Citizen of New Salem Critical Essays

Paul Horgan


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

It is important in young adult biography to present a well-rounded view of the subject, with both positive and negative traits being limned. Horgan portrays Lincoln, on the whole, as a popular, competent individual with a tremendous desire to better his position in the world and a great talent for using the English language. On the other hand, Lincoln’s uncertainties, his struggle with depression after the death of Anne Rutledge, his lack of a skilled trade or profession, the failure of his venture into business, and his periods of unemployment are all less positive aspects of his New Salem years that are included in this work. In portraying Lincoln’s strengths while showing his weaknesses, Horgan has avoided the excessive adulation traditionally prevalent in biographies for young readers.

Changing views regarding the American frontier have been important in biographies of Lincoln. His early biographers—such as William Herndon, Lincoln’s Springfield law partner—tended to see the frontier either as being of no influence or as having a very negative influence on Lincoln. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, however, because of the writings of historian Frederick Jackson Turner, these frontier surroundings came to be seen as an energizing and constructive force in Lincoln’s early life. Citizen of New Salem is valuable as a reinforcement of this view because it provides impressions of, and insights into, frontier life during the crucial years in Lincoln’s life, years when he was making...

(The entire section is 625 words.)