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Films >> Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.

[1] Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a small log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hank Lincoln. In 1816, Lincoln’s family moved across the Ohio River to Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana, after a dispute over their Kentucky land. On October 15, 1818, when Lincoln was only nine years old, his mother died of milk sickness; on December 2, 1819, the elder Lincoln remarried a widow named Sarah Bush Johnston, with whom Abe grows very close. There is much debate over the quality of Abe’s relationship with his father, but most scholars agree the two disagreed on the merits of education. Despite this, Abe grew up with a strong desire for learning and was seldom seen without a book in his hand, even attending school when he was able.

[2] Abe left home in the spring of 1828, shortly after the death of his sister Sarah, to transport cargo of produce down the Mississippi to New Orleans. The next year he moved back in with his family, relocating to Illinois. In 1831 Abe made another trip to transport cargo to New Orleans on his flat bottom boat; that summer he becomes a general store shop keeper in New Salem, Illinois. It is there he met lifelong friend Mentor Graham and was introduced to his first love Anne Rutledge, the daughter of the inn keeper. It is reported the two had a romance, despite Rutledge’s alleged engagement to another man, possibly even becoming betrothed themselves.

[3] In 1832, Lincoln ran for office for the first time as a candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives. He lost the election but served as the captain of his militia in the Blackhawk war that spring. He also became partners in the general store with William Berry; the following year the store failed, leaving Abe in deep debt. Later that year he was appointed postmaster of New Salem and deputy surveyor of Sangamon County. In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives as a member of the Whig party; on December 1st, he took his seat in Vandalia, Illinois.

[4] In 1835, Ann Rutledge dies of the fever. This loss caused Lincoln to fall into a very deep depression. He was forced to stay secluded at a friend’s home in order to recover, even being put on suicide watch. This is what many scholars consider the beginning of Lincoln’s “melancholy,” and although he eventually recovered, Lincoln would battle bouts of depression throughout his life. The following year he won reelection to the state legislature and was awarded his license to practice law. In 1837, Lincoln was part of the initiative to move the state capitol to Springfield and there started a practice with John T. Stuart and began trying civil and criminal cases. In 1838, Lincoln was again reelected to the legislature.

[5] In 1839, Lincoln met Mary Todd, a wealthy socialite and sister-in-law of Lincoln’s friend and fellow Whig Ninian Edwards. He became engaged to Mary Todd in the fall of 1840, after campaigning for William Henry Harrison for President and being elected for a fourth term in the legislature. However, on January 1, 1841, he broke the engagement for reasons that are unknown, causing quite the scandal in Springfield. It was shortly after that Lincoln again suffered from a period of severe depression. Despite this, the two were married on November 4, 1842, at Edwards’ home. In 1843, Lincoln ran for Congress but was unsuccessful. His first son, Todd, was born on August 1 of that year. In 1844, Lincoln started his own law practice in Springfield, taking on William Henry Herndon as a junior partner. The two went on to become lifelong friends.

[6] On March 10, 1846, the Lincolns welcomed their second son, Edward Baker Lincoln. This happy time was accompanied by Lincoln’s election to the United States House of Representatives on August 3. On December 6, 1847, Lincoln took his seat as a member of the legislature when the Thirtieth Congress convened. In 1849, he voted to exclude slavery from federal territories and end the slave trade in the District of Columbia. Later that year he returned to his practice in Illinois and turned down the position of governor of Oregon, at that time not yet a state. 1850 was a bittersweet year for the Lincolns; their son Edward died on February 1 after a nearly two-month illness, and they welcomed their third son William Wallace on December 21. Three years later, their fourth and final son Thomas, also known as Tad, was born on April 4.

[7] In 1854, Lincoln was reelected to the US legislature but declined the seat and decided to try for a bid for Senator from Illinois. In 1856, Lincoln became a founding member of the Republican party in Illinois. In 1858, he accepted the endorsement of the Illinois Republican party to be their candidate for US Senator, against the seated Stephen Douglas. The two took part in a series of seven debates, held in August through October, in which Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech. On January 5, 1859, Lincoln lost to Douglas 54 votes to 46.

