An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay's Interviews and Essays

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SIU Press, Jan 24, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 167 pages
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John C. Nicolay, who had known Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, served as chief White House secretary from 1861 to 1865. Trained as a journalist, Nicolay had hoped to write a campaign biography of Lincoln in 1860, a desire that was thwarted when an obscure young writer named William Dean Howells got the job. Years later, however, Nicolay fulfilled his ambition; with John Hay, he spent the years from 1872 to 1890 writing a monumental ten-volume biography of Lincoln.

In preparation for this task, Nicolay interviewed men who had known Lincoln both during his years in Springfield and later when he became the president of the United States. "When it came time to write their massive biography, however," Burlingame notes, "he and Hay made sparing use of the interviews" because they had become "skeptical about human memory." Nicolay and Hay also feared that Robert Todd Lincoln might censor material that reflected "poorly on Lincoln or his wife."

Nicolay had interviewed such Springfield friends as Lincolnís first two law partners, John Todd Stuart and Stephen T. Logan. At the Illinois capital in June and July 1875, he talked to a number of others including Orville H. Browning, U.S. senator and Lincolnís close friend and adviser for over thirty-five years, and Ozias M. Hatch, Lincolnís political ally and Springfield neighbor. Four years later he returned briefly and spoke with John W. Bunn, a young political "insider" from Springfield at the time Lincoln was elected president, and once again with Hatch.

Browning shed new light on Lincolnís courtship and marriage, telling Nicolay that Lincoln often told him "that he was constantly under great apprehension lest his wife should do something which would bring him into disgrace" while in the White House. During their research, Nicolay and Hay also learned of Lincolnís despondency and erratic behavior following his rejection by Matilda Edwards, and they were subsequently criticized by friends for suppressing the information. Burlingame argues that this open discussion of Lincolnís depression of January 1841 is "perhaps the most startling new information in the Springfield interviews."

Briefer and more narrowly focused than the Springfield interviews, the Washington interviews deal with the formation of Lincolnís cabinet, his relations with Congress, his behavior during the war, his humor, and his grief. In a reminiscence by Robert Todd Lincoln, for example, we learn of Lincolnís despair at General Lee's escape after the Battle of Gettysburg: "I went into my fatherís office ... and found him in [much]†distress, his head leaning upon the desk in front of him, and when he raised his head there were evidences of tears upon his face. Upon my asking the cause of his distress he told me that he had just received the information that Gen. Lee had succeeded in escaping across the Potomac river. . ."

To supplement these interviews, Burlingame has included Nicolayís unpublished essays on Lincoln during the 1860 campaign and on Lincolnís journey from Springfield to Washington in 1861, essayís based on firsthand testimony.

  

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Contents

THE SPRINGFIELD INTERVIEWS
1
John Todd Stuart
7
Ozias M Hatch
16
Clark M Smith
17
William Butler
18
Milton Hay
25
Jesse K Dubois
29
Henry S Greene
32
Leonard Swett
58
Morton S Wilkinson
59
Stephen A Hurlbut
62
Lyman Trumbull
65
Hannibal Hamlin
67
Joseph Holt
68
Richard M Hoe
77
John M Sherman
79

Peter Van Bergen
33
Stephen T Logan
34
John W Bunn
39
THE WASHINGTON INTERVIEWS
41
Simon Cameron
42
Norman B Judd
44
T Lyle Dickey
48
Hamilton Fish
50
Lafayette Foster
53
Lot M Morrill
54
William M Evarts
56
Ward Hill Lamon
57
James Speed
80
Godlove Orth
82
Edward D Neill
83
OTHER INTERVIEWS AND TWO ESSAYS BY NICOLAY
86
Nathaniel P Banks
87
A Son of John W Crisfield
88
Robert Todd Lincoln
90
Lincoln in the Campaign of 1860
91
Some Incidents in Lincolns Journey from Springfield to Washington
107
Notes
123
Index
159
Copyright

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About the author (2006)

Michael Burlingame, Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus at Connecticut College, is the author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and the editor of ten volumes of primary sources about Lincoln, including With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860?1865. He won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, honorable mention, for his five edited collections of letters, memoranda, editorial essays, lectures, and interviews by Lincoln's White House private secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John M. Hay, all published by Southern Illinois University Press.

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