Lincoln in American Memory

Lincoln in American Memory

by Merrill D. Peterson

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Lincoln's death, like his life, was an event of epic proportions. When the president was struck down at his moment of triumph, writes Merrill Peterson, "sorrow--indescribable sorrow" swept the nation. After lying in state in Washington, Lincoln's body was carried by a special funeral train to Springfield, Illinois, stopping in major cities along the way; perhaps a million people viewed the remains as memorial orations rang out and the world chorused its sincere condolences. It was the apotheosis of the martyred President--the beginning of the transformation of a man into a mythic hero. In Lincoln in American Memory, historian Merrill Peterson provides a fascinating history of Lincoln's place in the American imagination from the hour of his death to the present. In tracing the changing image of Lincoln through time, this wide-ranging account offers insight into the evolution and struggles of American politics and society--and into the character of Lincoln himself. Westerners, Easterners, even Southerners were caught up in the idealization of the late President, reshaping his memory and laying claim to his mantle, as his widow, son, memorial builders, and memorabilia collectors fought over his visible legacy. Peterson also looks at the complex responses of blacks to the memory of Lincoln, as they moved from exultation at the end of slavery to the harsh reality of free life amid deep poverty and segregation; at more than one memorial event for the great emancipator, the author notes, blacks were excluded. He makes an engaging examination of the flood of reminiscences and biographies, from Lincoln's old law partner William H. Herndon to Carl Sandburg and beyond. Serious historians were late in coming to the topic; for decades the myth-makers sought to shape the image of the hero President to suit their own agendas. He was made a voice of prohibition, a saloon-keeper, an infidel, a devout Christian, the first Bull Moose Progressive, a military blunderer and (after the First World War) a military genius, a white supremacist (according to D.W. Griffith and other Southern admirers), and a touchstone for the civil rights movement. Through it all, Peterson traces five principal images of Lincoln: the savior of the Union, the great emancipator, man of the people, first American, and self-made man. In identifying these archetypes, he tells us much not only of Lincoln but of our own identity as a people.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"It is a brilliant work. I shall praise it lavishly."—Norman Ferris, Middle Tennessee State University

"This volume makes for pleasant reading. Anyone interested in the subject of Abraham Lincoln will discover that this book belongs on his or her shelf of literature."—Lincoln Herald

"Here is a brilliant work, the product of a diligent, insightful mind. The style is pleasing, graced by felicitous phrases, and lucid. No other work is quite like it."—History

"Lincoln is a national treasure, and this book is worthy of him. Recommended."—Library Journal

"Peterson has done a superb job of telling us precisely what it is that Lincoln means to us and how that has come to be so. Among the thousands upon thousands of books that have been written about this greatest of all Americans, Lincoln in American Memory occupies a very high place."—Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post

"Doing for Abraham Lincoln what he did for Thomas Jefferson in his classic The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, Merrill Peterson offers the best and most encyclopedic assessment of the vast Lincoln literature ever written. He realizes that Lincoln, perhaps unlike Jefferson, belongs to the people and not just to the historians, so he has mapped the streams of both biography and folklore. In these pages academics labor cheek by jowl with preachers, poets, and politicians to forge the most important personage in American collective memory. The result is a work without parallel among the thousands of works on Lincoln—a trustworthy guide to that enormous store of history and myth."—Mark E. Neely, Jr., author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties

"A masterpiece. It should be required reading for all Americans."—Robert Tortorella, Felician College

"Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory is an utterly fascinating work, some of it familiar but for the most part richly fresh in detail and highly revealing about the spontaneous and deeply felt creation of a truly democratic hero. Peterson's book is a particular achievement because of the vastness of the materials he has mastered, ranging from serious scholarship to elusive ephemera. Lincoln in American Memory is inspiring because the knowledge that political malice and pettiness can be surmounted gives us cause to be hopeful that such lessons of the past will be re-enacted. This is a profoundly absorbing and provocative study."—Michael Kammen, Times-Mirror Research Scholar, Professor of American Studies, The Huntington Library

"This is a book that needed to be done, and Merrill Peterson was just the man to do it. The great skill with which he once delineated the Jefferson image is again displayed in this splendid contribution to American cultural history."—Don E. Fehrenbacher, Lincoln in Text and Context: Collected Essays

"A highly original, exhaustively researched, expertly organized, and surpassingly entertaining book. In lesser hands, such a detailed effort—balancing so many disparate voices—might easily have descended into the realm of 'The Book of Lists'. In Peterson's hands it becomes, instead, a gripping look not only into history but into the making of history."—Harold Holzer, Illinois Historical Journal

"At the moment of the president's death, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton exclaimed: 'Now he belongs to the ages.' This book tells how and suggests why Lincoln belonged, and still belongs, to American memory. For the first time we have a central part of a fascinating story. Vintage merrill Peterson, written with measured empathy."—Gabor Boritt, Civil War Institute, Gettysburg College

"Abraham Lincoln has been more frequently and more widely remembered than any other American, but he has been remembered in many different and contradictory ways. Merrill Peterson, having mastered the vast and convoluted Lincoln literature, presents a comprehensive, keenly perceptive, and highly readable history of Lincoln's reputation. This should be a prizewinning work."—Richard N. Current, author of Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy

"Masterful study of the evolution of the Lincoln image."—New York Newsday

"An impressive book in its range of coverage, the author succeeds in tracing the place of Lincoln in the thoughts and imagination of numerous generations of Americans."—Craig Keller, George Washington University

"In this highly readable book, Dr. Peterson shows the hold Lincoln has on America as well as international memory. This is an indispensable resource for everyone, student or scholar, casual reader or amateur historian. 'Lincoln in American Memory' is a monumental achievement that is a pleasure to read."—Spencer Gill, The Civil War News

"Peterson's book is a useful contribution to Lincoln studies, for it offers a chronologically ordered account of the Lincoln legacy. Anyone seeking to know about poetry, biography, and monuments devoted to him might well begin with this book. Peterson weaves the diverse strands of his subject admirably, capturing not only the detailed and concrete memorials but also the changing spirit behind them. Thus he has made a contribution to the social history of the nation as well."—Stanley Archer, Magill's Literary Annual 1995

"A much needed study that builds on the more narrowly conceived work of Michael Davis and Alfred Jones. It also offers proof that there are still interesting ways of looking at Lincoln."—Kyle S. Sinisi, Society of Civil War Historians Newsletter

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199880027
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 06/01/1995
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 8 MB

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