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I HAVE undertaken to write a biography of Abraham Lincoln for the people; and, although they will be certain to learn what I have accomplished and what I have failed to accomplish in the book, I cannot consent to pass it into their hands without a statement of what I have aimed to do, and what I have not aimed to do, in its preparation. I am moved to this, partly by my wish that they may not be disappointed in the character of the effort, and partly by my desire that, in making up their judgment upon the work, they may have some reference to my intentions.
First, then, I have not aimed to write a History of the Rebellion. Second, I have not aimed to write a political or a military history of Mr. Lincoln's administration. Third, I have not aimed to present any considerable number of Mr. Lincoln's letters, speeches and state-papers. Fourth, I have not attempted to disguise or conceal my own personal partiality for Mr. Lincoln, and my thorough sympathy with the political principles to which his life was devoted. Though unconscious of any partiality for a party, capable of blinding my vision or distorting my judgment, I am aware that, at this early day, when opinions are still sharply divided upon the same questions concerning principles, policies and men, which prevailed during Mr. Lincoln's active political life, it is impossible to utter any judgment which will not have a bearing upon the party politics of the time. Thus, the only alternative of writing according to personal partialities and personal convictions, has been writing without any partialities, and without any convictions. I have chosen to be a man, rather than a machine; and, if this shall subject me to the charge of writing in the interest of a party, I must take what comes of it.
I have tried to paint the character of Mr. Lincoln, and to sketch his life, clinging closely to his side; giving attention to cotemporaneous history no further than it has seemed necessary to reveal his connection with public events; and re-producing his letters, speeches and state-papers to no greater extent than they were deemed requisite to illustrate his personal character, to throw light upon specially interesting phases of his private life and public career, to exhibit the style and scope of his genius, and to expose his social, political and religious sentiments and opinions. In pursuing this course, I have been obliged to leave large masses of interesting material behind me, and to condense into the briefest space what the more general historian will dwell upon in detail. .
From much of the history of Mr. Lincoln's public life, to which his future biographers will have access, I have been excluded. The records and other evidences of his intimate connection with all the events of the war for the preservation of American nationality, are in the archives of the War Department; and they are there retained, only to be revealed when the present generation shall have passed away. The Life of Washington, even though it was written by a Marshall, with the abundant access to unpublished documents which his position enabled him to command, or which it was the policy of the government to afford him, waited half a century for Irving, to give it symmetry and completeness. The humbler biographers of Mr. Lincoln, though they satisfy an immediate want, and gather much which would otherwise be forever lost, can hardly hope to be more than tributaries to that better and completer biography which the next, or some succeeding generation, will be sure to produce and possess.
I have no opportunity, except that which this page affords me, to acknowledge my indebtedness to those who have assisted me in the collection of unpublished materials for this volume. I have been indebted specially to William H. Herndon, Esq., of Springfield, Illinois, for many years Mr. Lincoln's law partner, who has manifested, from the first, the kindest interest in my book; to Newton Bateman, Esq., Superintendent of Public Instruction in Illinois, to James Q. Howard, Esq., United States Consul at St. John, New Brunswick; to Hon. John D. Defrees, Superintendent of Public Printing in Washington; to Hon. Henry L. Dawes, of Massachusetts; to Horace White, Esq., of the Chicago Tribune; to U. F. Linder, Esq., of Chicago; to J. F. Speed, Esq., of Louisville, Kentucky; to Judge S. T. Logan, Hon. Jesse K. Dubois, Rev. A. Hale, and Hon. Erastus Wright, old neighbors and friends of Mr. Lincoln in Illinois; to Rev. J. T. Duryea, of New York; and George H. Stuart, Esq., of Philadelphia. To these, and to the unnamed but not forgotten friends who have aided me, I return my hearty thanks.
Putnam's “Record of the Rebellion” has proved itself an inexhaustible fountain of valuable and interesting facts; and I have been much indebted to McPherson's History of the Rebellion, the best arranged and most complete collection of public documents relating to the war that has been published. I have freely consulted the campaign biographies of Messrs. Scripps, Raymond, and Barrett, to the excellence of which I bear cheerful testimony. Among other books that have been useful to me, are Nichols' “Story of the Great March,” Coggeshall's “ Journeys of Abraham Lincoln," Schalk's “Campaigns of 1862 and 1863,” and Halsted's “Caucuses of 1860.” Carpenter’s “Reminiscences,” published in the New York Independent, and an article by Noah Brooks in Harper's Magazine, have furnished me also with some very interesting materials.
Hoping that the volume will be as pleasant, instructive and inspiring in the reading as it has been in the writing, I present it to my indulgent friends, the American people.
J. G. H. SPRINGFIELD, Mass., November, 1865.
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