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Early Lincoln Biographies

The earliest biography of Lincoln was that of John Locke Scripps, written for the 1860 campaign and published by both Horace Greeley and the Chicago Press and Tribune Company. This pamphlet was primarily aimed at promoting Lincoln’s candidacy for President. After 1865, in the wake of the assassination, demand for an accurate record of Lincoln’s life and accomplishments reached a crescendo and a flood of new Lincoln biographies entered the book market.

One of the first of the new biographies was written by newspaper editor Josiah Gilbert Holland of Springfield, Massachusetts, who traveled to Illinois to interview those who had known Lincoln as a young man. Other important works were authored by those who had known Lincoln personally, including Isaac Newton Arnold, an Illinois state legislator and colleague of Lincoln, Lincoln law partner William Henry Herndon, and Ward Hill Lamon, a former Lincoln law partner and bodyguard. Lamon’s biography was disdained by Robert Todd Lincoln as pretentious, but it was also highly controversial with the general public in that it questioned Lincoln’s religious devotion. Another early work was authored by Linus Pierpont Brockett, a physician and historian, who had entered Brown with the Class of 1841 but did not graduate.

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J.G. Holland, The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Springfield, Mass: Gurdon Bill, 1865).

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L.P. Brockett, The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln (Philadelphia: Bradley & Co., 1865).
Gift of Professor William Gammell, LLD, Class of 1831.

Isaac Newton Arnold. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Isaac N. Arnold, The History of Abraham Lincoln (Chicago: Clarke & Co., 1866).

Ward Hill Lamon. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Ward Hill Lamon, The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1872).

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Photo of Robert Todd Lincoln, circa 1865, photographer unknown.
Reproduced from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection of Historical Portraits and Lincolniana.

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“I am exceedingly annoyed at the Artful pretences thrown out in the advertisements of Lamon’s book in the April Atlantic. I wish you would pick up this number & you will see how the impression is conveyed of unlimited trust & confidence on the part of somebody, both living and dead. . . . ”
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". . . I hope when the proper time comes…you use the material taken from Washington and make a respectable book.”
Robert Todd Lincoln to John Hay, April 7, 1872. Gift of the Hay Family.

→ Next: Writing Abraham Lincoln: A History