Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
PREVIEW: Lincoln's Legend & Legacy
lINCOLN'S LEGEND AND LEGACY
Watch Video
Read Transcript
Comment
APRIL 10, 2009

THE LINCOLN ANTHOLOGY: GREAT WRITERS ON HIS LIFE AND LEGACY FROM 1860 TO NOW is a collection of more than 90 authors from across the years who create a constantly evolving portrait of the man whose shadow keeps lengthening across our history. Below you'll find some selections from the book in PDF form, as well as links to original sources on the Internet and other Lincoln materials.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
In 1862 Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote "Chiefly About War Matters" for the ATLANTIC MONTHLY. So irreverent was his portrayal of Lincoln that the publishers refused to print the whole piece. In protest he added a series of humorous editorial "footnotes," written in the voice of a somewhat dimwitted editor. As part of its compendium of ATLANTIC writing on Lincoln, the magazine reprinted the original, complete with Hawthorne's notes on the editor's cuts.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher StowePopular legend has it that when meeting the author of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, Abraham Lincoln stated "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" Stowe had visited Lincoln with the intention of pushing for emancipation. She later wrote of Lincoln: "Among the many accusations which in hours of ill luck have been thrown out upon Lincoln, it is remarkable that he has never been called self-seeking or selfish. When we who are troubled and sat in darkness, and looked doubtfully towards the presidential chair, it was never that we doubted the goodwill of our pilot--only the clearness of his eyesight. But Almighty God has granted to him that clearness of vision which he gives to the true-hearted, and enabled him to set his honest foot in that promised land of freedom which is to be the patrimony of all men, black and white-and from henceforth the nations shall rise up and call him blessed."

Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley
Anti-slavery journalist Horace Greeley famously cornered Lincoln on the issue of abolition in a editorial in his paper the NEW YORK TRIBUNE entitled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions:" "DEAR SIR: I do not intrude to tell you--for you must know already--that a great proportion of those who triumphed in you election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression of the Rebellion now desolating our country, are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels." Lincoln replied to Greeley with a public letter.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx wrote about Lincoln and the Civil War on several occasions. He also penned the Address of the International Working Men's Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, which begins: "We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery." The letter was presented to U.S. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams on January 28, 1865.

Herman Melville

Herman Melville
THE MARTYR
(Indicative of the Passion of the People on the 15th Day of April, 1865)

GOOD Friday was the day
Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm--
When with yearning he was filled
To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson's public eulogy for Lincoln, Remarks at the Funeral Services Held in Concord, APRIL 19, 1865 were carried in newspapers around the nation. "We meet under the gloom of a calamity which darkens down over the minds of good men in all civil society, as the fearful tidings travel over sea, over land, from country to country, like the shadow of an uncalculated eclipse over the planet. Old as history is, and manifold as are its tragedies, I doubt if any death has caused so much pain to mankind as this has caused, or will cause, on its announcement ; and this, not so much because nations are by modern arts brought so closely together, as because of the mysterious hopes and fears which, in the present day, are connected with the name and institutions of America."

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman
No American author other than Carl Sandberg is as closely associated with Lincoln than Whitman. His famous elegiac poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" spoke of a nation grieving:

Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep'd
    from the ground, spotting the gray debris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the
    endless grass,
Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its shroud in
    the dark-brown fields uprisen,
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave, Night and day journeys a coffin.

More about Walt Whitman's life and work.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Frederick Douglass
The bicentennial of Lincoln has resulted in several new works of history on the relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In his Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln delivered at the Unveiling of The Freedmenís Monument in 1876, Douglass noted Lincoln's difficult political and social balancing act: "Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined."

Harriet Beecher Stowe
W.E.B. Dubois
After he wrote a brief assessment of Lincoln in the magazine THE CRISIS in 1922, Dubois was inundated with correspondence saying he had done the great man wrong. He responded: "Some may prefer to believe (as one correspondent intimates) that he was of Mayflower ancestry through the 'Lin-coins of Hingham!' Others may refuse to believe his taste in jokes and political maneuvers and list him as an original abolitionist and defender of Negroes. But personally I revere him the more because up out of his contradictions and inconsistencies he fought his way to the pinnacles of earth and his fight was within as well as without. I care more for Lincoln's great toe than for the whole body of the perfect George Washington, of spotless ancestry, who 'never told a lie' and never did anything else interesting. "Again Lincoln," THE CRISIS, September 1922.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg's biographies were best sellers — and instrumental in creating a popular image of Lincoln as everyman and native moralist: "He reads early and late with his underlip stuck far out. He sees his sister die in childbirth, his friend go insane. 'Thar's suthin' peculiarsome about Abe.' He broods in the wilderness. When he is 21, fourteen young oxen haul the Lincoln menage to Goose Nest Prairie, Ill. Abe has been down the Mississippi; he goes again, sees a slave auction. His notion of his nation grows."

