Selection of Biographies

“Looking at Lincoln” features a selection of biographies of Abraham Lincoln ranging from early works written during his lifetime right up to more contemporary accounts of his life and career.

D. W. Bartlett, 1828-1912.

The Life and Public Services of Hon. Abraham Lincoln. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860.

This campaign biography played an important role in educating the public about the relatively unknown presidential candidate. D.W. Bartlett was the Washington correspondent of the New York Evening Post and the New York Independent. This second printing claims to be an "authorized" edition, but in fact, it was not; however, it is likely that Lincoln’s supporters suggested changes, notably the removal of a reference to the sherif's sale of Lincoln's surveying equipment to pay off his debts.

Josiah G. Holland, 1819-1881.

The Life of Abraham Lincoln. Springfield, Mass.: Gurdon Bill, 1866.

This book, the first serious biography of Lincoln, introduced to a wide audience many of the stories of Lincoln’s boyhood and family relationships. Holland stressed Lincoln’s Christianity although the President’s personal religious beliefs were never clearly articulated and not specific to any denomination.

Francis B. Carpenter, 1830-1900.

The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866.

In 1864, the artists Francis Carpenter went to Washington to work on a painting of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. He had access to the inner offices of the White House and saw the Lincolns on a daily basis. He published this memoir the year after the assassination, making it one of the earliest histories of the president. It is not an unbiased view as Carpenter was a strong admirer of Lincoln, but provides insight into the daily life of his family.

Max Lange.

Abraham Lincoln Der Wiederhersteller Der Nordamerikanischen Union: Und Der Grosse Kampf Der Nord Und Suüdstaaten Während Der Jahre 1861-1865. Leipzig: O. Spamer, 1866.

This early German biography of Lincoln presents a romantic view of Lincoln, particularly his early life.

Isaac N. Arnold, 1815-1884.

Sketch of the Life of Abraham Lincoln: Compiled in Most Part from the History of Abraham Lincoln, and the Overthrow of Slavery. New York: J.B. Bachelder, 1869.

Isaac Arnold was a close friend of Lincoln. They had practiced law together in Illinois and as a Republican congressman, Arnold was a strong supporter during the Civil War. The book stressed Lincoln’s abolitionism and spiritual beliefs, issues that were questioned in other contemporary biographies.

Ward H. Lamon, 1828-1893.

The Life of Abraham Lincoln; from his Birth to his Inauguration as President. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1872.

Ward Lamon, an Illinois attorney, was a friend and bodyguard to Lincoln during his White House years. This biography was largely ghostwritten and was based on the author’s memories and some papers of William Herndon, which Lamon had purchased. The book was considered scandalous when it was published primarily because it questioned Lincoln’s religious convictions.

William H. Herndon, 1818-1891 and Jesse W. Weik, 1857-1930.

Herndon’s Lincoln: the True Story of a Great Life. Chicago, New York: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889.

William Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner for twenty years and his personal knowledge of the Lincoln family makes this the most important of the early biographies. It is the source of many of the anecdotes used in later books, especially those concerning Lincoln’s early life.

Alexander McClure, 1828-1909.

Abraham Lincoln and Men of War-Times. Philadelphia: the Times Publishing Co., 1892.

McClure was a journalist and political insider who was a great supporter of Lincoln. This book is unusual for the period because of its emphasis on the president as politician and manager rather than as hero and martyr.

John G. Nicolay, 1832-1901.

A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln. New York: The Century Co., 1904.

John Nicolay was Lincoln’s private secretary in the White House. Nicolay and John Hay, who had worked alongside him as assistant secretary to Lincoln, collaborated on the official biography of the 16th president. It appeared in The Century Magazine serially from 1886 to 1890 and was then issued (1890-94) in book form as ten volumes. This abridged version was issued under Nicolay’s name in 1904.

Charles McClellan Stevens.

The Wonderful Story of Lincoln: And the Meaning of His Life for the Youth and Patriotism of America. New York: Cupples & Leon Co, 1917.

This biography for young adults, published shortly after the United States declared war on the German Empire, drew upon the figure of Lincoln as inspiration for the youth of America.

Elbert Hubbard, 1856-1915.

Abe Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. East Aurora, NY: The Roycrofters, 1920.

This tribute to Lincoln’s mother was part of Hubbard’s series of “Little Journeys,” biographies of famous people in many fields of endeavor. Hubbard was an author, publisher, artist, and philosopher who established a utopian community devoted to producing handmade furniture, books, and decoration.

Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967.

Abraham Lincoln. New York: C. Scribner's, 1946.

Written by one of the best known twentieth century American, these biographies are the best-selling, most widely read, and most influential books about Lincoln. They have also provided the basis for many adaptations for various media, including Robert Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Abe Lincoln in Illinois in 1938. The books have been criticized for their romanticism and lack of historical scholarship while still being praised for their lively style and depth of character. This is the scarce “Sangamon Edition,” housed in its original wooden shipping crate.

Ingri and Edgar P. D’Aulaire.

Abraham Lincoln. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1940.

This profile of Abraham Lincoln  won the third annual Caldecott Medal, which recognizes the preceding year's "most distinguished American picture book for children," in 1940.

Virginia Louise Snider Eifert, 1911-1966

Out of the Wilderness: Young Abe Lincoln Grows Up. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1956.

This is the final volume of a biographical trilogy written by this naturalist, author, and artist from Springfield, Illinois.