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Abraham and Mary Lincoln
     

Abraham and Mary Lincoln

by Kenneth J. Winkle
 

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For decades Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s marriage has been characterized as discordant and tumultuous. In Abraham and Mary Lincoln, author Kenneth J. Winkle goes beyond the common image of the couple, illustrating that although the waters of the Lincoln household were far from calm, the Lincolns were above all a house united. Calling upon their own words

Overview

For decades Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s marriage has been characterized as discordant and tumultuous. In Abraham and Mary Lincoln, author Kenneth J. Winkle goes beyond the common image of the couple, illustrating that although the waters of the Lincoln household were far from calm, the Lincolns were above all a house united. Calling upon their own words and the reminiscences of family members and acquaintances, Winkle traces the Lincolns from their starkly contrasting childhoods, through their courtship and rise to power, to their years in the White House during the Civil War, ultimately revealing a dynamic love story set against the backdrop of the greatest peril the nation has ever seen. 

When the awkward but ambitious Lincoln landed Mary Todd, people were surprised by their seeming incompatibility. Lincoln, lacking in formal education and social graces, came from the world of hardscrabble farmers on the American frontier. Mary, by contrast, received years of schooling and came from an established, wealthy, slave-owning family. Yet despite the social gulf between them, these two formidable personalities forged a bond that proved unshakable during the years to come. Mary provided Lincoln with the perfect partner in ambition—one with connections, political instincts, and polish. For Mary, Lincoln was her “diamond in the rough,” a man whose ungainly appearance and background belied a political acumen to match her own. 

While each played their role in the marriage perfectly— Lincoln doggedly pursuing success and Mary hosting lavish political soirées—their partnership was not without contention. Mary—once described as “the wildcat of her age”—frequently expressed frustration with the limitations placed on her by Victorian social strictures, exhibiting behavior that sometimes led to public friction between the couple. Abraham’s work would at times keep him away from home for weeks, leaving Mary alone in Springfield. 

The true test of the Lincolns’ dedication to each other began in the White House, as personal tragedy struck their family and civil war erupted on American soil. The couple faced controversy and heartbreak as the death of their young son left Mary grief-stricken and dependent upon séances and spiritualists; as charges of disloyalty hounded the couple regarding Mary’s young sister, a Confederate widow; and as public demands grew strenuous that their son Robert join the war. The loss of all privacy and the constant threat of kidnapping and assassination took its toll on the entire family. Yet until a fateful night in the Ford Theatre in 1865, Abraham and Mary Lincoln stood firmly together—he as commander-in-chief during America’s gravest military crisis, and she as First Lady of a divided country that needed the White House to emerge as a respected symbol of national unity and power. 

Despite the challenges they faced, the Lincolns’ life together fully embodied the maxim engraved on their wedding bands: love is eternal. Abraham and Mary Lincoln is a testament to the power of a stormy union that held steady through the roughest of seas.

Editorial Reviews

Civil War News
Both of these titles are part of a the new Concise Lincoln Library series. They are similar in format, short, moderately priced and able to fit in a jacket pocket or small purse for easy travel reading. They are well edited, have none of the usual typos, and waste no space with “filler” dialogue.

However, each covers a separate agenda. The first title contains a condensed version, in my opinion, of Michael Burlingame’s previous works. The book is divided into 11 chapters, each dealing with various phases of Lincoln’s handling of the Civil War. Although the liner notes claim the book offers new perspectives on Lincoln’s personality, I failed to find them.

What I did find is an interesting premise that the Union waged war from an “underdog” position. Burlingame writes from that perspective and shows how Lincoln’s “steady hand” turned the tide to victory. I found this very interesting “food for thought” and further study. I think you will as well, and this book would be a worthy addition to your library.

The second title is a study of the Lincoln marriage, with background information on the Lincolns’ early lives. There is little new here for the advanced student, but it is interesting reading nonetheless.

As the book progresses, author Kenneth Winkle uses a novel device: he compares the Lincolns to the average middle-class couples of the day. I found this most interesting. Quite differently, he compares Mary’s grief to that of Queen Victoria.

Abraham and Mary’s whole life together is covered in less than 150 pages. Winkle explains the strange dichotomy of their relationship: Mary was a strong asset to Lincoln’s career but at the same time proved detrimental. I found this book lacking in depth, but one cannot have it all in so short a volume.

Both of these books would be valuable additions to a Lincoln Library and both provide ample directions for further learning and research.

