Long an acknowledged expert on the life
of Thomas Jefferson, Douglas Wilson claims to have entered the
world of Lincoln studies "through the back door." His
first study of Lincoln was a comparison between Jefferson and
Lincoln as readers. His study eventually brought him into contact
with the William Henry Herndon papers, which he champions as worthy
contributions to the field, deserving the respect of all Lincoln
In his Introduction, Wilson convincingly argues that the current trend in Lincoln studies tends to ignore Lincoln's early years while concentrating on his presidency. Wilson states that "Lincoln's early life has largely been abandoned as a subject for serious investigation by most Lincoln scholars, with very few exceptions. Rightly or wrongly, the presidency and the Civil War have become virtually the be-all and end-all of mainstream Lincoln scholarship (ix)." But Wilson feels otherwise, and the main thrust of his research has been toward these early years, much of it based on a careful reexamination of the Herndon records.
Lincoln Before Washington is a collection of Wilson's essays on Lincoln's formative pre-presidential years. Wilson's keen analysis and fluent style of writing makes the book a joy to read. He is an outstanding scholar, one who's work will no doubt influence Lincoln studies for years to come.
Part One: Jefferson and Lincoln
Chapter 1 - "The Frigate and the Frugal Chariot: Jefferson and Lincoln as Readers"
Part Two: Herndon and Lincoln
Chapter 2 - "Herndon's Legacy"
Chapter 3 - "William H. Herndon and the 'Necessary Truth'"
Part Three: New Perspectives on Lincoln
Chapter 4 - "Abraham Lincoln versus Peter Cartwright"
Chapter 5 - "Abraham Lincoln, Ann Rutledge, and the Evidence of Herndon's Informants"
Chapter 6 - "Abraham Lincoln and 'That Fatal First of January'"
Chapter 7 - "Abraham Lincoln and the 'Spirit of Mortal'"
Part Four: Lincoln and Jefferson
Chapter 8 - The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: An Unfinished Text
Chapter 9 - "Lincoln's Declaration"
Douglas L. Wilson is Saunder's Director of the International Center for Jefferson Studies in Charlottesville, Virginia. he was formerly a professor of History in Knox College in Galesville, Illinois.
Daniel E. Pearson