Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words

by Douglas L. Wilson

From the publisher:
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‘vast future.’ ”

Illustrated with reproductions of Lincoln’s original manuscripts, Lincoln’s Sword affords an unprecedented look at a distinctively American writer.

Douglas L. Wilson is codirector 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.

From the critics:
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, multidraft 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