About the Exhibition

“Lincoln Speaks: Words that Transformed a Nation,” co-curated by The Gilder Lehrman Institute and The Morgan Library and Museum, presents a fascinating and varied look at how Abraham Lincoln’s language and words changed history. Abraham Lincoln delighted in the rich possibilities of language. Throughout his life, he strove to honor the written and spoken word. […]

In the trenches

A dead Confederate soldier in the trenches of Fort Mahone, also known as “Fort Damnation,” Virginia, 1865

Confederate soldier

Photograph, Confederate soldier killed at Petersburg, Virginia, 1864.

Union dead

Union soldiers killed while charging a Confederate artillery battery at Antietam, Maryland, 1862.

Section V: Healing a Nation

Lincoln was a kindly man, who by his own estimate probably had “too little” of the feeling of personal resentment —“a man has not time to spend half his life in quarrels,” he reflected. He saw the irony that, as someone who did not bear a grudge, he had found himself at the center of […]

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 […]

Section IV: The Emancipator

Lincoln felt strongly the injustice of slavery. “I am naturally anti-slavery,” he wrote in 1864. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.” Yet he was careful never to describe it as a sin: Southerners were the victims of their particular circumstances. During […]

Section VIII: Lincoln In the Eyes of the World

Lincoln’s horizons extended across the nineteenth-century world. Deeming the Union the “last, best hope of earth,” he defined the Civil War as more than an American crisis. The struggle presented “to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic . . . can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own […]

Section IX: A Man for All Time

Lincoln’s words have lived on, thanks to their iteration by others as well as through their own intrinsic power. American political leaders, poets, playwrights, novelists, literary critics, theologians, journalists, and others have been inspired, challenged, and sometimes affronted by his sentiments. Lincoln has also spoken—and continues to speak—to people throughout the world. Karl Marx judged […]

Section II: The Politician

Lincoln’s public career coincided with the maturing of a democratic, two-party system marked by boisterous campaigning and torrents of rhetoric. Whether working for his own election or that of others, he showed an aptitude for the new politics and connected easily with the public. In the main he spoke extemporaneously, but he prepared notes for […]