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Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns

Connected Lives and Legends

Ferenc Morton Szasz

Publication Year: 2008

Today the images of Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln are recognized worldwide, yet few are aware of the connection between the two. In Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends, author Ferenc Morton Szasz reveals how famed Scots poet Robert Burns—and Scotland in general—influenced the life and thought of one of the most beloved and important U.S. presidents and how the legends of the two men became intertwined after their deaths. This is the first extensive work to link the influence, philosophy, and artistry of these two larger-than-life figures.

Lacking a major national poet of their own in the early nineteenth century, Americans in the fledgling frontier country ardently adopted the poignant verses and songs of Scotland’s Robert Burns. Lincoln, too, was fascinated by Scotland’s favorite son and enthusiastically quoted the Scottish bard from his teenage years to the end of his life. Szasz explores the ways in which Burns’s portrayal of the foibles of human nature, his scorn for religious hypocrisy, his plea for nonjudgmental tolerance, and his commitment to social equality helped shape Lincoln’s own philosophy of life. The volume also traces how Burns’s lyrics helped Lincoln develop his own powerful sense of oratorical rhythm, from his casual anecdotal stories to his major state addresses.

Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns connects the poor-farm-boy upbringings, the quasi-deistic religious views, the shared senses of destiny, the extraordinary gifts for words, and the quests for social equality of two respected and beloved world figures. This book is enhanced by twelve illustrations and two appendixes, which include Burns poems Lincoln particularly admired and Lincoln writings especially admired in Scotland.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page

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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

No historian works alone, and I have many people to thank for this project. My indebtedness to the past and present scholars of Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln may be seen in the endnotes and bibliography. I begin by thanking my Aberdeen colleagues and friends for their many...

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pp. 1-12

With the onset of winter 2009, Scotland and the United States will lift the curtain on two major national celebrations. On January 25, 2009, Scots will mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of their famed poet Robert Burns; seventeen days later, on February 12, 2009, Americans...

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1. Robert Burns: A Brief Biography

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pp. 13-28

In the early nineteenth century, so the story goes, a blue-ribbon Edinburgh committee planned to erect a memorial to Robert Burns. So, they sought out Sir Walter Scott’s advice on the best inscription. Said Scott, “Simply place on the monument, ‘Burns.’ Who does not know...

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2. Burns's Poetry Comes to America

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pp. 29-48

Robert Burns wrote from the heart of an eighteenth-century Scottish culture poised to send its citizens to the four corners of the globe. Many, of course, landed in the new American nation. By the 1780s, New York City and Philadelphia already contained active Scottish...

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3. The Lincoln-Burns Connection

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pp. 49-86

In the fall of 1859, an old friend J. W. Fell of Springfield, Illinois, asked Abraham Lincoln for a brief biography to use in promoting his presidential aspirations. On December 20, 1859, Lincoln wrote the following...

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4. Scottish Emigres and Scottish Ideas in Lincoln's World

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pp. 87-121

The poetry of Robert Burns did not mark the sole Scottish impact on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Scottish immigrants and Scottish ideas were intertwined with his entire career. From his birth to his assassination, Lincoln never moved far from the long reach of Scots/Scotch-Irish...

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5. Burns and Lincoln in Historical Memory

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pp. 122-152

Writing comparative history, a cynic once observed, demands twice as much effort for half the results. But some historians rush in where angels fear to tread, and in this chapter I plan to do precisely that. During the nineteenth century, Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln each evolved...

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Epilogue: The Dilemmas of Democratic Fame

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pp. 153-159

The lives of Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln have been intertwined for almost two centuries. When Lincoln first discovered the poet’s verses while living in southern Indiana during the 1820s, he met a writer whose images, ideas, and cadences remained with him for the rest of his days...

Appendix A: Selected Burns Verses

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pp. 163-173

Appendix B: Selected Lincoln Documents

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pp. 175-178


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pp. 179-209


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pp. 211-231


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pp. 233-242

Author Bio

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pp. 243

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386932
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328550

Publication Year: 2008