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Lincoln's New Salem

Lincoln's New Salem

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Benjamin P. Thomas


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
218 pages, 5 x 7.5, 21 illustrations


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About the Book

This authoritative classic tells the story of the Illinois village on the Sangamon River in which Abraham Lincoln lived from 1831 to 1837. Benjamin P. Thomas’s three-part examination of the town often referred to as Lincoln’s “alma mater” features the founding and early history of New Salem, Lincoln’s impact on the village and its effect on him, and the story of the Lincoln legend and the reconstruction of the town. 

Lincoln’s New Salem highlights the young Lincoln’s arrival, his important wrestling match with Jack Armstrong, his self-education, his brief military career in the Black Hawk War, his experience as a postmaster largely indifferent to postal regulations, his financial woes with the general store, and his election to the state legislature. Making the point that New Salem was where Lincoln acquired faith in himself and in other people, Thomas introduces us to those who created New Salem and who knew, influenced, and befriended Lincoln, delving into his relationships with his neighbors and the loyal friends who often came to his aid.

This colorful history closes with a discussion of the Lincoln legend, which prompted the gradual realization that New Salem was not a dismal mire from which Abraham Lincoln had to extricate himself but was, in fact, an energizing force. This realization led to research and finally to the restoration of New Salem, which began in 1932. The preservation of the village remains vitally important. 

First published in 1934 and revised by the author in 1954, this reissue includes a previously unpublished piece about New Salem and Illinois governor Henry Horner by Benjamin Thomas, a new introduction by Kenneth J. Winkle, and new photos by Robert Shaw, in addition to original drawings by Romaine Proctor and a 1971 foreword by Ralph G. Newman. 


Benjamin P. Thomas (1902–1956), a lifetime Lincoln scholar, is best known for his definitive Abraham Lincoln: A Biography. For many years he was the secretary of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 


“Generations of readers, including myself, have been influenced in their understanding of Abraham Lincoln’s period of maturing by Benjamin Thomas’s warm and insightful narrative of the future president’s years in New Salem. The life experiences, friendships, and mentoring by the surprisingly varied pioneer residents transformed him. Lincoln came in as a farmhand and sometime boatman and left as a promising lawyer and politician, six formative years later. This story is beautifully told here.”—Guy C. Fraker, author of Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit 
“Benjamin P. Thomas, author of the best single-volume biography of Lincoln, made his debut as a Lincolnian with this evocative, highly readable study. Like the biography, it has held up remarkably well in the decades since its publication. Southern Illinois University Press deserves kudos for reissuing it with a new introduction by such an exceptionally knowledgeable scholar as Kenneth Winkle.”—Michael Burlingame, author of An American Marriage: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd