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Lincoln's New Salem

Benjamin P. Thomas

Publication Year: 1988

Thomas tells the story of the village where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1831 to 1837. His three-part examination of the village often referred to as Lincoln’s "Alma Mater" features the founding and early history of New Salem, Lincoln’s impact on the village and its effect on him, and the story of the Lincoln legend and the reconstruction of the town.

Thomas argues convincingly that New Salem was the town where Lincoln acquired faith in himself, faith in people. At 22 the future president drifted into town seeking to become a blacksmith. Thomas introduces us to the people who created New Salem and who knew, influenced, and befriended Lincoln.

Thomas highlights Lincoln’s arrival, his relationships with his neighbors, his important wrestling match with Jack Armstrong, his self-education, his quiet career as an Indian fighter, his experience as a postmaster largely indifferent to postal regulations, his financial woes as a businessman, his loyal friends who often came to his aid, and his election to the legislature.

This colorful history closes with a discussion of the Lincoln legend. The truth of the stories is unimportant. What matters is that the growing Lincoln legend prompted the gradual realization that New Salem was not a dismal mire from which President Lincoln had had to extricate himself but was, in fact, an energizing force. This realization led to research and finally to the restoration of New Salem, which began in 1932.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

This is an American classic. It is a book written from the heart about the turning point in a great life. It was at New Salem that Abraham Lincoln for the first time learned to live with people. This was the first organized community in which he had a part. He...

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pp. vii-xii

For many years the surroundings in which Lincoln spent his boyhood, youth, and early manhood were looked upon as drab, sordid, uninspiring; as an obstacle that he in some mysterious manner succeeded in surmounting. As time went on, however, historians saw the frontier as a major factor in molding our...

List of Illustrations

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Map: The New Salem Community

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pp. 2-3

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Part One: New Salem

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pp. 5-57

The outstanding feature of Lincoln's life was his capacity for development. Neither a born genius nor a man of mediocre talents suddenly endowed with wisdom to guide the nation through the trials of civil war, he developed gradually, absorbing from his...

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Part Two: Lincoln at New Salem

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pp. 59-136

One day in late April 1831 a crowd gathered on the river bank near the New Salem mill. They were watching four men working over a flatboat that had stranded on the dam. The men had tried to float the boat over the dam, but halfway across it had stuck. Now, with its bow raised in the air and

Map: New Salem, Illinois 1829-1839

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pp. 138-139

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Part Three: New Salem Restored

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pp. 141-166

Salem, indeed, is desolate," observed a traveler along the road to Petersburg in 1847. "Once it was a busy, thriving place. It is (or was) situated upon a high bluff, overlooking the Sangamon river and the country for some distance around. What rollicking times were there some ten years...


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pp. 167-171

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809382774
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809313891

Publication Year: 1988