The Essential Lincoln: Speeches and Correspondence

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Eloquent, humble, and shrewd, Abraham Lincoln was one of America’s greatest presidents, and The Essential Lincoln brings together his most defining speeches, public and private correspondence, and personal notations in one slim, handsome volume. Lincoln historian Orville Vernon Burton has culled the thousands of pages of the complete works of Lincoln for the most compelling and revealing pieces. Many are presented unabridged, including Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in February 1860; his August 1862 letter to ...

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The Essential Lincoln: Speeches and Correspondence

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Overview

Eloquent, humble, and shrewd, Abraham Lincoln was one of America’s greatest presidents, and The Essential Lincoln brings together his most defining speeches, public and private correspondence, and personal notations in one slim, handsome volume. Lincoln historian Orville Vernon Burton has culled the thousands of pages of the complete works of Lincoln for the most compelling and revealing pieces. Many are presented unabridged, including Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in February 1860; his August 1862 letter to Horace Greeley; the Gettysburg Address; and his second inaugural address. Others have been skillfully edited down to reveal the essence of Lincoln’s beliefs and aspirations, including two of his decisive debates with Stephen A. Douglas, the Emancipation Proclamation, and his first inaugural address. From his earliest writings as a loquacious twenty-three-year-old in New Salem to his last public address from the White House balcony, these original documents give life to Lincoln’s deeply rooted beliefs: his unflagging dedication to a united America, his reverence for the rule of law, his feelings on slavery and each human being’s inalienable natural rights, his boundless commitment to mankind’s innate intelligence and morality. What emerges is a portrait of a stunning American and a compelling historical icon, one who represents the highest ideals we have for our country and for ourselves. This collection is quite simply The Essential Lincoln.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Orville Vernon Burton notes that ‘Lincoln chose his words deliberately,’ and so does Burton. His introductions and editorial notes are concise, lively, and reliable, and Lincoln’s words, as always, are gripping, brilliant, and deeply moving. There have been many collections of Lincoln’s writings, but this slender, thoughtfully selected compendium more than lives up to its title: essential.” —Harold Holzer, co-chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

“This is a book to have and to hold. To feel. To put on your coffee table. To give to a friend . . . A wonderful way to honor Lincoln’s memory and to get a new appreciation for why we want to.” —Carolyn Howard-Johnson, MyShelf.com

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809043071
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 7.78 (w) x 5.20 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Orville Vernon Burton is the author, most recently, of The Age of Lincoln. He lives in Ninety Six, South Carolina.

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Read an Excerpt

THE ESSENTIAL LINCOLN (Chapter 1)"To the People of Sangamo County"

March 9, 1832

The first known public writing of Abraham Lincoln captures the hardworking aspiring politician. He had lived in New Salem, Illinois (Sangamon County), only half a year and was not quite a month into his twenty-third year when he announced in the Sangamo Journal his campaign for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. As a Whig he appeals to reason and addresses local issues—internal improvements, rising interest rates, and, notable for a man with less than a year's formal schooling, public education, declaring it "the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in." He acknowledges having ambition, but, with a humility that would become a telling Lincolnian turn, he admits to his youth and inexperience and assures the public that if any of his ideas are wrong, he is willing to change his mind. Lincoln lost this first bid for the Illinois legislature but was elected two years later in 1834 with the second highest number of votes cast among thirteen candidates, and reelected in 1836, receiving the most votes of any candidate.

[ABRIDGED]

FELLOW CITIZENS: Having become a candidate for the honorable office of one of your representatives in the next General Assembly of this state, in accordance with an established custom and the principles of true republicanism, it becomes my duty to make known to you—the people whom I propose to represent—my sentiments with regard to local affairs.

Time and experience have verified to a demonstration, the public utility of internal improvements. That the poorest and most thinly populated countries would be greatly benefited by the opening of good roads and in the clearing of navigable streams within their limits is what no person will deny. But yet it is folly to undertake works of this or any other kind without first knowing that we are able to finish them—as half-finished work generally proves to be labor lost. There cannot justly be any objection to having railroads and canals, any more than to other good things, provided they cost nothing. The only objection is to paying for them, and the objection to paying arises from the want of ability to pay.

...Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least a moderate education and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the Scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education and, by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise, and industry shall become much more general than at present and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period.

...But, Fellow Citizens, I shall conclude. Considering the great degree of modesty which should always attend youth, it is probable I have already been more presuming than becomes me. However, upon the subjects of which I have treated, I have spoken as I thought. I may be wrong in regard to any or all of them, but holding it a sound maxim that it is better to be only sometimes right than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be 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. I am young and unknown to many of you. I was born and have ever remained in the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relations to recommend me. My case is thrown exclusively upon the independent voters of this county, and if elected they will have conferred a favor upon me for which I shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate. But if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined. Your friend and fellow citizen,

A. LINCOLN.

THE ESSENTIAL LINCOLN Copyright © 2009 by Orville Vernon Burton

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Table of Contents

Contents

 

Introduction

 

1. “To the People of Sangamo County”: March 9, 1832

2. Lyceum Speech at Springfield, Illinois: January 27, 1838

3. Handbill to the Voters of the Seventh Congressional District: July 31, 1846

4. Speech at Peoria, Illinois, on the Kansas-Nebraska Act: October 16, 1854

5. Letter to Joshua Speed, Springfield, Illinois: August 24, 1855

6. “Notes for a Law Lecture”: Undated fragment, probably 1859

7. “A House Divided” Speech at Springfield, Illinois: June 16, 1858

8. Speech at Chicago, Illinois: July 10, 1858

9. Lincoln-Douglas Debates: Autumn 1858

10. Letter to Henry L. Pierce and Others: April 6, 1859

11. Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society: September 30, 1859

12. Speech at Cooper Union, New York City: February 27, 1860

13. Speech at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: February 22, 1861

14. First Inaugural Address: March 4, 1861

15. Message to Congress in Special Session: July 4, 1861

16. Annual Message to Congress: December 3, 1861

17. Letter to Horace Greeley: August 22, 1862

18. Letter to Fanny McCullough: December 23, 1862

19. Emancipation Proclamation: January 1, 1863

20. Letter to Erastus Corning and Others: June 12, 1863

21. “Order of Retaliation”: July 30, 1863

22. Letter to Nathaniel P. Banks (Louisiana) on Reconstruction: August 5, 1863

23. Letter to James C. Conkling on Emancipation: August 26, 1863

24. Gettysburg Address: November 19, 1863

25. Annual Message to Congress: December 8, 1863

26. Letter to Michael Hahn: March 13, 1864

27. Address at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, Maryland: April 18, 1864

28. Second Inaugural Address: March 4, 1865

29. Speech from the Balcony, Last Public Address: April 11, 1865

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