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Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Wordsby Douglas L Wilson
Winner of the 2007 Lincoln Prize
Synopses & Reviews
Abraham Lincoln now occupies an unparalleled place in American history, but when he was first elected president, a skeptical writer asked, "Who will write this ignorant man's state papers?" Literary ability was, indeed, the last thing the public expected from the folksy, self-educated "rail-splitter," but the forceful qualities of Lincoln's writing eventually surprised his supporters and confounded his many critics. Since his assassination in 1865, no American's words have become more familiar or more admired, and their enduring power has established him as one of our greatest writers. Now, in a groundbreaking study, the distinguished Lincoln scholar Douglas L. Wilson demonstrates that exploring Lincoln's presidential writing provides a window onto his presidency and a key to his accomplishments.
Lincoln's Sword tells the story of how Lincoln developed his writing skills, how they served him for a time as a hidden presidential asset, how it gradually became clear that he possessed a formidable literary talent, and it reveals how writing came to play an increasingly important role in his presidency. "By the time he came to write the Gettysburg Address," Wilson says, "Lincoln was attempting to help put the horrific carnage of the Civil War in a positive light, and at the same time to do it in a way that would have constructive implications for the future. By the time he came to write the Second Inaugural Address, fifteen months later, he was quite consciously in the business of interpreting the war and its deeper meaning, not just for his contemporaries but for what he elsewhere called the 'vastfuture'."
Illustrated with reproductions of Lincoln's original manuscripts, Lincoln's Sword affords an unprecedented look at a distinctively American writer.
"Ever since publication of Garry Wills's Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992), the woods have been alive with considerations of Lincoln's rhetoric, both spoken and written, by among others Henry Mark Holzer, Allen C. Guelzo and Ronald C. White. Thus this new work by Wilson (author of the Lincoln Prize winner Honor's Voice) is necessarily redundant. Wilson's emphasis — aside from placing key remarks into historical context — is on applying excruciatingly detailed and tireless (sometimes tiresome) textual analysis to such utterances as Lincoln's farewell to Springfield, Ill.; the First Inaugural; the July 4th, 1861, message to Congress; the Emancipation Proclamation; and the Gettysburg Address. Robert Lincoln recalled his father as 'a very deliberate writer, anything but rapid.' It is Lincoln's very deliberate, painstaking, multi-draft process that Wilson seeks to document. Readers deeply immersed in Lincoln trivia will find Wilson's intricate forensics inviting. Others, nurturing a more casual interest, will fast find themselves drowned in details of subtle variations between drafts of Lincoln's various major addresses, all so carefully dissected in order to reveal the mechanical, trial-and-error process that lay behind Lincoln's soaring eloquence." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Wilson expertly demonstrates just how much Lincoln used his flair for language to influence public opinion. By the time he was assassinated, it was clear that his pen had become as mighty as any sword." Justin Ewers, Washington Post Book World
"A boomlet of books about Lincoln's oratory has flooded the market in recent years.... All are excellent, but Douglas L. Wilson takes the conversation to an even higher level in Lincoln's Sword... Wilson... restores the humanity behind the famous face." The Los Angeles Times
"A delight... a wonder.... For a few hours your faith will be restored in democracy and politics." The San Francisco Chronicle
"Wilson's may be the finest book yet produced about Lincoln's uncanny creative process." The New York Sun
"Wilson... makes readers feel as if they were sitting at Lincoln's elbow as he writes. A perceptive portrait of Lincoln with pen in hand." Booklist
"Behind a folksy facade, Lincoln was three things a brilliant intellectual, a shrewd politician, and a literary genius. Douglas Wilson shows us how the first two qualities made the third one so effective." Garry Wills, author of Lincoln at Gettysburg
Book News Annotation:
Examining Abraham Lincoln's presidential writing, Wilson (codirector, Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College) comes to the conclusion that it was his most powerful political weapon. He takes the reader on a selective tour of key written texts from Lincoln's tenure, paying attention to such matters as style, rhetorical strategy, and the like, but only in so much as it serves his larger goal of exploring the circumstances behind the creation of the document and the role it played in Lincoln's presidency. Among the documents de discusses are the July 4th address of 1861, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In this fascinating study of the composition, the content, and the intent of Abraham Lincoln's most important presidential writings, one of today's most distinguished Lincoln scholars shows how very carefully Lincoln honed his words to achieve the greatest possible power and persuasiveness.
About the Author
Douglas L. Wilson is co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College. His previous book, Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln, was awarded the Lincoln Prize in 1999. He lives in Galesburg, Illinois.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Springfield Farewell
Chapter Two: A Long Foreground
Chapter Three: A Custom as Old as the Government
Chapter Four: The Message of July 4, 1861
Chapter Five: Proclaiming Emancipation
Chapter Six: Public Opinion
Chapter Seven: Rising with Each New Effort
Chapter Eight: The Gettysburg Address
Chapter Nine: A Truth That Needed to Be Told
Epilogue: A Notable Elevation of Thought
Appendix: Lincoln's Postdelivery Revisions of the Gettysburg Address
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