Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Essential Lincoln: Speeches and Correspondence

by Orville Vernon Burton

From the publisher:
Edited by the author of The Age of Lincoln (2007), this anthology calls attention to Lincoln’s devotion to constitutional law and the principles of equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Besides the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, which respectively exhort and admonish an American people rent by civil war, Burton chooses orations and letters that Lincoln composed with persuasive intent. The election speeches he picks represent Lincoln balancing his antislavery convictions and his ambition to win before deeply prejudiced constituencies. The wartime public messages reflect Lincoln’s transition from disclaiming abolition of slavery to effecting emancipation, and his public letters defend controversial policies, such as the suspension of habeas corpus. Burton’s focus compels him to omit Lincoln’s military missives, a defensible decision for introducing readers to Lincoln-on-democracy and one that creates space for examples of private correspondence that express his famed compassion. Every collection needs some Lincoln unmediated, a library requirement that this set of 29 selections ably meets.

“Orville Vernon Burton notes that ‘Lincoln chose his words deliberately,’ and so does Burton. His introductions and editorial notes are concise, lively, and reliable, and Lincoln’s words, as always, are gripping, brilliant, and deeply moving. There have been many collections of Lincoln’s writings, but this slender, thoughtfully selected compendium more than lives up to its title: essential.” —Harold Holzer, co-chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission