With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln

With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln

by Stephen B. Oates

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“Full, fair, and accurate. . . . Certainly the most objective biography of Lincoln ever written.” —Pulitzer Prize-winner David Herbert Donald, New York Times Book Review

From preeminent Civil War historian Stephen B. Oates comes the book the Washington Post hails as “the standard one-volume biography of Lincoln.” Oates’ With Malice Toward None is recognized as the seminal biography of the Sixteenth President, by one of America’s most prominent historians.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061952241
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/30/2009
Series: Harper Perennial
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 168,983
File size: 664 KB

About the Author

Stephen B. Oates is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. His books include Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln. Oates has been awarded numerous honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and Nevins-Freeman Award of the Civil War Round Table of Chicago for lifetime achievement in the field of Civil War studies.

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With Malice Toward None

Outside of Illinois, People knew little about him. Even newspapers were conspicuously reticent about his life and background. All most could say was that he hailed from Illinois, that he had served a single term in Congress and had lost a bitter Senate contest to Stephen A. Douglas a couple of years before. And now, in the summer of 1860, he was the Republican candidate for President of the United States in what promised to be the most combustible election the Union had ever known. In the South, Democrats who understood nothing about the candidate as a man, nothing at all, castigated him as a symbol of "Black Republicanism"—a "sooty and scoundrelly" abolitionist who wanted to free the slaves and mongrelize the white race. In the North, Democratic papersdisparaged him as a party hack and a political unknown who lacked the ability to serve as President. Even many Republicans were hard-pressed to talk specifically about their candidate, to sell voters on his appeal and his talents. Some party bosses mistakenly thought his first name was "Abram," and various newspapers persisted in calling him that.

"There are thousands who do not yet know Abraham Lincoln," observed Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, and he called for the publication of an inexpensive biography that Republicans could read and circulate across the North. As several writers set about compiling their own profiles (one inevitably called him "Abram" Lincoln), Joseph Medill out in Chicago decided that a terse campaign biography should be prepared under the auspices of the Chicago Press & Tribune, Medill's influential Republican newspaper. Medill assigned senioreditor John Locke Scripps to write the portrait, and Scripps caught a train for Springfield, where Lincoln lived and practiced law.

Scripps called on Lincoln in his Springfield office and found him besieged with Republican bigwigs, office seekers, and reporters (Mr. Lincoln, what are your plans? policies? Cabinet choices? Mr. Lincoln, what will you do if you are elected and the slave states secede?). It was sometime early in June, and the air was scented with summer smells; outside, hogs rooted in the dirt streets, wagons jingled by, and people strolled about the public square.Lincoln shooed people out of his office and closed the door so that Scripps could interview him in private. The candidate was tall and melancholy, with coarse black hair, large ears, a hawkish face, and long and bony limbs. As he commented on his rise to prominence and the impending campaign, Scripps took notes and urged Lincoln to talk more about himself. "The chief difficulty I had," Scripps reported later, "was to induce him to communicate the homely facts of his youth." "Why, Scripps," Lincoln protested, "it is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life. It can be all condensed into a simple sentence, and that sentence you will find in Gray's Elegy, 'The short and simple annals of the poor.' That's my life, and that's all you or any one else can make out of it."

The truth was that Lincoln felt embarrassed about his log-cabin origins and never liked to talk about them. In fact, he had worked all his adult life to overcome the limitations of his frontier background, to make himself into a literate and professional man who commanded the respect of his colleagues. So if he ever discussed his boyhood or his parents, said William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, "it was with great reluctance and significant reserve. There was something about his origin he never cared to dwell on."

Still, Lincoln conceded that it might be well for Scripps to write a brief, authorized biography, so that the public might know the essential facts of his life ... like the fact that his first name was Abraham, not Abram, as he was tired of pointing out. To ensure factual accuracy, Lincoln even agreed to furnish a summary of his early life and career. As he spoke, Scripps noted, Lincoln "seemed to be painfully impressed with the extreme poverty of his early surroundings, and the utter absence of all romantic and heroic elements." At least that was how Lincoln remembered things now, as a selfmade lawyer reaching for the highest office in the land. He told Scripps a few details about his ancestry, but warned that he did not want them published.

Later, after Scripps had gone, Lincoln toiled over an autobiographical sketch in which he referred to himself as "A." It was little more than an outline—as lucid, exact, and careful as he could make it, but an outline all the same. Because he could not bring himself to compose a full record of his life—that lay in uncertain fragments in a thousand letters, speeches, and newspaper clippings, in family trunks with their photographs and memorabilia, and in the diaries and recollections of his family, friends, colleagues, and adversaries. No, not a complete record of his life, because there was much about himself he would never reveal ... much about his parents and their backgrounds and deficiencies he refused to make public for the opposition to exaggerate and use against him. No, not a complete record of his life—not so much as a glimpse of who he was, of how he had suffered and what he had come to know in the decades since he had romped and roamed andbrooded and labored in the fields and creek bottoms of his youth. Still, he must have paused from time to time in his composition and thought back over those faded years, recalling some half-forgotten episode of his boyhood (a storm, a dream) and listening to the echoes of his past.

