Cover image for Lincoln as I knew him : gossip, tributes, and revelations from his best friends and worst enemies
Lincoln as I knew him : gossip, tributes, and revelations from his best friends and worst enemies
Holzer, Harold.
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1999.
Physical Description:
269 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 19 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E457.15 .L53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Forget what you think you know about Abraham Lincoln. Yes, he was a brilliant orator, a shrewd politician, and a determined leader who guided us through the bloodiest war in American history. But he also was a terrible dresser, rarely bothered to comb his hair, annoyed his colleagues by constantly reading out loud, loved raunchy stories, and let his kids run all over him.

Author and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer sifted through nineteenth-century letters, diary entries, books, and speeches written by people who knew Lincoln and offers up the real skinny on the man who was arguably America's greatest president. From the famous--Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Ulysses S. Grant--to the not-so-famous--White House secretaries, artists, bodyguards, childhood pals, and a rejected fianc#65533;e--this collection presents a revealing, and at times contradictory, view of our sixteenth president, from his boyhood through his White House years. These firsthand anecdotes and recollections strip away the myths and legends to uncover the authentic Abraham Lincoln before the history books got hold of him.

Author Notes

Harold Holzer is one of the leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. He is a prolific writer and lecturer. He has written, co-written and edited over 30 books including Abraham Lincoln, The Writer (2000), which was named to the Children's Literature Choice List and the Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, and Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President (2004), which won a 2005 Lincoln Prize. He has also written over 425 popular magazine and scholarly journal articles and numerous pamphlets and monographs. He has won numerous awards including the Barondess Award of the Civil War Round Table of New York five times; the Award of Achievement from the Lincoln Group of New York three times; a 1988 George Washington Medal; the 2000 Newman Book Award; and the 2008 National Humanities Medal. He is the Senior Vice President for External Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The effects of biographers to glean the essence from the lives of saints are generally a frustratingly futile task; a full understanding of their passions, motivations, and hopes often seems to lie tantalizingly beyond the writer's grasp. For many Americans, Lincoln is our secular saint, and he, too, remains an elusive but always fascinating figure. This is an eclectic collection of personal remembrances; some are of questionable reliability, and some seem self-serving. Still, one can discern some common threads in Lincoln's personality, including his strong personal drive and ambition, his self-discipline, and his disturbing habit of distancing himself from friends as his station in life advanced. Still, in the end we are left with more questions than answers about Lincoln; his secret joys, his fears, and even his hatreds remain mysteries. Reading this collection is a journey well worth taking, provided one does not expect to find "truth" at the end. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Holzer, compiler of previous Lincoln books (Lincoln on Democracy, etc.), has found a new approach to this most revered yet enigmatic of presidents. He delves into Lincoln's character through the revelations of those who knew himÄsome well, some who met him only once. Holzer located memories from 11 classes of people: family members, personal and political friends, fellow lawyers, journalists and humorists, foreign observers, enemies, military men, authors, artists, African-Americans and White House intimates. One journalist wrote that Lincoln "never hesitated to tell a coarse or even outright nasty story." An old friend observed that he "had no superhuman qualities (which we call genius) but he had those which belong to mankind in general in an astonishing degree." General George McClellan wrote, "The President is nothing but a well meaning baboon." Frederick Douglass, who thought the president too slow to emancipate the slaves and called him "preeminently the white man's president," granted that Lincoln's personal conduct was marked by "his entire freedom from popular prejudice against the colored race." Careful to screen out apocryphal accounts that spread after Lincoln had become famous, Holzer presents a collection that sheds light not only on Lincoln but also on his timesÄtimes that tried many souls. It is inspiring, based on Holzer's selections, to learn how much Lincoln helped to heal those souls. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-A collection of reminiscences that provides a variety of views of the much-studied 16th president. These memories are arranged by the relationship each writer had to Lincoln: family, personal and political friends, fellow lawyers, journalists and humorists, foreign observers, foes, military men, authors, artists, African Americans, and White House intimates. The recollections are drawn from a wide range of primary sources, including the Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress and contemporary newspaper articles. Some of the voices here are quite familiar, such as comments from Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Others are perhaps less recognizable, for example, the (ghost-written) account from Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker and an ex-slave. Several themes emerge, such as Lincoln's much-discussed physical appearance, his frontier humor, his kindheartedness, and his intelligence. Even his foes, for the most part, have something good to say about him, especially when he was long dead and the Civil War memoir was the basis of a cottage industry. Holzer also points out some of Lincoln's less-flattering traits, such as his tendency to "drop longtime acquaintances once he outgrew them, especially after he assumed the presidency." Overall, this collection is a rewarding read as it introduces Lincoln at various stages of his life.-Rebecca L. Wells, UMI, Alexandria, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



