barrel pork, corn, and live hogs and left Sangamontown. I remember a juggler's show at Sangamontown. Abe went to it. Abe was full of jokes during all this time, kept us all alive. Offutt was a Whig, so was Lincoln, but he could not hear Jackson wrongfully abused — especially where a lie and malice did the abuse. I can say that Abe never was a Democrat; he was always a Whig; so was his father before him.

We landed at the New Salem mill about April 19 and got fast on Rutledge's mill dam, now called Bill's mill dam. We unloaded the boat, that is, we changed goods from one boat to a borrowed one, rolled the barrels forward, bored a hole in the end of the boat over the dam — water ran out and thus we got over; on the dam part of a day and one night. We then went on down to the Yellow Bank or the Blue Banks on the Sangamon River near Squire Godby's about one mile above the mouth of Salt Creek. We purchased some hogs of, I think, Squire Godby — am not sure — tried to drive them, couldn't, ran them back in the pen, caught them, Abe held the head of them, I the tail and Offutt sewed up their eyes, wouldn't drive, couldn't put them in a cart, carried them to the boat about one mile to the river. Abe received the hogs, cut open them. Johnston and I hauled them to Abe. We then proceeded, Offutt, John Johnston, Abe Lincoln, and myself, down the Sangamon River, thence into Illinois. We kept our victuals and in fact slept down in the boat, at one end; went down in the boat, at one end; went down by a kind of ladder through a scatter hole. We used plank as sails and cloth, sometimes, rushed through Beardstown in a hurry — people came out and laughed at us — passed Alton, Cairo, and stopped at Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, etc. There is nothing worthy of being known going down the river.

I can say we soon — say in May — we landed in New Orleans. There it was we saw Negroes chained, maltreated, whipped, and scourged. Lincoln saw it, his heart bled, said nothing much, was silent from feeling, was sad, looked bad, felt bad, was thoughtful and abstracted. I can say knowingly that it was on this trip that he formed his opinions of slavery; it ran its iron in him then and there — May 1831. I have heard him say often and often. Offutt, Johnston, Abe, and myself left New Orleans in June 1831. We came to St. Louis on the steamboat together, walked to Edwardsville twenty-five miles northeast of St. Louis, Abe, Johnston, and myself. Abe and Johnston went to Coles County and I to Springfield, Sangamon County. Thomas Lincoln had moved to Coles County in 1831 in, say, June.

I came near forgetting some facts. I was in the Black Hawk War, was Sherman's defeat, which was on the fourteenth day of May 1832. Lincoln was out on that war. I went in March 1832; Lincoln started as captain of the New Salem company about the same time. Lincoln was at Dixon's Ferry at the time of Sherman's defeat. I did not go to the Battle of the Bad Axe. Lincoln, I think, was there, though not in the action, as I understand it. I was out about four or six months; so was Lincoln. Lincoln went with Major Henry, I know. I was discharged at Ottawa and Lincoln at Rock Island or near that; met at Dixon's Ferry, after the Sherman defeat. Lincoln went out with Henry. We were ordered to build a fort at Ottawa to protect the people. The Sherman defeat aff air grew out of the drunkenness, folly, cowardice. The fight with Black Hawk was about sundown, one hour by sun at or near Sycamore Creek. About 700 Indians and about 200 whites.

"Conversation with Hon. S. T. Logan at Springfield" (1875)

Stephen Trigg Logan

Stephen Trigg Logan (1800–1880), lawyer and jurist, was born in Franklin County, Kentucky, and received his early education in Frankfort, Kentucky, serving at age thirteen as clerk in the office of the secretary of state. He was admitted to the Kentucky bar at age twenty. After relocating to Illinois, the Illinois legislature elected Logan judge of the First Judicial Circuit in 1835; he presided at the court from January 1835 until March 1837, when he resigned and returned to law practice. In 1841 Logan formed a partnership with Abraham Lincoln, whom he had met when Lincoln ran for the state legislature in 1832. In his reminiscences, Logan claimed a substantial role in Lincoln's legal education. "He made a very considerable impression on me," Logan later wrote. "Lincoln's knowledge of the law was very small when I took him in." The two became partners not only in law but also in Whig politics. Logan and Lincoln dissolved their partnership by mutual agreement in 1844.