With Malice Toward None. Copyright (c) by Stephen B. Oates . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wanted to read a bio on Lincoln that was as basic, thourough, and enjoyable as possible. For anybody, who has yet to read anything about Lincoln, start here. Oats traces the life and career of Lincoln in a narrative that is easy to read while conveying the most important facts about his life and career, and those who surrounded him who shaped his presidency and influence on slavery and the Civil War. A must read, for anybody wanting to get a picture of his leadership qualities and how he saved the union and ended slavery, standing behind his principles that make him one of the most admired figures in American history.
JoeClark More than 1 year ago
One of the very best books I've ever read.
Father_of_5_Boys More than 1 year ago
I'm guessing that there are books that give a lot more detail on Lincoln, but to me, this book gave a perfect overview - just enough detail while not overwhelming. It helped me start to come to grips with Lincoln as a real-life person as opposed to the icon I have in my mind. The part that intrigued me the most was his lawyering days in Springfield and his died-in-the-wool Whig days. Rather than being a saint, it made me realize that he played partisan politics just like everybody else. The other thing that struck me was how little faith people had in him and how uncertain everything was. Today we just take it for granted that he was one of the greatest, if not the greatest President of all time, but that sure wasn't people's view back then. And now it's easy to look back on the Civil War and see what seemed like an inevitability, that the North would win, but it sure wasn't a sure thing back then.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Oates does an excellent job of presenting Abraham Lincoln in his entirety. Lincoln has been lifted to such a high place in American history it is easy to forget he was a real person with faults and eccentricities just like everyone else. Mr. Oates brings Lincoln down to our level where we can understand and appreciate him.
Jessica217 More than 1 year ago
Abraham Lincoln is my favorite President. Just wish they could change the ending :( Can't write anything about him that I'm not interested it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oates details the life of this fascinating and inspiring man. He gives details to bring out the personality and truggles of Lincoln while at the same time writing in a style that is easy to follow and comfortable to read.
vibrantminds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book addresses Abraham Lincoln on a more personal side. We come to see Lincoln¿s awkward appearance, self doubts, personal struggles in relationships, and his often reflection on mortality. We follow Lincoln through his earliest beginnings in Kentucky to which he was embarrassed to come from a family of illiterates to his eventual election as president of the United States. Lincoln wanted something better for himself, so sought to educate himself and improve his circumstance. His political career begins as a lawyer, his run for the Senate, to his presidential election. The conflicts of the Civil War reflected heavily on him. He was inexperienced and waivered on how to deal with war and slavery. The book brought Lincoln to a level where the average person can relate to him and not only see him as one of the ¿greats¿ of our time. He had insecurities and problems like the rest of us.
BobNolin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Deserves all of the accolades it has received. Very well done, very readable biography. Highly recommended.
drneutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Abraham Lincoln is one of the giants of American history. By this, I mean that so much has been written about him and his times that it's hard to get one's arms around the subject. Just like Washington and Jefferson, one could spend a lifetime of reading and find that there's still more to be read. Where to start?With Malice Toward None serves well as an introductory biography of Lincoln. On the one hand, Oates makes his subject come alive. On the other hand, Lincoln is more than he appears here. I left this work wanting to dig much deeper - perhaps that's the best recommendation for a popular biography of such a complex man.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this small but valuable volume, Oates explores the reality beyond the two sources of Lincoln myth: the primary myth of a saintly and folkloric Lincoln of Carl Sandburg and a secondary myth of the 'white honky' Lincoln of the 1970's revisionists. Oates emphasizes that Lincoln drew deeply upon the "spirit of his age", which was a profoundly revolutionary time across the world. Oates relates how Lincoln absorbed one of the core lessons of America from the example of Henry Clay: : "in this country one can scarcely be so poor, but that, if he will, he can acquire sufficient education to get through the world respectably". That slavery was the cause of the Civil War is beyond all doubt. As Oates explains, however, the North did not go to war to free the slaves. In the standard phrasing, the North went to war to 'preserve the union'. Oates explores Lincoln's fears that the spread of slavery in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision would lead to the destruction of democratic society. The debate then still raged on the world stage whether a republican form of government could last. Lincoln rejected the "ingenious sophism" that states could freely leave the Union. "With rebellion thus sugar coated [southern leaders] have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years." Secession posed nothing less than a final challenge to popular government. If a minority could destroy the government any time it felt aggrieved, then no government could endure. Thus the war had to be fought to preserve not just the American Republic, but the possibility of republican government. Lincoln did in fact oppose slavery from early on. His views on racial matters apart from slavery became more fully progressive over time. Lincoln, however, hoped that slavery would slowly melt away in a losing competition with free labor and that liberated slaves would resettle in Africa. It is part of Lincoln's greatness that he later gave up these views. Oates explores this evolution in his thinking. Oates debunks the notion that the Emancipation Proclamation was unimportant in liberating the slaves. Oates also refutes the notion that Lincoln would have favored an easy hand during Reconstruction. On the contrary, the evidence strongly suggests he would have led the so-called Radical Republicans. Highly recommended for any reader with an interest in Lincoln, the Civil War era, or really pretty much any American.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good read for anyone interested in Lincoln.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Very interesting reading
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very well written book about Lincoln's life before and after he took office. It was easy to understand and enjoyable at the same time. From reading this book, I received a different perspective of Lincoln. I saw the man he really was, almost as if I were standing in his shoes. Overall, a great book and for anyone that wants to learn about Lincoln's, a man of rich humanity.
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I loved this book but I hated the ending. After the death of Lincoln, I felt as though the author was sprinting to the end. The story felt unfinished to me.
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