 

— Joseph A. Truglio

The Midwest Book Review
Abraham Lincoln was a pivotal figure in 19th Century American history. Adding to the growing library of Lincoln Studies are four volumes newly published by the Southern Illinois University Press..."Abraham and Mary Lincoln" (9780809330492, $19.95, 160 pages) by Kenneth J. Winkle descriptively assesses the complex and sometimes controversial marriage of America's 'First Family' beginning with their contrasting childhoods, courtship, the 'lawyer Lincoln' years, and their White House tenure which ended tragically with the assassination of Lincoln at the close of the Civil War. Each of these informed and informative titles is a welcome and highly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Lincoln Studies and 19th Century American History collections." —James A. Cox

— James A. Cox

From the Publisher
 "Knowing Abraham Lincoln is impossible and studying him is like trying to sip from the 'Fountain of Liberty' or make tea from the Constitution—he is not for the faint of heart. But reading SIU Press's Concise Lincoln Library offers something for every thirst. Deep drinkers and first-time students of the Civil War and Lincoln studies will come back for more, and this series will more than fill the glass." 
—William Furry, executive director, Illinois State Historical Society

“Evenhanded and well researched, Kenneth Winkle’s Abraham and Mary Lincoln is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the Lincolns— both as individuals and as partners. Winkle knows the historical context of their lives and presents their relationship in lively readable prose. This book is a striking success.” —Jean H. Baker, author of Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography 

“Kenneth Winkle’s treatment of Lincoln’s courtship and marriage provides valuable perspective on the distinctive social dynamics of Lincoln’s America.” —Douglas L. Wilson, author of Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words 

“The final words of this superb and balanced study neatly sum up Kenneth Winkle’s own achievement in writing it: he has shed new and original light on ‘a fascinating and enigmatic marriage.’ Winkle chooses no favorites, takes no sides, and eschews psychobabble. The result is an adept look at one of the most closely observed marriages in American history.” —Harold Holzer, chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

"Kenneth Winkle is one of the top Lincoln scholars in the country and this exploration of the Lincoln marriage is masterful—carefully researched and written, judicious in its analysis and thoughtful about providing context for a complicated and fascinating partnership."—Matthew Pinsker, Pohanka Chair for Civil War History, Dickinson College

The Midwest Book Review - James A. Cox
"Abraham Lincoln was a pivotal figure in 19th Century American history. Adding to the growing library of Lincoln Studies are four volumes newly published by the Southern Illinois University Press..."Abraham and Mary Lincoln" (9780809330492, $19.95, 160 pages) by Kenneth J. Winkle descriptively assesses the complex and sometimes controversial marriage of America's 'First Family' beginning with their contrasting childhoods, courtship, the 'lawyer Lincoln' years, and their White House tenure which ended tragically with the assassination of Lincoln at the close of the Civil War. Each of these informed and informative titles is a welcome and highly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Lincoln Studies and 19th Century American History collections." —James A. Cox
Civil War News - Joseph A. Truglio
Both of these titles are part of a the new Concise Lincoln Library series. They are similar in format, short, moderately priced and able to fit in a jacket pocket or small purse for easy travel reading. They are well edited, have none of the usual typos, and waste no space with “filler” dialogue.

However, each covers a separate agenda. The first title contains a condensed version, in my opinion, of Michael Burlingame’s previous works. The book is divided into 11 chapters, each dealing with various phases of Lincoln’s handling of the Civil War. Although the liner notes claim the book offers new perspectives on Lincoln’s personality, I failed to find them.

What I did find is an interesting premise that the Union waged war from an “underdog” position. Burlingame writes from that perspective and shows how Lincoln’s “steady hand” turned the tide to victory. I found this very interesting “food for thought” and further study. I think you will as well, and this book would be a worthy addition to your library.

The second title is a study of the Lincoln marriage, with background information on the Lincolns’ early lives. There is little new here for the advanced student, but it is interesting reading nonetheless.

As the book progresses, author Kenneth Winkle uses a novel device: he compares the Lincolns to the average middle-class couples of the day. I found this most interesting. Quite differently, he compares Mary’s grief to that of Queen Victoria.

Abraham and Mary’s whole life together is covered in less than 150 pages. Winkle explains the strange dichotomy of their relationship: Mary was a strong asset to Lincoln’s career but at the same time proved detrimental. I found this book lacking in depth, but one cannot have it all in so short a volume.

Both of these books would be valuable additions to a Lincoln Library and both provide ample directions for further learning and research.

Library Journal
Like almost every other aspect of Abraham Lincoln's life, his marriage has often been a topic of speculation among scholarly and popular authors. In contrast to her husband, who has mainly been viewed positively over the years, Mary Todd Lincoln was described by contemporaries as a possessive, jealous, self-absorbed, interfering, and highly political spouse whose temperament made Lincoln's life a misery and their marriage unhappy. Recently, writers have been kinder to her, and this concise treatment by Winkle (American history, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln; The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln) is likewise a sympathetic but balanced portrait of the Lincolns and their marriage. Winkle describes how Mary's social and political acumen and family connections helped her husband during his political ascent but became problematic during his wartime presidency. He concludes that though the Lincolns did experience marital difficulties, which sprang from faults on both sides, the marriage was loving. VERDICT This accessible work includes a valuable essay on sources and is recommended for public and undergraduate libraries as well as for Lincoln buffs who already own longer, more focused works such as Catherine Clinton's Mrs. Lincoln: A Life.—Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809330492
Publisher:
Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date:
09/30/2011
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
1,384,218
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth J. Winkle is the Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of American History at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of The Politics of Community: Migration and Politics in Antebellum Ohio, The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln, and The Oxford Atlas of the Civil War.

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