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Section III: National Leader

One of Lincoln’s greatest achievements was his articulation of a rationale for the Civil War and its sacrifices, shaped to inspire loyal Unionists. His leadership rested far less on coercion than on his faith in what he described as “the power of the right word from the right man to develop the latent fire and […]

Section VII: Lincoln Among Friends

Over the course of his career, Lincoln made many political and legal acquaintances, with some of whom he established close working relationships. His engaging conversation, capacious memory, and skillful storytelling made him entertaining company: more often than not he was the center of a crowd. As a private and self-reliant man, however, he had few […]

Section I: Lincoln the Reader

The writings that gave Lincoln greatest pleasure also gave direction to his native talent. He read, reread, and absorbed the poetic language of the King James translation of the Bible. Lincoln revered Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets for their imagery, metrical rhythms, emotional range, and psychological perception. From memory he could recite long passages from the […]

Lincoln Fires a Union Officer for Disloyalty

When Major John J. Key became the only Union officer to be court- martialed and discharged for “uttering disloyal sentiments,” the final appeal came to Lincoln. Having reviewed the arguments on both sides, Lincoln used his legal expertise to distill his response into a few words. Such disloyalty was “wholly inadmissible,” and Key was to […]

Mill’s Reaction to the Assassination

During the Civil War, the British philosopher and economist J. S. Mill wrote extensively in support of the North. In “The Contest in America” (1862), Mill argued: “The world knows what the question between the North and South has been for many years, and still is. Slavery alone was thought of, alone talked of. Slavery […]

O Captain! My Captain!

Lincoln’s assassination inspired Walt Whitman to write this poem of mourning. It is one of the few poems in which he used a conventional meter and rhyme scheme. His tribute became extremely popular at the time of its first publication, in 1865, and it was the only poem of Whitman’s to be anthologized during his […]

Lincoln Remembered By a Former Slave

In this 1909 tribute to Lincoln delivered to the Republican Club of New York City, Booker T. Washington remembers his mother on the dirt floor of their slave cabin praying that Lincoln would succeed in ending slavery. Now a prominent public figure, the former slave Washington sees Lincoln’s legacy as the “blending of all tongues, […]

Lincoln Urges Immediate Action

By September, Tennessee was under Union control, and this letter to Johnson is considerably more imperative than usual, as Lincoln told him “not a moment should be lost [in] re-inaugurating a loyal state government.” Despite the exigency, Lincoln remained reasonable in his tone, deferring to Johnson’s local knowledge and offering “a few suggestions” only. With […]

The President Demands Better for His Troops

As an active commander in chief, Lincoln personally tested the innovative Spencer repeater carbines, or “navy rifles.” Despite being pressured to approve the weapon, Lincoln demanded its flaws be corrected before it was issued to his troops. This letter shows Lincoln’s sense of responsibility—in word and deed—to the troops and his insistence on high standards. […]

The Commander in Chief Gives an Order

Facing a crisis that threatened the security of Washington, DC, Lincoln erupts at the bureaucratic delay and angrily orders General Charles H. Russell to move troops to Fort Monroe, 180 miles from the capital: “I want you to cut the Knots and send them right along.” In his haste he mistakenly writes “Fort Sumpter” where […]