Lincoln, in the decades after his death, became a larger-than-life character. Often in standard biographies written for teenage readers, the myth surrounding Lincoln becomes mixed up with his character. Daugherty, to his credit, generally avoids this pitfall. Clearly, the truth alone is sufficient attestation to the character of the man.
Daugherty has depicted two periods in Lincoln’s life, each comprising half the book: Lincoln the common citizen and Lincoln the war president. Lincoln as a “common man” had no more opportunities handed to him than any other person on the western frontier of the early nineteenth century. That he was self-taught and apparently of sterling character is common knowledge, and Daugherty provides several examples of his abilities as a lawyer. Yet the author avoids placing the man on a pedestal, unlike the common film versions of Lincoln.
Frequent allusions are made to Lincoln as a storyteller. The use of stories and anecdotes to illustrate points in a discussion was common during this historical period, and Lincoln was better than most. He was surrounded by simple folk, rarely educated but hardworking. Nevertheless, the book does not paint an idyllic society. The times had their share of lawlessness, and there was always, in the background, the overriding issue of the day: slavery. It was clear where Lincoln stood on the subject. He was not an abolitionist, but he clearly thought that slavery was wrong. If it could not be eliminated, then slavery should at least be prevented from spreading. It was on this topic that Lincoln’s debates with Douglas generally centered, and it was based in part on this topic that Lincoln was defeated in his campaigns during the 1850’s.
(The entire section is 712 words.)
Daugherty’s treatment of Lincoln was written during a period of trauma for the democracies of the world. The Axis Powers dominated most of Europe and Asia, and their defeat was still in doubt. Yet Lincoln’s story was one of hope that powers of righteousness would yet be triumphant.
Daugherty wrote a biography that was realistic in its treatment of the subject. Unlike some earlier biographers, he avoided hyperbole. The film industry had discovered Lincoln, often depicting him as more myth than man. Nevertheless, the facts were exciting enough. Lincoln was born into poverty. Self-taught, he became an accomplished lawyer. The lessons, particularly to someone in that generation maturing during the 1940’s, were clear: Through hard work, one could accomplish anything. Right could be triumphant over evil; both the Union in the Civil War and the Allies in the world war were victorious in the end. In both cases, it was the efforts of the common people that made the difference.
Finally, one cannot discount the excitement of military history to a generation that venerated the armed forces. War, to those not old enough to be directly involved, was an adventure. The Civil War, with its bloodshed and battles notwithstanding, was an exciting period. Lincoln’s presidency, and ultimately his fame, cannot be divorced from that conflict. In this respect, Daugherty’s story was a valuable description of both.