Before Abraham Lincoln became the calm, wise and compassionate president whom all presidents try to emulate, he looked and acted much differently. He had no beard to hide his gaunt, wrinkled and pock marked face, no well-tailored suit to disguise his sloping, thin shoulders and wrinkled neck. Abraham Lincoln: Ascent to Power 1840-1860 contains many eye witness accounts of his appearance and personality during those years. His baggy trousers were always too short. His coat sleeves were short as well. His hair was seldom combed, his boots never polished, his hands were large and his feet huge. His humor, his well-prepared summations and speeches and his strange marriage-all are described in detail by his friends and neighbors.
While the excellent descriptions of Lincoln by his friends adds color, the book's main strength is its organization and simplicity. It describes the events that took place during the twenty years before the Civil War. It also analyzes the reasons the Civil War began. It is a good introduction to Lincoln and is helpful to those who are overwhelmed by the subject.
It shows how with hard work and with deliberate attempts to get speaking engagements he became famous in the State of Illinois. By careful and slow preparation and by his reading of poetry, Shakespeare and the classics he was able to make his great poetic speeches. But he also relied on logic as shown by his great Cooper Union Speech. Once he had made that speech in New York, he was invited to speak all over New England. This speech led the Republican party to nominate him for President.
Parts of his speeches are included and explained, including the Peoria Speech, the "Lost Speech," and the "House Divided Speech." The chapter on the crisis of 1850 contains portions of speeches by Clay, Webster and Calhoun with explanations.
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