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Abraham Lincoln

The Observations of John G. Nicolay and John Hay

Edited by Michael Burlingame

Publication Year: 2007

In 1890 Abraham Lincoln’s two main White House secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, published the ten-volume biography Abraham Lincoln: A History. Although the authors witnessed the daily events occurring within the executive mansion and the national Capitol, their lengthy biography is more a recounting of the Civil War era than a study of Lincoln’s life.
            Editor Michael Burlingame sifted through the original forty-seven-hundred-page work and selected only the personal observations of the secretaries during the Lincoln presidency, placing ten excerpts in chronological order in Abraham Lincoln: The Observations of John G. Nicolay and John Hay.  The result is an important collection of Nicolay and Hay’s interpretations of Lincoln’s character, actions, and reputation, framed by Burlingame’s compelling preface, introduction, chapter introductions, and notes.  The volume provides vivid descriptions of such events as Election Day in 1860, the crisis at Fort Sumter, the first major battle of the war at Bull Run, and Lincoln’s relationship with Edwin Stanton and George McClellan.
           In this clear and captivating new work, Burlingame has made key portions of Nicolay and Hay’s immense biography available to a wide audience of today’s readers.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Abraham Lincoln: A History by Lincoln’s White House secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay, though flawed in many ways, contains invaluable passages based on their own personal observations in Washington. As they noted in the introduction to their ten-volume...

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pp. 1-16

When John G. Nicolay and John Hay published excerpts from their biography of Lincoln in the Century Magazine starting in 1886, some readers found the balance between historical background and biographical foreground risibly...

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1. Election Day 1860 and Cabinet Making

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pp. 17-27

Nicolay and Hay worked for Lincoln during the presidential campaign of 1860 and were with him on Election Day, November 6. That morning, Springfield shed its customary tranquility as cannons boomed to herald the dawn. Augmenting their din were bands blaring music...

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2. The Fort Sumter Crisis: March–April 1861

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pp. 28-32

On Lincoln’s first day in office, the Fort Sumter crisis unexpectedly demolished his carefully planned strategy for dealing with the seceded states. In his conciliatory inaugural address, he had promised the South not to interfere with slavery where it already existed, not to appoint...

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3. Distributing Patronage: 1861

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pp. 33-46

On April 6, Lincoln made the fateful decision to order the fleet that had been assembled at New York to resupply Fort Sumter. While awaiting word from Charleston, he resumed the onerous chore of distributing patronage to worthy Republicans and removing pro-secession...

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4. Frontier Guards at the White House: April 1861

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pp. 47-50

On April 12, war broke out when South Carolina forces bombarded Fort Sumter even before the Union fleet arrived at Charleston. In the midst of the attendant uncertainty in Washington, General Winfield Scott drew up emergency plans in case the capital were attacked...

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5. Washington Besieged: April 1861

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pp. 51-74

On April 19, 1861, the anniversary of the 1775 Battle of Lexington, where Massachusetts men were the first to be killed in the Revolutionary War, members of the Sixth Massachusetts regiment were the first to die in the Civil War when a mob attacked them as they passed through...

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6. The First Battle of Bull Run: July 21, 1861

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pp. 75-79

As the spring of 1861 turned to summer and the public pressure for an offensive mounted, Lincoln decided that the Union army must move. Calculating that the fifty thousand Union forces in northern Virginia should be able to defeat the thirty thousand Confederates there...

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7. Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton

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pp. 80-95

Lincoln’s magnanimity, one of the hallmarks of his character, was nowhere more strikingly displayed than in his appointment of Edwin M. Stanton to replace the incompetent, ethically challenged Simon Cameron as secretary of war in January 1862. To that post Lincoln strongly desired...

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8. Lincoln and General George B. McClellan

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pp. 96-105

Another striking example of Lincoln’s magnanimity was his treatment of General George B. McClellan, who commanded the Army of the Potomac from August 1861 to November 1862. The Young Napoleon, as he was called, snubbed the president on numerous occasions...

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9. Removal of McClellan from Command: November 1862

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pp. 106-116

After the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, McClellan, fearing that he would be attacked and that his army was too disorganized to move, dawdled in his usual fashion, allowing Lee to escape across the Potomac from Maryland to Virginia. When Little Mac boasted that he...

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10. Cabinet Crisis: December 1862

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pp. 117-135

In the wake of the disastrous Union defeat at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, gloom settled over the people of the North. “They have borne, silently and grimly, imbecility, treachery, failure, privation, loss of friends and means, almost every suffering which can afflict a...

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11. Lincoln’s Fame

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pp. 136-142

Lincoln’s greatness was widely acknowledged even before his death, as the distinguished historian Hans Trefousse has recently shown.1 After 1865, his fame grew dramatically, spreading around the globe. Leo Tolstoy’s tribute, given during an interview in 1909, provides...


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pp. 145-167


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pp. 169-174

Author Bio

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pp. 175

E-ISBN-13: 9780809387403
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809327386

Publication Year: 2007