"We Are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends/Lincoln's Constitution/Abraham Lincoln's Political Faith/Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party during the Civil War/Lincoln's Last Months/War of Words: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Press

By McColley, Robert | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

"We Are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends/Lincoln's Constitution/Abraham Lincoln's Political Faith/Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party during the Civil War/Lincoln's Last Months/War of Words: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Press


McColley, Robert, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


"We are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends. By David Herbert Donald (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003. Pp. viii, 269. Illus., index. Cloth, $25.00) .

Lincoln's Constitution. By Daniel Farber (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Pp. vi, 240. Index. Cloth, $27.50).

Abraham Lincoln's Political Faith. By Joseph R. Fornieri. (DeKaIb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003. Pp. x, 209. Bib., index. Cloth, $38.00).

Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party during the Civil War. By Michael S. Green (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004. Pp. xvii, 400. Bib., index. Cloth, $65.00).

Lincoln's Last Months. By William C. Harris (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 303. Illus., index. Cloth, $27.95).

War of Words: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Press. By Harry J. Maihafer. (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, Inc., 2001. Pp. viii, 296. Illus., bib., index. Paper, $18.95).

David Herbert Donald has added a valuable supplement to his recent biography of Abraham Lincoln. "We Are Lincoln Men" explores Lincoln's friendships for which sufficient evidence has survived to permit meaningful analysis. Expressing in his introduction genuine surprise that Lincoln had so few such friendships, Donald then defines friendship in ways both classical and modern that exclude mere comrades and acquaintances. In the United States we have long described as friends people we see frequently at work or play; Donald obviously means much more than this. Drawing on ancient wisdom and modern psychology, he posits three types of friendship: shared interests, especially for hobbies and other pleasurable activities; mutual support in pursuing common goals; and most powerful of all, the deep friendship "in which there is free sharing of ideas, hopes, wishes, ambitions, fears." (xv)

Four friends receive a chapter each: Joshua F. Speed, William H. Herndon, Orville H. Browning, and William H. Seward. A concluding chapter considers two intimate friends who were much younger than Lincoln, John George Nicolay and John Hay, the President's private secretaries. Speed shared lodgings with Lincoln when both were young bachelors in Springfield; their close friendship never ended entirely, but attenuated after Speed's permanent return to his native Kentucky, the friends' respective marriages, and the immersion of each in his career. But Speed served Lincoln well during the Civil War, helping keep Kentucky loyal, and his brother James eventually served Lincoln as his second Attorney General. Herndon, of course, was Lincoln's chosen partner for eighteen years practicing law in Springfield, as well as a tireless if somewhat eccentric biographer. Browning, a native of Kentucky and resident of Quincy, had served in the state legislature as a Whig. Long a respected acquaintance in law and politics, he became Lincoln's close friend and advisor following the election of 1860, especially after Governor Yates appointed him to serve the balance of Stephen A. Douglas' term in the United States Senate. A determined Unionist, Browning was a pillar of strength until Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. As the war to save the Union became also a war to end slavery, friendship ended. By that time Lincoln felt sufficiently comfortable with his young secretaries that they became friends as well as employees. Meanwhile, rather against anyone's expectations, secretary of State Seward had become Lincoln's closest friend in his cabinet. This took several months, in which Lincoln quietly taught Seward how thoroughly he had underestimated him.

Lincoln's youthful friendship with Joshua Speed was probably the closest to perfect friendship he ever came. The brilliant and eccentric Herndon obviously maintained the longest active friendship with Lincoln. Theirs was a mutually beneficial relationship, and was probably a necessary part of Lincoln's ascent to greatness. During the eighteen months Lincoln and Browning were pursuing common goals, their political cooperation blossomed into genuine friendship, but the friendship could not survive when their goals sharply diverged. …

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