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254CIVIL WAR HISTORY The Lincoln Mailbag: America Writes to the President, 1861-1865. Edited by Harold Holzer. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998. Pp. xxxv, 236. $29.95.) Abraham Lincoln received from 250 to 500 letters every day of his presidency. Harold Hölzer, first in Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President (1993) and again here, has mined the Abraham Lincoln Papers in the Library of Congress and numerous other collections to reprint some of the most interesting of these letters. As in the first volume, Hölzer presents an enlightening selection that reveals something ofthe variety ofpressures Lincoln faced each day. The editor's ebullient personality emerges clearly from the preface and introduction, which contain an eclectic mix of information on Lincoln's correspondence secretaries (John Hay, William O. Stoddard, and Edward Neill), illustrations, and personal anecdotes. The letters are clearly presented, with helpful annotations, but unfortunately without an index. This book differs from its predecessor in two substantial ways. First, the letters are organized chronologically instead of by subject. This helps to put the reader in Lincoln's chair, recreating the experience ofreceiving daily the widely varied, unpredictable, sometimes tedious, sometimes fascinating offerings that made up the Lincoln mailbag and gave the president an idea of what the public was thinking. Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, in The Lincoln Mailbag you never know what you will get, and the urge to turn the page to try just one more is all but irresistible. The second change results from the editor's decision to include numerous letters that were sent to the White House but never reached Lincoln's desk. Among these are letters from African Americans, which were routinely forwarded to the War Department's Bureau for Colored Troops, regardless of their content. The justification given for printing these letters is that they give the reader an even fuller picture of public opinion than was available to Lincoln himself. This subtle shift in focus, from letting the reader see what Lincoln saw, to presenting the presidential mailbag as a surrogate for public opinion, raises some issues. No evidence is offered that the interests of those who took the time to write to Lincoln were necessarily those of the public at large, and the selection of letters presented certainly suggests that favor-seekers, inventors, and the mentally ill were overrepresented, a view confirmed in Holzer's quotation of William O. Stoddard's observation that "so soon as a man went clean crazy his first absolutely insane act was to open a correspondence, on his side, with the President" (xxix). Of equal concern is the absence of an express methodology for the selection of letters, some of which were deleted from the first volume "only by the vagaries of page layout" (xiii). To the extent that the editor purports to "provide new insight into public sentiment and political culture during the Civil War" with this particular selection of letters, some explanation as to how they were chosen seems appropriate (xix). BOOK REVIEWS255 But providing a wide-ranging, statistically sophisticated view of public opinion based on contemporary correspondence (as James McPherson did for military culture in For Cause and Comrades) is clearly not the real goal of this book. Letting the reader peek over the shoulder ofAbraham Lincoln (or ofJohn Hay, screening his chief's correspondence) is what The Lincoln Mailbag is about, and in that it succeeds admirably. Gerald J. Prokopowicz The Lincoln Museum The Paper ofAndrew Johnson. Vol. 15: September 1868-April 1869. Edited by Paul H. Bergeron. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999. Pp. xxviii, 656. $55.00.) This fifteenth volume of the well-edited collection of The Papers ofAndrew Johnson covers much of the period following the president's acquittal in the impeachment trial as well as a small part of the post-presidential era. Careful reading of the documents and footnotes shows clearly that at the time, Johnson that time was indeed a "president in limbo," comparatively powerless to accomplish anything in view ofcontinued congressional opposition. The appointments he tried to make were generally buried by Congress; the laws he vetoed were passed over his objections, and his recommendations were disregarded. Yet he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 254-255
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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