What Is "Lincolniana"?
by Daniel Pearson

Anyone who attempts to assemble a list of Lincoln books, pamphlets, or articles is immediately faced with a conundrum: just what constitutes a piece of Lincolniana? In many, if not most instances, the answer is very clear. Obviously, The Real Abraham Lincoln by Reinhard Luthin is Lincolniana, while The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, most certainly is not. The rub lies in between such obvious examples.

The first bibliographer to assess the situation of what to include under the classification of Lincolniana was Judge Daniel Fish. In an attempt to assemble the first comprehensive bibliography of Lincoln literature, he was faced with the task of creating a definition of his subject. Fish turned to his own collection for guidance, and thus developed a definition that may be regarded as one that outlined his own collecting style, and then applied it to the term "Lincolniana" in general. Fish was a purest, referring to his library as "a respectable collection of Lincoln literature."(1) Thus the definition he developed was rather restrictive. Fish made it clear that only books where Lincoln dominates the subject matter would be considered. In the introduction he Fish stated that he would include "[o]nly such books and brochures . . . as relate distinctively to the principle subject. Prints devoted in part to Lincoln but treating also of other topics are not within the plan, though a few, wherein the former matter largely predominates, are retained."(2)

Fish continues on with his definition, not refining it, but adding to the list of exclusions: broadsides and single page prints were not included (because they "shed no appreciable light on the life"); periodical matter, unless a particular piece was devoted entirely to Lincoln; period political writings were not considered unless they owe "their origin to the man."(3) Fish's work was so widely accepted that for years legions of Lincoln book collectors used it as the final word in what was to be included, and thus excluded, from their Lincoln libraries.

As with many such projects, successive bibliographers choose not to substantially alter work performed by their predecessors. Joseph Benjamin Oakleaf's 1919 bibliography added 1,576 titles to Fish. Content with the definition Fish had developed, Oakleaf kept it, merely adding titles that Fish had missed, and updating the project with titles that had been released since Fish's last update in 1908.

In 1929, the Lincoln National Life Foundation, in their publication Lincoln Lore, began printing a periodic list of new Lincoln titles. Since the Foundation had purchased the Daniel Fish library as the nucleus of their own Lincoln library, they kept Fish's definition of Lincolniana as well.

Succeeding bibliographers, including Thomas Starr and Jay Monaghan, tinkered with the formula, but they did not radically modify it. It remained essentially unchanged when it was adopted by Monaghan is assembling his "definitive" bibliography of Lincolniana, published in 1945.(4) The definition, developed for the project by Theodore C. Pease and Paul M. Angle, is as follows:

All printed books and pamphlets dealing principally with (1) Abraham Lincoln (2) his ancestry (3) wife, children, stepmother and sister (but excluding material relating to the individual career of Robert T. Lincoln) or (4) having the name of Abraham Lincoln prominently in their titles; excluding all material appearing in periodicals and separates of periodical articles printed for private distribution by the author of the article, unless title page, type or pagination are different from the original printing, and unless prefatory material has been added; excluding all general histories of the United States, of the Civil War, or of Illinois, no matter how prominently the part of Lincoln in them; excluding all published sources dealing incidentally with Lincoln's life, such as the Welles and Browning diaries; excluding all distinctly advertising bulletins, pamphlets, and pictures, menus, programs of school exercises, etc., except where they contain sufficient informational material to render them of permanent value.(5)

Like Fish before them, Pease and Angle seemed to concentrate more upon what to exclude rather than what to include. Their overriding concern was that if the definition was too broad or loosely delineated, it would become necessary to include nearly every Civil War book published, as Lincoln was such an integral part of the conflict. The task would become unwieldy, perhaps even impossible, if they were forced to include in their lists every book in which Lincoln was merely mentioned.

