Lincoln Before The War

Harold Holzer
Harold Holzer
Hunter College

Harold Holzer, winner of The 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, is one of the country’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. A prolific writer and lecturer, and frequent guest on television, Holzer was co-chairman of the U. S. Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, appointed by President Clinton. President Bush awarded Holzer the National Humanities Medal in 2008. And in 2013, Holzer wrote a Lincoln essay for the official program at the re-inauguration of President Obama. He also served as historical consultant for the Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln”.

Overview

Abraham Lincoln Before the Civil War

Harold Holzer will present an overview of Abraham Lincoln’s pre-presidential life and career through the lens of 19th century partisan journalism, a world Lincoln inhabited with gusto and extraordinary results. “Public sentiment is everything,” he said a few years before he won the White House. “He who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes and pronounces decisions.” Lincoln really believed in this idea. From the outset, he tethered his ambitions to rise from obscurity to power, to the idea of mastering the press. We will explore Lincoln’s political and oratorical development, but through the filter of journalism. Hence we will see Lincoln as a young “op-ed columnist” on temperance; later as the anonymous author of angry anti-Democratic Party editorials, and also as a local agent for the pro-Whig press; as a freshman Congressman yearning for press coverage.

Early Life and Career of Abraham Lincoln 

During his long professional life as an itinerant attorney he will find time to court local, like-minded journalists in countless Illinois towns, building a strong and loyal advocacy network that would serve his interests for years. The mature Lincoln will take his speeches to the press and personally supervise their typesetting and publication to multiply their audiences; oversee the hiring of pro-Republican stenographers to make the first transcript ever of a political engagement—the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and he will appeal to the widest possible audience through press reprints following his transformative Cooper Union address (then try to determine what to say next after being so widely published), and he will use his friendship with Republican journalists to organize his 1860 convention victory at Chicago. The class will cover the full development of the early, pre-war Lincoln—even his courtship and marriage to Mary Todd (a courtship based on newspaper writing!)—but will strike an original chord by emphasizing what historians have long neglected: the importance of the press to politicians, readers, and voters throughout the nation during the volatile antebellum Lincoln era.

Learn More About Abraham Lincoln Before and After the Civil War

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