Dear Mr. Lincoln
Harold Holzer’s DEAR MR. LINCOLN represents a useful complement to a spate of recent books on Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. At the same time, it continues a long scholarly and popular tradition of preserving everything remotely connected with Lincoln. Holzer is the first to examine the scattered, extant letters that were written to the president and to assemble an anthology.
The letters are arranged under ten separate thematic headings, under such titles as “Advice and Instruction,” “Requests and Commands,” “Official Business,” “Family Matters,” and “Threats and Warnings.” Some are from prominent government officials, leading intellectuals, and military officers. Most are from obscure and unremembered Americans, seeking favors, influence, military or civil appointments, or offering a range of counsel and advice. Many are from crackpots or deranged individuals with visionary schemes or dire forebodings of calamities. The volume retains, insofar as possible, the original spellings, punctuation, and underlining.
The conscientious, scholarly editing makes the book valuable to anyone with an interest in the Lincoln era. In a lengthy “Introduction,” Holzer provides an explanation of how the small, overworked White House staff handled the hundreds of letters that arrived daily. For the letters themselves, he usually provides an explanatory note afterward; and if Lincoln made a reply, it is also included. Most Lincoln replies are brief, sometimes only a phrase scribbled on the envelope, but the book does reproduce some important lengthy replies. Readers gain new understanding and insight into Lincoln’s experience as president, but encounter nothing that significantly alters previous views.