Lincoln in American Memory Essay - Critical Essays

Lincoln in American Memory

Peterson’s task is a challenging one, yet he plunges in and shapes the inchoate and bewildering array of materials on Lincoln’s life and career. Where Lincoln is concerned, no scraps of information or memorabilia have seemed too insignificant for preservation. In the 1930’s, it was estimated, five hundred people earned their living in occupations concerned with Lincoln’s legacy. Among the more extensive Lincoln book projects was one series entitled LINCOLN DAY BY DAY, an effort to record the daily activities of his entire life.

Peterson narrates chronologically the memorializing that began immediately after Lincoln’s assassination. Tributes to poets, novelists, juvenile fiction writers, composers, dramatists, and sculptors—all are detailed. The work of collectors, biographers, editors, historians is carefully explained and critiqued. Peterson also accounts for changes in Lincoln’s reputation since his death and his acknowledged influence on presidents and political leaders worldwide. Beyond this the book explores the hoaxes, forgeries, and legends—often built upon nothing more than wild surmise—introduced over decades by those seeking fame or profit. These, unfortunately, seem to take on a life of their own and have proven extremely difficult to eradicate.

Peterson, a professor emeritus of American history, has previously chronicled the fame of Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps this successful experience prompted him to undertake the even more daunting task involving Lincoln. The story in itself is eminently worth narrating and interesting to general readers, yet the book also stands as a useful guide and introduction to what is sound and unsound in Lincoln studies.

Sources for Further Study

American Historical Review. XCIX, October, 1994, p. 1281.

Choice. XXXII, October, 1994, p. 354.

The Christian Science Monitor. March 22, 1994, p. 12.

The Economist. CCCXXXII, July 30, 1994, p. 80.

Los Angeles Times. July 22, 1994, p. E6.

The New York Review of Books. XLI, April 21, 1994, p. 7.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, June 26, 1994, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, March 7, 1994, p. 58.

The Wall Street Journal. March 31, 1994, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, March 20, 1994, p. 3.