"A Splendid and Imposing Figure" William H. Herndon (1818-1891) Law Partner Lincoln's last law partner and one of his most important biographers, Herndon devoted the years after the assassination to laborious research, gathering personal reminiscences from his old friend's earliest acquaintances. When it came to firsthand observations of Lincoln, however, Herndon was perhaps the most valuable witness of all. He shared a Springfield law office with his senior (but equal) partner from 1844 until Lincoln departed for Washington to take the oath of office as president in 1861. Their partnership was never formally dissolved; on paper, at least, it survived until Lincoln's death in 1865. Herndon was also one of Lincoln's most ardent admirers. More liberal on the slavery question, he later claimed to have moved Lincoln politically, but probably exaggerated his influence. Herndon experienced no end of difficulty gathering together Lincoln's biography. His book, subtitled The True Story of a Great Life, did not appear until 1889, by which time its author was fighting a losing battle against alcoholism and poverty. Although some scholars have dismissed the effort as sensationalist, and fatally clouded by his hatred for Mary Lincoln, the book does contain incontestably valuable passages-like the following recollections of Lincoln the talented attorney and indulgent father. A Law office is a dull, dry place so far as pleasurable or interesting incidents are concerned. If one is in search of stories of fraud, deceit, cruelty, broken promises, blasted homes, there is no better place to learn them than a law office. But to the majority of persons these painful recitals are anything but attractive, and it is well perhaps that it should be so. In the office, as in the court room, Lincoln, when discussing any point, was never arbitrary or insinuating. He was deferential, cool, patient, and respectful. When he reached the office, about nine o'clock in the morning, the first thing he did was to pick up a newspaper, spread himself out on an old sofa, one leg on a chair, and read aloud, much to my discomfort. Singularly enough Lincoln never read any other way but aloud. This habit used to annoy me almost beyond the point of endurance. I once asked him why he did so. This was his explanation: "When I read aloud two senses catch the idea: first, I see what I read; second, I hear it, and therefore I can remember it better." He never studied law books unless a case was on hand for consideration-never followed up the decisions of the supreme courts, as other lawyers did. It seemed as if he depended for his effectiveness in managing a law suit entirely on the stimulus and inspiration of the final hour. He paid but little attention to the fees and money matters of the firm-usually leaving all such to me. He never entered an item in the account book. If any one paid money to him which belonged to the firm, on arriving at the office he divided it with me. If I was not there, he would wrap up my share in a piece of paper and place it in my drawer-marking it with a pencil, "Case of Roe vs. Doe.-Herndon's half. . . . . . . He exercised no government of any kind over his household. His children did much as they pleased. Many of their antics he approved, and he restrained them in nothing. He never reproved them or gave them a fatherly frown. He was the most indulgent parent I have ever known. He was in the habit, when at home on Sunday, of bringing his two boys, Willie and Thomas-or "Tad"-down to the office to remain while his wife attended church. He seldom accompanied her there. The boys were absolutely unrestrained in their amusement. If they pulled down all the books from the shelves, bent the points of all the pens, overturned inkstands, scattered law-papers over the floor, or threw the pencils in the spittoon, it never disturbed the serenity of their father's good-nature. . . . Had they s--t in Lincoln's hat and rubbed it on his boots, he would have laughed and thought it smart. . . . Frequently absorbed in thought, he never observed their mischievous but destructive pranks-as his unfortunate partner did, who thought much, but said nothing-and, even if brought to his attention, he virtually encouraged their repetition by declining to show any substantial evidence of parental disapproval. . . . Mr. Lincoln never had a confidant, and therefore never unbosomed himself to others. He never spoke of his trials to me or, so far as I knew, to any of his friends. It was a great burden to carry, but he bore it sadly enough and without a murmur. I could always realize when he was in distress, without being told. He was not exactly an early riser, that is, he never usually appeared in the office till about nine o'clock in the morning. I usually preceded him an