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Vote Lincoln! The Presidential Campaign Biography of Abraham Lincoln, 1860 (Restored and Annotated/Expanded Edition)

by John Locke Scripps and Abraham Lincoln, edited by David W. Bradford, Boston Hill Press, 2010

THE DUST JACKET BLURBS FOR Vote Lincoln! suggest you’re about to read a supermarket tabloid. This is an “authorized biography,” you’re told, “the most influential campaign book in American history.” In truth, this is a much more modest endeavor, a 3,500-word autobiographical sketch Lincoln reluctantly wrote shortly after capturing the Republican nomination for president. Party leaders were anxious to publish a campaign biography to promote their candidate, who was not yet widely known outside Illinois.

Newspaperman John Locke Scripps had elicited the account from Lincoln and fashioned a “32-page pamphlet of dense small print” titled Life of Abraham Lincoln. When it first appeared in July 1860, 1 million copies were printed.

This revised edition is a valuable addition to the canon about our 16th president, but it is also quite uneven. Footnotes and illustrations that were lacking in the 1860 edition do enhance the material, as does a variety of sidebars that shed light on the era. As editor David Bradford notes, “Forgotten allusions, highly condensed passages, and Victorian-era rhetoric now obscure the original 1860 text.” But he may have gone too far with “clarifying annotations.” In one case, for example, 14 annotations pepper four short paragraphs of narrative.

Lincoln’s original handwritten document—wonderfully free of hyperbole— remains the principal source for information about his early life. To Bradford’s credit, he includes a contemporary transcription of it made in 1860 by John Nicolay—then a clerk in the future president’s law office.

Boston Hill Press first published this book in 2009, and Bradford made “further refinements”—including more commentary—for a second edition published last year. In retrospect, less may have been more.


Originally published in the September 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here