[8] On May 18, 1860, Lincoln won his party’s nomination for President, and that fall defeated Stephen Douglas, John C. Breckenridge, both of the divided Democratic party, and John Bell, a member of the Constitutional Union, to become the first Republican President of the United States. He begins what is undoubtedly the most difficult period of his life. On December 20, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and ten states soon followed, becoming the Confederacy. On February 11, 1861, he left Springfield for Washington and was inaugurated as the sixteenth President of the United States on March 4.

[9] On April 12, Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, forcing Lincoln to call up 75,000 militia on April 15 and calling for the blockade of Southern ports on April 19, beginning the Civil War. He followed the Union defeat at Bull Run and suggested to Congress emancipation and colonization of all slaves captured from the Confederacy. In February 1862, Lincoln’s son William died, most likely of Typhoid Fever. Mary Todd Lincoln was thrown into emotional strife and never fully recovered. On September 17, 1862, he issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the territories in rebellion, which went into effect on January 1, 1863. Later in 1863, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address.

[10] In 1864, while the war still raged on, Lincoln was reelected as President, defeating George McClellan, and delivered his famous “Second Inauguration” speech on March 4, 1865. On April 9, General Lee surrendered the Confederacy at Appomattox Courthouse, thus ending the Civil War. Shortly after 10pm on April 14, while watching a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth. He died at 7:22am on April 15, 1865, at a nearby house, after never regaining consciousness. Lincoln was buried on May 4 in Illinois, after his body was transported by rail throughout the Union, stopping in large cities and small towns for people to pay their final respects.

