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Lincoln's Campaign Biographies

Thomas A. Horrocks

Publication Year: 2014

During the 1860 and 1864 presidential campaigns, Abraham Lincoln was the subject of over twenty campaign biographies. In this innovative study, Thomas A. Horrocks examines the role that these publications played in shaping an image of Lincoln that would resonate with voters and explores the vision of Lincoln that the biographies crafted, the changes in this vision over the course of four years, and the impact of these works on the outcome of the elections.

Horrocks investigates Lincoln’s campaign biographies within the context of the critical relationship between print and politics in nineteenth-century America and compares the works about Lincoln with other presidential campaign biographies of the era. Horrocks shows that more than most politicians of his day, Lincoln deeply appreciated and understood the influence and the power of the printed word. 

The 1860 campaign biographies introduced to America “Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter,” a trustworthy, rugged candidate who appealed to rural Americans. When Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, the second round of campaign biographies complemented this earlier portrait of Lincoln with a new, paternal figure, “Father Abraham,” more appropriate for Americans enduring a bloody civil war.  Closing with a consideration of the influence of these publications on Lincoln’s election and reelection, Lincoln’s Campaign Biographies provides a new perspective for those seeking a better understanding of the sixteenth president and two of the most critical elections in American history.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-5

On May 9, 1860, more than six hundred Illinois Republican delegates assembled under a tent, referred to as the “Wigwam,” secured to the side of a building in the town of Decatur to nominate a gubernatorial candidate. Several delegates, including Richard...

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1. Texts, Contexts, and Contests: Politics and Print in the Age of Lincoln

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pp. 6-22

On May 15, 1860, the day before the opening of the Republican national convention in Chicago, arriving delegates who happened to peruse that day’s Chicago Press and Tribune were greeted by the paper’s spirited endorsement of Abraham Lincoln for the...

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2. Constructing the Ideal Candidate: Campaign Biographies and Image Making

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pp. 23-44

Jesse W. Fell, a lawyer and politician from Bloomington, Illinois, had by 1858 known Abraham Lincoln for more than twenty years. Like his friend Lincoln, Fell originally was a Whig in the Henry Clay mold before joining the Republican Party in the wake of the...

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3. Promoting Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter: Lincoln’s 1860 Campaign Biographies

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pp. 45-76

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln truly believed that there was “not much of me” for a biography of more than a few pages in length. Several publishers and the authors they commissioned, however, thought otherwise. According to one source, within a day of Lincoln’s...

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4. The 1864 Campaign: The Rail Splitter as Father Abraham

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pp. 77-100

A divided opposition was certainly a key factor in Lincoln’s success in 1860. Facing two Democratic rivals as well as a third-party candidate, however, did not ensure Lincoln’s victory. Voters cast their ballots for a variety of reasons, whether out of loyalty to one...

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Conclusion: Biographies and Ballots

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pp. 101-108

The “Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter” image of Lincoln that emerged from the Illinois and national Republican conventions in the spring of 1860 was appealing to many Northern voters and especially to those voters residing in Western states. Republican...

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pp. 109-110

I thank Southern Illinois University Press for the opportunity to participate in the Concise Lincoln Library series. I am grateful for the comments, criticisms, and suggestions offered by series editors Richard W. Etulain, Sara Vaughn Gabbard, and Sylvia Frank Rodrigue...


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pp. 111-134

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 135-142


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pp. 143-148

About the Author, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809333325
E-ISBN-10: 0809333325
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809333318
Print-ISBN-10: 0809333317

Page Count: 152
Illustrations: 9
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 876398403
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Lincoln's Campaign Biographies

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Subject Headings

  • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
  • Campaign biography -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1860.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1864.
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