Lincoln Law Library Historians Re-Examine `Honest' Abe Biography Written by His Partner

Article excerpt

Of the many Abraham Lincoln biographies published after the president's assassination, William Herndon believed only his gave an honest look at the life of Honest Abe.

Lincoln's law partner for more than 20 years penned "Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life," and he hoped the book would become a best seller.

Instead, its controversial accounts of Lincoln's religious skepticism and early romances infuriated Lincoln supporters, experts said. The book, as well as Herndon's speeches about Lincoln, angered Mary Todd Lincoln so much that she called him a "dirty dog."

A first edition of "Herndon's Lincoln" is among several items now on display as part of a rare Herndon exhibit at the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site in Springfield.

Organizers hope the exhibit will spark an interest in Herndon, the junior partner in Lincoln's law firm.

Herndon had "always admired Abraham Lincoln, and when the assassination took place, he was especially appalled at the sanitized biographies that came out," said Kim Bauer, a Lincoln expert at the Illinois State Historical Library.

Letters on display from Lincoln's family, including Mary Todd Lincoln's "dirty dog" accusations, hint at the controversy surrounding Herndon's accounts of Lincoln.

"Revenge is sweet, especially to womankind, but there are some of mankind left who will wreak it upon him," Mary Todd Lincoln wrote soon after Herndon gave well-publicized speeches on Ann Rutledge, a woman he called Lincoln's "true love. …