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Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends

by Ferenc Morton Szasz, Southern Illinois University Press

In his new book Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends, Ferenc Morton Szasz  reveals how the president was influenced by the writings of Robert Burns, Scotland’s renowned 18th-century poet. In the early 19th century, many Americans, like Lincoln, “considered American and Scottish social goals as virtually interchangeable” and were ardent fans of Burns. Among the earliest samples of Lincoln’s handwriting are simple poems he wrote as a child. Lincoln memorized Burns’ works, and could even quote passages as an adult. In 1865 he referred to the poet as a “transcending genius.”

Szasz admits he has linked “two life stories that most people would not connect in a month of Sundays.” But both men rose from poverty, labored in fields and small businesses, fought depression and struggled through relationships with strong-willed women. Each excelled de spite many challenges, and “each…evolved into myth.”

Szasz also notes that both men “changed the world through the power of his words….One was a poet whose message was laced with politics, and the other a politician whose message was laced with poetry.”


Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here