Print Resources

Boritt, Gabor, ed. The Historian's Lincoln. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1988.
Boritt compiles articles by different authors, including one of his own, to create a comprehensive portrait of Lincoln in the eyes of historians. The first half focuses on the "Lincoln of the People." The historians focus on the image of the Lincoln that the people have in their minds and dissect the causes and effects of these images. The next part of the book focuses on the politics of Lincoln, with several articles considering different aspects of Lincoln's political ideologies. The last parts of the book consider both the assassination of Lincoln and the conspiracy theories surrounding it. A small section is devoted to biography. This is a helpful resource because it has several different authors' works in one volume, making it easy to read different subjects and ideas about Lincoln in one package.
Boritt, Gabor, ed. The Lincoln Enigma. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
This book considers the different images and understandings that people have of Abraham Lincoln and where they came from. Subtitled "The Changing Faces of an American Icon." Gabor compiles articles by several different authors, such as "Young Man Lincoln" by Douglas L. Wilson and "Mary and Abraham: A Marriage" by Jean Baker. The articles consider the different ideas and stereotypes of what Americans think about Lincoln -- and the reality of the situation. This is a good book to consider where our idealized images of Lincoln come from compared to the reality.
Burlingame , Michael, ed. An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicholay's Interviews and Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1996.
A compilation of interviews of people who knew Lincoln, conducted by John G. Nicholay. The focus is on people in Springfield and Washington, and Nicholay wraps up the interviews by summarizing and analyzing them in two essays at the end of the book. The interviews shed light on Lincoln through the eyes of people who know him during the time that he was alive and through reflection on his death and the time immediately after. Many of the interviews were conducted through letters between Nicholay and his correspondents, and we see in their words their feelings and ideas about Lincoln. For the modern reader, they are a glimpse at Lincoln through the eyes of people during his lifetime, before he became an American legend.
Fraysse, Oliver. Lincoln, Land and Labor, 1809-1860. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1988.
Frenchman Fraysse examines Lincoln from a foreigner's perspective. He traces Lincoln's life through his roots in frontier Kentucky, his life in Indiana, and the beginning of his career in Illinois -- also considering his career as a state politician, and his ascent to and life in the White House, all the way up through his death. Fraysse also discusses in the historiography the French view of Lincoln, which gives the American reader perspective on the mythology and ideology through which we view him. This book discusses perspectives of Lincoln that many others don't, such as his politics on immigration and foreigners, class distinctions, and the sale of public land on the frontier. Helpful to demythologize Lincoln by seeing him through the eyes of someone who does not have the patriotic fervor of some other writers.
Herndon, William. Life of Lincoln. Chicago: Wildside Press, 2008.
Herndon was the longtime business partner and friend of Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, and wrote this biography of Lincoln in the late 19th century. It has been a reference for hundreds who have written on Lincoln since then. Herndon's biography is comprehensive and takes an intimate view of Lincoln, considering his private thoughts and motivations. Although many of Herndon's ideas are disputed or even disproved by later biographers, it is considered an important and historical work on Lincoln. Certainly a reference that any Lincoln scholar should browse, it gives the most intimate connection to Lincoln of any other Lincoln biography, written by one person who knew the man well.
Morris, Jan. Lincoln: A Foreigner's Quest. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
Morris, an immigrant, sets out to understand American's fascination with Abraham Lincoln. She learns her way through his life, from frontiersman to President, while considering his personal life and political aspirations. The first half of the book considers Lincoln before he was President, living in New Salem and Springfield and pursuing his smaller political career. The second half considers his tenure as President and his influence on the country during the Civil War. It is an interesting perspective on Lincoln because it is written by someone who begins not only without an unromanticized view of our sixteenth President, but a view by someone who hated the ideal of this President and set out to settle the idea of Lincoln with herself, coming to a overall understanding of Lincoln that most can appreciate.
Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years. San Diego: Mariner Books, 1974.
Originally published in six volumes, this 800-page biography was for decades considered the preeminent work on Lincoln. Sandburg won a Pulitzer Prize for The War Years, and this volume includes both this work and The Prairie Years. The Prairie Years (1926) focuses on Lincoln's early life, from his birth in Kentucky through his early political career. It discusses his relationships with Ann Rutledge and his marriage and family with Mary Todd. It chronicles his early political career and contributes insights on Lincoln's personality and thoughts. The War Years (1939) chronicles Lincoln's Presidency, up through his assassination. A long, sometimes slow book, but valuable for its completeness and regard. Sandburg's book is a very good place to start for anyone who wants to learn more about Lincoln, and it will kick-start other research as well.
Tripp, C.A. The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Free Press, 2005.
Tripp, an eminent sexuality psychologist, considers the private drives of Lincoln, for instance, regarding his relationships with wife Mary Todd, first love Ann Rutledge, and even supposed lover Mary Owens. The focus of the book, however, is Lincoln's possible homosexuality, considering different suspected male lovers that Lincoln could have had. The book is insightful regarding his relationships with Todd and Rutledge, but the evidence of Lincoln's supposed sexuality isn't always the most reliable. Tripp considers passing comments by earlier Lincoln scholars and anecdotal evidence. Although something to think about, Tripp's book shouldn't be the only source for information on Lincoln's personal life.
Wilson, Douglas L. Lincoln before Washington: New Perspectives on the Illinois Years. Urbana:U of Illinois P, 1997.
This book considers Lincoln's life before he was elected President while he was living in Illinois and thus covers the time period of the film. It considers his friendships with the people around him, his relationship with Mary Todd, and his debates with Stephen Douglas. It also considers William Herndon, author of early works on Lincoln and also his partner in law pracice. In the chapter "Herndon's Legacy," Wilson both defends and critiques Herndon's work, putting it in some perspective for the reader who may have seen it in a more negative and untruthful light after reading some other Lincoln literature.

See Also

Burkhimer, Michael. 100 Essential Lincoln Books. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2003.

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

Emerson, Jason. The Madness of Mary Lincoln. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2007.

Oates, Stephen. With Malice Toward None. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

Shenk, Thomas Wolf. Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged A President and Fueled His Greatness. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Thomas, Benjamin Platt. Abraham Lincoln, A Biography. New York: Modern Library, 1968.

Video/Audio Resources

Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided. David McCullough and Geoffrey Ward. PBS Home Video, 2001.

Abraham Lincoln: A New Birth of Freedom. Andrew Young. PBS, 1992.

