Herndon, William Henry

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Herndon, William Henry

William Henry Herndon, 1818–91, friend, law partner, and biographer of Abraham Lincoln, b. Greensburg, Ky. In 1844 he became the junior member of the Springfield, Ill., law firm of Lincoln and Herndon, a partnership that was never dissolved. The two became close friends, and Herndon played a major role in Lincoln's early political career, managing the 1858 campaign against Senator Stephen Douglas. After Lincoln's assassination Herndon collected reminiscences of Lincoln's boyhood and youth from those who had known him and in his old age wrote, with Jesse Weik, Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (3 vol., 1889). In it, Herndon presented a picture of Lincoln intended to counteract the heroic, almost mythical, view of him held by the public. The focus on Lincoln's personal life led to many distortions, however, and in the case of the Ann Rutledge romance, serious inaccuracies. Although his work has been largely discredited, Lincoln scholars owe Herndon a large debt for his assiduous collection of materials relating to Lincoln's life.

See D. H. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon (1948).

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