Civil War History 46.4 (2000) 341-342
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Lincoln Heard and Seen
Lincoln Heard and Seen. By Harold Holzer. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. Pp. xi, 226. $29.95.)
Witty, perceptive and full of historical wisdom, Harold Holzer is as engaging in print as he is on the many podiums he has graced with lectures about Lincoln. He also has some important things to say about public opinion during the Civil War, popular attitudes toward Abraham Lincoln, and how printmaking in the nineteenth century can be used as a tool in understanding changing American views of their sixteenth president. In Lincoln Seen and Heard readers will encounter the Lincoln iconography that Holzer has done so much to resurrect and to explain and about which he is now our most informed specialist. To make his points he has included fifty-seven images of cartoons, posters, engravings, lithographs, and portraits interspersed in 198 pages of text. Many will be unfamiliar to historians who tend to rely on standard recycled images.
In these pages readers will find as well an important arena that academic historians often overlook--how iconography in an age before the general use of photography and the emergence of television can be used to understand our Civil War past. The theme of Lincoln Seen and Heard is that in the nineteenth century, before the era of staged photo opportunities and in-house White House photographers, the visual images of the president both shaped, and were shaped by, his reputation and public policies. Holzer argues that the images of Lincoln had special importance because commercial publishers, not political artists for hire, created them. "They are not mere illustrations," he writes, "though they often turn up as such today in magazines and books. In their time, proudly displayed by their owners, they truly reflected public sentiment about Abraham Lincoln" (36). As such, they serve as a kind of opinion poll on the president in a period when few Americans actually saw their leaders and when, especially during the Civil War, print-buying consumers could express their patriotism through the artwork they hung in their homes.
Holzer collects these visual surrogates for public opinion into six chapters with special themes--the president as emancipator, as commander in chief, as assassinated martyr, as the mirror image of the Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and in caricatures drawn by both Northerners and Southerners. Four [End Page 341] final chapters deal with the title's promise of Lincoln heard. In a chapter titled "Tokens of Respect and Heartfelt Thanks," Holzer takes up the neglected topic of the meaning of presidential gifts. Lincoln, of course, was not constrained by modern standards of scrutiny about their value and therefore fell prey to surely the strangest and ugliest of all presidential gifts--an elk horn chair--as well as a whistle made of a pig's tail. Final chapters explain Lincoln's reluctance as president to give impromptu speeches (which Holzer attributes to his early training), the reasons for the "stultifying" prose of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the continuing myths that, like fictional barnacles, encrust the story of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
It is in his chapters on iconography that Holzer most advances our understanding of the Lincoln presidency. It has become conventional historical wisdom that Northerners held static unchanging views of Lincoln which varied only marginally during the war and which were generally determined by party affiliation. As Holzer makes clear through his examination of the changes in prints, the 1864 election inspired a number of campaign prints which were mostly emancipation pictures. Thus the familiar John Sartain engraving after Edward Marchant's painting, as well as the even more famous paintings of Francis Carpenter, who lived for a time in the White House, established Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. But the important historical point is that they did not appear in 1862 and 1863, but were begun in 1864. After Lincoln's assassination the identification of Lincoln with emancipation became even more popular.
On another theme, just as the U.S. Constitution mixed the nation's military powers between...