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About This Collection

This database comprises sheet music from the McLellan Lincoln Collection at the John Hay Library and includes material written between 1859 and 1923. Music written about Lincoln ranges from popular song to compositions for orchestral performance. Although the focus is on Abraham Lincoln, these pieces offer an important resource for understanding the popular context of Lincoln’s life and presidency and, later, the significance of his legacy in American life.

Between 1859 and 1865, popular music about Abraham Lincoln proliferated. Much more than simply suggesting 19th century musical fashions, Lincoln songs are an important source for understanding popular attitudes towards the Illinois candidate, later the 16th President, and his policy agenda. Lincoln appeared in a wide variety of music, including campaign pieces, patriotic war and memorial numbers, emancipation songs, and minstrel music. This music reflects both notes of praise and notes of dissent regarding Lincoln and his presidency: some songs lauded Lincoln, while others disparaged or lampooned him.

Music written about Lincoln since 1865 has tended to emphasize the epic character of Lincoln’s presidency during the national crisis of a civil war, American folk mythology surrounding Lincoln, and the use of Lincoln’s image in contemporary popular culture. Some pieces set Lincoln’s own writings to music, while others memorialize the events of his life or offer a reinterpretation for recent times.

Some broader themes encompassed by this collection include the transformation African-American life from slavery to freedom, the birth and values of the Republican Party, the Civil War and its progress, American patriotism from the Civil War through World War I, and American political culture in general.