Destined to become a classic in American history and biography, David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln is a masterly account of how one man’s extraordinary political acumen steered the Union to victory in the Civil War, and of how his soaring rhetoric gave meaning to that agonizing struggle for nationhood and equality. This fully rounded biography of America’s sixteenth President is the product of Donald’s half-century of study of Lincoln and his times. In preparing it, Donald has drawn more extensively than any previous writer on Lincoln’s personal papers and those of his contemporaries, and he has taken full advantage of the voluminous newly discovered records of Lincoln’s legal practice. He presents his findings with the same literary skill and psychological understanding exhibited in his previous biographies, which have received two Pulitzer Prizes. Donald brilliantly traces Lincoln’s rise from humble origins in Kentucky to prominent positions in legal and political circles in Illinois, and then to the pinnacle of the presidency. He shows how, in all these roles, Lincoln repeatedly demonstrated his enormous capacity for growth, which enabled one of the least experienced and most poorly prepared men ever elected to high office to become a giant in the annals of American politics. Much more than a political biography, Donald’s Lincoln reveals the development of the future President’s character and shows how his private life helped to shape his public career. Donald’s biography is written from Lincoln’s point of view. Donald seats us behind the President’s desk, where we read the papers and reports he received and wrote, meet the politicians and generals and ordinary citizens who visited his office, and observe him evaluating the evidence before him and making the decisions that shaped modern America.
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David Herbert Donald's Lincoln is a stunningly original portrait of Lincoln's life and presidency. Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln's gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever- expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the presidency of a country divided by civil war. Donald goes beyond biography, illuminating the gradual development of Lincoln's character, chronicling his tremendous capacity for evolution and growth, thus illustrating what made it possible for a man so inexperienced and so unprepared for the presidency to become a great moral leader. In the most troubled of times, here was a man who led the country out of slavery and preserved a shattered Union -- in short, one of the greatest presidents this country has ever seen.About the Author:
A Note to Readers:
I hesitated for a long time before deciding to write a biography of Abraham Lincoln. There were already thousands of books on the subject, and many of them were excellent. Some were monumental, like the ten-volume Abraham Lincoln: A History (1890), by John G. Nicolay and John Hay. A few, like Lincoln the President (4 vols. 1945-55), by J. G. Randall and Richard N. Current, were masterworks of historical research. But most of these books were written before the publication of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler (9 vols.; 1953-55), which provided the first authentic texts of all of Lincoln's voluminous personal papers, long sealed in the vaults of the Library of Congress. These manuscripts included thousands of letters that came across the desk of the Civil War president, from other members of the government, from soldiers in the armies, and from private citizens. The opening of these papers in 1947 made it possible to understand just how Lincoln functioned in the White House. Now, for the first time, a historian could learn (to borrow a phrase from a later, unhappy administration) just what the president knew and when he knew it.
Even more recently it has become possible to reconstruct Lincoln's career at the bar, which was the basis both of his income and of his political success. The Lincoln Legal Papers (an organization of expert legal researchers) has collected thousands of documents relating to every legal case in which Lincoln was involved, and we can now trace the growth of Lincoln's skill as a lawyer and the evolution of his distinctive style.
Finding the new sources so plentiful, I concluded that a new biography was called for. I wanted to write a narrative account of Lincoln's life, one almost novelistic in form, though every statement would be buttressed by fact. My intention was to tell the story of Lincoln's life as he saw it, making use only of the information and ideas that were available to him at the time. My purpose was to explain rather than to judge.
In telling the story from Lincoln's perspective, I became increasingly impressed by Lincoln's fatalism. Lincoln believed, along with Shakespeare, that "there's a divinity that shapes our ends,/Rough-hew them as we will." Again and again, he felt that his major decisions were forced upon him. Late in the Civil War, he explained to a Kentucky friend: "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me." This does not mean, of course, that Abraham Lincoln was inactive or inert, nor does it imply that he was incapable of taking decisive action. But this view -- which is something that began to emerge from his own words, and not a thesis that I originally started out with -- emphasizes the importance of Lincoln's deeply held religious beliefs and his reliance on a Higher Power.
OTHER WORKS BY DAVID HERBERT DONALD:
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 1988
The Crises of Popular Government
A History of the American People
of Private Alfred Beard
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 1961
The CiviI War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase
Reading Group Discussion Points
Other Books With Reading Group Guides
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