Abraham Lincoln Critical Essays

James Daugherty


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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.)