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Abraham Lincoln

A Biography

Benjamin P. Thomas. Foreword by Michael Burlingame

Publication Year: 2008

Long considered a classic, Benjamin P. Thomas's Abraham Lincoln: A Biography takes an incisive look at one of American history's greatest figures. Originally published in 1952 to wide acclaim, this eloquent account rises above previously romanticized depictions of the sixteenth president to reveal the real Lincoln: a complex, shrewd, and dynamic individual whose exceptional life has long intrigued the public.

Thomas traces the president from his hardscrabble beginnings and early political career, through his years as an Illinois lawyer and his presidency during the Civil War. Although Lincoln is appropriately placed against the backdrop of the dramatic times in which he lived, the author's true focus is on Lincoln the man and his intricate personality. While Thomas pays tribute to Lincoln's many virtues and accomplishments, he is careful not to dramatize a persona already larger than life in the American imagination. Instead he presents a candid and balanced representation that provides compelling insight into Lincoln's true character and the elements that forged him into an extraordinary leader. Thomas portrays Lincoln as a man whose conviction, resourcefulness, and inner strength enabled him to lead the nation through the most violent crossroads in its history.

Thomas's direct, readable narrative is concise while losing none of the crucial details of Lincoln's remarkable life. The volume's clarity of style makes it accessible to beginners, but it is complex and nuanced enough to interest longtime Lincoln scholars. After more than half a century, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography is still an essential source for anyone interested in learning more about the many facets of the sixteenth president, and it remains the definitive single-volume work on the life of an American legend.



Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvii

Published over half a century ago, Benjamin P. Thomas's Abraham Lincoln: A Biography remains the best single-volume life of the sixteenth president. The only other serious contender for that designation is David Herbert Donald's 1995 biography, but as critic Jonathan Yardley rightly noted, "in no significant way does Donald's...

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pp. xix-xx

Not withstanding the great number of books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln during our generation, a major need, perhaps the major need so far as most persons are concerned, has long remained unfilled. There has been no accurate, readable one-volume biography for the Lincoln beginner, for the...

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pp. xxi-xxii

I wish to extend my sincere thanks to Roy P. Basler, Mrs. Harry E. Pratt, Lloyd Dunlap, and George W. Bunn, Jr., of the Abraham Lincoln Association, to Allan Nevins, of Columbia University, and to Harry E. Pratt, Illinois State Historian, for reading my entire manuscript, offering valuable suggestions and...

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1. "The Short and Simple Annals of the Poor"

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pp. 3-22

As one travels south from Louisville, Kentucky, one comes, ~ after some forty miles, to a high, steep, craggy elevation known as Muldraugh's Hill, through which Knob Creek, a clear, swift-flowing stream, has gouged a pass to make its way to the Rolling Fork. Branches of Knob Creek have cut deep gorges into the escarpment on either side, eroding out and washing...

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2. Young Man on His Own

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pp. 23-43

Paddling downstream with the current and disembarking at Judy's Ferry, where the village of Riverton now stands, Lincoln, Hanks, and Johnston walked to Springfield to find Offutt. A frontier promoter of grandiose designs and hearty personality, Offutt liked to talk and drink. The most likely place to look for him was Andrew Elliott's...

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3. Frontier Legislator

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pp. 44-80

About a mile from Vandalia the lumbering stage coach ~ picked up speed as the driver cracked his whip and urged the horses forward to make his customary spectacular entrance into town. Thundering down the main street, he let out a blast on his horn, swung sharply round a corner, and hauled back hard on the...

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4. Courtship and Marriage

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pp. 81-91

For several years after the panic of 1837 the state of Illinois remained in a precarious condition. It had incurred obligations out of all proportion to its resources, and a period of low prices retarded tax collections. With the State Bank unable to redeem in specie, the negotiable value of its notes slipped to...

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5. Lawyer-Politician

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pp. 92-110

At the time of Lincoln's marriage his earnings amounted to ~ twelve or fifteen hundred dollars a year, a gratifying income compared with the Governor's salary of $1,200 and the $750 received by circuit judges. But it required hard work, for fees were small, usually ranging from $2.50 to $50 and averaging about...

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6. The Gentleman from Illinois

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pp. 112-129

The first session of the Thirtieth Congress would not convene until December 1847, almost seventeen months after Lincoln's election, and in the interim he followed his usual routine of court work. He helped to promote two railroads, one from Alton to Springfield and the other from Springfield to...

