Abraham Lincoln: Speaking to Generations

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Lincoln-DisplayOn November 19th, 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that would go down in history: The Gettysburg Address. Beginning famously with the words “four score and seven years ago,” the Gettysburg Address would come to be an oft-quoted beacon of oratorical history.

Abraham Lincoln has become much more than our 16th president. Over the years, stories of his humble beginnings, his presidency, his untimely death and even his wife Mary Todd, have made him the stuff of legend. Much has been written about Lincoln the President, the lawyer and politician. Lincoln was also a thoughtful writer and incredible orator, inspiring generations with his words.

During this anniversary month when we once again remember the delivery of the Gettysburg Address, our book display seeks to highlight Lincoln as speech writer and speech giver, among his many other gifts. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America by Garry Wills, is one title that gets at the core of what we strive to remember about Lincoln this month. Wills examines the Gettysburg Address as the revolutionizing speech that it was and considers the verbal techniques Lincoln employed in its creation. The Emancipation Proclamation by John Hope Franklin is a concise look at the eponymous Lincoln speech, its impact on the course of the Civil War, and its significance for subsequent generations.

For a broader look at Lincoln’s writings, try Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan. In it, Kaplan takes a look at Lincoln’s use of language in everything from love letters to legal arguments. Kaplan explores the writers who influenced Lincoln and of course shares Lincoln’s own work, including poetry. Ronald C. White, Jr.’s book, The Eloquent President, tracks Lincoln’s writings as they evolve over time, highlighting four critical years in Lincoln’s life. Each chapter is dedicated to a different speech, address, or public letter, from the Farewell Address at Springfield in 1861 to the Second Inaugural Address in 1865.

Lincoln’s influence is occasionally compared to his contemporaries. In one interesting book by Adam Gopnik, Lincoln’s writings are examined alongside those of Charles Darwin, who coincidentally shares Lincoln’s birthday (February 12th, 1809). Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln and Modern Life, looks at both men as thinkers and writers, and studies how they changed the course of human ideas.

Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography, by Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter Kunhardt, pairs Lincoln’s own words with copious photographs and illustrations of Lincoln and the important people and places of his life. The book also provides a detailed examination of Lincoln’s life from boyhood through the aftermath of his assassination.

Though his solemn words continue to resonate with us today, Abraham Lincoln was not always so serious. Lighthearted anecdotes about Lincoln live on; there is even a story of him granting the first ever turkey pardon in 1863 at the behest of his son Tad. In The Humorous Mr. Lincoln by Keith W. Jennison, excerpts and quotes from Lincoln himself illustrate his wit and keen sense of humor.

For a more traditional overview of the beloved President, why not try Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President, edited by Brian Lamb and Susan Swain. In this compilation, essays of C-Span interviews from notable historians explore Lincoln’s life and legacy from his law career to his presidential run. Or, if you’re curious as to how a man, a politician with humble beginnings, becomes as legendary and loved as Lincoln has come to be, you might like to check out Lincoln’s Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to An Army and a Nation by William C. Davis. Within a chronological account of the Civil War, thousands of previously unpublished writings of Union soldiers are used to illustrate the personal feelings of the time. While both the positive and negative are featured, the book portrays the overall admiration the men had for Lincoln. Finally, for a look at how Lincoln altered the course of wartime interactions for the final two years of the Civil War through this very day, check out Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History by John Fabian Witt.

Please browse our Abraham Lincoln display for these and many other titles about how Lincoln’s words and actions continue to speak to us over the course of many generations. Feel informed and maybe even inspired by stepping back in history. Ask the reference staff for additional selections!

~ Amanda, reference librarian, Warrenton central library

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