An Abraham Lincoln Tribute: Featuring Woodcuts by Charles Turzak

An Abraham Lincoln Tribute: Featuring Woodcuts by Charles Turzak

by Charles Turzak

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From a humble backwoods cabin to the highest office in the land, this graphic art biography chronicles Abraham Lincoln's path from obscurity to immortality. Its thirty-six striking woodcuts, each accompanied by a brief caption, depict scenes from the life of the sixteenth president. Original and imaginative in their stark beauty, these images offer fresh perspectives


From a humble backwoods cabin to the highest office in the land, this graphic art biography chronicles Abraham Lincoln's path from obscurity to immortality. Its thirty-six striking woodcuts, each accompanied by a brief caption, depict scenes from the life of the sixteenth president. Original and imaginative in their stark beauty, these images offer fresh perspectives on the familiar tale of Lincoln's progress from rail-splitter and self-taught prairie lawyer to his role as the Great Emancipator and preserver of the Union.
This new edition of Charles Turzak's remarkable book is presented in commemoration of the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. In addition to a new preface and introduction, it features an appendix with several of Lincoln's famous speeches, letters, and quotations. A keepsake treasure for Civil War buffs and historians, this unique expression of American culture will inspire readers of all ages.

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By Charles Turzak, Bob Blaisdell

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13908-1



Turzak quotes for his title the closing sentence of Lincoln's vital address at Cooper Institute in New York City, February 27, 1860, which helped lead to his nomination as the Republican Party's presidential candidate.

In the spring of 1808, on the South Fork of Nolin Creek in Kentucky, the farmer Tom Lincoln built a log cabin for himself, his wife, and daughter. "The floor was packed-down dirt," writes the biographer Carl Sandburg. "One door, swung on leather hinges, let them in and out. One small window gave a lookout on the weather, the rain or snow, sun and trees, and the play of the rolling prairie and low hills. A stick-clay chimney carried the fire smoke up and away." Abraham arrived in the winter of 1809.


In verse, Abraham evoked the frontier Thomas Lincoln met in the early years of the nineteenth century:

When first my father settled here,
'Twas then the frontier line;
The panther's scream filled night with fear
And bears preyed on the swine.

—["The Bear Hunt"] (1846)


Sister Sarah (1807–1828), father Thomas (1780–1851), mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln (1784–1818), meet baby Abraham (1809–1865), born on a Sunday morning and named after his paternal grandfather.


When he was two, the family moved north to a farm on Knob Creek: "Here little Abe grew out of one shirt into another, learned to walk and talk, and as he grew bigger how to be a chore boy, to run errands, carry water, fill the wood box, clean ashes from the fireplace. He learned the feel of blisters on his hands from using a hoe handle on rows of beans, onions, corn, potatoes.... That Knob Creek farm in their valley set round by high hills and deep gorges was the first home Abe Lincoln remembered."

At age fifty, recalling not Kentucky, but Indiana, Lincoln wrote: "It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods."


He was seven when the family moved from Kentucky, across the Ohio River, to Indiana, where Abe helped build the family's eighteen-by-twenty-foot log cabin.


Lincoln's mother died on October 5, 1818, when Abraham was nine. In his thirties, Lincoln wrote verses about the feelings stirred up by memories of his life as a boy in Indiana:

My childhood home I see again,
And gladden with the view;
And still as mem'ries crowd my brain,
There's sadness in it too.

O memory! thou mid-way world
'Twixt Earth and Paradise,
Where things decayed, and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise.

—c. February 25, 1846

"Tom Lincoln took a log left over from the building of the cabin, and he and Dennis Hanks whipsawed it into planks, planed the planks smooth, and made them of a measure for a box to bury the dead wife and mother in. Little Abe, with a jackknife, whittled pine-wood pegs. And while Dennis and Abe held the planks, Tom bored holes and stuck the whittled pegs through the holes. This was the coffin they carried next day to the little timber clearing nearby."


In 1819 Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with children, and there were sometimes nine family members sleeping in the one-room cabin. Abraham's stepmother encouraged Abraham's strivings toward education, which he pursued before, during, and after his many chores.