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7. Echoes of National Conflict

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pp. 131-143

As gold-seekers rushed to the new Eldorado ill ~ California and trains of covered wagons toiled through snow-capped mountain ranges and across forbidding deserts to the land of promise in the West, Lincoln took to the dusty roads of the Eighth Circuit to regain the friends and clients who had...

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8. Lincoln Re-enters Politics

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pp. 144-160

Immediately upon the passage of the KansasII Nebraska Act, frayed party ties began to snap. Thousands of Northern Democrats withdrew in indignation from their party. The Whig Party, already split along sectional lines, ceased to function as an effective national organization though it managed to maintain itself a little longer in some Northern states...

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9. A Political Plunge

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pp. 161-170

When Lincoln returned to his law practice after his defeat in 1855, he did not turn his back on politics as he had done before. His interest became more acute than ever. But with the party situation in a state of flux, he remained inactive. "Just now," he wrote to Owen Lovejoy, "I fear to do anything...

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10. Defeated for the Senate

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pp. 171-193

By the time of James Buchanan's inauguration, on March 4, 1857, a strong Governor, John W. Geary of Pennsylvania, backed by United States troops, had quelled the disorders in Kansas. With these troubles and the election excitement ended, the country became relatively calm once more...

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11. The Making of a President

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pp. 194-225

I have been on expenses so long without earning anything that I am absolutely without money now for even household purposes," Lincoln lamented to Norman Judd in reply to a plea for help in making up the campaign deficit. Yet, since he had held the place of honor on the ticket, he felt obliged to give what he could spare, and contributed $~50 more, bringing his...

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12. Peace or a Sword

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pp. 226-256

As president elected in November did not take office until March; Lincoln faced four months of anxious waiting. But he was not wholly powerless. While the repudiated Buchanan administration would continue to control the government, as President-elect and nominal head of his party he could influence...

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13. A War for Democracy

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pp. 257-283

With the news of Anderson's surrender, anxious visitors besieged the White House. Congressmen assured Lincoln of their loyalty and pledged the support of their states. Banks. corporations, and private citizens offered him their aid. Lincoln called a cabinet meeting and framed a proclamation calling on...

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14. Shadows on the White House

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pp. 284-304

Beset with troubles in the West, fearful of foreign recognition of the Confederacy or even foreign intervention in the war, and striving to invigorate the uncertain Union sentiment in the border slave states, Lincoln desperately needed a military victory...

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15. McClellan in Command

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pp. 306-334

McClellan still delayed. In order to force him into action, the President, on January 27, 1862, had issued General War Order Number One, commanding a concerted advance of all the armies on or before February 22. Four days later a Special War Order directed the Army of the Potomac...

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16. "The Occasion is Piled High with Difficulty"

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pp. 335-375

Lincoln endured anxious days as McClellan's troops withdrew from the Peninsula, for Lee, anticipating the Union movement, hurried on interior lines to strike Pope with superior numbers before the Union armies joined. But Pope, maneuvering skillfully along the north bank of the Rappahannock...

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17. The Signs Look Better

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pp. 376-408

Lincoln's bipartisan policy threatened to break down. From the beginning he had favored loyal Democrats with important positions and commands, both as a means to national unity and because he welcomed the services of every loyal man regardless of his politics. This policy had proved especially...

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18. "There Are No Lincoln Men"

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pp. 409-455

The party nominating conventions were only a few months off. Already the political kettle bubbled noisily. While Lincoln seemed to have reached a turning of the road, he knew that long months of struggle, bloodshed, and patient planning lay ahead, and that the tasks he wished to finish would...

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19. Profile of a President

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pp. 456-486

A president's life is wearying and worrisome at best, but in Lincoln's case all the vast problems of the war were added to the normal tasks of office. Nicolay and Hay comprised his secretarial staff until William O. Stoddard was brought in to assist them midway of the war. Edward D. Neill succeeded Stoddard when the latter became...

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20. To Bind Up the Nation's Wounds

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pp. 487-522

Deep in the interior of the Confederacy, Sherman found it difficult to feed his army as the bold cavalry chieftains Forrest and Wheeler harassed his supply lines. Hood himself turned west and north to draw Sherman out of Atlanta, but the lean, grizzled Ohioan, refusing to relax his grip, sent Thomas to...


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pp. 523-534

Author Bio

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386925
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328871

Publication Year: 2008