Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review--Lincoln's Campaign Biographies

Horrocks, Thomas A. Lincoln's Campaign Biographies (Concise Lincoln Library) Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2014. 148 pages 106 pages of text, index, notes, selected bibliography, b/w illustrations. ISBN 9780809333318, $24.95.

The more things change the more they stay the same. In many ways this is a truism in political campaigns. While modern technology has dramatically changed the campaign trail, often times making image more important than substance, many things are still the same.

Modern Americans demand that their politicians be polished, rehearsed, and personally available. In Abraham Lincoln's time this was not the case. Lincoln could hardly be called polished and most active campaigning was done by supporters rather than the candidates themselves.
In four quick reading chapters and a conclusion author Thomas A. Horrocks outlines the history of politics and print and how the Lincoln campaigns played into this. Chapter one discusses the relationship between 19th century political campaigns and print sources. Newspapers and pamphlets were the leading way to get a message out about a candidate. Later came the growth of the campaign biography. Abraham Lincoln understood the value and importance of the press in getting elected.

Chapters two outlines the growth of the campaign biography and discusses the symbols and themes often associated with these biographies. The goal of a positive campaign biography was to combine the candidates life story and image with the purpose of introducing, promoting and convincing readers to vote. Some of the attributes covered in a campaign biography would be establishing a noble lineage, what was the role of parents, a discussion of the education and military experience the man had and finally a discussion about their civilian life and political career.

The campaign biographies of 1860 and 1864 are discussed in chapters three and four. Here Horrocks covers the major campaign biographies of the years and gives readers insight into how they worked to influence readers. In addition to covering pro-Lincoln works Horrocks discusses the anti-Lincoln works as well. 1864 biographies that were anti-Lincoln used the fear of racial equality as their major theme.

The book concludes with a discussion as to whether campaign biographies were truly a help to Abraham Lincoln. Horrocks believes they were most likely a help but that Lincoln was also helped tremendously by the split in the conservative Democrat party and also the inclusion of third party candidate John Bell.

Overall, I found this an enjoyable and easy read. All the books in the Concise Lincoln Library are worthy of a look especially considering the price. If you are looking to learn about Lincoln and a particular topic these are a great place to start. Low price, competent scholarship and solid documentation make this series a winner!                        

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