Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon

Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon


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An extensively researched, lavishly illustrated consideration of the myths, memories, and questions that gathered around our most beloved—and most enigmatic—president in the years between his assassination and the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.
Availing themselves of a vast collection of both published and never-before-seen materials, the authors—the fourth and fifth generations of a family of Lincoln scholars—bring into focus the posthumous portrait of Lincoln that took hold in the American imagination. Told through the voices of those who knew the man—Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites, neighbors and family members, adversaries and colleagues—Looking for Lincoln charts the dramatic epilogue to Lincoln’s extraordinary life.
During these years, as Americans struggled to understand their loss and rebuild their country, Lincoln’s legacy was still hotly debated. The authors take us through the immediate aftermath of the assassination; the private memories of those closest to the slain president; the difficult period between 1876 and 1908, when a tired nation turned its back on the former slaves and betrayed Lincoln’s teachings; and the early years of the twentieth century when Lincoln’s popularity soared as African Americans fought to reclaim the ideals he espoused.
Looking for Lincoln will deeply enhance our understanding of the statesman and his legacy, at a moment when the timeless example of his leadership is more crucial than ever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375712142
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 10.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Philip B. Kunhardt III is Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Humanities at New York University. Peter W. Kunhardt is Executive Producer of KunhardtMcGee Productions. Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., is Director of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation. Along with their father, the late Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Philip and Peter are coauthors of Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography. Looking for Lincoln is the companion volume to the two-hour PBS special of the same name, which aired in 2009. The Kunhardts are based in Westchester County, New York.

Read an Excerpt

ForewordDavid Herbert DonaldThe Kunhardt family occupies a unique place in the field of Lincoln studies. For five generations members of this talented family have been writing, editing, designing, and publishing books on aspectsof Abraham Lincoln’s career that are as beautiful as they are sound.The tradition began with Frederick Hill Meserve (1865-1962), whose father had fought in the Union Army. Looking for pictures to illustrate his father’s wartime recollections, Frederick, then a businessman in New York City, began haunting secondhand bookstores and auctions, buying up old prints and glass negatives discarded by wartime photographers. At that time nobody else seemed much interested in them, so he had little competition. In 1902, visiting a warehouse in New Jersey, he stumbled upon a pile of fifteen thousand glass negatives from Mathew Brady’s studio that were about to be destroyed as trash. He bought the whole lot, including, as he discovered, seven photographs of President Lincoln. In 1911, in the first attempt to catalogue and arrange the pictures of Lincoln in chronological order, he published The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln, which became a bible for collectors and scholars, especially because he issued supplements from time to time as new photographs turned up. Generously he shared his treasures with other Civil War experts. It is hard to find a book on Lincoln that does not acknowledge the author’s indebtedness to Mr. Meserve’s collection (now known as the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection).When Mr. Meserve died, his daughter, Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, took on the management of the collection. Though occupied with writing and publishing nearly a score of delightful books for children, she somehow found time to expand its holdings, adding thousands of Civil War photographs, books, clippings, and newspapers.In 1958 she acquired the large collection of Lincoln relics owned by Mary Edwards Brown, Mary Lincoln’s great-niece, which included Lincoln family scrapbooks and dozens of daguerreotypes of the Lincolns’ friends and neighbors in Springfield. Drawing on the Meserve Lincoln Collection, she also published the handsome Time-Life book Mathew Brady and His World.Eventually her son, Philip Kunhardt, Jr., a genial, soft-spoken man who had previously been managing editor at Life magazine, became guardian of the collection. Like his mother and his grandfather, he willingly allowed other Lincoln scholars to use it. He also continued the family tradition by writing, with his mother, Twenty Days, a superb account, lavishly illustrated, of Lincoln’s assassination, and A New Birth of Freedom, a fine re-creation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.He moved on in 1992 to his major historical effort, Lincoln, a full-length pictorial biography (which accompanied an excellent television series of the same name). To help in this ambitious project, he enlisted his sons, Philip and Peter. The Kunhardts’ Lincoln is a magnificent book, widely acclaimed and generally recognized as the definitive pictorial record of Abraham Lincoln’s life.After the death of their father in 2006, Philip and Peter Kunhardt continued the family tradition, and they recruited a member of the fifth generation, Peter’s son, Peter Kunhardt, Jr., to join their literary team. The result of their collaboration is the present book, Looking for Lincoln.A casual reader who glances at Looking for Lincoln, perhaps in a bookstore, may be surprised to find that it begins in 1865, with a moving account of the assassination of the president, followed by an elaborately illustrated narrative of the capture, trial, and execution of the Lincoln conspirators. At this point in a conventional biography the reader might expect a historical flashback to Lincoln’s early days and upbringing. Instead the story moves forward from 1865 to 1926, when Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s oldest son, died.If our reader studies the book more closely, he or she meets other surprises. In addition to tracing an unusual timeline, the Kunhardts offer a special—one might almost say a syncopated—chronology. They follow the dictum of T. S. Eliot (in “Burnt Norton”):Time present and time pastAre both perhaps present in time future,And time future contained in time past.To put the matter less cryptically, they understand that for historians the actual date on which an event occurred is often less significant than when knowledge of that event becomes widely known. For instance, Lincoln’s revealing 1837 letters to Mary Owens Vineyard, discussing their on-and-off-again engagement, properly appearhere under an 1866 date because that is when they were made public. In short, our reader will quickly learn that this is not a conventional pictorial biography of Abraham Lincoln but is instead a book of discovery. At the time of Lincoln’s death most Americans knew very little about their wartime president, except that he was a frontiersman and a rail-splitter who freed the slaves and preserved the Union, and there was intense public interest in learning more about the martyred president. The postwar generation saw a massive, if uncoordinated, effort to probe Lincoln’s ancestry, to reconstruct his boyhood years, to investigate his early political efforts, to learn about his marriage and his family, and to judge his career as a lawyer. Newspapermen and biographers began persistent questioning of those who had known Lincoln well—and of those who pretended to know him well—in search ofbiographical nuggets.Looking for Lincoln is a superb reconstruction of these efforts, during the halfcentury after Lincoln’s death, to strip away the veils of mystery and ignorance that cloaked so much of his career in order to find the “real” Lincoln. Here, for example, is a fair-minded appraisal of the efforts of William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner for twenty years, to rescue Lincoln’s memory from writers like Josiah G. Holland, who portrayed him as a devout—indeed, almost a saintly—leader. Here, too, is the story of the admiring ten-volume life of Lincoln by his former personal secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, the only biography ever authorized by his overly sensitive son, Robert.But this is no dry exercise in historiography. Along with the slowly emerging consensus on Lincoln’s greatness, the Kunhardts trace—as always with abundant and revealing illustrations—the rival interpretations of the president in sculpture, ranging from the hobbledehoy figure of George Grey Barnard to the reverent statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Nor are these conflicting literary and artistic interpretations of Lincoln presented in isolation. At every stage the Kunhardts take pains to show the background events, such as the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, race riots, and presidential elections, that influenced the changes in how the public viewed Lincoln.In short, this is a remarkable and highly original book, one that skillfully interweaves text and pictures to tell two closely related stories: the discovery of facts about Abraham Lincoln’s life, and the exploration of his place in American memory. It is the Kunhardts’ best book, an indispensable guide for readers who want to understand Abraham Lincoln and the world he lived in.

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