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Lincoln's Campaign Biographies

Lincoln's Campaign Biographies

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Thomas A. Horrocks


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
168 pages, 5 x 8, 9 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

During the 1860 and 1864 presidential campaigns, Abraham Lincoln was the subject of over twenty campaign biographies. In this innovative study, Thomas A. Horrocks examines the role that these publications played in shaping an image of Lincoln that would resonate with voters and explores the vision of Lincoln that the biographies crafted, the changes in this vision over the course of four years, and the impact of these works on the outcome of the elections.

Horrocks investigates Lincoln’s campaign biographies within the context of the critical relationship between print and politics in nineteenth-century America and compares the works about Lincoln with other presidential campaign biographies of the era. Horrocks shows that more than most politicians of his day, Lincoln deeply appreciated and understood the influence and the power of the printed word. 

The 1860 campaign biographies introduced to America “Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter,” a trustworthy, rugged candidate who appealed to rural Americans. When Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, the second round of campaign biographies complemented this earlier portrait of Lincoln with a new, paternal figure, “Father Abraham,” more appropriate for Americans enduring a bloody civil war.  Closing with a consideration of the influence of these publications on Lincoln’s election and reelection, Lincoln’s Campaign Biographies provides a new perspective for those seeking a better understanding of the sixteenth president and two of the most critical elections in American history.


Thomas A. Horrocks is the director of Special Collections and the John Hay Library at Brown University. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of six books, including The Living Lincoln and President James Buchanan and the Crisis of National Leadership.


"Thomas Horrocks has produced a comprehensive and thoughtful survey of the surprisingly voluminous but under-appreciated collection of campaign biographies about Abraham Lincoln that appeared in 1860 and 1864.  Horrocks details how these earliest Lincoln narratives came about and then carefully analyzes their impact on his evolving national reputation.  This is a must-have addition for the library of any serious Lincoln student."Matthew Pinsker

"For the intensely private Abraham Lincoln, crafting an autobiography was nearly as painful as reading those campaign profiles written about him. As Thomas A. Horrocks demonstrates in this engaging and crisply written study, a series of political writers and editors faced uphill battle in selling the one-term congressman to a skeptical, divided nation, and then selling him again four years later to a war-weary public. Thoughtful, nuanced, yet succinct, Lincoln’s Campaign Biographies can be read with profit by specialists as well as general readers."Douglas R. Egerton, author of Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War

"Thomas Horrocks shines a focused beam on the biographies written to promote Lincoln’s presidential campaigns, turning them into wide-angle lenses that shed light not only on the critical  elections of 1860 and 1864 but also on a wide variety of historical subjects, from the spread of print culture to the fall of the Whig Party.  This is a revealing look at an important technique for making (or unmaking) presidential candidates in the nineteenth century."Gerald J. Prokopowicz, J.D., Ph.D., Chair, History Department, East Carolina University

“Horrocks astutely recognizes that Lincoln understood the power of the written word as well as the power of photography; and that, as a politician, Lincoln expertly used the media and understood its importance to his political successes. Thus, the printed campaign biographies, with their deliberately evocative text and images of Lincoln, are valuable sources for historical analysis. As Horrocks correctly asserts, campaign biographies are ‘a lens through which scholars can examine what party leaders, commercial firms, the American reading public, and, in some cases, candidates, thought were essential qualities of character and leadership’ and how nineteenth-century Americans ‘packaged and promoted these attributes.’”Stacy Pratt McDermott, The Annals of Iowa

“By putting Lincoln’s adroit use of newspapers, photographs, engravings, and songs into the context of the rising interconnection among print, politics, and public opinion, Horrocks offers new insights into how the media of the time took the images of Honest Abe and the Rail Splitter and used them to introduce Lincoln to the Northern public.”—Glenn W. Lafantasie, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Lincoln's Campaign Biographies [is] an excellent book. . . .  Horrocks describes presidential campaign publications such as almanacs, broadsides, newspapers published by political parties, illustrated magazines, sheet music, and songsters, which were collections of song in booklets ranging from 20 to 75 pages.”—Henry S. Cohn, The Federal Lawyer

“Horrocks expertly establishes the nexus of politics and a thriving print culture during the early decades of the nineteenth century.”—Brian Matthew Jordan, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

“An impressive and seminal work of meticulous scholarship, Lincoln's Campaign Biographies is a welcome and invaluable addition to community and academic library Lincoln Studies and 19th Century American Political History reference collections.”—Midwest Book Review

“Engagingly written and intelligently conceived, this brief study of Lincoln's campaign biographies throws new light on the campaigns of 1860 and 1864 and the creation of the Lincoln legend.”—Martin P. Johnson, Journal of Illinois History