hour. Sometimes, however, he would come down as early as seven o'clock-in fact, on one occasion I remember he came down before daylight. If, on arriving at the office, I found him in, I knew instantly that a breeze had sprung up over the domestic sea, and that the waters were troubled. He would either be lying on the lounge looking skyward, or doubled up in a chair with his feet resting on the sill of a back window. He would not look up on my entering, and only answered my "Good morning" with a grunt. I at once busied myself with pen and paper, or ran through the leaves of some books; but the evidence of his melancholy and distress was so plain, and his silence so signifcant, that I would grow restless myself, and finding some excuse to go to the court-house or elsewhere, would leave the room. The door of his office opening into a narrow hallway was half glass, with a curtain on it working on brass rings strung on wire. As I passed out on these occasions I would draw the curtain across the glass, and before I reached the bottom of the stairs I could hear the key turn in the lock, and Lincoln was alone in his gloom. One phase of Lincoln's character, almost lost sight of in the commonly accepted belief in his humility and kindly feeling under all circumstances, was his righteous indignation when aroused. In such cases he was the most fearless man I ever knew. I remember a murder case in which we appeared for the defense, and during the trial of which the judge-a man of ability far inferior to Lincoln's-kept ruling against us. Finally, a very material question, in fact one around which the entire case seemed to revolve, came up, and again the Court ruled adversely. The prosecution was jubilant, and Lincoln, seeing defeat certain unless he recovered his ground, grew very despondent. The notion crept into his head that the Court's rulings, which were absurd and almost spiteful, were aimed at him, and this angered him beyond reason. He told me of his feelings at dinner, and said: "I have determined to crowd the Court to the wall and regain my position before night." From that time forward it was interesting to watch him. At the reassembling of court he arose to read a few authorities in support of his position. In his comments he kept within the bounds of propriety just far enough to avoid a reprimand for contempt of court. He characterized the continued rulings against him as not only unjust but foolish; and, figuratively speaking, he pealed the Court from head to foot. I shall never forget the scene. Lincoln had the crowd, a portion of the bar, and the jury with him. He knew that fact, and it, together with the belief that injustice had been done him, nerved him to a feeling of desperation. He was wrought up to the point of madness. When a man of large heart and head is wrought up and mad, as the old adage runs, "he's mad all over." Lincoln had studied up the points involved, but knowing full well the calibre of the judge, relied mostly on the moral effect of his personal bearing and influence. He was alternately furious and eloquent, pursuing the Court with broad facts and pointed inquiries in marked and rapid succession. I remember he made use of this homely incident in illustration of some point: "In early days a party of men went out hunting for a wild boar. But the game came upon them unawares, and scampering away they all climbed the trees save one, who, seizing the animal by the ears, undertook to hold him, but despairing of success cried out to his companions in the trees, 'For God's sake, boys, come down and help me let go.'" The prosecution endeavored to break him down or even "head him of," but all to no purpose. His masterly arraignment of law and facts had so effectually badgered the judge that, strange as it may seem, he pretended to see the error in his former position, and finally reversed his decision in Lincoln's favor. Use of this excerpt from LINCOLN AS I KNEW HIM may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright c 1999 by Harold Holzer. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies by Harold Holzer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

A Grand Composite Picturep. 1
1. Memories from Familyp. 11
2. Memories from Personal and Political Friendsp. 35
3. Memories from Fellow Lawyersp. 57
4. Memories from Journalists and Humoristsp. 83
5. Memories from Foreign Observersp. 113
6. Memories from Foesp. 131
7. Memories from Military Menp. 145
8. Memories from Authorsp. 163
9. Memories from Artistsp. 181
10. Memories from African-Americansp. 197
11. Memories from White House Intimatesp. 211
A Note on Editorial Methodsp. 249
Notes from the Introductionp. 251
Bibliographyp. 253
Acknowledgmentsp. 259
Lincoln Illustrationsp. 263
Photograph and Illustration Creditsp. 263
Indexp. 265