Book Review: The Writings Of Abraham Lincoln: Volume 1

The Writings Of Abraham Lincoln:  Volume 1, edited by Arthur Brooks Lapsley

This book contains the writings of Abraham Lincoln from 1832 to 1843, when he married.  These are fascinating works, some of which will likely be familiar to the avid Lincoln reader as a great many of the personal letters as well as speeches have been picked over considerably often.  In these pages we can see the development of Lincoln’s political skill, philosophy, and even maturity.  Combined in these collected writings are three great Lincoln speeches, some minutes of his behavior as a state congressman in Illinois who struggled against the blind anti-bank partisanship of his state, and some very intriguing personal letters as well that show him to be awkward in dealing with women and skilled in the art of political invective.  For the reader who wants to know about Lincoln’s young adulthood these writings are a great place to look since most of what one will find otherwise is less reliable memories from others who wanted to make themselves seem particularly important.  After all, at this particular time Lincoln was not a very important figure at all and that lack of importance is part of what makes this book such an intriguing one for the reader.

After an introduction by Theodore Roosevelt, this book contains a preface by the editor, an essay on Abraham Lincoln by Carl Schurz, as well as a memorial address by Joseph Choate.  These materials take up about a third of the volume as a whole and likely serve as introductory material for the whole entire series of Lincoln’s writings (which I hope to get to in time) rather than just for this volume in particular.  After that the material is organized in chronological fashion by year.  In 1832 we see Lincoln’s unsuccessful address to the people of his county for election to the state legislature.  In the next year we see a couple of letters, one relating to business in the Black Hawk War.  From 1836 we see another announcement of political reviews, as well as a couple of personal letters.  In 1837 we see Lincoln in the legislature, as well as more personal letters and a message to the people.  1839 shows him dealing with politics in the legislature as well as legal business, while 1840 finds him mostly involved in politics, and 1841 finds him struggling with personal business.  In 1842 he writes a lot of letters to Speed, gives the famous Temperance Address and gets himself involved in a near duel with Shields.  1843 ends the book with personal letters and a resolution from a Whig meeting.

In looking at the chronological basis of this book, it is fascinating how complex of a life that Lincoln was living as a young adult even before he became an accomplished lawyer.  On the one hand, Lincoln will write letters filled with existential despair while helping his friends out with their own personal drama, while at the same time sparking a duel with a cutting story that insinuates that it cannot be determined if one of his political rivals is a Whig or a Democrat and also making fun of his failed gallantry towards women.  On the one hand Lincoln writes an elegant invitation to Henry Clay for a speech and helps his state’s Whigs organize themselves and ensure candidates in every state race, while on the other hand Lincoln finds himself engaged in a public battle with someone over some land deed shenanigans.  The end result is that one sees a varied and complex picture of Lincoln’s political education and also his maturity in growing into a person who could be respected even by political foes who did not like him.  The real shocker here is Lincoln’s letter of advice to a young George E. Pickett, who later became famous for shad bakes and a failed charge in Pennsylvania, and who appears not to have taken Lincoln’s insight to heart.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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