Killing Lincoln (2013)
"Based on The New York Times best-selling novel, Killing Lincoln is the suspenseful, eye-opening story of the events surrounding the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. While some aspects of the plot to slay Lincoln and cripple the newly forming union are widely known, much more of the history unfolds in this insightful thriller. As actor John Wilkes Booth becomes increasingly obsessed with removing Lincoln from office, a secret cabal forms, and ultimately empowers Booth to carry out an event that will change America forever. Narrated by Oscar Winner Tom Hanks and produced by Tony Scott and Ridley Scott, this historical masterpiece stars Billy Campbell (TV's The Killing) in a spectacular turn as President Lincoln."

Lincoln. Vilram Jatanti et al. A&E Home Video. New York, 2006.

Online Resources

"Abraham Lincoln: In His Time and Ours." History Now 18 (December (2008).
Teaching resource from the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Sections on Jacksonian democracy, Black abolitionists, Lincoln and race, Lincoln and religion.
Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitalization Project
This site is a huge database of information and articles on Lincoln and different aspects of his life, such as his boyhood and his time in the senate, each with associated images, primary and secondary sources, and videos to help clarify and provide context. It also examines historical themes that play a role in Lincoln's life and politics, such as Frontier Life and Women's Roles, all with the same supplementary resources, in order to help the user to further understand Lincoln. With full-text search and resources for teachers, this is a very helpful website in understanding the complexities of Lincoln and the time in which he lived.
Abraham Lincoln Papers: Selected Bibliography
Breaks up works by time periods and subjects (such as Mary Todd Lincoln).
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum: suggested reading
List of valuable books.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum: web resources.
List of valuable links.
Abraham Lincoln: A Resource Guide
Library of Congress.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
This respected historical resource has a section specifically on Lincoln, including photos and online exhibitions on Lincoln-related events and subjects such as "The Gettysburg Address" and "Points of Connection on Lincoln and Obama." It also has essays on Lincoln, such as "Lincoln and Whitman" and "Lincoln's Civil Religion," videos of lectures by professors and historians, as well as a book shop on Lincoln and a schedule of upcoming Lincoln events.
"Lincoln." History Now 6 (December 2005).
Teaching resource from the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Sections on emancipation, Whitman, Cooper Union, abolition, and religion.
Lincoln Bicentennial
A site dedicated to Lincoln's life and legacy, complete with a basic biography, timeline, virtual tour of important places in Lincoln's life, family tree, and texts of his speeches and quotes. In addition, there are such resources as opportunities for learning how Lincoln's legacy is relevant in today's American culture, ideas for teachers and kids, information on the bicentennial, and podcasts on how Lincoln has inspired other important Americans.
The Lincoln Institute
A site dedicated entirely to Lincoln. There is a section that considers more unusual aspects of Lincoln's life, such as the effect that our Founding Fathers and the Constitution had on Lincoln and the role of his many friend's in Lincoln's life. There is also a compilation of many of Lincoln's personal and professional correspondence, an examination of Lincoln's experiences in each state at the time of his Presidency, recommendations for other resources, and a daily feature, considering something that happened in Lincoln's life on the date you are viewing the site. The Institute also releases publications available through the site and provides teacher and student resources.
Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators
"Every American schoolchild learns the tragic story of the assassination, just as the long nightmare of the Civil War drew to a close, of President Abraham Lincoln. They know of the shot fired by John Wilkes Booth into the brain of the great President as he watched Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. They know of Booth's dramatic leap from the presidential box to the stage, his cry as he ran of 'Sic Semper Tyrannus!,' his escape on horseback, and of his own death by bullet twelve days later in a burning Virginia barn. Far fewer Americans, however, know that Booth's evil deed was part of a larger conspiracy of Confederate sympathizers--a conspiracy whose targets included Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward and which had as its goal destabilization of the entire federal government."
The White House
This site gives a fairly thorough biography on Lincoln, as well as all the other Presidents. It discusses each of their contributions and has other fun resources, such as changes in the White House itself with the residency of each President and slide shows of Presidents throughout our history.