Despite these valid concerns, it is my contention that this definition was far too narrow; that it is not broad enough to cover the all important information published about Abraham Lincoln over the years. I believe that there has to be some middle ground to include material that may not fit the narrow definition set down by previous bibliographers, while still stemming the tide of all general Civil War books. Titles that cannot be considered to deal "principally" with Abraham Lincoln can be helpful, if not essential, in understanding the man. Let me offer two contemporary examples:

(1) When examining Lincoln's performance as president in comparison to others who have held that office--the "ranking the presidents" list--it would be foolish to expect such a treatise to be written with Lincoln, one of forty men to hold that office, as the principal character. And yet Rating the Presidents: A Ranking of U.S. Leaders, From the Great and Honorable to the Dishonest and Incompetent by William J. Riddings, Jr.'s Stuart B. McIver (Secaucus: A Citadel Press, Carol Publishing Group, 1997), which compares Lincoln's performance with his historical peers, is a most revealing study of his performance in office. Is this book Lincolniana if you use the standard definition? Not by a long shot. Does it contribute to our understanding of Lincoln? I would say that it does.

(2) In 1995, William Frassanito's Early Photography at Gettysburg was issued by Thomas Publications. While it is a masterpiece in documenting the photographers who worked in and around Gettysburg in the years surrounding the great battle, it cannot be considered "Lincolniana." However, on pages 128-135, Frassanito reveals a newly discovered photograph that appears to show Abraham Lincoln in the procession to the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. To my knowledge, this information, and the accompanying photograph, appears nowhere else. This, I believe, makes the book essential to the Lincoln student.

To reflect my opinion that the above examples, and many such similar cases, do in fact constitute Lincolniana, I have chosen to widen the scope of what I will regard as "Lincolniana" in my bibliographies. To me, that term includes:

* Literature in which Lincoln data dominates the text.
* Writings and addresses of Lincoln.
* Communications addressed to Lincoln.
* Publications devoted to the assassination of Lincoln, and to the conspirators.
* Fiction and dramas in which Lincoln is an important character.
* Poems with Lincoln as a theme.
* Catalogs listing important Lincoln items or where Lincoln items make up a significant part of the offerings.
* Separately printed programs, advertisements, souvenirs, etc., where Lincoln data dominates or makes a significant contribution to understanding the man.
* Separately printed magazine and journal articles.
* Government proclamations, orders, reports, and legislation that relates to Lincoln.
* Compilations of literature to which Lincoln material makes a significant contribution.
* Biographies and books dealing with Lincoln's immediate family and step-family.
* Biographies and books dealing with Mary Todd Lincoln and her immediate family and step-family.
* Biographies and books dealing with all of Lincoln's antecedents and direct descendants to great-grandchildren.
* Biographies of Lincoln associates, where Lincoln dominates the narrative or when the work adds significantly to the understanding of Lincoln and/or his administration.
* Contemporaneous political works where Lincoln dominates or when the work adds significantly to the understanding of Lincoln and/or his administration.
* Works dealing with slavery, secession, or other Lincoln administration policies when they add significantly to the understanding of Lincoln, his political and moral character and/or his administration.
* Works about Lincoln's biographers when they deal predominantly with their Lincoln endeavors or when they add significantly to the understanding of Lincoln.
* Newsletters or regularly published periodicals dedicated to the Lincoln theme.

* In all cases where the book or pamphlet in question is not principally written on the Lincoln theme, but does provide additional or illuminating insight into the life of Lincoln, a notation must be made in the bibliographic entry to guide researchers as to the particular benefit to be gained through the use of the material contained therein.

It with this definition that I have assembled my bibliographies, beginning in 1989, the year that Lincoln Lore ceased publishing theirs. My list includes titles that many may question, as to whether they belong in a collection of Lincolniana. When in doubt in considering a given item, I have striven to err on the side of inclusion, giving both authors and researchers the opportunity to decide for themselves whether the contributions are significant and worthy of being esteemed.


1. Wessen, Ernest J., "Lincoln Bibliography-Its Present Status and Needs," The Papers of The Bibliographical Society of America 34 (1940): 332.
2. Fish, Daniel, comp. Lincoln Bibliography A List of Books and Pamphlets Relating to Abraham Lincoln. (New York: Francis D. Tandy Company, 1906) 137-38.
3. bid., 137-39.
4. Monaghan, Jay, comp., Lincoln Bibliography 1839-1939, Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, 2 vols (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1945).
5. bid., xxvi-xxvii.