The Living Lincoln:
The man and his times, in his own words
Edited by Paul M. Angle and Earl Schenck Miers, The Living Lincoln is a historical work that was first published in 1955 and was reissued by Barnes & Noble, Inc. in 1992. Its contents were gathered from a nine volume edition of Lincoln’s writings. The Living Lincoln itself is a sizable work—over six hundred pages long. Even so, it is not overwhelming because, unlike a dry history, this book breathes with life and unfolds with a tremendous sense of immediacy.
The editors provide the necessary context for the letters, speeches, and other writings that appear in this volume. There are even some samples of Lincoln’s poetry which, I think, are quite good. For example:
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.
In this stanza is a slight indication of Lincoln’s skillful use of language, plus his rather melancholic nature. At times he suffered from severe attacks of depression, not just during but long before the Civil War. Perhaps it was the burden of this affliction that helped to refine and strengthen his character. Those bouts of depression may have been the source of his humility and compassion, and they may have prepared him to face the bloody and tragic war that would be fought during his presidency.
Lincoln had the courage to face the fact that a contradiction was growing like a cancer in this country. If a foundational American principle was that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—then slavery had to go. Moreover, repudiating in advance the arguments of some historians that the Civil War was not about slavery, Lincoln stated:
“Without slavery the [South’s] rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.”
Perhaps it can be argued that the above point is overly simplistic. But if there were other sources of conflict between the North and the South, it seems clear to me that slavery was the exacerbating factor; in the absence of which the Civil War would never have happened.
In any case, The Living Lincoln immerses the reader into the most important chapter in American history—and into the life of that history’s greatest leader. Abraham Lincoln embodied the spirit of this country, including its defects and moral blind-spots. For example, some of his opinions were plainly racist, especially if judged by today’s standards. And while I do not pooh-pooh such things, they do not prompt me to damn the memory of Lincoln, a la “cancel culture”; especially when I take into account his struggle against a form of racism that was a thousand times more oppressive and evil. It was a struggle that cost the lives of over 300,000 Union troops and over 200,000 Confederacy troops.
Lincoln himself was shot, I daresay martyred, on Good Friday, 1865.