Tag Archives: Harold Holzer

The historical keynote of the war

Charles Francis Adams was one of many Americans who stood in front of the Capitol 150 years ago to hear Lincoln deliver his second inaugural address.  “That railsplitting lawyer is one of the wonders of the day,” Adams wrote a few days later.  “Once at Gettysburg and now again on a greater occasion he has shown a capacity for rising to the demands of the hour.”  He believed the speech would be “for all time the historical keynote of this war.”

Lincoln himself expected his speech to “wear as well as —perhaps better than—any thing I have produced,” even though it was “not immediately popular.”

Here are a few links to help you commemorate the sesquicentennial of what historian Ronald C. White has called Lincoln’s greatest speech:

Library of Congress

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Holzer on Lincoln and the press

Harold Holzer’s latest book is Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion, which David Reynolds just reviewed for The New York Times.  Here’s a sample of Reynolds’s review:

Abraham Lincoln has been portrayed in many roles — as emancipator, politician, military leader, orator, self-made man and others — but his canny manipulation of the popular press has received little attention. Harold Holzer, a prominent authority on America’s 16th president, opens many vistas on this fascinating topic in his new book, “Lincoln and the Power of the Press,” a monumental, richly detailed portrait of the world of 19th-­century journalism and Lincoln’s relation to it. Holzer demonstrates that even as Lincoln juggled many war-related demands, he kept a close eye on American newspapers and tried to influence them however he could.


Filed under Lincoln Historiography

“Abe Lincoln would not have done it”

Asking what Lincoln would do in a given situation has become a venerable American political tradition.  Bill O’Reilly recently criticized President Obama’s appearance on a comedy website, saying, “All I can tell is you is Abe Lincoln would not have done it. There comes a point when serious times call for serious action.”  Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer disagreed, telling Media Matters that Obama’s use of a humor site to get his message across “is absolutely in the Lincoln tradition.”

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Harold Holzer on truth and fiction in Spielberg’s Lincoln

The eminent Lincoln scholar, who served as a consultant on the film, discusses dramatic license in a piece at the Daily Beast.

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Harold Holzer spotlighted in New York Times

The prolific Lincoln author was the subject of a profile published Sunday:

Mr. Holzer, who uses summer vacations to research and weekends to write, has been hooked on Lincoln for over a half-century, ever since a composition assignment in the fifth grade found him randomly picking the president’s name from a hat. His buddy picked Genghis Khan and eventually became a rock ’n’ roll promoter. (“Whatever you are, be a good one” is bromide advice attributed to Lincoln.)

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Harold Holzer releases new book on emancipation

Harold Holzer, one of America’s most prolific Lincoln scholars, has written a new book on some of the issues surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation.  The book, Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory, is published by Harvard University Press.

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Harold Holzer on the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer has an interesting piece on the Lincoln-Douglas debates in The Washington Post.  He argues that this famous series of confrontations didn’t mark a high point in American political rhetoric.

For months, Newt Gingrich has floated the same challenge to President Obama that underdogs have hurled at their political rivals for more than a century: Let’s debate. And not just once or twice, but many times, with no moderators to intervene or inhibit us. Just two candidates, head to head — Lincoln-Douglas style.

As a Lincoln historian, I’ve studied the famous meetings between challenger Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Stephen A. Douglas that set the prairies on fire during the 1858 U.S. Senate race in Illinois. Gingrich has even called me to discuss them. As I’ve told Gingrich, the problem is that, as famous as the debates are, their reputation far outweighs their value. And they’re hardly an inspiring model for modern candidates seeking to showcase their oratorical skills.

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Lincoln’s voice

Exposure to modern depictions of Lincoln can make it all too easy to forget that he didn’t sound like Gregory Peck, as Harold Holzer reminds a writer from the Daily Mail:

Mr Holzer, who has written more than 40 books on Lincoln and the Civil War, made his assessment after trawling reports of the president’s speaking tours, eyewitness accounts and newspaper commentaries.

His conclusion was that Lincoln was most certainly a tenor.

During earlier research, Mr Holzer found that many first-person accounts of Lincoln’s public speaking were always revealed surprise at his initial sound and appearance.

He said: ‘They all seem to say, for the first ten minutes I couldn’t believe the way he looked, the way he sounded, his accent.

‘But after ten minutes, the flash of his eyes, the ease of his presentation overcame all doubts, and I was enraptured.’

If we could hear Lincoln today, it wouldn’t only be the pitch of his voice that would surprise us.  The way he pronounced his words would also come as a shock.  Here is how Civil War diarist George Templeton Strong recorded Lincoln’s recounting of an anecdote:

‘Wa-al,’ says Abe Lincoln, ‘that reminds me of a party of Methodist parsons that was travelling in Illinois when I was a boy thar and had a branch to cross that was pretty bad—ugly to cross, ye know, because the water was up.  And they got considerin’ and discussin’ how they should git across it, and they talked about for two hours, and one on ‘em thought they had ought to cross one way when they got there, and another another way, and they got quarrellin’ about it, till at last an old brother put in, and he says, says he, “Brethren, this here talk ain’t no use.  I never cross a river until I come to it.”’


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