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by David Herbert Donald


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A masterful work by Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Herbert Donald, Lincoln is a stunning portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency.

Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln’s gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever-expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the presidency of a country divided by civil war. Donald goes beyond biography, illuminating the gradual development of Lincoln’s character, chronicling his tremendous capacity for evolution and growth, thus illustrating what made it possible for a man so inexperienced and so unprepared for the presidency to become a great moral leader. In the most troubled of times, here was a man who led the country out of slavery and preserved a shattered Union—in short, one of the greatest presidents this country has ever seen.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684825359
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 11/05/1996
Pages: 720
Sales rank: 115,811
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

David Herbert Donald is the author of We Are Lincoln Men, Lincoln, which won the prestigious Lincoln Prize and was on the New York Times bestseller list for fourteen weeks, and Lincoln at Home. He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, for Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War, and for Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe. He is the Charles Warren Professor of American History and of American Civilization Emeritus at Harvard University and resides in Lincoln, Massachusetts.


Lincoln, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

October 1, 1920

Place of Birth:

Goodman, Mississippi


Holmes Junior College, Millsaps College, 1941; M.A., Ph.D., University of Illinois, 1942, 1946

Read an Excerpt

On the day after the Quincy debate, both Lincoln and Douglas got aboard the City, of Louisiana and sailed down the Mississippi River to Alton, for the final encounter of the campaign. Looking haggard with fatigue, Douglas opened the debate on October 15 in a voice so hoarse that in the early part of the speech he could scarcely be heard. After briefly reviewing the standard arguments over which he and Lincoln had differed since the beginning of the campaign, he made the peculiar decision to devote most of his speech to a detailed defense of his course on Lecompton. He concluded with a rabble-rousing attack on the racial views he attributed to Republicans and an announcement "that the signers of the Declaration of Independence...did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee islanders, nor any other barbarous race," when they issued that document.

In his reply Lincoln said he was happy to ignore Douglas's long account of his feud with the Buchanan administration; he felt like the put-upon wife in an old jestbook, who stood by as her husband struggled with a bear, saying, "Go it, husband!-Go it bear!" Once again he went through his standard answers to Douglas's charges against him and the Republican party. Recognizing that at Alton he was addressing "an audience, having strong sympathies southward by relationship, place of birth, and so on," he tried explain why it was so important to keep slavery out of Kansas and other national territories. This was land needed "for an outlet for our surplus., population"; this was land where "white men may find a home"; this was "an outlet for free white people every where, the world over-in which Hans, and Baptiste and Patrick, and all other men from all the world, may find new homes and better conditions in their lives.

And that brought him again to what he perceived as "the real issue in this controversy," which once more he defined as a conflict "on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong." Rising to the oratorical high point in the entire series of debates, he told the Alton audience: "That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. it is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings."

With a brief rejoinder by Douglas, the debates were ended. After that both candidates made a few more speeches to local rallies, but everybody realized that the campaign was over, and the decision now lay with the voters.

Reading Group Discussion Points

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points

  1. Lincoln was essentially a passive man. He was not formally educated. He repeatedly failed when running for various political offices. He was not considered a handsome man, and he was inexperienced and unprepared for the presidency. Yet all this considered, he still became one of the greatest presidents the United States has ever known. To what do you attribute this? How might the elements of Lincoln's character and his time have blended together to create a man so successful in casting off slavery and bringing the Union back together?
  2. How, in many ways, was Lincoln the most American of presidents?
  3. Donald brilliantly explores the development of Lincoln's character. Describe this development and its impact on the outcome of slavery and the Civil War. What in Lincoln's character led him to greatness?
  4. How did Lincoln's growing belief in a Higher Power sustain him through the agony of a country divided?
  5. In April of 1864, Lincoln wrote to Albert G. Hodges: "I claim not to have controlled events but confess plainly that events have controlled me." How is this accurate and not quite true at the same time?
  6. Though Donald's Lincoln is primarily about Lincoln's political life, Donald portrays Lincoln as a family man. Discuss Lincoln as a father and husband. What portrait emerges of Mary Todd Lincoln? How did she ultimately contribute to his political career, and in what ways might she have detracted from it?
  7. In reading Donald's Lincoln, we view in great detail the political machine of the mid 1800s. How has the political process in this country remained the same? How has it changed? What role did the media play then, as opposed to now?
  8. From the time he was a boy, Lincoln was opposed to slavery. Even so, his policy and position on slavery developed very slowly over time, beginning with a hands-off approach and culminating in his eventual, stated belief that the slaves must be given their freedom. Trace the growth of Lincoln's attitude and actions regarding slavery. Estimate the impact the Emancipation Proclamation had on the people of its day. How is the impact still felt in our times?
  9. Donald's Lincoln forces the reader to confront slavery. We come to understand that racism meant something very different in Lincoln's time, manifesting itself in ways distinct to that era. Discuss the gains we've made over the past one hundred and thirty years.
  10. Lincoln never wavered in his belief that the Union must be preserved. Even in the face of enormous casualties for both the North and the South, Lincoln did not falter in his resolve. Do you believe, as Lincoln did, that it was of the utmost importance to preserve the Union? If so, why? If not, why not?
  11. Although Lincoln lived over a hundred and thirty years ago, and many presidents have come and gone, we are still fascinated by him. Why is he remembered more than any other president? What about him is so enduring and immortal? Why do you think his place in history is so secure?

Recommended Readings
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years
Carl Sandburg
Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, James M. McPherson
The Civil War, Ken Burns (VHS tape)
The Civil War: A Narrative, Shelby Foote
The Civil War: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey C. Ward
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Roy P. Basler, ED.
The Face of Lincoln, James Mellon
The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara
Lincoln: A Novel, Gore Vidal
Lincoln: A Photobiography, Russell Freedman
Mary Todd Lincoln, Her Life and Letters, Justin G. Turner
Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch
The Portable Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Delbanco
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

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