President Lincoln appointed Logan in 1862 to a commission in Cairo, Illinois, charged with investigating claims against the government. It was Logan's last personal involvement with Lincoln.


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Table of Contents


Introduction: Remembering Lincoln....................ix
Abraham Lincoln, [Autobiographical Statement, 1858]....................1
John Hanks, [Statement to William Herndon, after 1865?]....................2
Stephen Trigg Logan, "Conversation with Hon. S. T. Logan at Springfield" (1875)....................8
Abraham Lincoln, "My Childhood Home I See Again" (1846)....................13
Joshua F. Speed, From Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln (1884)....................17
William Dean Howells, From The Life of Abraham Lincoln (1860)....................29
Abraham Lincoln, From "Eulogy for Henry Clay" (1852)....................35
William Henry Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, From Herndon's Lincoln (1889)....................39
Jesse W. Weik, From The Real Lincoln (1922)....................44
Abraham Lincoln, [Autobiographical Statement, 1859]....................47
Abraham Lincoln, [Autobiographical Statement, 1860]....................49
Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Chiefly about War Matters" (1862)....................57
Rev. P. D. Gurley, "Extracts from an Unpublished Manuscript" [1860s?]....................62
Elizabeth Keckley, From Behind the Scenes (1868)....................66
Nathaniel Parker Willis, [Sketch on the Funeral for Willie Lincoln, 1862]....................71
Grace Greenwood, "Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln" (1895)....................74
[Abraham Lincoln], "Lincoln's Colonial Scheme" (1862)....................80
John E. Washington, From They Knew Lincoln (1942)....................85
Joseph H. Twichell, "Army Memories of Lincoln: A Chaplain's Reminiscences" (1913)....................89
Abraham Lincoln, [Three Civil War Letters of Consolation, 1861-1864]....................93
William O. Stoddard, "Lincoln's Vigil" (1895)....................96
Clark E. Carr, From Lincoln at Gettysburg (1906)....................103
Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Abraham Lincoln" (1864)....................106
James Russell Lowell, From "Abraham Lincoln" (1865)....................113
Mary Todd Lincoln, [Excerpts from Letters about Her Husband, 1865-1873]....................122
Ward Hill Lamon, "Dreams and Presentiments" (1895)....................126
William E. Sinn, "A Theatrical Manager's Reminiscences" (1895)....................135
Emma Hardinge, From The Great Funeral Oration on Abraham Lincoln (1865)....................139
Henry Ward Beecher, From "Abraham Lincoln" (1865)....................146
Ralph Waldo Emerson, From "Abraham Lincoln" (1865)....................153
Philips Brooks, "Abraham Lincoln" (1865)....................156
Walt Whitman, From "Death of Abraham Lincoln" (1879)....................163
Noah Brooks, "Lincoln's Imagination" (1879)....................173
Frederick Douglass, From "Abraham Lincoln: A Speech" (1865)....................180
William Henry Herndon, "Lincoln's Philosophy of Life" (1886)....................189
Robert G. Ingersoll, From "Abraham Lincoln" (1895)....................193
Daniel K. Dodge, From Abraham Lincoln: The Evolution of His Literary Style (1900)....................199
Mark Twain, "A Lincoln Memorial" (1907)....................209
William Jennings Bryan, "Lincoln as an Orator" (1909)....................211
Booker T. Washington, From "My Tribute to the Great Emancipator" (1909)....................216
Theodore Roosevelt, "The Supreme Vision of Abraham Lincoln" (1909)....................222
Charles Chesnutt, From "Abraham Lincoln: An Appreciation" (1913)....................227
Selected Bibliography....................231

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