A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White Jr – Review
A. Lincoln is a large biography that reads like a novel. Despite being a lifelong Illinois resident (the Land of Lincoln), this is the first biography of the 16th U.S. President that I’ve read. While this book is not the most extensive bio of Lincoln, it feels like an excellent place to start when learning about perhaps our greatest president.
Ronald C. White Jr. does an amazing job of mixing speeches with biographical information from A. Lincoln and other important people during Lincoln’s life. White Jr. also wrote The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words, so it makes sense that the president’s speeches, letters, and notes make up a healthy portion of this biography.
The Gettysburg Address
In this famous speech, “Lincoln did not use one first-person singular pronoun…It was if Lincoln disappeared so that transcendent truths could appear.” In this and nearly all of Lincoln’s speeches he expertly mixed high and low culture to appeal to the largest possible audience. It was this ability that made Abe excel as a lawyer and politician.
White Jr. details all of Abe’s best speeches, breaking them apart to explain their meaning. Analysis of these speeches makes this book worth reading. But even beyond this, A. Lincoln does a superb job fleshing out the moments that led Abe to the White House and his tenure as president.
Slavery and Civil War
White Jr. covers a lot of the internal struggles Honest Abe had in regards to politics and of course slavery. Most sources show that Lincoln always despised slavery. But as a politician, he felt bound to the Constitution. As president, he worked gradually and then much faster at the need to abolish slavery while at the same time preserving the Union.
Abraham Lincoln’s life has been studied and discussed for a long time. His presidency came at a time when the country was on the brink of Civil War and split like never before. In many ways, Lincoln was the perfect person to deal with the most imperfect time the United States had faced up to that point. And like any human, he was not perfect.
Lincoln was loyal to a fault, especially in his first two years in office. He respected his Generals even when they failed to act. But as he learned more about military strategy and gained experience, Lincoln became much better at being the Commander in Chief, especially with promoting Ulysses S. Grant.
Throughout the book, A. Lincoln provides a lot of insight into the life of Lincoln. He earned so many nicknames, including “Father Abraham” as he aged rapidly in his final years.
More to Learn
The book ends abruptly as did Lincoln’s life. There is little information on the aftermath of his assassination. And other aspects of his presidency are ignored entirely; most notably work on the Transcontinental Railroad.
There are many more biographies on Lincoln that I will try to read over time. But Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 is one I am tackling next to gain insight and see Lincoln’s involvement. This was also one of the most country-changing events that took place at the same time as the Civil War and in many ways because of the Civil War.