In Indiana as a teenager, writes Carl Sandburg, "Often Abe worked alone in the timbers, daylong with only the sound of his own ax, or his own voice speaking to himself, or the crackling and swaying of branches in the wind, or the cries and whirrs of animals, of brown and silver-gray squirrels, of partridges, hawks, crows, turkeys, grouse, sparrows and the occasional wildcat. In wilderness loneliness he companioned with trees, with the faces of open sky and weather in changing seasons, with that individual one-man instrument, the ax."

Later, in Illinois, with his cousin John Hanks, he split 3,000 rails for fencing. (He thus became the "Rail Candidate" for President in 1860, with rails, purportedly split by him, displayed as part of his political campaign.)


Abe was so hungry for books that if he heard about somebody with a volume he wanted, he would walk upwards of twenty miles to borrow it. "The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll git me a book I ain't read," he was known to say. He seems to have read at every opportunity, even as he walked; at home or at leisure he would lie down with a book on his chest and his feet up higher than his head.


In 1829, Thomas Lincoln moved his extended family west to Illinois's Sangamon County. Abraham later described one of the values of reading: "A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so, it gives a relish and facility for successfully pursuing the yet unsolved ones."


After a year in Illinois, and as his father was about to make another move with the family, Abraham decided to venture out on his own. At twenty-two, Abraham settled in New Salem, Illinois, where he began a long series of jobs, including serving as a captain in the Black Hawk Indian War, before beginning his self-taught law studies.


At nineteen, while still living in Indiana, Abraham built a flatboat so he could deliver a merchant's cargo down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.


At twenty-two, Lincoln again floated down the Mississippi in a flatboat and this time spent a month in New Orleans, where he witnessed the dealings of the slave trade. He never forgot what he saw there.


After Lincoln lost an election for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives in August of 1832, he and William F. Berry bought a store in New Salem. By the next year the store went bust, probably because Lincoln devoted his time to thinking and reading. He became postmaster of the town in 1833 and also began surveying. In 1834 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Many years later, he advised another ambitious young man: "If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already.... Get the books, and read and study them till you understand them in their principal features; and that is the main thing.... Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."


His reputation for honest dealings had a long history. While working in a store in New Salem, according to the biographer Carl Sandburg, "stories got going about Lincoln's honesty, how he walked six miles to pay back a few cents a woman had overpaid for dry goods, and finding he had used a four-ounce weight instead of an eight, he walked miles to deliver to a woman the full order of tea she had paid for."


Lincoln was legendary for his agility and strength, and one of the most famous stories illustrating it and his forgiving character involves the wrestling match in New Salem between him and the other local champion, Jack Armstrong, in 1831. After the match, which depending on the teller, ended in a draw or with Lincoln throwing Armstrong for the loss, Lincoln and Armstrong became great friends.


While he was working as a surveyor in 1834, Abraham fell in love with an already engaged twenty-one-year-old named Ann Rutledge, whose eyes, it was said, were "blue, large, and expressive," and whose character was "quick—sharp—deep and philosophic," and at whose father's home Lincoln sometimes lived. No letters between the couple have survived, if there were any.

In any case, a few years later, Lincoln wrote to his fiancée Mary Owens (whom he also did not after all marry): "Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented, and there is nothing I can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in the effort."


Ann died of illness, perhaps typhoid, in New Salem on August 25, 1835. Residents observed how grief-struck Abe was and how low he seemed for weeks afterward. As President, he remarked of her to a friend, "I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often—often of her now."


Robert L. Wilson, one of the movers and shakers in the group of "Long Nine" Whigs with Lincoln of the Illinois State Legislature in Vandalia, remembered, "We followed his lead; but he followed nobody's lead. It may almost be said he did our thinking for us. ... He sought company, and indulged in fun without stint ... still when by himself, he told me that he was so overcome by mental depression, that he never dared carry a knife in his pocket."


He earned his license to practice law on September 9, 1836, and, giving up surveying, continued as a representative in the Illinois State Legislature, where he spearheaded the move of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield. There he began to practice law.


To accommodate those remote Illinois villages and settlements without their own courts, in 1839 Lincoln began "making the circuit" several weeks a year with other lawyers and judges. While preparing for a lecture on law in 1850, he noted: "Extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated. It is the lawyer's avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech."


"There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest," Lincoln noted to himself in 1850. "I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbably that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief—resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer."