Purchase THE LINCOLN ANTHOLOGY from ShopPBS.org.

Related Media:
Katherine Newman, photo by Robin Holland Historian Eric Foner on "Our Lincoln"
As Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial birthday approaches, Bill Moyers sits down with historian and Lincoln biographer Eric Foner to discuss the legacy and the legend of America's most studied president. (February 6, 2009)

Katherine Newman, photo by Robin HollandMoyers on Lincoln
Bill Moyers reflects on the Lincoln legacy. "I had a history professor at the University of Texas - Robert Cotter - who believed the most remarkable quality of Abraham Lincoln was his empathy for people he didn't personally know. The working man. The soldier in battle. His widow and orphans." (February 6, 2009)

OLOOKING FOR LINCOLN
In this PBS special Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s quest to piece together Abraham Lincolnís complex life takes him from Illinois to Gettysburg to Washington, D.C., and face-to-face with people who live with Lincoln every day Ė relic hunters, re-enactors, and others for whom the study of Lincoln is a passion. The Web site also includes maps of Lincoln sites in the U.S., a Lincoln knowledge quiz, and an interactive timeline.

OAMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" premieresd February 9, 2009 (check local listings.) You can also view the entire show online.


Katherine Newman, photo by Robin HollandJames H. Cone
With the noose and the lynching tree entering the national discussion in the wake of recent news events, Bill Moyers interviews theologian James Cone about how these powerful images relate to the symbol of the cross and how they signify both tragedy and triumph. (November 23, 2007)

References and Reading:
The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress
Explore Lincoln first-hand. The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 20,000 documents. Most of the 20,000 items are from the 1850s through Lincoln's presidential years, 1861-65. Treasures include Lincoln's draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, his March 4, 1865, draft of his second Inaugural Address, and his August 23, 1864, memorandum expressing his expectation of being defeated for re-election in the upcoming presidential contest.

New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World
Listen to Eric Foner's presentation to a special panel discussion of Lincoln's legacy. Additional audio highlights include: Sean Wilentz on Lincoln's evolving position in the context of party politics; John Oakes considers Lincoln's views on race and citizenship and also essays on Lincoln's literary style, religious beliefs, and family life.

"Lincoln's Contested Legacy," Philip B. Kunhardt III, SMITHSONIAN magazine, February 2009.
The article, by the co-author of the 2008 book LOOKING FOR LINCOLN traces the changing view of Lincoln over the past 200 years. Kunhardt notes: "He has been lifted up by both sides of the Temperance Movement; invoked for and against federal intervention in the economy; heralded by anti-communists, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy, and by American communists, such as those who joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the fight against the fascist Spanish government in the 1930s. Lincoln has been used to justify support for and against incursions on civil liberties, and has been proclaimed both a true and a false friend to African-Americans." The Smithsonian site also links to a wealth of other bicentennial features.

Also This Week:

LINCOLN'S LEGEND & LEGACY
Assassinated on Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln was transformed from man to martyr and myth. In this special performance edition of Bill Moyers Journal acclaimed actor Sam Waterston and historian Harold Holzer explore Lincoln's legacy and legend in poetry and prose by great American writers across the decades who have wrestled to define the true Lincoln through the lens of their own times.

LINCOLN IN LITERATURE
A selection of the entries from THE LINCOLN ANTHOLOGY, additional readings and Lincoln video and Web resources.

TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF LINCOLN
View a photo essay of America's number one icon.

MOYERS ON AMERICAN HISTORY Faith, race, immigration, inequality ó trace the roots of contemporary American issues with this review of JOURNAL presentations on air and online.

TALK BACK: THE MOYERS BLOG
Our posts and your comments
OUR POSTS
YOUR COMMENTS
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ   
SIGN UP FOR BLOG UPDATES AND PODCASTSEMAIL US