In 1846, Lincoln ran for United States Congress and won a seat in the House of Representatives. To his Illinois friends in the Whig party who helped raise $200 for his campaign, he returned $199.25, as he had only spent 75 cents on expenses. He served one two-year term in Washington, D.C., and then returned to Springfield to his family and his work as a lawyer.


Mary Todd was a lively, quick-tempered, attractive twenty-one-year-old woman whose family also hailed from Kentucky. Lincoln met her in Springfield in 1839. After their engagement in 1840 and their break-up, Abraham wrote to a friend: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth." Fortunately, they made up and married on November 4, 1842. To another friend, a week after the wedding, he wrote: "Nothing new here, except my marrying, which to me is a matter of profound wonder."

They would have four boys, two of whom died as children.


As young as age twenty-three, on his first attempt at election to the Illinois State Legislature, he wrote: "Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it is true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed."

He would also admit to a taste for political influence, but at various moments in his political career despaired of becoming an important figure. Musing on his longtime Illinois rival, Stephen Douglas in 1856, he wrote: "With me, the race of ambition has been a failure—a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success. His name fills the nation, and it is not unknown even in foreign lands."


In 1856 the Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott, a slave, would not be allowed his freedom in spite of having lived in a "free" state. Lincoln spoke in Springfield the next year about the legal treachery of the slave-powers: "One after another they have closed the heavy iron doors upon him, and now they have him, as it were, bolted in with a lock of a hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the concurrence of every key; the keys in the hands of a hundred different men, and they scattered to a hundred different and distant places; and they stand musing as to what invention in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced to make the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is."


As the Republican Party's nominee for U.S. Senator in 1858, Lincoln challenged Senator Stephen Douglas to a series of seven debates in different locales around Illinois, each of which attracted thousands of listeners and then many thousands more readers in newspapers and, finally, in a popular book revised by Douglas and Lincoln. The first debate was in Ottawa on August 21, the last in Springfield on October 30. Many of the debates focused on the issue of slavery and its extension into states and territories that did not already allow it.

In the fifth debate, at Galesburg, Lincoln stated: "Judge Douglas declares that if any community want slavery they have a right to have it. He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong."

Despite Lincoln winning the vote of the people, Illinois's state legislature elected Douglas. With the publication of the debates, Lincoln came to prominence as an eloquent spokesman for the Republican Party.


"Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature—opposition to it is his love of justice," Lincoln had declared in a speech at Peoria in 1854, the year Congress voted to allow the expansion of slavery into the nation's new western territories. Although always careful to uphold his respect for the Constitution and the nation's laws, Lincoln never abandoned his fundamental moral sense of the wrongs of slavery. As president, in 1864, he reflected in a letter: "I am naturally antislavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel ..."


At his inauguration on March 4, 1861, Lincoln summarized the national dilemma: "One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute." In this woodcut, Turzak seems to have in mind for his title no actual speech or letter but a scene from the 1919 play Abraham Lincoln by John Drinkwater, wherein Lincoln tells Secretary of State William H. Seward, "No man can say how wisely, but Providence has brought me to the leadership of this country, with a task before me greater than that which rested on Washington himself."


In his Annual Message to Congress at the end of 1862, Lincoln argued for the necessity of Union: "Our national strife springs not from our permanent part; not from the land we inhabit; not from our national homestead. There is no possible severing of this, but would multiply, and not mitigate, evils among us. In all its adaptations and aptitudes, it demands union, and abhors separation. In fact, it would, ere long, force reunion, however much of blood and treasure the separation might have cost."


His preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was published on September 24, 1862, about which he stated, "I can only trust in God that I have made no mistake." On January 1, 1863, he made the Emancipation Proclamation official, remarking, "I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. But I have been receiving calls and shaking hands since nine o'clock this morning till my arm is stiff and numb. Now, this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled, they will say, 'He had some compunction.' But, anyway, it is going to be done."


Excerpted from AN ABRAHAM LINCOLN TRIBUTE by Charles Turzak, Bob Blaisdell. Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, Charles Turzak worked for a variety of New Deal programs during the Depression, including a WPA-sponsored woodcut series, The History of Illinois. For his graphic art biography of Lincoln, Turzak cut the woodblocks and printed pages in full view of the public at the 1933 Century of Progress Chicago World's Fair.

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